Interview with Paul Letters + Giveaway of The Slightest Chance

Hello Paul and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about The Slightest Chance!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

I’ve worked as a radio presenter for the state broadcaster in Hong Kong, written articles for newspapers and magazines in Australia and Hong Kong, and I’ve written scripts for characters in an educational history app. I’m from England originally and have studied and taught history and politics a great deal over the years, so a lot of my ideas come from that.

What inspired you to write The Slightest Chance?

The real-life people who did amazing things in desperate times of war. My female lead character is closely based on Gwen Priestwood, the only female to escape from Japanese captivity in Hong Kong, and perhaps beyond. My male lead characters are based on Australian, British and Chinese office clerks and financiers who, pre-war, spent their weekends training to be secret agents. There’s also, from real history, the one-legged Chinese admiral who led an escape of over 70 men. And, unconnected to that particular escape, there’s the Christian Japanese soldier who risked his life helping his enemies. Then there’s Morris ‘Two-Gun’ Cohen – a cockney Canadian Jew who ends up as a general for the Chinese. You could not make up characters like this!

What research did you undertake when writing The Slightest Chance?

I hit the archives in Hong Kong, reading old newspapers on microfilm and digging out secret reports and correspondence concerning the spy network, for example. I read scores of books, including Gwen Priestwood’s 1944 memoir of her escape. But as the war was still raging and Gwen didn’t want the Japanese to learn about escape routes, she omitted place names and meaningful descriptions. So I traced her travels through other sources, including the UK National Archives and shipping logs. I also interviewed people who were there in the Battle of Hong Kong. For example, Barbara Anslow worked as a stenographer in an underground government office in the heart of the action. 100 years old now, Barbara has excellent recall – and she kept a diary which she sent to me some time before she recently published it (as ‘Tin Hats and Rice’). I met others who were interned by the Japanese along with Gwen Priestwood in Stanley Camp, and I toured the camp with former internees and historians.

What would you like readers to take away from reading The Slightest Chance?

So much! From the nature and importance of enduring love through to understanding that your enemies really can be your friends. Plus, an understanding of Hong Kong and China during the war – virtually everything, including the triad gang move to massacre all white people, is real history.

What was your favorite scene to write?

I enjoyed all of them, but the opening scene in the Peninsula Hotel was a lot of fun. Capturing the pre-war jollity of colonial life, with Gwen (I changed her surname to Harmison in my novel) on top form with her witticisms and ‘Max’, an office clerk and weekend warrior, pretending to be an entirely different persona – as Ernst Hemingway’s bodyguard.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

Towards the end the plot turns quite dark, and I found that a little harrowing – but it makes the final resolution all the more meaningful.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I knew in my 20s but lacked the confidence to do anything about it until my 30s. A sports injury changed my life: a silver lining was a newborn drive to do the things I’d always dreamed of doing. Coping with that change – and losing the ability to play soccer, run and ski – enabled me to transfer my emotions into characters in my first novel, A Chance Kill. Ostensibly another wartime thriller/love-story, this time set in Poland, Paris, London and Prague, that novel is all about perseverance.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

Well, I do some part-time educational work too, but on writing days I sit at my desk for 6-8 hours and get it done!

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

The challenge is balancing time between writing novels with other forms of work that pay better! For me, that’s writing for newspapers and also high school teaching.

Who are your writing inspirations?

Robert Harris, Ian McEwan (especially Atonement), Robert Ryan (particularly for his plot-weaving) and even Aaron Sorkin – the latter is inspiring for his sparkling dialogue (in shows such as The West Wing).

What is the last historical novel you read?

I just read Robert Harris’s Munich. I’ve read a lot of nonfiction about 1938 and the German plot to overthrow Hitler; it’s startling how close they came – they just lacked support from Britain and France, to whom they had been feeding Hitler’s secret plans.

What’s one thing people may not know about you?

I run – together with my 10-year-old son, James – the Dad and Me Love History podcast series. We cover history from every continent, including “Why was the Roman army so awesome?” and “Who invented ice-cream?”. We interview people about World War Two air raids, what it’s like being a jousting knight today and whether Picasso was a genius. We have also covered the US Civil War, the Russian Revolution, Ancient China, Australia, Aztecs, Ancient Egyptians, explorers, computers, D-Day, Vikings, soccer, Henry VIII, Disney v Lego and the meaning of veterans’ days. Check us out at and on social media.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

This year, I’ve moved to Australia, where I’ve learned to sit-ski and to play ‘murderball’ – AKA wheelchair rugby.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I’ve begun writing for Aussie newspapers, like the Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Times, but ideas for the next World War II novel in the loosely-connected Chances series are simmering!

Exciting! Thank you for stopping by and answering some questions!

The Slightest Chance by Paul Letters

Publication Date: June 7, 2019
Blacksmith Books
Paperback; 296 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction/Military/WWII

In war, you can pretend to be someone you're not. Yet, in war, people find out who you really are.

Hong Kong, 1941. Anglo-Australian civil servant Dominic Sotherly's colonial sojourn in Hong Kong becomes complicated by his double life in both war and love. Enigmatic Englishwoman Gwen Harmison possesses secrets of her own – plus an unrelenting desire for liberty.

From gaiety at the Peninsula Hotel to persecution both inside and outside of internment, the story journeys from war-ravaged Hong Kong to war-weary China.

From real history, meet the Chinese admiral who led Hong Kong's daring ‘Great Escape' and the Japanese Christian soldier who risked his life for the enemy. And, uniquely during the occupation of Hong Kong, discover how one Englishwoman made history in her defiance of Imperial Japan.

Available on Amazon

About the Author

Paul Letters is a novelist, journalist, broadcaster and part-time teacher of history and politics. He moved from London to the jungled fringes of Hong Kong in 2001. His earlier World War II novel, A Chance Kill, topped the South China Morning Post book charts.

In addition to historical features, he writes opinion pieces and magazine articles. Paul also broadcasts on Radio Television Hong Kong. His ‘This Month in History' segment can be found as a podcast. Paul and his son James also present the chart-topping history podcast for kids and adults, ‘Dad and Me Love History'.

His website, and his daily on-this-day-in-World-War-Two twitter feed, can be found at

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, October 21
Review at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, October 22
Excerpt at The Book Junkie Reads
Review at Al-Alhambra Book Reviews

Wednesday, October 23
Feature at Maiden of the Pages

Saturday, October 26
Interview at Passages to the Past

Tuesday, October 29
Review at Locks, Hooks and Books

Thursday, October 31
Review at Coffee and Ink


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a paperback copy of The Slightest Chance by Paul Letters! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on October 31st. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

The Slightest Chance

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