Monday, December 12, 2011

Tom Weston - Fission - Author Interview

Author Interview

1. Who is the plot based around?
Fission is based on the true life story of Lise Meitner. The story is also full of many famous people from that period: Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Adolph Hitler, Eleanor Roosevelt, President Truman and Kaiser Wilhelm II, to name a few.

2. What is the main idea of the plot?
Lise Meitner, an Austrian Physicist, born in Vienna in 1878. is amongst the first women to be admitted to the University and to be awarded a PhD in Physics. From there she goes to Berlin, and eventually becomes Head of the Physics department at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Due to her status as a Jew in Nazi Germany, Lise is forced to flee the country and move to Sweden, where she discovers nuclear fission and sparks the race for the atomic bomb. After the war, the Nobel Foundation controversially denies her the Nobel Prize for her discovery.

What is remarkable about Lise Meitner’s obscurity today is that at one time, Lise was probably the most famous woman in the world. Now I know that Andy Warhol talked about 15 minutes of fame and Lise at one time had that, but when we put her in the context of her contemporaries, Max Planck, Niels Bohr and certainly Albert Einstein – people we still talk about – it beggars belief that we have forgotten her. So what I tried to do in Fission was to focus on the reasons that led us to forget rather than the science. In fact, for a book about scientists, there is very little science in Fission. The biographies of Lise Meitner cover the science in great detail, and I wasn’t looking to emulate them. I decided instead to focus on the human side of this story.

3. When does the plot take place?
Lise was born in 1878 and she died in 1968. That’s a fairly long period to cover: 90 years - so I pretty much ignore her childhood and pick up the story in 1906 and follow it through to her death in 1968. That way I only had to do 62 of the more interesting years.

4. Where does the plot take place?
It’s a sweeping epic of a story, with the action shifting from Imperial Vienna to austere Berlin, then to Copenhagen and the seclusion of the Swedish countryside. Along the way, we take side trips to London, New York and Washington; and we travel by the Orient Express and the Dixie Clipper.

5. Why did the plot develop the way it did?
Originally, I wrote Fission as a screenplay, with one eye firmly on the visual appeal of this story; and because that format requires a different set of rules than for the novel, there were certain production realities and limitations within which I had to work: how to reduce a 68 year long history to a 130 page script, how to keep the cast of characters manageable, and so on. For example, an important figure in the early life of Lise was Paul Ehrenfest, but the real Paul’s death in 1933 would have required a detour from the narrative to explain it. Niels Bohr became critical to the story later on; and the problem was how to convey the emotional tie between Meitner and Bohr when there were no earlier scenes to develop that bond. So for the sake of continuity, I chose to merge the character of Ehrenfest with that of Bohr. The result is that, in my story, Bohr appears to attend Vienna University with Lise, which he didn’t do in real life, but it works to set up the later interplay between Meitner and Bohr - Artistic License.

And in trying to be true to the history, much of the dialogue in Fission is derived from the real speeches, correspondence, and interviews of the people involved. As another example, I start the story with an interview with the ghost of Otto Hahn. This is a fictitious setting, but the dialogue is lifted from a very real interview that Hahn gave to British Intelligence when he was a prisoner after the war.

6. How did you come up with the idea for the plot?
I first heard of Lise when I read the David Bodanis book, e=mc2. When I read about Lise – it was such an incredible story that it seemed perfect as a Hollywood blockbuster or an epic TV miniseries. It had everything you could ask for – intrigue, danger, 2 World Wars, Nazis, Emperors, Presidents, and the Bomb – the story just cried out to be told. As no one else seemed interested in telling it, I decided that I would.

But what shocked me - what compelled me to pick up my pen and write - were the reasons why she is not better known; and I chose to tell a different story from the biographies - of one person’s struggle in the face of overwhelming odds, a story in the mould of epic mythology; of the small and powerless standing up to evil empire. At the end of such stories - the happily ever after - the villains are vanquished and the heroism, if not always rewarded, is at least remembered and honoured. I find it hard to believe that the world preferred to forget Lise Meitner rather than honour her. And it was a chance to redress that wrong which inspired me to write Fission.

Book Summary:

First they tried to deny her.
Then they tried to destroy her.
But she survived to discover nuclear fission and spark the race for the atomic bomb.

Imagine a story of hate and greed, intrigue and danger, war and destruction, the slaughter of the innocents on a biblical scale and the collapse of empire. And imagine at the centre of it all one little woman, brilliant but shy, victimized but resolute, betrayed but ultimately vindicated. What a story that would make! Well, you don't have to imagine it, because that is the Lise Meitner story. And I didn't have to invent any of it . . . it's all true.

Historical Fiction
published 2011 by tom weston media

Available in Hardcopy, Paperback and eBook:
Hardcopy: 329 pages, 6″ x 9″, ISBN 978-0-981-94135-6. MRP $26.95
Paperback: 329 pages, 6″ x 9″, ISBN 978-0-981-94137-0. MRP $10.95
eBook/Kindle/Nook: ISBN 978-0-981-94138-7. MRP $6.95 (including Kindle):

Barnes & Noble (including Nook):

Support your local book store:

Purchase an autographed copy of FISSION from the publisher at:

A portion of all sales of Fission, no matter where purchased, go to the ‘Because I am a GiRL’ campaign by Plan, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping children since 1937. Visit PlanUSA at or get involved with your own national/regional Plan office.

Author Bio:

Originally from England, Tom Weston now resides in Boston, Massachusetts. His works include the fantasy based, Alex and Jackie Adventures, and the collection of short stories, Tales from the Green Dragon Tavern.

Web Site:




Trailer for Fission:


  1. this looks good, will mention it to my friends who love historical fiction :)

  2. Hello and thank you for helping me spread the word about this amazing woman, Lise Meitner. Regards, Tom Weston.

  3. Kimba, thanks for the comment, and Tom, no problem!

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