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.

 

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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

 

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… Where the Wild Winds Blow by the Whittlesey Wordsmiths

Eva Jordan reviews - Where the Wild Winds Blow - the Whittlesey Wordsmiths

Recently, a member of a local writing group approached me and asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing a book they had put together and published. Honoured, I said I’d love to.

Where the Wild Winds Blow is an eclectic mix of fact and fiction, featuring short stories, poems and memoirs contributed by the various members of the Whittlesey Wordsmiths. I have to say; I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I will admit I was pleasantly surprised. Informative, thought-provoking, and at times, enjoyably humorous, it was a real pleasure to read.

At just over 400 pages long it is quite a dense book, but for me, it is not a book that should be devoured all at once, but rather savoured, slowly. Neither does it need to be read sequentially, but rather picked up and flicked through until something piques your curiosity or catches your eye, be that poem, short story or one of the more factual pieces. There’s certainly a wide variety to choose from. I loved the black humour of Jan Cunningham’s somewhat morally bankrupt character in The Mitherers. Then there was Stephen Oliver’s curious tale of Peter Lewis, which recants the story of a modest, seemingly level headed man who lives in constant terror for his life thanks to the same monthly reoccurring nightmare.

Val Chapman’s Amos, concerning a 92-year-old chimney sweep that has won a national writing competition, was hilarious. Largely unimpressed with the pomp and flowing champagne at the award ceremony, Amos is far more concerned about how he can get his hands on a pint of Guinness. Some of the poems, which reflect the bleak beauty of the fens, are eloquent and evocative, while others are witty and amusing. Plus, if you’re looking to brush up on your local history of the fens there’s Philip’s Cumberland’s aptly titled, The Fens (very briefly), packed with lots of interesting facts including several notable historic individuals, like Samuel Pepys and Oliver Cromwell, and their links to the area.

Where the Wild Winds Blow is a veritable box of delights and makes for great reading. The writing is impressive, especially as, noted in the acknowledgements, many of the contributors started their writing projects later in life. A lovely anthology, it would make a thoughtful gift for someone with an interest in the fens or just the book lover in your life, and one I highly recommend.

You can find out more about the Whittlesey Wordsmiths here and buy a copy of the book here, and here.

Eva Jordan in conversation with… Liza Perrat – The Story behind The Swooping Magpie

Eva Jordan in conversation with Liza Perrat - The Story behind The Swooping Magpie - Post Header

On my blog today, I’m very pleased to welcome the lovely Liza Perrat who has written a guest post about her current novel, The Swooping Magpie.

Hi Liza, it’s an honour to have you here today. I haven’t read it yet but The Swooping Magpie sounds like an amazing but heartbreaking read. Can you tell us a little bit more about it, the story behind it?

The Story Behind The Swooping Magpie

We’ve all heard the terrible stories of the Magdalene Laundries, 18th to late 20th century-institutions housing “fallen women”, term implicating sexual promiscuity or prostitution work. In practice, most of these “laundries” were operated as gruelling work-houses. However, many people are unaware that similar institutions operated in Australia and, inspired by a true-life scandal, this the story behind The Swooping Magpie.

It is difficult for any Australian born after the feminist movement to understand what it was like to be sixteen, pregnant and unmarried in 1970. Marriage was still the vital cornerstone of Australian society and it was impossible to imagine having a child outside of this union blessed by church and state.

So, rather than rejoicing at the new life growing inside her, these girls were hidden away in shame –– at their parents’ house or sent to homes for unmarried mothers.

While The Swooping Magpie demonstrates a society that refused to support mothers battling to raise an infant alone, it also exposes the brutal adoption industry practices that targeted healthy newborn babies for childless couples.

Until the mid-70s it was common practice to adopt out the babies of unwed mothers. In the 1960s, Sydney’s Crown Street Women’s Hospital was one of the largest sources of Australia’s adopted babies. Patient documents from there, and other maternity hospitals show that from the moment most unmarried girls arrived, their records were marked “for adoption”.

They were given three days after the birth to sign the adoption consent, and then thirty days to change their minds. These laws were meant to give legal certainty to adoptive parents while protecting relinquishing mothers’ rights. But in practice, those rights were either denied or the women had no idea they existed.

During this time, approximately 250,000 girls had their newborns taken, many claiming they were pressured into signing consent whilst under the effects of postpartum sedation. Forced to pay this terrible price for pregnancy outside marriage, thousands of women harboured their grief, in silence, for decades.

The Swooping Magpie Book Description

The thunderclap of sexual revolution collides with the black cloud of illegitimacy.

Sixteen-year-old Lindsay Townsend is pretty and popular at school. At home, it’s a different story. Dad belts her and Mum’s either busy or battling a migraine. So when sexy school-teacher Jon Halliwell finds her irresistible, Lindsay believes life is about to change.

She’s not wrong.

Lindsay and Jon pursue their affair in secret because if the school finds out, Jon will lose his job. If Lindsay’s dad finds out, there will be hell to pay. But when a dramatic accident turns her life upside down, Lindsay is separated from the man she loves.

Events spiral beyond her control, emotions conflicting with doubt, loneliness and fear, and Lindsay becomes enmeshed in a shocking true-life Australian scandal. The schoolyard beauty will discover the dangerous games of the adult world. Games that destroy lives.

Lindsay is forced into the toughest choice of her young life. The resulting trauma will forever burden her heart.

Excerpt From Chapter 1

I wrinkle my nostrils against the caustic smell of cat piss as we pick our way across the filthy footpath to the black gate.

My mother steps aside as the high gate creaks open, nods at me to go through. I scowl, don’t move.

‘You heard what your father said, Lindsay.’

With a sigh, I push past her.

The storm flushed away, the humidity has seeped back into the air at this tail-end of another scalding Australian summer. There’s no warmth in me though, only ice-blocks freezing my insides so that I become so cold I can’t stop shivering.

It’s not just the fear that sets me quaking, but the helplessness too. Like when I was a kid about to launch myself down the slippery dip. I’d hesitate, knowing that once I slid off there was no turning back, even if the metal burned my bum raw, or that once I reached the bottom I’d tumble forwards and scrape my knees.

My mother nudges me ahead of her. I don’t realise it yet, and I won’t speak of the whole sorry tale for years to come, since every time I thought about it, the memories would leave me frustrated, sad and angry, but I would recall walking through those black iron gates as crossing the threshold into the darkest hell.

Liza Bio

Liza grew up in Australia, working as a general nurse and midwife. She has now been living in France for over twenty years, where she works as a part-time medical translator and a novelist. She is the author of the historical The Bone Angel series. The first, Spirit of Lost Angels, is set in 18th century revolutionary France. The second, Wolfsangel, is set during the WW2 Nazi Occupation and the French Resistance, and the third novel Blood Rose Angel –– is set during the 14th century Black Plague years.

The first book in Liza’s new series, The Silent Kookaburra, published in November 2016, is a psychological suspense set in 1970s Australia.

Liza is a co-founder and member of the writers’ collective Triskele Books and also reviews books for Bookmuse. liza perrat

Connect with Liza Perrat:
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Sign up for her new book releases and receive a FREE copy of Ill-Fated Rose, the short story that inspired The Bone Angel French historical series.

The Swooping Magpie is available in both ebook and paperback at all the usual retailers.

the swooping magpie triple pic

Eva Jordan in conversation with… M.J. Lee

Eva Jordan in conversation with M.J. Lee - Post Header

Last month, in honour of Remembrance Day, I wrote about my Great Great Uncle William who is commemorated on the Menin Gate. How apt then, when writing my column, I came across author Martin Lee’s recently published novella, The Silent Christmas, which finds Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, trying to unravel a mystery concerning her client’s great grandfather in the trenches on December 25, 1914. Read my review here to find out more but in the meantime, I’d thought we’d do an interview with the author himself.

Martin, can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself? How long have you been writing? Did you always want to be a writer?

I’ve been a writer for most of my adult life, but not a novel writer. I worked in advertising for over 25 years as a copywriter and creative director. Every day, I had to go into work and, in the blink of an eye, come up with creative solutions to business problems for clients. About four years ago, I was offered a new job and I had a chat with a headhunter who asked me what I really wanted to do with my future. Without a thought, I answered ‘write novels’. And now, here I am, with The Silent Christmas being my tenth book to be published, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair series.

I really enjoyed The Silent Christmas, which falls into the historical fiction genre, however, I also understand that you’ve recently released a contemporary thriller called Where The Truth Lies? My question being, which do you prefer to write about, the past or the present?

I’m so glad you enjoyed The Silent Christmas, I really loved writing the book. The answer is both because the challenges are very different for an author. When writing about the past, you have to put yourself in the mind of the character, his or her beliefs, attitudes and thoughts at the time. Writing in the present is much more about the observation of people and events in one’s daily life. I think what links the two is the idea of character. What made people act the way they did, whether it is yesterday or 100 years ago. That’s what I love to write about.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I love research, it’s where you can escape the banal and ordinary and discover something new. As I write historical crime fiction, the mores, actions and beliefs of the time are present in all my work. Readers would soon point out (and have) anachronisms for me. Research allows me to stay true to the times whether its 1920s Shanghai, the Restoration period of Samuel Pepys, or the first year of the Great War.

I’m quite methodical, probably because I was at one time a researcher in history as well as my background in advertising. I start with some general books of the period, in this case, the lead-up and first year of World War One, so that I can understand what was happening on a macro level. Then I will read contemporary newspaper accounts of what happened. In most cases these are third hand, ie reporters writing about something told to them, but in the case of the Christmas Truce, some newspapers published letters from men at the front describing what had happened. At the same time, I will look at newsreel footage, programmes or films on the subject. Some of the participants actually described what happened on film. Next, I will read memoirs or first-hand accounts of what happened. There are three or four published accounts of the Christmas Truce the best being by Henry Williamson, Bruce Bairnsfather and Bertie Felstead. Finally, I will look at contemporary documents such as War Diaries and individual diaries kept at the National Archives or, in this case, at Cheshire Military Museum.

I’m generally researching two books ahead of my writing. So at the moment, I’m looking into the Emancipation of Slaves in 1834….

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Character. Why do people act like they do?

In The Silent Christmas, what made people, on both sides, stop killing each other for one day? What made people stop being enemies and become friends? And conversely, having met and chatted with their opposite numbers, how did they return to the trenches a day later and start killing again?

And finally, what one piece of advice would you offer any would-be writers out there?

Read. Read. Read.

But read smartly.

How is the writer telling his story? What are they trying to say? How are they saying it? What would you do differently? How have they built up character and themes? What genre are they writing in? How would you describe this book in one sentence?

And once you’ve decided to be a writer, never, never give up. There will come a point when you want to stop. Don’t. Push on through to the end, because nobody will ever read an unfinished book.

Writer Martin Lee

M J Lee on Social Media:
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Eva Jordan reviews… The Silent Christmas by M.J. Lee

Eva Jordan reviews The Silent Christmas - Post Header

Thanks to a cousin who has been researching our family tree, I recently discovered I had a Great-Great uncle who served in the trenches during WWl. He joined at the start of the war as a volunteer in 1914, and just one year later, aged twenty-one, he was dead, killed in action, his body never recovered but is commemorated on the Menin Wall in Ypres, Belgium. How apt then, I should stumble upon Martin Lee’s recently released novella, The Silent Christmas, the fifth in the Jayne Sinclair Genealogical Mystery series, which can also be read as a stand-alone.

Set in both the present day and the WWI trenches, the story centres on the informal football match believed to have taken place between the English and German soldiers during a brief truce on Christmas Day 1914. The first chapter takes us straight to the trenches on December 21st in Belgium, capturing the conditions and possible mindset of some soldiers, ‘He lay on his back on the hard ground and dreamt of England; picnicking on the grass in front of the bandstand, straw hat tipped over his eyes to shield them from the sun… A shadow crossed his face and he felt a tap against his foot. ‘Time to get up, Tom, we’re moving forward… The men began packing up… As they did so, a solitary shell from a German whizz-bang whistled overhead, landing one hundred yards past the farm. None of the men moved or even ducked; each one carried on preparing to move forward as if nothing had happened.’ We then move forward to the present day and discover Jayne Sinclair, a genealogical investigator, asked, just days before Christmas, if she can help shed light on the mystery of several items, namely a label, a silver button and a lump of leather, found in a chest in the attic of her client. Ms Sinclair, who says, ‘Our role as genealogists is to use our research to bring these lost people, the vanished people of our family, back to life,’ agrees, and the mystery begins to unravel.

Written in the third person throughout, The Silent Christmas is a fictional tale exploring the actual events that took place during December 1914, later called the ‘Christmas Truce.’ A real “feel good” story handled with great care and respect, full of hope and love, that is both well written and researched. And, as 2018 marks the 100-year anniversary of Armistice it is also particularly poignant.

You can find The Silent Christmas on Amazon 

Writer Martin Lee

M J Lee on Social Media:
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