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Two books with #WW2 connections

Of Darkness and Light is an engaging mystery of art and artists set in WW2 Norway. Heidi Eljarbo has certainly given herself a challenge – to write two historical periods in one novel which flow seamlessly from one to another, but the narrative works well and the two timelines inform each other beautifully. We begin the story in WW2 Norway where Soli works in an art shop. We see the shock of the invasion of Norway by the German army and what that means for Soli’s close family and friends.

As the book progresses, the art shop where Soli works is frequented by Nazi collectors of fine art, although the owner does his best to hide the most precious works from these men. When a murder happens right outside the shop, Soli finds herself irresistibly drawn into the mystery of who killed her colleague and why, and the puzzle deepens when Soli discovers that the victim, who she thought she knew well, is also known by another name.

At the same time a painting is missing from auction and Soli must uncover what has happened to it before the Nazis do. I can’t reveal too much of the plot without revealing all the twists and turns, but suffice it to say, Soli and her Art Club are drawn into the Resistance in their bid to save the art world’s cultural heritage from being stolen by the Nazis. Soli is an engaging protagonist, with the skill to tell a real painting from a fake, and the author makes the most of Soli’s ‘eye’ in giving us detailed descriptions of people and places. The reveal of what is inside the walnut and gilded frame is a highlight for me in descriptive writing.

As well as finely drawn detail within WW2 Norway, We are taken back to 17th Century Valetta, Malta, to the studio of Michelangelo known as Caravaggio, and his model Fabiola, again all described in sumptuous detail. If you love the art world and a good mystery, you will really enjoy this well-written book which has plenty of excitement and intrigue to keep you turning the pages.

Find out more about Heidi and her other books.

Endless Skies by Jane Cable is a contemporary romantic novel that harks back to memories of WW2. Archaeologist Rachel Ward’s relationships with men have always been a disaster.  Short-lived, and lacking in commitment. This novel begins to unlock why by gradually letting us into her past. Brought up by her grandmother, Rachel has a natural empathy with Esther, an elderly woman in a care home near where she is working. I really enjoyed the character of Esther, and thought she was drawn well without too much sentimentality.

The men in Rachel’s life are the dreadful, manipulative Ben, one of her students, and Jonathan, who is a property developer. An affair with Ben was always going to be a bad idea, but it also causes Rachel to look back at why she always makes such bad choices. Jonathan asks Rachel to do some work surveying what used to be a local airbase. This links up to Esther’s story, but I won’t give too much away.

One of the delights of the book is the atmospheric setting of the flat Lincolnshire countryside, and the deserted airfield which contributes to the idea that the ghosts of the past still have a bearing on what happens in the present. A thoroughly enjoyable read with multiple interesting strands.

Read more from Jane about the book.

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Recent Recommended Reads Private Lives by JG Harlond and Daughters Of India by Jill McGivering

cover193221-mediumWith lockdown in progress, and my new book just finished, I’ve made time for plenty of reading this month. Here are the first two reviews and I’ll be posting the rest of the reviews shortly.

Private Lives by J G Harlond

I read the first of these Bob Robbins mysteries set in WW2 and loved it, so couldn’t wait for more. This is the ultimate cosy read, full of humour, but also hiding some dark and dangerous depths. I think of it as Agatha Christie meets Dad’s Army, but the characters have plenty of depth. The mystery starts from the off, with Bob Robbins witnessing (from afar) what he thinks might be a shotgun murder. But when he searches the spot there is no body to be found, and the person he saw has simply disappeared. Bob is supposed to be on holiday, but of course he can’t help being curious, and is soon sucked into the investigation, forfeiting his longed-for summer break.

A body does eventually appear, but not the man they are looking for, adding to the mystery.

Bob Robbins  is aided in his investigations by raw recruit Laurie Oliver, who has a love of the ladies and of English Literature, and always has an apt quotation to hand. Fun is added by the setting which includes a chintzy seaside boarding house with a group of thespians preparing to entertain the holidaymakers. Nearly all of them have something to hide, and give Bob a run for his money. The vivacious  actress Jessamyn Flowers (who incidentally has several other names) who runs the lodging house is especially enjoyable. Anyone who does ‘Am Dram’ will recognise this world, and appreciate it. The background of wartime England is accurately and evocatively drawn, with preparations for ‘D Day’ going on all the time. Settle down with your cocoa for this ideal slice of entertaining escapism.

 

Daughters Of India by Jill McGivering

71wUcBYYImLI love to read anything set in India and was really impressed by the sense of place in this book. Right from the beginning, McGivering shows us the heat and colour of India then contrasts it with the chilly Yorkshire Dales, where Isabel must spend the holidays at boarding school and then away from her family and her beloved India. These early parts, seen through childhood eyes, add to the feeling of India as a place of golden memory. Later we are treated to the smells and sounds of Delhi, and then the Andaman Islands – a place I had never even heard of, in the Bay of Bengal. I feel now I have a picture of these places in my imagination.

The two main protagonists, Isabel, born into Colonial luxury of the British Raj, but always feeling an outsider, and Asha, a hindu, are both courageous women. From the cover, I thought this might be a light romantic read, but it is a hard-hitting exploration of attitudes during the final days of the Raj, when India looks for self-rule and the Raj looks to maintain control. The politics are well-researched and sensitively handled, the male characters real people not just ciphers. The book deftly explores the difference between what some call murderers and some call freedom fighters. If you want a book that will take you to a different time and place, that will surprise you, shock you and move you, then this is very highly recommended.

 

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Bob Robbins Home Front Mysteries – J.G Harlond on writing about life in wartime England

P jane author shot1 CORRECT VERSION FOR PUBLICITYI’m delighted to welcome J.G Harlond today, for a post about memory and research, and the writing of her cosy Bob Robbins Home Front Mysteries.

J.G Harlond is a British author of historical crime novels. After travelling widely, Jane and her Spanish husband are now settled in rural Andalucía, Spain. Do grab a coffee and sit to enjoy this interesting insight into a writer’s process.

Over to Jane:

Like Deborah, I write fiction set in the 17th Century and World War Two. I enjoy the hard work that goes into writing about both epochs, but I have to admit my new story, Private Lives (set 1942), has been challenging. On the surface, writing a cosy historical crime with a touch of black comedy should have been easier than writing The Chosen Man Trilogy, for example, but it wasn’t. 

Ludo da Portovenere’s wicked adventures in Europe and India in the mid-seventeenth century are all based on documented history. Each story includes facts, researched social and commercial data, plus a few lesser known historical details such as what happened to some of the most valuable English Crown Jewels during the English Civil War: what happens to Bob Robbins in Devon and Cornwall during the nineteen-forties also includes researched data and surprising facts, but Bob’s stories also draw on personal memory. Not that I lived through the Second World War: I’m not that old! The background and ambience of Local Resistance and Private Lives, however, rely to an extent on how I interpreted wartime life from my parents’ and grand-parents’ references and anecdotes. This in turn involves a certain amount of speculation on how other ‘ordinary’ families lived in small towns, rural and coastal communities.

imagesIn my mind’s eye, while I am writing, I can see what is happening in those days: the hand-knitted cardigans and walnut-laminated wireless sets, wooden draining boards and rolled newspapers fanning flames out of a few bits of coal. I was a post-war baby, born while the war and food rationing were a recent memory. Little was said in my hearing about the war itself, but the Home Front, that was a different matter. Tales about how goods fell off the back of a lorry, reminders to wear something white at night (to avoid getting run over in the black-out), to make do and mend; anecdotes about fire-watch duties, poker games and local dances . . .  These must have settled into the back of my mind the way popular song lyrics do.

Nobody belittled the difficulties they endured, but in the daily struggle – and it was a struggle – there was a lot of humour. Life was dangerous and unpredictable, even in rural or coastal areas where a random bomber might dump unused bombs on the way back to base. This happened. I remember distinctly being told about a primary school where the only child to survive had been at home in bed with a sore throat.

People were stoic, but not passé, although a survey conducted in London in November 1940 revealed only 40% of the population went into an air-raid shelter on a regular basis. Most Londoners preferred to risk sudden death in their own beds. Anderson shelters constructed in back gardens were chilly, relatively flimsy affairs, and must have been very unpleasant on winter nights. Morrison shelters, large steel tables with inbuilt cages that took up most of the floor space of the average sitting-room were preferable, but offered only limited safety. Larger homes created well-prepared refuge rooms in basements. Londoners who had access to none of these installed themselves in underground Tube stations, where there was no sanitation or comfort beyond the company of strangers. The inhabitants of Plymouth pushed blankets and thermos flasks into babies’ prams or garden wheel-barrows and trekked out of the city to sleep under the stars on Dartmoor.

Think about that for a minute: how did mothers with young children cope? How did the elderly cope with the long walk and discomfort? Yet cope, they did.

In both town and country, people relied on the black-out to keep them safe. Thick black curtains were hung at all windows: no home, no car or bicycle could show a beam of light for fear of attracting enemy bombers. Road accidents on winter evenings were commonplace.

Daily life, the basic domestic round, goes on under the most extreme of circumstances everywhere, of course, even today. Children have to be fed and educated; homes need to be clean and kept warm. Parents in every country involved feared for their offspring at the front between 1939 and 1945, and they themselves had to get to work in appalling circumstances after sleepless nights. But life went on.

In Britain, there was the added, critical risk of imminent invasion. Cinema news reels showed footage of Poland, the Netherlands and Channel Islands: this could happen in Britain. It was a terrifying thought. Something modern film-makers and writers frequently overlook. The detail about the German U-boat surfacing off the Cornish coast to take on fresh water in Local Resistance was taken from a German sailor’s account. I didn’t invent that. 

With all these threats and challenges, how on earth did the British maintain a positive outlook, or morale as it was called then? The answer lies largely in our idiosyncratic sense of humour and capacity for self-mockery, bolstered by light entertainment on the wireless and at the cinema.

Mrs.-Minivers-kitchen-1-611x458Mrs Miniver demonstrated how even the most polite of middle-class women can be as tough as steel when a Nazi appears at their door. 

All this, family anecdotes, academic research, and a particularly English brand of humour slips into my Home Front mysteries. How a Cornish fishing village called on its ancient smuggling tradition to evade rationing while preparing to defend their country when ‘Jerry’ landed forms the background to Local Resistance; how people as diverse as Land Army girls and unemployed London actors coped with the daily drudge three years into the war underlies the shenanigans and criminal activities in Private Lives.  

The Welsh poet and playwright Dylan Thomas has a wonderful line in the opening of his memoir about growing up in Wales during the Great War: beyond his Wales, he says, “lay England, which was London, and a country called ‘The Front’ from which many of our neighbours never came back”. The Front was obviously perilous, but how life went on in unoccupied Britain, how people coped in the face of incessant difficulties and dangers required its own form of bravery, which deserves to be celebrated.

©J.G. Harlond

cover193221-mediumREAD THE OPENING CHAPTER!  Read the first chapter of Private Lives 

Read about ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’ in Local Resistance: http://getbook.at/LocalResistance

Read about the criminal activities of Devonshire farmers and London actors in Private Lives: http://viewbook.at/PrivateLives

Find Jane on: www.jgharlond.com

Blog – ‘Reading & Writing’

Picture Credits: The picture of Mrs Miniver’s kitchen

The picture of a farm kitchen is from the Museum of English Rural Life

 

PRIVATE LIVES – Cozy crime with a sinister twist in wartime England.
While reluctant wartime detective Bob Robbins is enjoying a few days’ holiday he becomes involved in a shooting incident on a derelict farm. An elderly farmer lies injured, then disappears. A young man is found dead in the barn. Bob reports the incident to the local police but they are so over-stretched with Home Front duties he finds himself in charge of the case. In urgent need of assistance, Bob requests the help of the young police recruit Laurie Oliver. They take rooms at Peony Villas, an unusual sort of guest house where a troupe of London actors are in residence, and where Bob soon finds himself involved in yet another peculiar mystery.

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The Road to Liberation – Excerpt from ‘Stolen Childhood’ #WW2 #WWII

Road to LiberationTo mark 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WW2, I’m delighted to host an excerpt from Marion Kummerow’s book, Stolen Childhood, from the collection, The Road to Liberation.

Enjoy!

Marion Kummerow, “Stolen Childhood”

“Watch me and learn,” Laszlo whispered to Mindel, as they were hiding outside the back door of the kitchen barracks. 

“What are you going to do?” Mindel whispered back, goosebumps rising on her skin. She was scared someone might see them and Laszlo looked as if he were up to no good, but she wasn’t going to let him see her fear. The other children in the group had argued she was too little to hang out with them, but he’d stuck up for her.

She looked up at him with raw adulation. He seemed so grown-up and was so courageous, he was her champion and she’d do whatever he wanted. For the past days she’d followed him around, always eager to please him and make him proud of her. She’d prove the other children wrong and show them she wasn’t too little.

Laszlo peeked around the corner of the building and then pulled her over until she could see as well. “That bucket is my goal.”

Mindel looked at the woman in the kitchen who was pulling potatoes from a large gunny sack and peeling them into a bucket – the same bucket Laszlo had pointed to. 

“Those are potato peels,” she whispered back. 

“And they taste really good. I’m going to get us some.”

“But that’s stealing,” Mindel said, appalled at his heinous plan.

“So what?” 

She stared at him, her mind wandering back to her parents’ farm. One time, her mother had made a birthday cake for Israel, but everyone had only been allowed a small slice before she’d covered it and put it away for the next day. Mindel and Aron had waited until her mother walked out to milk the cows, snuck into the kitchen pantry and each grabbed a huge slice into their hands.

Out of fear of being caught red-handed, they’d crouched in the pantry and stuffed the cake into their mouths as fast as they could. Once the deed was accomplished, they snuck out and into the garden, pretending nothing had happened. 

But the moment her mother saw them, her lovely face turned red and she called them out on stealing the cake. Even today, Mindel had no idea how her mother had found out, since they’d been so careful. 

It had been a horrible moment when her mother had taken Mindel’s sticky hands, turned them with the palm upward and hit her with a wooden spoon. Aron hadn’t fared much better either, and both had been sent to their bedroom without dinner that day. 

Mindel had never again stolen even a morsel of food from the pantry. 

“Please, don’t. You’ll get in trouble. They’ll beat you,” she pleaded with Laszlo.

“Only if I get caught. And I’d rather take a beating than starve to death.”

Mindel heard his words and the truth behind them, but she wasn’t sure she agreed. In the camp people got beaten all the time for tiny misdeeds and it wasn’t with a wooden spoon, but with truncheons and whips. She’d even seen people fall down and never get up again after a beating. She didn’t want that to happen to Laszlo. He was her friend. 

“See that little cubbyhole by the shelves?” Laszlo asked.

She craned her head until she saw it, and nodded. 

“You’re fast and small, so you sneak inside and hide there. I’ll stand guard out here. Once the woman turns her back to you, grab as much from the bucket as you can and run back here to me. I’ll create a distraction if I need to.”

All the blood drained from her head and she suddenly felt dizzy. “You want me to steal the potato skins?”

“It’s called organizing food, not stealing. If you pass this test, I’ll make you a member of our gang.”

Mindel swallowed. She so badly wanted to be part of the gang. To belong to someone. And she was hungry. Very hungry. But stealing was wrong. Her mother would be so disappointed. 

Laszlo saw her wavering and insisted, “I dare you. You can’t be with us if you’re a chickenshit.”

She hated this word. Aron had always name-called her this and worse when she hadn’t obeyed his stupid rules. She squared her shoulders and said, “I’ll do it, because I’m brave.” 

Quivering with fear, she bit her lip, thinking of a way to get out of this dare. She repeated Laszlo’s words, telling herself it wasn’t really stealing – because the SS men were so mean and didn’t give them enough. But not even that helped to calm her nerves. 

Laszlo nudged her forward. “Ready? Then go.” 

Mindel nodded. Gathering up all her courage she crept forward, intent on pretending this was simply a game of hide and seek. Back on the farm she’d been a master, hiding in the smallest crevices without making a sound. Most of the time, her brothers would walk right by her, never knowing that she was merely inches away from them.

Suddenly, excitement pushed her fear away. The kitchen worker and those stupid SS guards would never know she was even there, and Laszlo would praise her master skills at playing hide and seek. As an added benefit she’d return with a handful of potato skins for their group of children. She gave a slow smile, encouraging herself, before she squinted her eyes, focusing on the task at hand. Silence was the most important factor, because adults tended to go more by ear than by sight where children were concerned. 

She crept toward the door and waited until the woman wielding the potato peeler turned her back, then Mindel quickly slipped into the kitchen and pressed herself into the small hiding place. Barely breathing, she watched and waited until the woman picked up the tray of peeled potatoes and walked over to the stove. 

Mindel wasted no time. She rushed forward, plunged her hands into the bucket, grabbed two handfuls of potato peels and ran for the doorway where Laszlo was waiting for her. She ducked out of the kitchen just as the sounds of the woman’s feet returned. Clutching her bounty to her chest, she ran with Laszlo toward another building where they’d left the other kids. 

“Good job,” Laszlo said once they were sitting behind the hut, breathing hard.

Mindel smiled broadly at him and presented her spoils. “I did it.”

“Yes, you did it.” Laszlo was eyeing the potato peels and Mindel held out her hands toward him. 

“Eat some.”

“You stole them, you get first dibs.”

Mindel put the food on a not-so-dirty patch of ground and ate two peels. They were slightly bitter and smelled like dirt, but tasted much better than the horrible gruel they were given for soup. Then she divided the bulk into five equal parts for each of the children in the group: Laszlo, Ruth, Fabian, Clara and herself.

“Here,” she invited them.

Almost reverently the children each took their share and chewed the unexpected treat. Once they finished eating, Laszlo grinned. “See, I told you she’s not too small.”

Fabian pouted, but Clara said, “You were right. Now let’s make her a member of the gang.”

After Laszlo nodded his approval, Ruth produced a strip of washed-out gray-brown yarn from her pocket, tied it around Mindel’s left wrist and said rather ceremoniously, “Welcome to our gang!”

Everyone shook her hand and Mindel felt herself grow a few inches with pride. The other children had accepted her as part of their group. She wasn’t alone anymore.

Later at night, she climbed into her bunk, surprised that it was empty. Apparently the two adults who’d slept there last night had found a better place and had taken the blankets with them, leaving her without one and without the warmth of two more bodies by her side. 

She shivered at the thought of the upcoming night, because even though the days could be quite warm, the nights were still cold – although not as horrid as they’d been during the harsh winter. 

The memory of herself cuddling with Rachel to keep warm under the threadbare blanket brought tears into her eyes and she took out Paula, kissed her dirty face, and cried as silently as she could because she didn’t want to hear the adults curse her for waking them up.

A small hand reached for her and she started. It was too dark to see who it was, but when she heard a familiar voice whisper, “Don’t cry. I’ll stay with you,” she relaxed.

“Thanks.” She smiled through her tears and eagerly nodded despite the fact that he could not see her and moved back to allow Laszlo to climb onto her bunk. 

He brought a blanket with him, covered them both with it and they huddled together. She instantly felt warmer, clutching onto his arm with one hand. 

“I will protect you,” he said.

Road to Liberation

READ ON! Buy Links: Amazon US Amazon UK Amazon CA

THE ROAD TO LIBERATION

Six riveting stories dedicated to celebrating the end of WWII.

From USA Today, international bestselling and award-winning authors comes a collection filled with courage, betrayal, hardships and, ultimately, victory over some of the most oppressive rulers the world has ever encountered.

By 1944, the Axis powers are fiercely holding on to their quickly shrinking territories.

The stakes are high—on both sides:

Liberators and oppressors face off in the final battles between good and evil. Only personal bravery and self-sacrifice will tip the scales when the world needs it most.

Read about a small child finding unexpected friends amidst the cruelty of the concentration camps, an Auschwitz survivor working to capture a senior member of the SS, the revolt of a domestic servant hunted by the enemy, a young Jewish girl in a desperate plan to escape the Gestapo, the chaos that confused underground resistance fighters in the Soviet Union, and the difficult lives of a British family made up of displaced children..

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

Stolen Childhood by Marion Kummerow

The Aftermath by Ellie Midwood

When’s Mummy coming? by Rachel Wesson

Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods by Marina Osipova

Liberation Berlin by JJ Toner

Magda’s Mark by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

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A German powder compact causes trouble in #WW2

Today I welcome author Clare Flynn, who I met at the Historical Novel Conference where we were both helping out stuffing goody bags for all the delegates. Clare is going to talk about how one particular object speaks to the themes in her new WW2 novel, The Chalky Sea.

The German Powder Compact

The Chalky Sea MEDIUM WEBThe Chalky Sea, my fifth novel, takes place between the summer of 1940 and the end of the war in 1945. The main character, Gwen Collingwood, is a married thirty-something woman whose husband has headed off to war to a destination unknown (he is in what we now know as Special Operations). For Gwen, an unhappy and unfulfilled woman, who appears emotionally cold, the war represents a form of liberation. Refusing to be evacuated from her small seaside town, even after it becomes a frequent target for the Luftwaffe, Gwen, like many of her contemporaries, finds working for the war effort gives her a new sense of purpose.

You asked me to talk about a real historical object that I found inspiring or related to my book. I’m going to pick a powder compact. I’ve chosen that because one scene in the book revolves around it – and because this object, once ubiquitous, is rarely seen these days other than in the handbags of Vintage enthusiasts or on the shelves of collectors. Powder compacts, at their height of popularity in the 30s, 40s and 50s, declined from the 1960s as heavily powdered faces fell out of fashion.

With rationing and shortages, make-up was not freely available as the war progressed. Women were encouraged instead to eke out their supplies. As one cosmetics advertisement said at the time:

“No lipstick – ourMTI2MjU4Njc2ODU5MjAzNTU0s or anyone else’s – will win the war. But it symbolises one of the reasons why we are fighting.”

Any self-respecting middle-class woman would have had a powder compact, often an ornate one – not in throwaway plastic, but a jewelled or engraved permanent container, intended to be refilled when the powder itself ran out. Compacts were much more than functional objects – they were fashion accessories.

In The Chalky Sea, there is a scene early in the war, between Gwen and her friend, Daphne Pringle, in the ladies room of a local hotel at a benefit to raise money to buy a Spitfire. Daphne claims to have forgotten her face powder, so asks to borrow Gwen’s. The compact is an unusual one, gold and monogrammed with Gwen’s initials, a gift from her husband before they married. The eagle-eyed Daphne examines the object and notices there is an inscription in German and immediately makes the assumption that Gwen must be German and has been concealing that fact. The explanation that Gwen and her husband met in Germany in the 1920s and Roger had a line from Goethe “Glücklich allen, Ist die Seele, die libel” inscribed as a romantic gesture, is greeted with skepticism by Daphne. For her, anything associated with Germany is automatically cause for suspicion – even the woman she regards as her best friend.

Mercury DIGITAL CAMERA

Her voice was frosty. ‘I had no idea you were German.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Then why do you have a powder compact with a German inscription on it?

‘It was a gift from Roger.’

‘From Roger?’ Daphne’s hand went to her mouth. ‘Good Lord, is he German?’

‘Neither of us is German. We happened to meet there. In ’23. I was at finishing school in Switzerland and Roger was working for The Reparations Commission. We met at a party at the British embassy in Berlin. I was a friend of the daughter of one of the attachés there.’

‘You speak German?’

‘Yes.’ Gwen felt herself bristling.

‘I see.’ Daphne’s voice was frosty.

‘As far as I’m aware, Daphne, it’s not a crime. I speak French as well.’

The relationship between Daphne and Gwen doesn’t survive the war, and is emblematic of how people change during the intensity of sustained conflict. Behaviour and attitudes, that might be overlooked in peacetime or never surface at all, come to the forefront and relationships are put to the test. Gwen forms a new friendship with a working class woman, Pauline, to whom in peacetime she would have been unlikely to give the time of day.

So, the powder compact for me is emblematic of the times and of Gwen and Roger’s relationship, a relationship which Gwen stifled in its infancy, a victim of her own past and her own doubts and fears. Had the war not happened, Gwen might well have stayed friends with Daphne, and continued to drift in what was then a passionless marriage, without confronting her own buried emotions and desires.

The German powder compact also opens a door for Gwen, by revealing her knowledge of German, which leads to a new role for her in the war effort.

The Chalky Sea is available as a paperback and a Kindle e-book. http://mybook.to/chalkysea

ImageClare’s website www.clareflynn.co.uk

Amazon author page http://author.to/clareflynn

Facebook www.facebook.com/authorclareflynn

Twitter www.twitter.com/clarefly

 

You can download a free copy of Clare’s short story collection, A Fine Pair of Shoes and Other Stories via her website.

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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.