A Writer’s Inspiration

My grandmother’s second wedding was in October of 1977 when she was seventy-five. Unfortunately, my husband and I were students living in Vancouver at the time with insufficient funds to afford plane tickets for the big event. We sent a telegram with our congratulations in advance – the custom in those days for guests who could not attend – then telephoned my parents’ home at the time when the reception was scheduled in order to talk to the bride and groom.

Imagine us hearing the stunning news that my grandmother had died of a massive heart attack on the way to the church!

Reeling with shock, Ian and I went for a long walk before deciding that I would fly to Toronto that night on the red-eye flight to be with my family, attend my grandmother’s funeral, help deal with condolences and pick up the pieces. Over the years, I’ve come to think of her death with gratitude for how happy she was when it occurred. And I always thought it would make an amazing ending for a story.

However, writers are not always masters of their stories. In my case, it was my son’s friend Ashley, who made the difference. She agreed to read the first draft of Unravelled. She was an ideal reader, an English major and a woman of twenty-five who could give me insights into whether younger women would enjoy the story while at the same time providing useful editorial feedback. Ashley hated the ending.

I still remember her comments, written in large, underlined capital letters “YOU CAN’T LET HER DIE!!! IT’S TOTALLY UNSATISFYING.”

Well, the rest, as they say, is history! Unravelled does not end with a death. Instead it ends with hope. I won’t say anything more in case you decide to give it a try.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Road to Liberation – commemorating WWII

It seems fitting on the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two to feature an author and a collection of stories commemorating WW2. Today, Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger talks about writing WWII fiction and her contribution to The Road to Liberation.

What inspires you to write about World War II?

My family are refugees of WWII and I grew up knowing that they had barely made it out of Europe alive. I grew up in a diaspora of Ukrainian-Americans, many of whom believed they would return to the “old country” as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed. Well, that did not happen right away. By that time, the first generations of Americans were deeply entrenched, married to Americans, and living a dual life between the old and the new. I, however, always knew that I would somehow return to the “old country”. That “somehow” turned into Austria, the country where my mother was born in a displaced person’s camp, and that “somehow” was by returning to war via my historical fiction.

 What is The Road to Liberation Collection about?

Author Marion Kummerow (War Girl series) is the brainchild of the project. She lives two hours from me in Munich, Germany and is a passionate champion of making sure that the lessons of WW2 are not forgotten. She approached a group of us authors in Facebook’s Second World War Club and asked whether we’d be interested in taking part in a 75th anniversary edition. At first it was supposed to be a collection of novellas. However, when you ask novelists to write a short book, you’re bound to have problems. We each wrote a full novel.

Your novel, Magda’s Mark, will debut in the collection. What is the story?

Imagine this: you are the wife of a commanding officer, who is head of a the Bohemian (Sudetenland) district. Your reputation has been built upon your selfishness, your unhidden contempt for the local “Slavs” and you are known to wield power with a strong hand; of reporting any slip of a misdeed directly to your husband. Imagine you are pregnant. You need a midwife. You give birth one night, and the midwife goes to clean up the baby. You, in the meantime, are given something to help you rest. When you awake, you find the baby has been returned to you. And he has been circumcised…at a time when Jews are being rounded up and deported to concentration camps…

That is what happened to my friend’s mother-in-law. My friend’s husband was that baby boy. And as soon as I heard that story, my jaw dropped to the floor. I needed to know who had been pushed so far and under which circumstances to take that great of a risk. Thus, the first seeds of Magda’s Mark were planted alongside those questions.

Magda’s Mark is a story about a woman who commits one courageous and rash act of rebellion. When the Nazi officer begins to hunt for her, she survives in the Underground, her plan for revenge the only thing keeping her going, and when the time comes to put her plan into action, Magda is faced with the woman she has become, and what will define her in the aftermath of the war.

Why do you think World War II fiction continues to be such a popular genre? 

WWII is also the great allegorical tale, the good vs evil was so clearly drawn and yet, and this is where it gets juicy and something I tackle in Magda’s Mark, it wasn’t really all so clear cut. We’re discovering, ever more, the three-dimensional sides to the stories. Authors are writing about different perspectives that make us stop and think, “Aha, it wasn’t all black and white. It wasn’t all about the good guys vs the bad guys.” We still have enough access to those personal stories and that’s what I think historical fiction authors of this genre try to bring to life; the individual impacts are what make these “lessons” all the more relevant.

The Road to Liberation by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger, Marion Kummerow, Ellie Midwood, J.J. Toner, Marina Osipova, and Rachel Wesson

By 1944, the Axis powers are fiercely holding on to their quickly shrinking territories. The stakes are high—on both sides: Liberators and oppressors face off in the final battles between good and evil. Only personal bravery and self-sacrifice will tip the scales when the world needs it most.

Read about the heroic act of a long-term prisoner, an RAF squadron leader on the run in France, a Filipino family fleeing their home, a small child finding unexpected friends amidst the cruelty of the concentration camps, a shipwrecked woman captured by the enemy, and a young Jewish girl in a desperate plan to escape the Gestapo.

2020 marks 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WWII. These ten books will transport you across countries and continents during the final days, revealing the high price of freedom—and why it is still so necessary to “never forget”.

Chrystyna was on the blog two years ago with an article about her Reschen Valley Series.

Many thanks, Chrystyna, as someone who has written three novels set during the world wars, I know the challenges and the rewards of doing so. Congratulations to you and the others on producing these stories.

DON’T MISS OTHER POSTS ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION.  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The Ongoing Fascination of War by Catherine Hokin

I had the pleasure of reading a pre-release version of Catherine Hokin’s The Fortunate Ones. My Goodreads review: The Fortunate Ones is a story that matters. Set in World War Two Germany and post-war Argentina, it will grab your attention from start to finish, and make you think about war, consequences, choices, and the power of love. Here’s Catherine to talk about the ongoing fascination of war.

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War is hell – there’s a statement I doubt anyone would disagree with. Being caught up in a war, either as a combatant or a civilian, must be one of the worst experiences anyone can endure, and yet, since story telling began, we have filled up our firesides and our books and plays and poems with stories of conflict and the pain that comes with it.

The urge to write about war has been with us far longer than the desire to write about love. Most people’s main experience of classical literature comes through the epic adventures of the Trojan War. Beowulf, composed between 700 and 750 and the oldest surviving Germanic epic poem, tells the story of a monster-battling warrior. One of the oldest English poems in existence is The Battle of Maldon, believed to have been written in 991. More recently, the dynastic mayhem surrounding the Wars of the Roses shows no signs of losing its appeal and there can’t be a secondary school pupil in the UK who doesn’t know the name of at least one WWI poet.

I used to teach some of those pupils and, no matter their ability or level of interest, there was always a moment (usually in the middle of a discussion of something revolting like trench foot) when the age penny dropped. When somebody realised that the boys in uniform were barely older than the boys in the classroom. You could feel the change in mood every time it happened.

They all knew (or could at least regurgitate) the poetry’s key themes and functions: to encourage the heroic, to celebrate bravery and promote the sense of a communal experience; to de-mystify war and bring home its realities; to be anti-war and a propaganda tool. They were street-smart enough to spot the manipulation of words and ideals, but it was the realisation that the dead and the horribly maimed were too often 17 and 18 that brought empathy. That sent them home asking for family stories, or sent them to the newspapers and pictures of Aleppo. That brought wider themes back into the classroom: how recounting experiences can be an act of remembrance; how unimaginable trauma can be dealt with through literature and be made smaller, more relatable. Without wishing to go all Dead Poets’ Society, that moment of connection was when the cost of war became real.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not sticking The Fortunate Ones in a bracket with Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. I do think, however, that all war-based writing comes from a shared source: the need to make sense of the horrors people inflict on each other in the name of religion or politics or land, or whatever excuse one group can dig up for killing the ‘other’.

I was born in 1961 and grew up in the shadow of WWII. Films were obsessed with it; my parents (who were small children in Liverpool during the conflict) and their friends constantly talked about it; the shadow of rationing still dictated their attitudes to food and waste. Taking it back a generation, my grandfather fought all four years of WWI and carried the mental scars to his dying day.

One of the most common words I heard in relation to WWII in those days, was ‘monster’. Hitler was a monster, the Nazis were monsters. Then I heard about the Holocaust and what other term could you use? That word was where The Fortunate Ones started: an exploration of what monster actually means, in this context most particularly through the character of Inge.

There are universal themes and collective experiences we draw on, but there are also risks involved in writing about war, especially if what you are writing touches on the concentration camps. I was asked why I even wanted to do it, why anyone would write about something as horrific as the Holocaust, and wasn’t it an exploitative thing to do? They are fair questions and were constantly in my mind while I was writing.

Holocaust literature has never been, as odd as it feels to use the word, as popular. There are many theories as to why this is. That the number of survivors is shrinking plays a part, bringing as that does an increased need for remembrance, a need to hold onto accounts that many have only felt able to share years after the actual events took place. The Holocaust has also been described as an embodiment of some of our deepest fears, and that resonates with me. We can pretend such a horror, with its inescapable round-ups and removals and contempt for human life, can never happen again but do we believe that? When we live in a world stained by rising antisemitism and we see children being forcibly snatched from their parents at the Mexican Wall? When we have witnessed genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia and Rohingya?

Like all the generations before us then, we make sense of our world’s cruelties through reading, and telling, stories. Holocaust and WWII literature is part of this: our horror story existing still, albeit just, in living memory. We exorcise our fear of war’s pain and death and separation on the page, but we also we look for hope. The moments of bravery and sacrifice that change a life. Those acts we hope we would be capable of, an uncertainty we hope will never be tested.

Writers will never stop writing on war’s themes, they are too universal. I hope, however, we all recognise that the topic comes with responsibilities.

We cannot glorify war. We cannot romanticise it and make light of its horrors. We cannot use its realities carelessly, creating situations that cannot possibly have happened and blunting or belittling what could. We must do our research and root our characters in real events which we handle with care.

Those were my rules when writing The Fortunate Ones. If I’ve achieved nothing else, I hope in those I’ve been true.

Many thanks, Catherine. As an author who has written four novels featuring war, your words resonate for me and I am sure they will resonate with many others. In our current world of ‘proxy wars’, we should be even more mindful of the horror and obscenity war brings.

The Fortunate Ones by Catherine Hokin ~~ Every day he stood exactly where he was directed. He listened for his number, shouted his answer in the freezing cold. He was ragged and he was starving, but he was alive. He was one of the fortunate ones whom fate had left standing. And he needed to stay that way. For Hannah.

Berlin, 1941. Felix Thalberg, a printer’s apprentice, has the weight of the world on his shoulders. His beloved city is changing under Nazi rule and at home things are no better – Felix’s father hasn’t left the house since he was forced to wear a yellow star, and his mother grows thinner every day.

Then one night, Felix meets a mysterious young woman in a crowded dance hall, and his life is changed forever. Hannah is like a rush of fresh air into his gloomy, stagnant life and Felix finds himself instantly, powerfully infatuated with her. But when he tries to find her again, she’s vanished without a trace.

Was Hannah taken away by the Gestapo and held prisoner… or worse? When Felix himself is imprisoned in Sachsenhausen concentration camp, his thoughts are only for her safety. And when a life-threatening injury lands him on the ward of Dr Max Eichel – a Nazi medical officer with a sadistic reputation – his love for his lost Hannah sees him through the pain.

Until one day Dr Eichel brings his pretty young wife to tour the camp and Felix’s world is thrown off-kilter. Framed in the hospital window he sees – impossibly – the same girl he met that fateful night… her wrist in the vice-like grip of the deathly calm SS Officer. And it’s clear Hannah recognises him at once – there is no mistaking her expression, she has been dreaming of him too…

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION  FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.