Hope Springs Eternal

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”

– Desmond Tutu

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Back in April this year I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland. If you’ve never been I highly recommend it. Dating back to the 7th century it is one of Poland’s oldest cities, rich in history and culture. It is also one of the few eastern European cities to escape bombing during World War II, which is why many of the streets and architecture remain exactly as they were before the war. In 1939, during the Nazi occupation of Poland, the Third Reich began rounding up all Jewish residents and confining them to overcrowded ghettos before later deporting them to concentration camps. Which was another reason for my visit to Krakow—I wanted to visit the nearby infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and pay my respects to the many innocent men, women and children that had been imprisoned and, in most cases, murdered there.

First stop was the Auschwitz camp where we entered via the notorious iron gates and emblazoned words “Arbeit Macht Frei” ­­­­­­­(Work Sets You Free). My biggest fear at this point was that people would attempt to take selfies––thankfully no one did, with those taking photos (myself included) doing so quietly and discreetly. Walking through the gates I noticed the old lookout towers and surrounding, once electrified, barbed wire fencing, which made me shiver, despite the warm weather. Our guide then led us to various rooms in numbered buildings known as blocks, which had once housed prisoners, some of which now contain physical reminders of those murdered. It was heart breaking to witness the hills of human hair, shoes, hairbrushes, clothes, and toothbrushes displayed behind glass panels. Equally appalling were the standing chambers, suffocation chambers, starvation chambers and the firing wall of notorious Block 11—otherwise known as the punishment chamber.

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Our next stop (10 mins drive away) was Birkenau (which reportedly held over 90,000 prisoners in 1944) also known as Auschwitz II. Built to keep up with mass European arrests taking place it evolved into a network of camps where most prisoners were exterminated, often in gas chambers, or used as slave labour, while other prisoners were subjected to barbaric medical experiments led by Josef Mengele. Our guide took us inside what was once one of the women’s barracks. These were brick buildings often housing up to 700 people, sometimes more, containing three-tier wooden bunks (sleeping up to six or seven people to each bunk), shoddily built, lacking any real heating or sanitation facilities. Our guide then led us alongside the same train tracks that had transported prisoners from Poland and other parts of Europe via overcrowded cattle trucks into the camp. We then walked the same route to the “shower blocks” that on arrival, most of the elderly men and women, and women with young children believed they were going to, with the promise of a hot meal and a bed afterwards. History tells us otherwise though, and we now know they were in fact marched straight to their deaths via the gas chambers, their bodies then burned in the nearby crematorium.

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As our tour ended, I took stock for a moment and looked up, feeling the heat of the sun on my face. I wondered how the prisoners of the camp must have felt on the days the sun shined for them, if they found the energy to notice or enjoy it—even for a few seconds? I concluded that what I found most difficult to believe about Auschwitz-Birkenau, and the many other camps like it, was that its mass extermination of ordinary people took place very recently, less than eighty years ago to be exact. And it wasn’t just Jews that were targeted, many non-jewish artists, writers, journalists, teachers, politicians, Romas, communists, homosexuals, and mentally and physically disabled people met their death––anyone basically, deemed unfit for Nazi Germany. Sadly though (although perhaps not on the scale of the Holocaust), our history books are littered with accounts of genocide, both before and since World War II.

However, there have been many inspiring accounts of survival since those terrible events took place. Stories about people that never gave up hope, who went on to live full lives, many of whom married and had families of their own. Ten years ago I was privileged enough to meet Eva Clarke, one of the Holocaust’s youngest known survivors. After spending time in Auschwitz, her mother, Anka, gave birth to Eva on a wooden cart in the shadow of the prison gates of Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria in April 1945. Eva explained how her mother once told her that before her incarceration she would never have predicted being able to withstand such an experience, but when it happened, and for no real logical reason, she just assumed she would survive, attributing a bit of luck and the overwhelming love for her unborn child as one of her greatest motivators to keep going.

So, as long as there is good in the world, and love, there is always, I believe, hope.

 

Eva Jordan reviews… The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris Published by @ZaffreBooks

EJ Reviews The Tattooist of...

 

“Hope begins in the dark,

The stubborn hope that if you just

Show up and try to do the right thing,

The dawn will come.

You wait and watch and work:

You don’t give up”

–– Anne Lamott

 

Having recently visited the Auschwitz–Birkenau concentration camps in Poland I knew it was time to read a book that, due to the subject matter, I’d been putting off for a while. However, The Tattooist of Auschwitz, despite the horror and sadness surrounding it, is in fact a love story. One that shows, where possible, even during the most wretched of circumstances, you should never give up hope.

The author’s note at the beginning of the book reads, “This is a work of fiction, based on the first-hand testimony of one Auschwitz survivor”. She suggests reading some of the many detailed accounts available about the holocaust for those that would like further information on the subject. This story, however, in the main, concerns the experiences of survivor Lale Sokolov, a 24-year-old Jewish Slovakian who arrived at Auschwitz–Birkenau in April 1942. Lale becomes the camp tattooist, a position that affords him slightly better food rations and sleeping conditions than most. He hates what he does, “Tattooing the arms of men is one thing; defiling the bodies of young girls is horrifying”, but he does as he’s told because—well, what choice does he have? One day he spots a young woman waiting in line with her number written on a piece of paper. Shaking, she is obviously terrified but Lale takes her hand and begins tattooing her arm. Bravely, she doesn’t flinch, and when he’s finished she smiles at him. Lale discovers her name is Gita, and for him it is love at first sight. With a renewed sense of purpose Lale knows he has to survive Auschwitz, if only to ensure the survival of the woman he loves.

Written in close third person, this is an unsettling story. Having researched the holocaust whilst studying for my degree I am no stranger to the horrors that took place in the Nazi concentration camps. However, I’m also pleased to say, despite my initial trepidation about reading it, Heather Morris has written a tale about friendship and love, and above all else, a story of hope, which, unbelievably, even amongst the everyday occurrences of death, starvation and brutality, people still managed to hold on to. Well-written, honest and brave The Tattooist of Auschwitz doesn’t skirt the atrocities of the holocaust but neither is it too graphic. An engaging and powerful read including a beautifully written afterword by Gary Sokolov – Lale and Gita’s son – who growing up remembers a home filled with “love, smiles, affection, food and my father’s sharp dry wit”––testimony to, if it was needed, the shining strength of the human spirit.

 

Publisher: Zaffre

Paperback: 320 pages

 

The Deepings Literary Festival

If you like going to Literary Festivals but don’t have the means, money or motivation to travel to more established ones that take place throughout the UK literary calendar, you’d do well to remember one that started three years ago.

Following on from the enormous success of the first festival in 2017, Deepings Literary Festival this year was a 4-day event running from 23-26th May, and I was one of the authors invited to take part.

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For those of you who don’t know the area, The Deepings are a series of settlements in the south of Lincolnshire near the River Welland, some 8 miles to the north of Peterborough and 10 miles east of Stamford. The Deepings include: Deeping St James, Deeping St Nicholas, Market Deeping, and West Deeping. The area is very low-lying, and as a Saxon name is translatable to either ‘deep places’ or ‘deep lands’. 

 

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My event took place on the Saturday in Market Deeping but my first stop was Coronation Hall to hear best-selling author Barbara Copperthwaite give a talk. Barbara explained how, although born and bred near the seaside resort of Skegness in Lincolnshire (a location slightly north of The Deepings), she more or less regards herself as local. She discussed how her journalism background has helped her writing and how the flat, rural setting of her childhood has influenced the settings of her psychological thrillers. I had a quick chat with the author afterwards and bought a signed copy of her latest novel The Perfect Friendwhich I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying.

 

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Next up was my event, Read Dating, along with fellow authors, Ross Greenwood, Jane E James, Tony Forder, Helen Claire Gould, Tony Millington, Margaret Castle and Sarah Bennett, which took place at Deeping Library.

 

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Based on the popular speed dating format, Read Dating is a big get together of local authors and readers in one fun-filled event, inviting members of the public to spend ten minutes with eight local authors so they can find out about their books, writing, work in progress and inspiration. The event was extremely well organised, the location perfect, the staff friendly and helpful, and the public, just brilliant. All in all it was a very pleasant, entertaining afternoon, and I even sold a few books to boot.

 

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Other authors that took part in the four-day festival included Sophie Hannah, Milly Johnson, Cathy Cassidy, Cathy Bramley, Lizzie Lamb, Darren O’ Sullivan and Louise Jensen, to name just a few. The festival also incorporated live music including the brilliant, The Bookshop Band, not to mention a plethora of mouth-watering homemade cakes offered for sale (the cheese scones and coffee cake were sublime).

However, if you missed out this year, I am reliably informed that preparations are underway for the next festival which at present is a biennial event, so will take place in 2021.

Put it in your diary folks!

 

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Talking and laughing with writers Graeme Cumming and Esther Chilton

Eva Jordan reviews…To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee Published by Arrow @penguinrandom

Eva reviews To Kill a Mockingbird

 

‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

It’s a long time since I read a classic and having read a lot of contemporary books of late, I decided I’d like to add a few more classics to my repertoire. Books I’ve promised myself I’d read but have never got round to. This month I chose Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird. An instant success when it was first released in 1960, widely read in schools and a Pulitzer Prize winner, it has become a classic of modern American literature. Therefore, it’s safe to say my expectations were high… I’m relieved to say I wasn’t disappointed.

Set in the sleepy fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression of 1930s America, this story centres on the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. Narrated in the first person by “Scout” real name Jean Louise Finch, across three years of her life, beginning at age six, the story’s main protagonist looks back in retrospect an unspecified number of years after the events of the novel have taken place. Scout, who also has an older brother, Jeremy “Jem” (a constant playmate and companion), is the daughter of one the town’s well-respected lawyers and hero of this story, Atticus Finch, also defence lawyer for the accused Tom Robinson. Atticus, a widower with a droll sense of humour, has instilled in his children his strong sense of ethics and justice. He is one of the few residents of Maycomb committed to racial equality and when he agrees to defend Tom Robinson, he exposes himself and his family to the anger and prejudices of the white community. However, with his strongly held beliefs, wisdom and compassion, Atticus serves as the novel’s moral backbone.

Beautifully descriptive, with a court scene that evokes all the senses, this is a humorous, nostalgic, innocent, and, as the novel progresses, increasingly dark and foreboding critique of society, including the era it was written in (there was a lot of civil unrest in America during the 1960s) and the time it was set in. To Kill A Mockingbird was a story of its time, however, it was also, in my humble opinion, a story ahead of its time… one that resonates as much now as it did sixty years ago.

 

Publisher: Arrow; 50th Anniversary edition (2010)

Paperback: 320 pages

 

Eva Jordan reviews… Truly Madly Guilty By Liane Moriarty Published by @PenguinBooks

Eva Jordan Reviews Truly, Madly, Guilty

“This story begins with a barbecue…”

I thoroughly enjoyed Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, and the TV adaption was pretty good too, so I was really looking forward to reading Truly Madly Guilty. I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed. Easy to read with well-written dialogue and deliciously flawed characters, it hooked me from the start.

Set in Sydney, Australia, and centring on a group of friends at a barbecue, it quickly becomes apparent something troubling has taken place, something, which has deeply affected everyone, and keeps you guessing to the end, adding to the suspense and pace. The plot and chapters are character driven with each chapter either flitting back to the day in question, or forwards to the days and weeks that follow it. Written in close third person, the characters are likeable and annoying in equal measure, like real people. Marriage, childhood, parenthood, and friendships are some of the themes explored, and although each character comes with their own set of middle-class, suburban baggage, they are all authentic, well-rounded, and sympathetically drawn individuals. Moriarty uses wit, which is devilishly acerbic at times, and close, almost psychoanalytical observation to show us the three faces of her characters, namely, the face the world sees, the second face, reserved for close friends and family, and the third face – usually the truest reflection of an individual but also the face no one else sees, except, of course, the person themselves. Like all good writers, Moriarty allows the reader access to all these versions of her characters, whilst at the same time observing what makes them tick, including guilt, loneliness, PTSD, and difficult childhoods. When tragedy strikes, Moriarty’s brilliant prose sums up the thoughts, feelings and emotions surrounding the event in a way that feels both genuine and relatable via the inner ramblings of one of her characters, Clementine — “This is what it feels like. You don’t change. There is no special protection when you cross the invisible line from your ordinary life to the parallel world where tragedies happen. It happens just like this. You don’t become someone else. You’re still exactly the same. Everything around you still smells and looks and feels exactly the same…”

Brilliantly observed characters with a plausible plot, Truly Madly Guilty has enough twists to keep you turning the pages and enough depth to keep you immersed.

 

Publisher: Penguin (28 July 2016)

Print Length: 320 pages

What Midlife Crisis?… A Guest Post by author @BevHarvey

Today on my blog I’m very pleased to introduce friend, fellow author and all round lovely lady, Beverley Harvey, whose debut novel Seeking Eden was published by Urbane Publications in 2017.

 

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Beverley’s second novel, Eden Interrupted, described by bestselling author Gina Kirkham as, “Entertaining and addictive, this story of life, love and intrigue in the suburbs is a delight!” is due for release this Thursday 6th June. Here, Beverley tells us a little about her new book and, as a woman of a certain age, shares her thoughts about one of the themes running through it––the midlife crisis!

 

But first, let’s take a look at the blurb for Eden Interrupted…

 

90s popstar Ben Wilde and his bride Lisa return from honeymoon to find a cuckoo in the nest and a surprise European tour in the diary.

Lisa befriends neighbour Rosemary, who is also home alone while husband Nigel travels for work. But will the women’s grim suspicions be confirmed, or does absence make the heart grow paranoid?

In the village, Eden Hill’s coffee shop is under new management with the arrival of divorced Mum, Chloe, and troubled teen son, Jake. But serving flat whites leaves Chloe feeling, well, flat until she meets Caleb, a widowed father of two; if only Jake and Caleb weren’t at loggerheads.

New to Eden Hill are Jan and Martin Bevan, but a frosty reception leaves them wondering if they’ve made a huge mistake.

From the writer of Seeking Eden, Eden Interrupted is another sizzling slice-of-life drama where paths and swords cross, and misunderstandings abound. Perfect for fans of Fiona Gibson and Marian Keyes.

 

Ooh, sounds intriguing! Now Bev, over to you…

 

What midlife crisis?

Have you seen my waistline anywhere? I seem to have lost it. Perhaps I left it in the same place as my eyelashes, my shiny hair and my self-confidence. Joking apart, if you’re a woman of a certain age, you might get where I’m coming from. Aging can be a tough call, as we adjust to different life stages.

Lisa Wilde (née Dixon), a leading protagonist in my new novel, Eden Interrupted (Urbane, from June 2019) finds herself ruminating on the passage of time. At forty-five, although she’s still fit and incredibly beautiful, Lisa realises that she’s no longer in the first flush of youth. These feelings are compounded when husband Ben, a come-back-king Rockstar, heads off to the bright lights of a European tour with his band. Lonely and bored, insecurity soon sets in; are Lisa’s fears justified, or does absence make the heart grow paranoid?

As with Seeking Eden, its predecessor, Eden Interrupted is set in home counties suburbia and takes a wry look at family life. In addition to Ben and Lisa’s marriage glitches, we meet Chloe, the soon-to-be-divorced Mum of a teenage boy, Jake; Martin and Jan, a couple who find themselves in early, unplanned retirement, and about to become grandparents for the first time; and Nigerian stay-at-home Mum, Rosemary, whose workaholic husband Nigel has a penchant for prostitutes.

It’s fair to say that both Eden books have a thread of mid-life crises running through them – although the pages are filled with characters of all ages – and even several cute dogs! But whether you drive an Aston Martin and live in “the posh gated bit” of Eden Hill like Ben, or pootle about in a Vauxhall and live in a modest house in Constance Close like Martin, you can’t outrun time.

For Lisa Wilde, the aging process adds up to some serious soul searching, some very embarrassing moments and finally some big changes.

Now where did I put my HRT patches?

 

Beverley Harvey

 

Thanks Bev, great post, and definitely one I can relate to! I wish you every success with your new novel.

Eden Interrupted will be available this Thursday 6th June 2019 but can be pre-ordered now here.

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To keep up with Beverley you can find her at the following places:

Twitter @BevHarvey_

Website www.beverleyharvey.co.uk

Life Is All About Timing… A Guest Post by author @KiltieJackson

 

Happy publication day to Kiltie Jackson!

An Incidental Lovestyle

My guest today is author Kiltie Jackson who is celebrating the release of her third novel, An Incidental LovestyleDon’t you just love that cover – I actually own and drive a Volkswagen Beetle (my favourite car), although mine is black all over.

A bit about the author…

Kiltie Jackson spent her childhood years growing up in Scotland. Most of these early years were spent in and around Glasgow but, for a short period of time, she also lived in the Highlands.

When she was old enough to do so, she moved to London where she had many interesting experiences and most of which are now finding their way into her writing.

Once she had wrung the last bit of fun out of the smokey capital, she moved up to the Midlands and now lives in Staffordshire with one grumpy husband and six cats.

Her little home is known as Moggy Towers even though, despite having plenty of moggies, there are no towers! The cats kindly allow her and Mr Mogs to share their home as long as the mortgage continues to be paid.

Kiltie loves reading, watching movies and visiting old castles. She really hates going to the gym!

Her biggest desire is to one day give up the slave job so she can dedicate herself to writing full-time.

 

Kiltie has written fascinating post all about the importance of timing, but first, let’s take a look at the blurb for An Incidental Lovestyle

It only takes one small incident to change your life…

Jenny Marshall is your stereotypical, middle-aged, spinster. She works in a library, has two cats and likes cake. She has her dreams but not the courage to chase them.

Jeff Rowland fell in love at first sight with Jenny four years ago but hasn’t seen her since. When they bump into each other again, he realises his feelings haven’t changed.

When Jenny’s car breaks down on a cold winter’s day, it sets off a chain of events which brings them together in a way neither could ever have imagined. Both, however, have dark secrets in their past which begin to seep into their present.

Will these secrets bring them closer together?

Or will they shatter their relationship beyond repair?

 

Doesn’t that sound fab! It’s definitely going onto my TBR pile. Now, let me hand you over to the lovely lady herself.

 

Life is all about Timing.

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So much in life comes down to timing; being in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. We’ve all heard the stories of people who were late to leave for work one day and missed being involved in accidents which, had they left on time, they’d have been caught up in. Or, the kind people who let a person jump the queue only for them to buy the winning lottery ticket. And, for a writer, timing can be everything.

In 2006, I had an idea for a novel. This was not unusual – I already had a few ‘book ideas’ jotted down although I’d never taken any further action on them. This particular idea, however, really took root and I proceeded to write the first seventeen chapters of ‘a book’! When I read them back, however, I decided they were a bit rubbish, and consigned them, and memory stick they were typed on, to the back of the junk drawer!

Fast forward eleven years and, upon reading the bio of another author who became a writer simply to prove to her children that you can achieve anything you put your mind to, I suddenly felt a frisson of excitement run through me and I knew that ‘now’ was the time to blow the dust off that old memory stick in the drawer and have another go.

When I re-read what I’d written, I realised I’d been too harsh and critical on my younger self – those early chapters had potential. Within three months, I’d completed my first draft. Here, however, timing was the key. In those eleven dormant years, social media had exploded and mobile phones had become mini, hand-held computers. This technological progress enabled me to create a better story which was more believable. A long-distance friendship is far more sustainable now than it was a decade ago, thanks to these developments and a long-distance friendship was the back-bone of my story. I finally released my debut novel, ‘A Rock ‘n’ Roll Lovestyle’ in September 2017.

Since then, I have gone on to write and release a further two books and timing also had a hand in those. In my second novel, ‘An Artisan Lovestyle’, the essence of the story is focused on two people who are throwing their lives away. They have so much going for them but they have shackled themselves to events in their past and cannot move on to better things. They are wasting their time on earth. Luckily, however, they have other-worldly guardians looking out for them and, through a series of events, they learn just how precious time really is. Part of me identifies greatly with this as I do regret the time I lost between beginning to write my first novel and finishing it. Those sands of time are now gone and can never be recovered.

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My latest novel, on the other hand, is a reflection of my opening paragraph. ‘An Incidental Lovestyle’ begins when Jenny Marshall’s car refuses to start on a cold winter’s day and she has to take the bus to visit her friend. If Brian, her less-than-trustworthy Volkswagen Beetle, had been up for the task in hand, Jenny’s life would have continued to trundle down the same old path it had trundled for the previous twenty years. Instead, what was initially considered to be appalling timing on the part of Brian, actually turned out to be a very big blessing in disguise.

These are examples of how time and timing is addressed within my books but a different kind of time also plays a part in helping them to be written. As a lady of older years, I find my sleeping patterns have become rather skew-whiff and it is not unusual for me to be lying wide-awake at four o’clock in the morning. Unfortunately, I tend to be far less awake at four o’clock in the afternoon – much to my employers dismay but that’s another story and we won’t go there! Anyway, back to the four in the morning slot – this is when I solve my book problems. I’ve had so many inspired ideas at this time of the day and a great many plot holes and plot problems have been resolved in a far more satisfactory manner than when I’ve been mulling them over during normal and acceptable ‘awake’ times. Examples of this include the book title for my second novel. I’d tried everything in my head and nothing was right. I knew my second novel was a follow on from the first book but at no point had it occurred to me to carry on with the ‘Lovestyle’ theme. That is, until I was wide awake at four am and it suddenly hit me that, if this was going to be a series, then why not tie it down with a distinctive series name! Et voilà, my problem was no longer a problem. This morning, yes, at 4 am, I was awake again. I’ve had an idea for some time for a future book in the Lovestyle series but I couldn’t figure out how I was going to ‘fit it in’ – thankfully, the old four o’clock magic was there to do what I needed it to do and I can now say there will, at this time, be nine books in this series. I think writing those will keep me out of mischief for some time to come.

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So, you see, timing really is everything, in every possible way and probably more so than we ever truly realise. Thank you for giving me some of your time by reading this and a thank you to Eva for giving me this time on her blog.

Kind regards,

Kiltie Jackson.

xx

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Thanks for being such a fabulous guest today Kiltie, I wish you every success with your new novel.

To Keep up with Kiltie, you can find her at the following places:

If you’d like to buy a copy of An Incidental Lovestyle you can purchase it at Amazon.co.uk here and Amazon.com here.