Eva Jordan in conversation with historical novelist @rebeccamascull #MollieWalton #authorinterviews #Author #Writer #Writerslife

Earlier this month I posted my review of the beautifully written, The Orphan of Ironbridge by the lovely Mollie Walton, otherwise known as Rebecca Mascull. Rebecca writes historical fiction and kindly agreed to do a Q&A with me.

Hi Rebecca, welcome, and thanks for chatting to me. Can you tell everyone a bit about yourself?

Hello! I’m an historical novelist and I write under two names: literary fiction as Mascull and saga fiction as Walton. I got my first publishing contract in 2012 and I’m editing Book 10 right now. I’m also a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, where I work with students on their academic writing at the University of Lincoln. I live by the sea in the east of England with my daughter and our cat. My partner is a French pastry chef, which means I also need to go to the gym regularly, or I’d be the size of a house.

Why do you write historical fiction, and if you haven’t already, would you ever consider writing in another genre?

Funnily enough, I wasn’t keen on history at school but I think this was down to the rather dull curriculum and not very inspiring teaching, perhaps. Since then, I became interested in history largely through movies, documentaries and novels. What’s fascinating to me is the contrast between how different it was to live in other times and yet also how similar people are throughout history. Some human characteristics remain the same, whatever age you live in. I love to look for those contrasts in my own writing, where we, as modern readers, can enjoy insights into the quirky ways of life that have gone and also recognise ourselves in people from the past. I definitely would love to write in other genres, as I read widely and enjoy all sorts of stories. In fact, right now, I’m trying out some planning for books in another genre as a bit of an experiment, but I can’t talk about it as it’s a secret…Shhhhh…

When carrying out research for your books, how important is it for you to physically visit places, buildings, and locations that inspire your stories?

It’s actually been very important to me from the beginning. For my first novel The Visitors, the main character lives on a Kent hop farm, so I visited one myself. My character was deaf and blind, so as I walked along the rows of hop bines, I reached out with my eyes closed and touched the young shoots of growth on the bines, to find that the stems were sticky and the shoots were so soft. If I’d never visited, I’d never have known that telling little detail and I think it’s such things that bring novels to life. Also I think that you get the feel of the soul of a place if you visit it, the specific atmosphere of it, which I definitely found when I stood on the bridge at Ironbridge and looked down the river Severn, imagining how it would’ve looked during the industrial revolution. I also try similar experiences as my characters, if I can. For example, when working on The Secrets of Ironbridge, which is partly about a strike at a brickyard, I met with a Shropshire brickmaker and actually made my own brick by hand. Also, I was able to fly in a light aircraft while I was writing The Wild Air. Both experiences gave me a hands-on knowledge of what I was writing about which improved the story no end. When I came back from flying, I rewrote all my flying scenes as they were all wrong. I had no idea of the fear of flying in a small aircraft or the joy that soon replaced it. It is worth saying, though, that such travels and experiences are not always possible and in that case, writers must use effective research and imagination to replace direct experience. As a single mum, I can’t afford to gallivant all over the world for research trips! And that’s fine too. Writers must do their best with the resources available to them.

And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a writer?

I think the main characteristic that writers need is perseverance. As my very wise agent once said to me, Publishing is a long game. There will be many rejections and negative feedback along the way and writers need to develop an inner resilience. If I’d given up at each hurdle, I wouldn’t be making my living as a novelist today. Like many self-employed jobs, there’s no guarantees and it’s not an easy way to get by. My experience has been that developing a portfolio way of working is the best way to make a living in the writing world i.e. having a range of revenue streams. For example, writing under two names has enabled me to reach two different audiences. The writing world is a business and if you want to make a living out of writing you have to remember that. It’s not helped by the media perpetuating a myth that writers are all rich. I see this so often in movies and TV dramas featuring writers, with their summer houses by lakes and attending swanky parties all the time! The truth of it is that most UK writers earn less than the minimum wage from their writing alone. It’s very poorly paid in general. So every writer needs another job they can do to pay the bills – at least to begin with – unless they have other financial support they can rely on. I don’t want to come across as negative, rather, as realistic. Taking all that into account, it’s the best job I can picture. Being paid to think up characters, settings and plots and create something new every day is a wonderful way to make a living. I’m doing what I love and I wouldn’t want to do any other job, if I can help it.

Thanks so much for your questions and inviting me, Eva! Much appreciated.

If you’d like to know more about the lovely Rebecca, who recently celebrated 10 years in the business, click on the links below.

https://molliewalton.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaMascull

https://www.facebook.com/MollieWaltonbooks

https://www.instagram.com/beccamascull/

https://www.tiktok.com/@beccamascull

Twitter: @rebeccamascull

#Bookreview – The Orphan of Ironbridge by @rebeccamascull #MollieWalton Published by @ZaffreBooks

“In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.” ––Friedrich Nietzsche

I haven’t read much historical fiction for a while, but after a recent trip to Ironbridge, which, if you’ve never been, is well worth a visit, this seemed very apt. Addictive and heart-warming, it didn’t disappoint.

Set in the nineteenth century in the real town of Ironbridge, The Orphan of Ironbridge was inspired by the author’s trip to the world’s first iron bridge, which was erected over the River Severn in Telford in 1779. The main protagonist, Hettie Jones, is the spirited and kind-hearted adoptive daughter of the hard-working Malone family. Loving and proud, the Malone’s raised Hettie after her mother died and her father was deported. They love Hettie as one of their own, and she loves them, especially Evan, the second eldest son. Working as a pit bank girl, Hettie’s job is physical hard graft. However, Hettie’s fortunes change when she is summoned to meet with Queenie, head of the wealthy King family, inviting her to become her ladies’ maid. Hettie accepts the offer, which shocks the Malone’s and causes a rift between her and her adoptive family. This, in part, is because of ongoing animosity between the two families, some of which is attributed to the death of the eldest Malone son, Owen, who died in a fire at the King’s family home. However, Hettie’s succession leads to very intriguing and unforeseen circumstances.

Unaware at the time of reading it, this is the third and final instalment in The Ironbridge Saga. However, it works perfectly well as a standalone and took nothing away from my enjoyment of this beautifully written story. Well researched, evocative, and hugely compelling The Orphan of Ironbridge is a gritty period drama, brimming with history and family angst, and above all else, filled with love and hope.

If you’d like to know more about the author, click on the following links.

https://molliewalton.co.uk/

https://www.facebook.com/RebeccaMascull

https://www.facebook.com/MollieWaltonbooks

https://www.instagram.com/beccamascull/

https://www.tiktok.com/@beccamascull

Twitter: @rebeccamascull

Book Review – Killing Time in Cambridge by Philip Cumberland

“AI is likely to be either the best or worst thing to happen to humanity”­­––Stephen Hawking

This month I interviewed local author (to me) Philip Cumberland (see here), who is also one of the coordinators and founding members of a local U3A Writing Group, Whittlesey Wordsmiths. As well as a contributing author of several anthologies written by the group, Philip has also recently published his debut novel, Killing Time in Cambridge, and this is my review.

The story opens with an axe wielding knight of old, dressed in full body armour, clanking down the corridor of a software company, who then hacks down the office door of the managing director, demanding to know who the ‘master’ is. The poor MD then has a heart attack, the knight disappears, and a short time later the building is besieged by medieval catapults. At this juncture, we are introduced to the main protagonist of the story, Detective Chief Inspector Cyril Lane, better known to everyone as Arnold, a self-effacing individual who likes his food and has a keen, pragmatic approach to his work. It’s Arnold’s job, and that of his colleagues, to figure out what is going on. However, as the story unravels and the plot thickens, it quickly becomes apparent that time travel plays a huge role in this quirky tale, which also includes several eccentric secondary characters including the quick-witted Sylvia, who provides some fine moments of comic relief, not to mention Marvin, the mind reading AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Set in the present day (with glimpses through time) in the beautiful historic city of Cambridge and the surrounding fens (including Ely, Hunstanton, Heacham, and Ramsey) Killing Time in Cambridge is a good old whodunnit (think Inspector Morse, Midsomer Murders, and Inspector George Gently) featuring a mix of light-hearted whimsey and dark humour and, rather unexpectedly, time travel and AI.

Killing Time in Cambridge is available at Parker’s newsagents, on Amazon, from Niche Comics and Books Huntingdon, Waterstones and whittleseywordsmiths.com.

Eva Jordan reviews The Giver of Stars by @jojomoyes published by @PenguinUKBooks

Jojo Moyes

 

Wow, just wow! This is undoubtedly one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Beautifully written and heartfelt, The Giver of Stars is, above all else, a testament to the power of positive friendships and the simple joy of books.

Set in 1930s America, this story is based on a fascinating piece of American history regarding the horseback librarians of rural Kentucky. The aim of the Pack Horse Library Project, which was set up in 1934 by Eleanor Roosevelt, was to aid the education of those living in the more remote parts of the state, often hit hardest by the Great Depression. Hazardous work, including travel across tough terrain, often in adverse weather conditions, it was no easy task for the librarians (who were mostly women) who would regularly ride 20-mile routes into the Appalachian Kentucky Mountains via horseback. However, this band of women, who proved to be as determined as they were dedicated, delivered books and magazines to the people and families that requested them, as committed to their jobs as the mail carriers were.

Narrated in the third person, the main protagonist of this story is Alice, a young English woman who, desperate to escape the rigid confines of polite society and her well-to-do family, marries a handsome young American called Bennett, whom she meets when he is visiting Europe on an outreach mission. However, when she arrives at her new home in America, all is not as Alice imagined it to be. She does her best to adjust to her new surroundings but it soon becomes apparent that her new life in the small Kentucky town of Baileyville, despite the cultural shift from Sussex, is almost as stifling as her old one. Things change, however, when she volunteers to become a horseback librarian where she discovers new friends, including Margery O’Hare. Margery is unlike the other townswomen, or any of the women Alice knew in England. She wears leather breeches and unpolished boots. ‘I suit myself [she said], and people generally leave me be… That’s how I like it.’ The two women develop an unlikely friendship which, set against the vibrantly drawn landscape and mountains, interwoven amongst the beautiful imagery of the ever-changing seasons, we follow the ups and downs of this pioneering duo alongside their other spirited friends.

However, when tragedy strikes, their friendship is truly tested…

With vividly drawn characters, including the villain of the peace, The Giver of Stars is a beautifully crafted and meticulously researched work of art. A real page-turner, both evocative and thought provoking, and full of heartfelt love and hope. Succinctly put, it is a story about a group of women finding themselves and their tribe, but above all else, it is a wonderful celebration of friendship and books.

 

 

 

Eva Jordan in conversation with writer Wendy Fletcher

In convo with Wendy

 

I’m currently reading a beautiful memoir called The Railway Carriage Child, written by the lovely Wendy Fletcher. Look out for my review in next month’s magazine. In the meantime I thought we’d get to know Wendy a little better…

 

Hi Wendy, thanks for agreeing to chat with me. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

Hi Eva, I live in the railway carriages just outside Whittlesey, the last ones still occupied in this area – as far as I am aware. These have been in my family since 1935 and I spent my childhood there with my parents and grandmother; attending school at King’s Dyke and March. I returned to the carriages in 2009. Then my mother died and I realized how much history was lost with each generation. I started to record my memories, originally just for the family. Edward Storey, well-known chronicler of the Fens, suggested that this might appeal to a wider audience and The Railway Carriage Child evolved.

 

Your memoir is beautifully written. Have you written any other books and do you have plans to write more in the future?

This is my first book. I am currently collecting material for a book on the social history of King’s Dyke, which I hope to publish as a tribute to the families who lived and worked in that small community just outside Whittlesey. I am also 12,000 words into writing a novel and have started two children’s books. I am enjoying having a variety of projects and swap from one to the other, as inspiration takes me.

 

Finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of writing a memoir?

My first experience of writing was very lonely and isolating. I was surrounded by piles of notes and half-remembered images from more than fifty years ago. I found the balance for this by setting up a creative writing group (U3A Whittlesey Wordsmiths). Through them, I have met like-minded people and received support and encouragement. My advice to anyone considering a similar project would be ‘You don’t need to do it on your own’.

 

You can purchase The Railway Carriage Child here at Amazon or locally (when they re-open) at the Whittlesey Museum, and Parkers Newsagents. Plus, if you’d like to read more by Wendy, you can read a number of her short stories in two anthologies published by the Whittlesey Wordsmiths, Where the Wild Winds Blow (read my review here) and A Following Wind, also available at Amazon and at the Whittlesey Museum.

 

 

 

 

Five Centuries – Five Influential Female Writers #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2020 #EachforEqual

Yvey IWD 2020

Today, Sunday 8th March, is International Women’s Day. With its humble beginnings going as far back as 1911, International Women’s Day helps shine a light on the economic, social and political achievements of women. The call to action this year is #EachforEqual drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’. The idea being that, “Collectively, each one of us can help create a gender equal world”.

about-iwd

As an author I have been inspired by many female writers over the years, many of whom defied the rigid rules of society, often risking ridicule and reputation in order to pursue a writing career. Trailblazers, if you will, that both individually and collectively paved the way for future generations to come.

So, in order to mark IWD 2020, here are my thoughts on some of those trailblazers, whose lives and work have both inspired and intrigued me.

 

Aphra Behn – a celebrated poet and novelist, was also one of the most influential dramatists of the late 17th century. Working as a spy for the British Crown after her husband passed away, then refused remuneration for her services, she found herself in desperate need of money. She vowed never to depend on anyone else for money again and took up writing to support herself. Her first play, The Forc’d Marriage was produced in London in 1670. She became of the period’s foremost playwrights and continued earning her living in the theatre and as a novelist (links to The Rover here) until her death in April 1689.

Virginia Woolf said of her:

“All women together, ought to let flowers fall upon the grave of Aphra Behn… for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds… Behn proved that money could be made by writing at the sacrifice, perhaps, of certain agreeable qualities; and so by degrees writing became not merely a sign of folly and a distracted mind but was of practical importance.”

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Mary Wollstonecraft – was an 18th century philosopher and proto-feminist, best known for her feminist philosophy A Vindication of the Rights of Women, written in response to educational and political theorists of the time who did not believe women should receive a rational education. Instead of viewing women as ornaments or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintained that they were human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men. Her daughter, Mary Shelley, also went on to become a writer, best known for her Gothic novel, Frankenstein.

 

Elizabeth Gaskell – was a 19th century English novelist, biographer and short story writer that I was first introduced to whilst studying at university. Like Charles Dickens, Gaskell’s stories offer detailed portraits on a wide variety of Victorian society including the poor, and the appalling state of impoverished workers in the industrial centres of the North. Her novels are therefore of great interest to social historians as well as lovers of literature and because of the social realism in them, her stories attracted the attention of Charles Dickens, who in turn invited her to write for the periodicals he edited: Household Words and All Year Round which included my favourite Gaskell novel, North and South – if you haven’t read it, you should.

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Jean Rhys CBE – best known for her critically acclaimed novel Wide Sargasso Sea – the prequel to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (written over a hundred years later) – Jean Rhys was a 20th century novelist born on the Caribbean island of Dominica to a Welsh doctor and a third generation Creole. However, when she was 16 she moved to England for education purposes. In Wide Sargasso Sea she turns to the themes of dominance and dependence, especially in marriage, depicting the mutually painful relationship between a privileged English man and a Creole woman from Dominica – namely a certain Mr Rochester and his first “madwoman in the attic” wife, (Bertha) Antoinette, who is drawn in quite a different light than she was in Jane Eyre.

I love this quote by Jean Rhys:

“Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds homes for us everywhere.”

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – is a 21st century Nigerian writer of novels, short stories and nonfiction, and was described in The Times Literary Supplement as “the most prominent” of a “procession of critically acclaimed young Anglophone authors [who] is succeeding in attracting a new generation of readers to African literature”. My first introduction to her work was We Should All Be Feminists, an essay based on TEDx talk of the same title that the writer gave in London in 2012 (here). She shared her experiences of being an African feminist and said gender as it functions today is a grave injustice. However, she also said she is “hopeful because I believe deeply in the ability of human beings to make and remake themselves for the better”.

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Bah Humbug!

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Christmas is almost upon us, so this is the last post on my blog for the year. As ever, I’m extremely grateful to all the readers, reviewers, bloggers and other writers (many of whom I class as friends) that have taken the time to read my third novel, Time Will Tell, which was released earlier this year, and to all those that continue to read my books and support me.

Writing wise it’s been a tough year for me. Much of my time has been taken up caring for poorly family members, which at the moment doesn’t look set to change much next year. However, although my writing time is minimal, I’m determined to keep at it until my fourth novel is finished. In the meantime, over the festive period, I look forward to spending time with loved ones, and taking some time out to read. Snuggled up with a good book, a small glass of Baileys and a mince pie at hand is my idea of heaven, and the book I’m currently reading is Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. It’s one of my absolute favourites and has now become a bit of a tradition of mine to read every Christmas.

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For those of you that don’t know it, this famous Victorian tale tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a solitary miser who is shown the true meaning of Christmas through a series of ghostly visitors on Christmas Eve – namely the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, as well as a visit from the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley. First published in December 1843, the first edition of A Christmas Carol sold out by Christmas Eve, and by the end of the following year (due to public demand) a further 13 editions were released. In 1849 Dickens began public readings of the book, which proved to be so successful he undertook another 127 readings, right up to the year of his death in 1870.

A Christmas Carol (which has never been out of print) has been translated into several languages and adapted many times for film and stage. Some of the lesser known versions include: Carry on Christmas starring Sid James as Ebenezer, and The Six Million Dollar Man – “A Bionic Christmas Carol”, whilst some of the better known adaptions include Mickey’s (Mouse) Christmas Carol, Bill Murray’s Scrooged, Blackadder’s Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and my favourite film version, Disney’s A Christmas Carol starring Jim Carrey.

Back in October this year I was honoured to the great-great-great-granddaughter of Dickens, namely author and historian Lucida Hawksley. With a keen interest in her family history, she was speaking at Wanstead Library (as part of the Fabula Festival) where she discussed Dickens’ life, including his early childhood and how his constant fear of poverty, despite being the greatest celebrity of his age, always stayed with him, due to time spent as a child labourer. She also explained that not only was he a superb novelist, but that he was also a brilliant campaign journalist, philanthropist and social reformer.

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Above all else though, at a time of year when many families feel the financial burden of Christmas in what too often becomes a celebration of wealth and consumerism, A Christmas Carol reminds us that a joyful Christmas does not require Ebenezer Scrooge’s gold and that instead, “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

Here’s wishing you all a wonderful Christmas, and a healthy, happy New Year xxx

“God bless us, every one!”

Eva Jordan reviews Miss Marley by the late @VanessaLafaye, and @rebeccamascull @HarperCollinsUK

Eva Reviews Miss Marley.png

 

Every Christmas it has now become customary for me to read Charles Dickens’ wonderful Christmas story, A Christmas Carol; the tale of solitary miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, who is taught the true meaning of Christmas through a series of ghostly visitors on Christmas Eve, including his old business partner Jacob Marley. However, for those of you who don’t know, there is a prequel to this great Dickensian ghost story, namely Miss Marley.

Written almost two centuries after A Christmas Carol, Miss Marley tells the story of orphans Clara and Jacob Marley. The siblings spend the first happy years of their young lives living in a grand house with their parents. However, some years later after the tragic loss of both parents, Clara and Jacob then find themselves homeless and penniless. Living on the streets of London, in the shadow of the workhouse, the youngsters scavenge for food as, “Every Friday afternoon, the butcher threw scraps from his back door to the hungry street children, but all the best morsels went to bigger boys and vicious stray dogs”, relying on their wits and one another to keep each other safe. Then an opportunity presents itself, one that will allow the intrepid youngsters to flee the dangerous city streets and escape poverty. Jacob seizes it, despite the great moral price to his soul. Later, after much hard work, with the siblings once again elevated in society, Jacob meets Ebenezer Scrooge… and so begins their infamous partnership.

The author’s note by Vanessa Lafaye states how she often wondered about Marley’s backstory; an exercise that eventually consumed her imagination. Sadly, Vanessa passed away in February 2018, unable to finish this beautiful prequel. But at the request of Vanessa’s husband, and her publisher, it was, I’m pleased to say, completed by Vanessa’s good friend and fellow author, Rebecca Mascull. 

Written in third person, this is the bittersweet story of Jacob Marley as seen through the eyes of his sister, Clara. Clara is a character entirely invented by the author who believed “that the idea of inhabiting Marley himself felt too much like trespassing”. Masterfully written, this evocative fable offers insight into the social observations of Victorian life, which at times reflect some of our current issues, whilst also capturing the Dickensian spirit of Christmas, complete with ghosts, goodwill, hope and redemption.

 

Hardcover: 176 pages

Publisher: Hq (1 Nov. 2018)

Amazon buying links here and here.

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

“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