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The Gossip’s Choice, an interview with Sara Read #midwifery #17thCentury

Welcome to Sara Read, whose new book The Gossip’s Choice is out next week. As a fellow enthusiast for the Seventeenth Century, I was particularly keen to Gossip SR Beeston Photointerview her and discover more about her new novel.

The Blurb:

“Call The Midwife for the 17th Century”

Lucie Smith is a respected midwife who is married to Jasper, the town apothecary. They live happily together at the shop with the sign of the Three Doves. But sixteen-sixty-five proves a troublesome year for the couple. Lucie is called to a birth at the local Manor House and Jasper objects to her involvement with their former opponents in the English Civil Wars. Their only-surviving son Simon flees plague-ridden London for his country hometown, only to argue with his father. Lucie also has to manage her husband’s fury at the news of their loyal housemaid’s unplanned pregnancy and its repercussions. The year draws to a close with the first-ever accusation of malpractice against Lucie, which could see her lose her midwifery licence, or even face ex-communication…

What made you want to write a novel, and what was the most difficult moment in the process?

This novel grew out of my day job which is as an academic who researches aspects seventeenth-century women’s lives. I have wanted to write a historical fiction based on the lives of women I have read about over the years but it took me a long time and a few false starts to get it done. On my laptop there are several abandoned versions of the opening chapters going back a decade. Funnily enough, I found that it was not until the title The Gossips’ Choice came to me that the story would come. So the hardest part was getting started. Once I had the title it came together very speedily.

Who is your favourite minor character in the book and why?

This is such a good question, it really made me think about the novel in a different way. The answer has to be Ned the apothecary’s apprentice. He is nineteen and gets into a rowdy crowd of fellow apprentices. He has a lot to put up with since he gets teased when he has to carry the heavy birthing chair around town for his mistress, Lucie Smith. But he still finds ways around the discipline of his puritanical master and sneaks to the tavern in the evening when the rest of the household has gone to bed.

Tell me about an object or place that is important in the novel, and what it signifies.

The novel has a very strong sense of place in that it is all set in and around the Three Doves which is the name of the apothecary shop in which Lucie and her family live. Lucie has lived there all her married life and all the episodes and events which happen in the course of the novel, see her safely back at the Three Doves.  The shop is marked by a hanging sign of the Three Doves which is illustrated on the reverse of the cover of the novel, and Lucie gets a notion that the tatty and worn sign should be revamped as a surprise for her husband as they approach the 30th anniversary of their marriage. The name is taken from an historical apothecary shop in Bucklersbury Street in sixteenth-century London.

What fascinates you about 17th Century midwifery, and can you share some of your sources that helped in the creation of The Gossip’s Choice?

Gossip stool 2I first encountered a seventeenth-century midwife as an undergraduate on a module all about seventeenth-century women’s writing. Jane Sharp is the first named Englishwoman to have written and published a midwifery textbook, The Midwives Book (1671) and although she takes lot of her material from other printed sources, such as Nicholas Culpeper’s books, you can still hear her own voice loud and clear. The ideas about best practice and the recipes for remedies used in the novel are largely taken from Jane Sharp’s book. The second main source was the case notes of a midwife called Sarah Stone who published a set of around forty cases in 1737. Each case is the story of a difficult birth in which she was typically called in to help after others had failed. These cases provided me with a base for a good number of the birth tales in the novel.

Gossip seems to play a part in the novel. What form does this take? If you could have a good old gossip with anyone from the 17th Century, who would it be?

A gossip was a woman who supported another in labour. This female support circle was a major part of the birth experience of women at this time and it was reciprocal, so you would act as a gossip for a friend who would then be a gossip for you in your hour of need. Lucie Smith is the gossips’ choice because she is the midwife of best repute for miles around. However, when events take a dark turn she finds herself the topic on everyone’s lips and is the gossips’ choice for all the wrong reasons. If I could have a good old gossip with anyone from the seventeenth century I would love to do so with a woman called Mary Trye. Trye published a book in 1675 called Medicatrix, or the Female Physician in which she launches into an angry and spirited defence of her late father. This woman knew a lot of gossip, had connections to friends in high places, and was also incredibly witty. You could not want to get on the wrong side of her, but I bet she would be excellent company for a gossipy afternoon!

Huge thanks to Sara for sharing the process of birthing her novel with us!

Dr Sara Read is a lecturer at Loughborough University. She lives in Staffordshire and when not writing or teaching spends much of her time running round after her two-year-old granddaughter. The Gossips’ Choice is her debut novel.
Dr Read has also written many excellent non-fiction books about women in the Early Modern Period – find them all HERE
You can also find her at her website or on Twitter @saralread
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Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany

 

German August-Landmesser-Almanya-1936
A lone man with his arms folded as hundreds around him perform the Nazi salute at the launch of the Horst Wessel, 1936. Picture from Wikipedia

I’m delighted to welcome Marion Kummerow to my blog to tell us about her series of books based on the true story of her grandparents.

Deborah: I’m interested to know more about your grandparents, who belonged to the German resistance and fought against the Nazi regime. They died before you were born, so how did you uncover their story? Was it through letters or stories?

Marion: The “Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany” – series is as true to reality as possible.

What happened to my grandparents Hansheinrich and Ingeborg Kummerow was a big, fascinating mystery when I was a child. Their names were rarely, if ever, mentioned in my family and my sister and I only knew they were dead and had been “spies” for the Russians.

During the Cold War they were still considered traitors, because of their communist/social ideals. But after the German reunification in 1989, the political climate changed enough to acknowledge also the German resistance, people that had worked with the Soviets, for the heroes they had been.

Several years later, a student of political sciences visited my parents’ house to write a bachelor thesis about my grandfather. Her work unearthed a lot of documentation that had been collected in the Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand in Berlin.

And, because my family is one of collectors and keepers (you’ll know this from Q in the book Unrelenting), all their letters, and the many letters between Q’s mother and Hilde’s step-mother were still in our possession. Most of my knowledge about Q’s and Hilde’s lives is based on those letters.

In ‘Unrelenting’, the character of Q is a scientist. How did you go about researching the sort of work he did, and why did this work make him a target for the Nazi regime? Were other scientists targeted in this way?

I don’t think his work made him an explicit target for the Nazi regime. Every scientist who could make a useful contribution to the war effort was confronted with tough decisions at some point in his career.

Albert Einstein had to emigrate (he was a Jew), but many Aryan scientists i.e. Thomas Mann decided to emigrate, too. Not out of need, but out of conscience. During the Nazi times it was “Who’s not for me is against me”, there was no other way.

The character of Hilde resists being drawn in to the Nazi propaganda which is popular with her peers. What made the propaganda so powerful for young Germans, and what gave Hilde the inner strength to resist it?

Hitler unfortunately was clever. He grabbed the people at their vulnerabilities. He promised to make Germany great again, to give the people jobs, food, and money. It was the time after the Great Depression (which also swept over Germany), so there was a need for promises of a better future.

Later the propaganda gave the young people a feeling of belonging. Group activities, sports competitions, all this leads to powerful communities. People don’t think straight when they’re in a mass of like-minded people. You can observe this in any kind of sports event nowadays.

Tell me a little about your writing life, and what you plan next.

I usually write in the morning and do all other publishing related work in the afternoon, before I have to drop everything at 3.30 p.m. to fetch my daughter from daycare.

Now, that I’ve finished the third book, Unwavering, in the Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany series, I have planned another series in the same time period. The War Girl series will have at least four books and features three sisters in Berlin of 1943 and onwards.  If you read Unwavering you’ll already meet two of the sisters. Prison guard Ursula Herrmann and nurse Anna Klausen.

The “Blonde Angel” Ursula was mentioned in one of my grandmothers letters, but the new series is entirely fiction, as the only reference to a real person is her nickname. I was thoroughly intrigued by the idea of a friendly prison guard and that led me to decide to write a book about her. War Girl Ursula will be published in May or June 2017.

KummerowUnrelenting by Marion Kummerow

I admired the way that the novel shows us the drama of living in pre-War Germany, a side of the war not often seen by English readers. The couple, Marion’s grandparents, Q and Hilde, meet in this part of the trilogy. Q is a scientist and a communist with ideals about serving humanity, and Hilde, unlike her peers, does not agree with the bullying tactics of the Nazi propaganda machine. As a couple, their falling in love is portrayed with touching sentiment. The book brings home the reality of the persecution of scientists and intellectuals in this era, and the fear that gripped Germany as the true nature of Hitler’s regime began to bite. Parallels to politics today are unavoidable, but do make the book more interesting! I knew very little about the collaboration of Germans with the Soviet Union, so this has been an eye-opening read. I would class it more as a memoir than a novel, as much of the narrative is told rather than fully envisaged, but the truth of this story is its strength, and I would  recommend it to anyone wanting to know more about Germany at this time.

 

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Savaged Lands by Lana Kortchik #WWII

Kortchik

The plight of the people of Kiev in WWII was a subject that I knew very little about, so this book helped me understand a little more of the history of this city which is now the capital of Ukraine. This story tells of a romance between a Hungarian soldier, Mark, forced to work for the Nazis, and his relationship with Natasha, a Russian girl, and her family during the enforced occupation of Kiev. At this time  the German machine crushed the Russian people who were systematically starved, or executed, or sent to work camps. Mark’s intervention saved their lives, whilst also putting himself and the family at more risk. Lana Kortchik explores the feelings of those caught in a war zone – their allegiances, the desperate decisions they make to help each other and their neighbours, and the sheer randomness of survival. A powerful and hard-hitting novel, it tackles the themes of loyalty and compassion, and emphasizes the hard choices that need to be made in wartime.

I wrote to Lana to ask her to give us some more background to this fascinating novel.

What made you want to write about wartime Kiev?

I spent three years living in Kiev as a child and my happiest childhood memories are those of Ukraine. When the time came to choose the setting for my novel, I knew it had to be Kiev because the city holds such a special place in my heart. And it had to be Kiev during war because I’ve always been fascinated with war stories. I think the topic of war has a particular significance for any Russian. My grandparents have lived through that period, and, being very close to them, I grew up listening to their wartime stories. Researching the occupation of Kiev and reading about all the places I love during war was very intense and I hope this intensity is reflected in the novel

I’d never heard of the part played by the Hungarian Army in the Nazi occupation. Please tell us a little more about it.

During World War II, Hungary was allied to Germany, having signed the Tripartite Pact. When Operation Barbarossa – German invasion of the Soviet Union – began on 22 June 1941, Hitler expected Hungary to join the attack but the Hungarian government resisted. On June 26 the Hungarian town of Kassa got bombed and the Soviets were blamed for the bombing. Hungary was compelled to declare war against the Soviet Union. Whether it was indeed the Soviets or whether it was Hitler himself who has orchestrated the attack to push Hungary into war is still disputed.

Culturally and sociologically, there was little in common between Hungarians and Germans. In fact, Hungary had a much stronger kinship with Ukraine in terms of lifestyle and culture. An average Hungarian soldier on the Eastern Front didn’t feel any sympathy or loyalty for Hitler. For them, it was merely a decision made by politicians.

At the end of June 1941 Budapest sent forty four thousand soldiers to the Eastern Front. In Kiev, Hungarian troops guarded bridges and other strategic objects, worked as drivers and mechanics. They didn’t take part in atrocities against the Soviet population, nor were they seen as equals by the Germans. For example, they were not allowed to visit German-only restaurants or shops. There were many cases of assault against the Hungarians by the Nazis and because of that, Hungarian soldiers were not hated by the local population, who often encouraged them to desert and turn against Hitler. Some Hungarians did that and paid for it with their lives. In November and December 1941 Hungarian soldiers were recalled back to Hungary. After the war had ended, the politicians who made the decision to fight on Hitler’s side were perceived as war criminals for dragging the country into war.

One of the sisters, Lisa, is forced to leave and work for the Germans, and the reader has mixed feelings about this because of Lisa’s relationship with Natasha, which causes both of them great heartache. What would have been the future for Lisa and girls like her after the war?

Over the course of the war more than three million people had been transported to Germany from the Eastern Front, most of them Ukrainians. Forty thousand people a month were forced to Germany for work, not just from Kiev, but from Kharkov, Crimea, Chernihiv and other Ukrainian towns and villages. The Eastern workers, mostly women and children, lived in camps under strict discipline and worked twelve hours a day six days a week in factories all over Germany and in private enterprises. After the war had ended, many of them returned to the Soviet Union, only to be treated as traitors for collaboration with and working for the enemy. Some were transported to forced labour camps in Siberia by the Bolsheviks, while others were looked upon as second class citizens for the rest of their lives, with jobs and education denied to them. They had a special stamp in their passports, which separated them from the rest of society and caused them to live a life of abuse and suspicion.

The novel is in essence a Romance. How easy was it to make Mark a convincing hero? 

To make a Hungarian soldier fighting on Hitler’s side a convincing hero, he had to be a soldier of Russian descent. Mark doesn’t want to be in occupied Ukraine any more than an average Hungarian soldier but for him it’s twice as difficult. After all, he grew up in a Russian family and is heartbroken by Hitler’s atrocities on Soviet soil. He sees the places where his grandparents had lived, places he had heard about as a child and always wanted to visit, and they are devastated by war. He sees the Russians, people like him, suffer tremendously under Hitler’s regime. Mark and Natasha are trapped in an impossible situation and try to do all in their power to find a way out.

Many thanks to Lana for her interview.

You can find the book here in the UK, or here in the US

Lana’s Website

 

 

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Life with Anne Boleyn – Interview with Judith Arnopp

I am delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp who has just released her Tudor novel about Anne Boleyn – The Kiss of the Concubine. I was interested to find out from Judith about the endless appeal of the Tudors, and about how she has welcomed them them into her writing life.

 

Q What is a typical writing day for you?

My writing day usually starts before I get out of bed. I check my email, scroll through Facebook, sharing links to other writer’s blogs and special offers. Then I let the dog out, have breakfast, look at the mess on the carpet and the dust, and decide I really don’t have time to sort it out. Sometimes I promise myself I will just work for an hour and then clean the house or garden in the afternoon but usually I get so involved with what I am doing that I don’t realise the time until my other half comes home from work. Often, especially if I am writing, I sit at the computer for so long that my bottom is totally numb when I get up. A day of research is more leisurely because it doesn’t take hold of me like the creative process of writing does and I don’t come away from it exhausted. Depending on the season, I usually decamp to the sofa or the garden and make copious notes to be transcribed onto the computer the next morning.

Q. To develop your writing style did you do any courses or read any books on writing? How has your writing style developed and what has influenced it most? Does it vary for different books?

I have a degree in English and Creative writing so much of my style developed at university but I have been writing privately for so long that my ‘voice’ was pretty much established before I began to write seriously. I have been to a few writing courses but to be honest I am not very sociable and like to be in bed by 10pm. I find all that chatting in the evenings to be quite tiring and then I don’t write well the next day.

Reading plays a big part in learning to write, I think. A writer subconsciously adopts a favourite style. I’d say my biggest influences are classical writers. My old mates Shakespeare and Chaucer certainly helped with the shaping of Joanie Toogood and her sisters in The Winchester Goose. I don’t think my style varies in different books but I hope my voice does. I think my skills have developed by never being satisfied that my writing is quite good enough and striving to improve it. I will never stop doing that. I will never be good enough.

Q. Your books involve massive amounts of research. How do you structure your research and what sort of resources do you use?

I use the university library at Lampeter and Aberystwyth which have a wonderful array of books and research material. Aberystwyth has the national library which can acquire just about everything I need.

I read around the subject as widely as I can, taking on board all the varying opinions and theories and then I find my own way. History is not so much a matter of ‘fact’ but of ‘opinion’ and I always bear that in mind. I have data bases on my pc of all the historic characters but since I’ve studied it so long I now rely on my instincts for the ‘world’ in which I write.

I write in the first person and my husband was intrigued at how well I grasped the voice of the 16th century whore, Joanie Toogood in The Winchester Goose. I just hope I can pull off the voice of Anne Boleyn so well in The Kiss of the Concubine which is out now. J

Q. You made the decision to publish your books yourself, and they have done well. What are the advantages of going it alone, and what is the hardest part about self-publishing?

I have no regrets at all about ‘going it alone.’ I can work at my own pace, make my own decisions, choose my own title and book cover, and I don’t have to share the royalties. I am not great at marketing and may not sell as many as those authors with a mainstream publisher but neither do I have the associated hassles. I make a modest living, have a lovely team of people; proof readers, a splendid editor and a cover designer who seems to understand that all I require is simplicity.

The hardest thing about self-publishing is overcoming the stigma and putting up with prejudice from people who refuse to even open the cover of a self-published book. My books have mostly 4-5 star reviews, as do many other independent authors that I know, but there are still people who refuse to accept that self-published authors are worth reading. Of course, there are those that are not so good but these aren’t exclusive to the world of self-publishing and there are many traditionally published books riddled with typos but sadly, these books are not subjected to the same disdain.

On my journey I have discovered that Indie authors have to stick together and I’ve met some fabulous writers from many different genres, all of whom have the talent, the dedication and the work ethic required to produce excellent books. People who avoid self-published authors are missing out, read one of mine and see.

Q. Although you are a medieval history expert, you also seem to have a bit of a thing for the Tudor period. What excites you personally about this era?

I’m not sure ‘expert’ is the right word. I have a Master’s degree in medieval studies which covered the Tudor period. I try to ensure that I produce an even weave of authentic history and fiction. When I began to write seriously I thought there were too many Tudor novels out there and people were getting tired of them and so my first novels were set much earlier.

Peaceweaver is set the years surrounding The Battle of Hastings, and The Forest Dwellers just after covering the period from 1068 -1100. My third novel The Song of Heledd is set even further back in the 7th century. Quite early on in my career I published a pamphlet of short stories called Dear Henry: The Confessions of the Queens which isn’t a serious historical story at all but rather a consideration of the experience of being married to Henry VIII. The response was startling.

It was a bit like marmite. Some people loved it, others hated it but I had so many emails asking if I’d written any full length Tudor novels that I obliged with The Winchester Goose. And since that went down so well with readers I followed up with The Kiss of the Concubine.

And I’ve discovered that I really feel at home there. There is no denying that the Tudors are endlessly fascinating. I love the intrigue, the romance, the clothes, the politics. With each book I research I discover something new, some new twist in the tale. Because I write in the first person I am able to imagine the workings of their inner minds and provide possible explanations as to why they behaved in a certain way.

For instance, when you study Anne Boleyn solely through historic channels she comes across as proud and cruel but it is important to remember that the chronicles concerning her were written by her enemies. It is only when you add human sentiment and some rationality to the story that a possible explanation for her actions emerges.

We all do bad things and, when we do, we always rationalise our behaviour to ourselves. In The Kiss of the Concubine Anne is genuinely in love with Henry, very insecure as queen and desperate to keep both him and her position. To give the illusion of confidence before the court she dons her pride like armour but all her enemies see is arrogance. Desperately afraid of Catherine of Aragon and Mary she treats them badly but I think there are many second-wives out there who have treated their husband’s ex negatively.

Anne is human and she tells her own story honestly and while she doesn’t come across as purer than snow, her impatience and sharp tongue are given context. Good lord, if I were ever judged on my sharp tongue alone I’m sure I’d not come out very well at all.

http://www.juditharnopp.com

Judith on US Amazon

Judith on UK Amazon

Find out more on Judith’s Blog

Many thanks Judith for such frank and interesting answers and best of luck with your new release! Deborah