Psychological horror author Shani Struthers speaks about her latest novel Resistance. Set between World War II and modern-day, Resistance is both horror and deeply historical, the historical aspect often providing the most chills.
1. What inspired you to set Resistance in Rome?
I love Rome and have visited it many times. On my fourth visit, however, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before, right beneath my feet: stumbling stones. These are bronze plaques, set into the cobbles or streets, located right outside the homes of people who were taken during WWII, predominantly Jews, and sent to death camps such as Auschwitz and Dachau. The Stumbling Stones (or stolperstein) was a project initiated by German artist, Gunter Demnig, to commemorate those men, women, and children, and are not just in Rome, but in cities all across Europe, and an ongoing project. Whenever I visited Rome, it was the ancient history I focused on. Discovering these inspired me to remember more recent times.
2. Why the time split between 2010 and 1943?
There are two main characters in the book, Hannah, who belongs to 2010, and Caterina from 1943. I could have set it completely in the 1940s but wanted the contrast between today and then, the freedom and life that could have been Caterina’s but which war destroyed, as it destroys so much. For it to really hit home, there had to be that contrast.
3. How did you conduct research for this book?
I’d been to Rome several times, as I’ve said, and so whilst there, during the visit I discovered the stumbling stones, I researched deeply into World War history, what happened there, and where, visiting those sites and museums. When I got home, I also conducted plenty of internet research, and compiled around fifty pages of notes before I even got started on the book! Again, as I’ve said, it’s deeply historical and follows the events of 1943 through to 1944, when Rome was liberated on June 4th.
4. How long did it take you to write compared to your other books?
A lot of my books are research-heavy, and so it took roughly the same time as it took to write the others – I’d say around six weeks for an initial draft, and then four to five weeks crafting it (practically living and breathing it!) After that, it goes to beta readers, then finally an editor. The whole process can be anywhere between three to four months.
5. What makes it similar and/or different from the other standalone books in This Haunted World series?
There are now five books in the series, and all are standalone stories, set in and around the world’s allegedly most haunted places, and combining fact with fiction. The first book is The Venetian, set between Venice and an island in the Venetian Lagoon, called Poveglia, which has a very chequered history. The second is The Eleventh Floor, based on a hotel I stayed in in Pennsylvania, with a strange legend attached. The third is Highgate, focusing on North London’s famous Gothic cemetery. The fourth is Rohaise, set at a 10th-century castle in Scotland, again which I’ve stayed at, and incorporates the Scottish witch trials of the 17th century. The fifth is Resistance!
6. Who is your favourite character in the book and why?
I love Caterina, a simple girl from the mountains surrounding Rome, who comes to Rome, and digs deep, finding a bravery she never knew existed in the face of the German war machine. The book is dedicated to all those who resist evil, in whatever way, no matter how small. I’m in awe of them, and wonder sometimes too, could I be that brave?
7. Do you already have an idea for a sixth standalone in this series?
Ideas are something that come thick and fast to me, and for the sixth in the series, I do have an idea, but I have other series to add to meanwhile, including the Reach for the Dead series, and the Psychic Surveys series. So I’ve a bit more time to mull over ideas…
8. Which of all your books would you say is the most haunted?
Ooh, that’s such a hard question to answer. But, giving it some thought, it may well have to be Resistance. I was never interested in World War history at school, again, it was the more ancient stuff I preferred, Egyptology, that kind of thing. However, when I was 21, I went to Krakow for a friend’s wedding. I was there for a week and during that time visited Auschwitz. It changed my world and my perspective, made me question so much.
I have always wanted to write a book about what happened, but never felt qualified enough. After that trip to Rome, however, I saw a way to do it, and there are paragraphs in it, no matter how many times I had to read them for the sake of editing/proofing, that never failed to make me cry. It’s so hard to think such atrocities happened. Harder still, to think they still do in other guises around the world.
9. What do you hope people will feel when reading this book?
Italy got a bad rap during World War II, for changing sides when it suited them. I hope that this book re-addresses that in a way. There was a great Italian Resistance, and the reprisals were horrendous, yet still they continued the fight against Nazism, no matter the cost. Freedom came first.
10. What does writing mean to you? What power does it hold over you?
I love writing stories, I get totally immersed in them, and am lucky enough to call doing so my full-time job. People say I’m prolific – I tend to produce three books a year – and worry that I will burn out. However, I find just the opposite. I get more and more eager! Once you open the floodgates, the ideas pour in. There’s so much I want to crack on with, including a slight change of direction from the end of 2024.
I will always write ghost stories, it’s in my blood, I think. I grew up devouring them, and the paranormal fascinates me, the many different aspects of it, the countless ways in which a person can be haunted, by the living, the dead, and himself. However, just as I’ve always wanted to write a book set during WWII, I’ve wanted to write a book (or rather I think it’ll be a trilogy) about another time period, so I’ll have to fit it. More on that closer to the time…