The Daughter of Victory Lights by Kerri Turner

cov-daughterofvictorylights-final_2_origTitle: The Daughter of Victory Lights

Author: Kerri Turner

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins

Published: 20th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An enthralling story of one woman’s determined grab for freedom after WW2 from a talented new Australian voice.

‘PART CABARET, PART BURLESQUE, AND LIKE NOTHING YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE! GENTLEMEN, AND LADIES IF YOU’VE DARED TO COME, WELCOME TO …

THE VICTORY!’

1945: After the thrill and danger of volunteering in an all-female searchlight regiment protecting Londoners from German bombers overhead, Evelyn Bell is secretly dismayed to be sent back to her rigid domestic life when the war is over. But then she comes across a secret night-time show, hidden from the law on a boat in the middle of the Thames. Entranced by the risqué and lively performance, she grabs the opportunity to join the misfit crew and escape her dreary future.

At first the Victory travels from port to port to raucous applause, but as the shows get bigger and bigger, so too do the risks the performers are driven to take, as well as the growing emotional complications among the crew. Until one desperate night …

1963: Lucy, an unloved and unwanted little girl, is rescued by a mysterious stranger who says he knows her mother. On the Isle of Wight, Lucy is welcomed into an eclectic family of ex-performers. She is showered with kindness and love, but gradually it becomes clear that there are secrets they refuse to share. Who is Evelyn Bell?

~*~

World War Two. Evelyn Bell volunteers for an all-female searchlight regiment during the Blitz, much to her sister, Cynthia’s chagrin. Once the war ends, she is lost, and for several years she is trapped in her sister’s home. She’s forced to take care of things there, and help with her nephew, Spencer, whom she loves. Her sister is traditional, but Evelyn longs for something more. When she stumbles upon a secret dance show at night, she knows she has found a way to break free and forge her own path, and her own identity away from what everyone around her expects her to do. Here, aboard the Victory, she finds her place, and she finds family, friendship and love, as well as tragedy.

AWW2020In 1963, ten-year-old Lucy is living with her aunt, unwanted and unloved, when she is whisked away to the Isle of Wight. Here, she finds a home where she is loved and accepted, but where she still has many unanswered questions. Will her new family answer them?

I interviewed Kerri at the end of April as part of my Isolation Publicity series, and as a thank you, she sent me a signed copy of her latest book, The Daughter of Victory Lights. Four months later, I have managed to get to this after managing to get on top of my very large review stack that kept coming for so long, and that will no doubt start to pile up again. This book is set partly in World War Two, but mostly during the post-war years of the early fifties and the early sixties.

Evie’s story is exceptional. She led a life of freedom and danger during the war, and going back has not been an easy adjustment for her, and nor were the years aboard the Victory, yet she was accepted in this place, as was her daughter, Lucy, whose life informs the second half of the novel. Drawing on imagination and various historical accounts and instances, Kerri has created an evocative and emotionally charged book that celebrates uniqueness, family, and the idea that family is what we make of it, not always those we are related to. It also examines the idea that sometimes, the two are intertwined, often in unique and unexpected ways.

Double narratives like this are always intriguing, and often, they alternate between the different time periods as the future character uncovers information about their relative in the past. Yet that wouldn’t have worked with this one. Evelyn’s story needed to be told in one go, as did Lucy’s, to grasp the tragedy and heroism, and inner strength of these characters and their lives. Lucy’s story was equally important and gave the novel its emotional pull and the strength of familial love and support that as a reader, I wished Evelyn had received from her family.

It is at times turbulent and there are moments filled with worry, hoping the worst won’t happen, followed by revelations that are bittersweet and hopeful. Lucy is a strong character and determined not to let anyone continue to lie to her as her aunts have done. I devoured this book within two days, engaging with the characters and their struggles.

The power in this story is in the family relationships, and the role certain people play in our lives, whether they are biologically related or not. It is tragic and hopeful, and a testament to the power of the human spirit and our ability to recover physically, mentally and emotionally after experiencing trauma, and the lengths we will go to so we can pull through.

 

     Isolation Publicity with Kerri Turner, author of The Daughter of Victory Lights

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

One of my participants is Kerri Tuner, author of The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, and The Daughter of Victory Lights, both historical fiction novels published by HarperCollins Australia. Kerri was due to appear at various author events throughout Queensland about her latest novel, which she kindly sent me a copy of, as well as a tour of regional NSW called HerStory: Women Who Rebel, which sounds fascinating. This interview will touch on her books, and writing, reading, and the events she had to cancel in light of the current pandemic of COVID-19. Like many authors, Kerri is missing out on telling people about her book, and my series is a small way I can help with this.

cov-daughterofvictorylights-final_2_orig

Hi Kerri, and welcome to The Book Muse.

  1. Both your novels are historical fiction – what is it about historical fiction that interests you the most?

It’s the old saying about truth being stranger than fiction. I also think historical fiction creates a real sense of escape. You are going into worlds so entirely different to the one you know, yet realising that some themes are common to humanity all throughout time and place. I find that really interesting, and then there’s an added sense of wonder and awe because you know much of what you’re reading (or writing) is actually true.

  1. I’m yet to read the beautifully inscribed copy of Daughter of the Victory Lights that you sent me at the time of putting this interview together. Where did the inspiration for Evelyn’s story as a member of a searchlight regiment come from?

The Victory, the performing boat that Evelyn ends up working on, was where the idea for this book started. I knew Evelyn worked not as a performer on it, as my last novel had two performers as protagonists, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. I was interested in having her work with the lighting, but also knew that however she ended up on the boat, it would be as a result of her wartime experiences. So I got researching into ways to connect the two parts of her life, and by sheer luck came across the UK’s all-female searchlight regiments. All the pieces kind of fell into place then.

  1. Your first novel takes place in the years before and during the Russian Revolution during World War One – where did this story come from, and is it based in historical stories you heard anywhere?

It’s very much based on the real-life stories I grew up hearing and loving. I trained my whole life to be a ballerina, and knowing I didn’t have access to the high-level training I needed (I grew up in a small town), I decided to immerse myself in everything ballet in an effort to become an expert in everything else (as much as a kid can be an expert, that is!). So ballet dancers were my rock stars, their lives my celebrity gossip. Russian ballet dancers, and particularly in that era running from the late 19th century to the Russian Revolution, they dominated the ballet world and shaped ballet into what it is today. So that’s the era I was reading about the most as I grew up. As an adult, this led to the inspiration for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers. The entire book started with a line written by Joan Acocella, a dance journalist, in the introduction to The Diary of Vaslav Nijinsky. It’s there that I first learned about Russian ballet dancers of that era being involved in the sex trade.

 

  1. Both these books from what I can gather focus on women in history. Several of the authors I read have focused on these untold stories. For you – what do you feel the power of telling these stories is, and why did you choose these stories you’ve used in your novels in particular?

Women’s stories have not been given the same space and attention throughout history, and a lot of that has been deliberate. Strong, boundary-breaking women were often seen as a threat to the established way of life (as is seen with Mathilde Kschessinska in my first novel), and other times women were silenced so as not to give offence to men (as happened with the women who worked during World War 2, seen in my second novel). Telling these stories redresses this imbalance and gives due recognition to women’s huge contributions to history and the way they changed the world and society. The stories I tell are just the ones I happen to find and connect with. I know there are so many more out there waiting to be uncovered.

 

  1. What events have you been booked for that have been impacted by the current pandemic?

I had a tour of author talks in libraries throughout Brisbane which was cancelled, which would have also included bookstore visits for signings and a first-ever Facebook Live event for one of the libraries. I was also going to be one of the authors in the HerStory: Women Who Rebel tour of regional NSW. I still have a couple of events lined up for later in the year, some in Townsville and one in Tamworth, but we’ll have to wait and see how the situation stands before we decide if they go ahead.

  1. The HerStory: Women who Rebel sounds fascinating – can you tell us about the event, who it is run by and which authors were involved?

HerStory: Women Who Rebel is a campaign being run by HarperCollins/Harlequin which features books that focus on women who rebelled throughout history. The campaign includes The Daughter of Victory Lights, The Girl in the Painting by Tea Cooper, The Darkest Shore by Karen Brooks, The Women’s Pages by Victoria Purman, and Where Fortunes Lie by Mary-Anne O-Connor. All five authors were going to be on the same tour, appearing at events as a panel, discussing our books, history, and women’s roles throughout history.

  1. What were you looking forward to in HerStory: Women Who Rebel?

HarperCollins/Harlequin have only recently begun experimenting with this style of tour, where a small group of authors come together for a sort of mini-festival feel. I was excited to see how that would play out. As a relatively new author it can be difficult sometimes to set up solo events – you don’t know if the audience is there for it, and libraries have to place a lot of trust in you. Coming in as a group, I think we had a chance of attracting a more wide-reaching and diverse audience. And I think the conversations were going to be fascinating.

  1. What are you going to miss about HerStory: Women Who Rebel?

The opportunity to connect with readers. Writers spend so much time alone at our desks, working away on our stories, and it’s really nice to get out there and meet people face to face and talk about the things we all love – books! Also, the opportunity to further connect with the other historical writers.

  1. Do you think we need more events like this celebrating women in history, and Australian women authors who write about these women?

Absolutely! One thing every event I’ve done has had in common is the astonishment people express when they find out the kinds of things women have done historically. Events are a fantastic way of getting this fascinating information, information that we can all learn from, out there. They are also vital in supporting authors.

 

  1. Is there a favourite untold or lesser known woman in history you think everyone should know more about?

I would have to say Mathilde Kschessinska. I included her as a supporting character in The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, but I could honestly write an entire series about her and never have to make anything up. The woman was an absolute force. Affairs with royalty, public simultaneous romantic relationships, wealth to rival the Romanov family, incredible power and influence. She had the courage to take Lenin himself to court right when he was amassing his full power; she danced for men who were waiting to kill her and so moved them that she was able to escape. She became a refugee. She taught some of the following generations’ most famous ballet dancers. She lived to nearly her one hundredth birthday. There is so much more I could say. If you’re interested in formidable, temperamental, courageous, rule-breaking women who forged their own paths, definitely look her up!

 

  1. Do you have a writing process, and what is it?

It’s changed a little with each book, as I’ve learned more as I’ve gone through the process of being published. But generally I spend several months researching, and in this time start to build an outline of the plot and characters. I then form a very thorough outline of the book, print it out and lay it on the floor, then see if any storylines have been dropped or any events could be moved to a different section to be more effective. Then I write the first draft, usually leaving small gaps here and there for the tiny historical details that I don’t know and want to fill in later. If it’s a big gap, or something that will influence the direction of the story, I stop and do the research then. After the first draft is done, I research and fill in all those tiny gaps that were left. I usually do another couple of drafts, where I will add further detail, fine-tune the writing, and keep building on the sense of time and place. Then it goes to my agent, who reads the entire manuscript and gives me feedback. I do one more rewrite, send it back to my agent again, and if she’s happy with it, it goes to the publisher. Once the publisher accepts the manuscript, it goes through three rounds of editing. In each round I’m usually still adding little touches here and there, because I can’t help myself. After the last round, I get one more opportunity to see the final, typeset pages, and then my work on it is done. Until the marketing and publicity starts, that is.

 

  1. When writing, do you have a preferred medium, and what is it?

I have a laptop that is solely used for my writing. I use the program Scrivener in the researching and first draft stage, then export the manuscript to Word for subsequent drafts.

  1. Favourite writing companion: cat, dog or both?

Dog, I have a miniature schnauzer called Nelson who always sits by my feet while I write.

  1. Favourite genre to read? Or are there many?

Historical fiction. Although I will read pretty much anything.

 

  1. Favourite author and top five books?

Too hard to pick just one author! But top five books would be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle, Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown, Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park, and Persuasion by Jane Austen.

 

  1. What made you want to become a writer, and how did you find your publisher?

I always thought I would write one day. I’ve loved reading and writing my whole life, and with ballet being such a short career I had a notion that I would become a writer when I retired from ballet. But I didn’t have the right body type to become a ballerina. After a few years of trying different things, I turned to that early idea of writing, and have loved it ever since. Getting published was not easy though. It took several years, many tears and rejections, and countless moments of doubt. In 2017 I came across The Nash Agency, and submitted The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers there. Haylee Nash signed me, and within three months got me a two-book deal.

 

  1. Do you have any favourite booksellers, and why these ones in particular?

All of them! I love shopping at independent bookstores wherever possible. But there are some bookstores in particular who have really supported me as a writer. Dymocks Chatswood gave me my first ever in-store signing, Kinokuniya hosted the launch for my debut novel, Booktopia brought me in to sign books and record a podcast, Robinsons got me in to sign copies they distributed throughout their stores in Victoria, Dymocks Melbourne have supported me both online and in store with reviews and signings, Book Bazaar did the most exquisite window display for The Last Days of the Romanov Dancers, and Collins Booksellers Byron Bay gave me the warmest welcome when I just happened to pop in. Plus there’s all the stores that have come along to my events, including but not limited to Book Face Pacific Fair, Burns Bay Bookery, and Dymocks Baulkham Hills.

  1. Which member of the Babysitters Club are you?

Jessi. The love of ballet is a giveaway!

  1. How important do you think the arts are for us at this time, and all the time, and does more need to be done to support them?

The arts are vital. As we can see right now, we turn to them in times of difficulty and great upset. They soothe us when we’re frightened, they allow us to escape when we feel trapped, they connect us when we’re isolated. There is not a single person in the world who has not partaken in the arts in one way or another. Yet the arts are constantly one of the first sectors to be hit with funding cuts. This is despite the enormous contribution they bring to our lives and the economy, and the countless jobs they provide. I’m so grateful to all those who are supporting all the innovative ways the arts are trying to survive, particularly in this difficult period. I would just like to see them supported on a bigger scale, the same way other industries are.

  1. Any recommendations for social isolation reading, listening and viewing?

For reading, I’m defaulting to light-hearted books that make me laugh. Books like The Secret Recipe of Second Chances by J.D. Barrett, The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates, and Crazy Rich Asians by Keven Kwan. For viewing, Younger because it’s set in the world of publishing (albeit a highly fictionalised version), and Kim’s Convenience because it’s warm and hilarious. For listening, I like to escape into cast recordings for musical theatre shows, because you get a story along with the music. I recommend Six, Kinky Boots, or Dear Evan Hansen. Although, if you want something a little different, I did create a Spotify playlist for my book The Daughter of Victory Lights, which is full of big band, swing, and crooners.

Any further comments?

Just a great big thank to for having me here, and an additional thank you to all the readers who are going out of their way to support authors in such an unprecedented and difficult time.

Thanks Kerri!

 

Inheritance of Secrets by Sonya Bates (Inaugural Banjo Prize Shortlisted author)

Inheritance of SecretsTitle: Inheritance of Secrets

Author: Sonya Bates

Genre: Historical Fiction, Contemporary Mystery

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 20th April 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 420

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: No matter how far you run, the past will always find you…

Juliet’s elderly grandparents are killed in their Adelaide home. Who would commit such a heinous crime – and why? The only clue is her grandfather Karl’s missing signet ring.

When Juliet’s estranged sister, Lily, returns in fear for her life, Juliet suspects something far more sinister than a simple break in gone wrong. Before Juliet can get anymore answers, Lily vanishes once more.

Juliet only knew Karl Weiss as a loving grandfather, a German soldier who emigrated to Australia to build a new life. What was he hiding that could have led to his murder?  While attempting to find out. Juliet uncovers some disturbing secrets from WWII that will put both her and her sister’s lives in danger…

Gripping. Tense. Mysterious. Inheritance of Secrets links the crimes of the present to the secrets of the past and asks how far would you go to keep a promise?

~*~

Moving between the present, and a postwar period of transition, Inheritance of Secrets opens like many crime novels – with the crime, or the aftermath of the crime and the beginning of the investigation. Juliet arrives to identify the bodies of her grandparents, Karl and Grete at the morgue. From here, the detectives tell her what has happened, and Juliet begins to wonder what could have happened.

AWW2020As she investigates, her relationships fracture or come together – she finds herself drifting away from her partner, Jason, and closer to her childhood friend, Ellis, and her sister Lily as she uncovers secrets that Lily has kept from her for years. Yet it there is more to the case than previously thought – and Juliet and Lily soon find themselves pursued by Nazi Hunters, determined to find something they claim Karl stole more at the end of the war. But what is it, and what secrets are hidden within?

As the novel weaves back and forth between Karl’s post-war journey to Australia, and contemporary times, where Lily and Juliet are on the run from those who are demanding something from their grandfather, the mystery of what Karl was hiding all these years and the secrets he carried over from Germany. These elements make up the story, filled with intrigue, and questions about how well you know someone, morals, ethics and how far you’ll go to protect secrets even if they could hurt someone or make you see someone you love in a different light. And once you’ve discovered something about that person you could never have imagined – how far will you go – how far will Juliet go – to make sure that secret stays hidden?

This novel is about the grey areas of morals and ethics – where the choices one makes might not be what we want or might be forced on us. Or might be something that needs to be done yet is morally and ethically wrong. It shows the contrast between what we know of history and what may have been hidden, or the secrets that individuals kept even from family – to protect them. This novel combined historical fiction, mystery and thriller in a new way, and showed a different side to the story of World War Two, and the post war period than we are used to seeing – filled with moral ambiguity that left me wondering whether the right thing had been done – and whether the threat was truly gone as well.

 

Book Bingo Four 2020 – Themes of Inequality

Book bingo 2020

Welcome back to book bingo with Theresa, Amanda and myself. And now we are well into April, and I am ticking off my fourth square, Themes of Inequality with The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz. Here, inequality is shown it all its forms, depicting one of the most horrific events of inequality. The first official transport discussed in this book, that was well-researched by the author in collaboration with survivors of that transport, their descendants and relevant Jewish and Holocaust organisations, shows that there are gaps in our knowledge about the Holocaust.

 

the 900

Here is an untold story beyond the numbers, beyond the tattoos. It is made up of extensive research, interviews and collaboration with those from the first transport who survived, and the author acknowledges in her introduction and throughout, where there are gaps, and where she has had to infer what was said based on descriptions of what happened where testimony is lacking. I have said more in my review about this, so won’t repeat it too much here, but this book fits this square nicely, and without knowing what else I’ll come across this year, I’m electing books for squares as I read, and writing these up as I go.

Blog Tour Review: The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal

9781760875275Title: The Deceptions

Author: Suzanne Leal

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Long-buried family secrets surface in a compelling new novel from the author of The Teacher’s Secret.

Moving from wartime Europe to modern day Australia, The Deceptions is a powerful story of old transgressions, unexpected revelations and the legacy of lives built on lies and deceit.

Prague, 1943. Taken from her home in Prague, Hana Lederova finds herself imprisoned in the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt, where she is forced to endure appalling deprivation and the imminent threat of transportation to the east. When she attracts the attention of the Czech gendarme who becomes her guard, Hana reluctantly accepts his advances, hoping for the protection she so desperately needs.

Sydney, 2010. Manipulated into a liaison with her married boss, Tessa knows she needs to end it, but how? Tessa’s grandmother, Irena, also has something to hide. Harkening back to the Second World War, hers is a carefully kept secret that, if revealed, would send shockwaves well beyond her own fractured family.

Inspired by a true story of wartime betrayal, The Deceptions is a searing, compassionate tale of love and duplicity-and family secrets better left buried.

3

The Deceptions is a stunning example of the way fiction tells war better than any other form – I could taste its madness, its horror. Saw from the outside, its utter absurdity. For days after reading the novel I found myself wrestling with the price of betrayal, and the value of truth.’ – Sofie Laguna, winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award

‘At what cost can a survivor of hell rebuild a seemingly normal life? The Deceptions is a gripping and tragic story for our times.’ – Leah Kaminsky, author of The Hollow Bones

‘Impossible to put down. Leal is a master storyteller. Mesmerising, heartbreaking, honest-The Deceptions is ferociously good.’ – Nikki Gemmell, author of After

‘Those who grew up in the shadow of the Second World War had Elie Wiesel’s Night to define for them the enormity for the Holocaust. Those who were born later can now rely upon Suzanne Leal’s brilliant and confronting novel The Deceptions to open their eyes to the true horrors of Nazism.’ – Alan Gold, author of Bloodline

~*~

Moving between the war and 2010 using four perspectives, sign posted by the names of the characters – Ruth, Hana, Karel and Tessa – with Hana’s story being told in first person, and the others in third person – The Deceptions is the story of decades long secrets, family and survival, and the sacrifices made to keep family safe. Hana and Tessa tell the majority of the story, with Karel and Ruth making appearances throughout. Hana’s story is woven throughout from the start to the end – her life and death and her time in the ghetto and at Auschwitz. Whilst there, she has her own secrets that she cannot share with anyone – does not share with anyone until one of the women she is trapped with at Auschwitz notices and helps her through the trying months.

The Deceptions is based on stories Suzanne heard from her landlords, Fred and Eva Perger, and Suzanne has managed to seamlessly separate fact from fiction and allow the fictional counterparts to interact with the real life experiences in a way that feels so real, it is almost overpowering and allows the reader to explore this part of history that has been retold in a new way. Most people will only think of the faceless mass of numbers – yet assigning a name and identity to those affected, the victims and their families, shows the enormity of what actually happened. These were real people, with homes and families, and lives. Yet in stripping them of these, the Nazis were able to carry out their atrocities. When we think of the victims, we must try to remember that they had names, and I think this is where books like Suzanne’s and Fred and Eva’s stories come in – they allow us to see the people behind the numbers.

AWW2020

Hana is the Jewish narrator, whose story is told in first person. Karel, the Czech gendarme from Theresienstadt and his granddaughter Tessa tell their stories – a story of reflection and a story of an affair that ends abruptly. Finally, Ruth, the minister – whose story is interwoven throughout in regard to her relationship with her father and Tessa and Karel. Each are connected by the Holocaust and the way it touched and continues to touch many interconnected lives – there is no end to the trauma. It never goes away.

Suzanne doesn’t meander or waffle, the story is clear and crisp – direct, you could say, in the way her characters relate their stories. It seems there is no beating around the bush with what is happening and what has happened. She questions morality and truth and allows the reader and characters to make up their own minds. Some stories were wrapped up, others were not tied up so neatly and that is okay – that is what real life is like. It is a thought-provoking novel about what we do in certain circumstances, how we are challenged and how we face what we have done. I thoroughly enjoyed it and think it adds something special  to the current lot of Holocaust stories that are available.

 

Isolation Publicity: Suzanne Leal Blog Tour, Author of The Deceptions

3

Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

Leal, Suzanne - credit Kelly Barlow

The third in my Isolation Publicity Series is part of a blog tour for a book called The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal, which is based on stories she heard from her landlords who had lived through the Holocaust. It’s a riveting and moving read, exploring the Holocaust and hidden stories and secrets and how these can affect generations of a family. My review is more expansive. Enjoy this interview and the review.

9781760875275

Hi Suzanne, and welcome to The Book Muse

  1. Novels and books about hidden stories like The Deceptions are some of my favourites, and often very powerful narratives. What has led you to writing these stories as an author?

Hi Ashleigh, and thanks so much for having me.  You’re absolutely right: in my new novel The Deceptions everyone has something to hide or a secret they don’t want revealed.  I’m very interested in what people try to hide or what they simply leave unsaid.  Often the things we don’t know about a person – and what they don’t wish to discuss –  are the very things that are most interesting about them: the trauma they have had to overcome, the country they were forced to leave, the loss they have experienced.   It is these hidden stories that, once known, give us a new insight into people we may have thought we knew well.

  1. Did your experiences as a lawyer help you understand how people in unimaginable situations, like your characters in The Deceptions, make decisions that we may think are immoral or dangerous?

I started my legal career in criminal law, then moved into refugee and immigration law and now child protection. In each of these areas, I deal with people in crisis, whether this is because they risk going to jail or have fled their homeland or have lost their career.  My work has taught me a lot about the difficulties people face in their lives, the mistakes they make and how they might try to make up for them.  When I read about the difficulties facing people during the Second World War I often wonder how I would have behaved.  Would I have behaved as admirably as I might hope I would?

  1. Some people think all war novels are the same. Yet as someone who reads a lot of these sorts of novels, I find each one tells of a unique aspect. Is this something you think novelists in general aim to do?

I’ve never really thought all war novels are the same for truly no two writers will ever tell a story in exactly the same way.  Writing a novel takes time and, for me at least, is a difficult thing to do.  I have to be absolutely taken by the story I have to tell to enable me to keep going with it.  That involves discovering the essence of each of my characters: who they really are and why they behave the way they do.  This is what many most writers do – they really drill down into their characters – and in so doing, make each work unique.

  1. You credit your landlord, Fred, for starting your career as a writer – can you expand on how you feel he helped you enter this career?

For seven years, Fred and Eva Perger were both my neighbours and my landlords.   They were also Czech and Jewish and had both survived the Holocaust.  As we became closer, Fred started to confide in me about his experiences during the war. These confidences became regular interviews and in the space of a year, I had five hundred pages of transcript describing events and places with an honesty and photographic recall that still astound me. These interviews formed the basis for my first novel, Border Street, which opened my career as a writer.

My new novel, The Deceptions, was inspired one of the stories Fred and Eva had each told me.  As teenagers, they’d been sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto outside Prague.  Whilst there, they got to know a Czech gendarme whose job was to guard the camp but who was also having a clandestine relationship with one of the young Jewish women detained there.  Some months later, the gendarme and the young woman disappeared from the camp.  After the war, he returned home but her fate remained unknown.  Over the years, I found myself wondering what had happened to her.  I didn’t have enough information to research her actual life – I didn’t even know her name – but at the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about her.  In the end, I gave in and, using my imagination, I recreated her instead.  From there, The Deceptions emerged.

  1. Which do you prefer – being a writer, or fighting for justice in a court room?

I like the combination.  As a lawyer, I sit on a tribunal where I make decisions about people who come before me.  I might be called on to decide whether a person should have a taxi licence or a building licence or a tattooing licence or a firearms licence.  I might also be asked to decide whether a person should have the right to work with children.  To make decisions like this, I need to know a lot about a person’s background, behaviour and motivation. This makes my work fascinating.

As a writer, I love to sit alone and to try to put into words those things in life that puzzle me or shock me or surprise me.  I love sitting down to get out on paper all the thoughts that would otherwise clog up my head.

  1. What is it about World War Two and its stories in particular that you are interested in?

I am interested in World War Two because of the unbelievable horror of the Holocaust.  I find it absolutely impossible to contemplate what it must have been like to have been part of it.  Because I became so close to my neighbours, Fred and Eva Perger, who were both Holocaust survivors, I found myself thinking about World War Two a lot.  I found myself wondering how I would have behaved had I been part of the war: would I have behaved well, would I have been altruistic or would I have simply focused on myself?

  1. What is it about dual timeline narratives in historical fiction that you think is an effective and powerful means to tell the story?

I’ve always liked reading dual timeline narratives.  Last year at Storyfest – the Milton-based festival directed by Meredith Jaffé- I interviewed Natasha Lester and I love the way she intertwines her stories of contemporary life and historical fiction.  A dual timeline narrative was important for my novel The Deceptions because it is very much an exploration of the legacy of war through the years and through generations.

  1. What do you prefer writing – historical fiction, or another genre? Why?

I like writing both historical and contemporary fiction, although I find writing historical fiction more difficult because of the all the research required.  More than anything, I’m interested in how we live now, how we manage our relationships, our work, our losses and how we find the strength to get through hard times.

  1. Have you shared your story with Fred and Eva’s family?

Since Fred and Eva’s death, I have stayed in contact with their daughters, Helena and Renata, to whom I have dedicated The Deceptions.  Helena and Renata read the manuscript early on because I wanted to make sure there was nothing in the book that might upset them.  For although the character of Hana is in no way based on their mother, the places Hana is taken during the war are the same as the places Eva was taken.  Helena and Renata checked my Czech for me and have been incredibly supportive of me.

  1. When did Fred and Eva start telling you their stories about the Holocaust?

I lived beside Fred and Eva for seven years.  After a year or so, they began to tell me about their wartime experiences.  It wasn’t until I’d moved away from them that Fred and I met each week to record his life experiences.

  1. For many people, the Holocaust is a distant event, that’s sometimes just a number. Yet it affected millions of people, has millions of names attached. How important do you think it is to continue teaching it and letting the world know about stories like Eva and Fred’s story?

I think it is fundamental to keep telling stories of the Holocaust so that the horror of it might never be forgotten and never repeated.  It is difficult to comprehend the deaths of millions of people, so difficult it can lose its impact.  More confronting can be the story of one or two or three people whose stories we follow so closely we can immerse ourselves in their lives and get an insight into their experiences. This, I think, is the particular power of fiction.

  1. What impact do you think stories with named victims will have on the teaching of the Holocaust, beyond the usual names such as Anne Frank that we all know? Is it your hope that more stories like this will not only expand knowledge, but expand understanding and empathy?

There are so much Holocaust stories of so many people from so many different backgrounds.  To expand these stories is fundamental to an understanding of the horror and reach of the Holocaust. I think it is also important not to forget that the damage war causes has a long reach: it stretches through time and down the generations.

  1. Finally, what are you planning for your next book, if there are any plans?

I’ve just finished the first draft of my new novel, which continues the theme that so interests me: how do we find hope and resilience in the midst of troubled times?

Thank you Suzanne, and good luck with future endeavours.

The Paris Secret by Natasha Lester

the paris secretTitle: The Paris Secret

Author: Natasha Lester

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 31st March 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 460

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A wardrobe of Dior gowns, a secret kept for sixty-five years, and the three women bound forever by war… from the New York Times bestselling author of THE FRENCH PHOTOGRAPHER.

England, 1939
 Talented pilot Skye Penrose joins the British war effort where she encounters her estranged sister, Liberty, and childhood soulmate Nicholas Crawford, now engaged to enigmatic Frenchwoman Margaux Jourdan.

Paris, 1947 Designer Christian Dior unveils his extravagant first collection to a world weary of war and grief. He names his debut fragrance, Miss Dior, in tribute to his sister, Catherine, who worked for the French Resistance.

Present day Australian fashion conservator Kat Jourdan discovers a secret wardrobe filled with priceless Dior gowns in her grandmother’s vacant cottage. As she delves into the mystery, Kat begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her beloved grandmother.

An unspeakable betrayal will entwine all of their fates.

THE PARIS SECRET is an unforgettable story about the lengths people go to protect one another, and a love that, despite everything, lasts a lifetime.

~*~

Skye Penrose dreams of flying and following in the footsteps of her mother and Amy Johnson – yet when war breaks out, and all civilian flying is grounded, Skye finds another way to help the war effort with the ATA – transporting planes between bases for repairs and when they need to be turned into scrap metal. During her tenure doing this, she is reunited with her childhood friend from Cornwall, Nicholas Crawford, and the sister she hasn’t seen since she was eighteen – Liberty. Skye then meets Margaux Jourdan, and from here, it weaves in and out of World War Two as Skye and her fellow pilots fight for their right to fly, fight discrimination and eventually, find that they have to hide their own secrets as the novel progresses and the war heads further and further into darker days and eventually, towards the end.

In between the stories of Margaux, Skye and Nicholas and those they work with, is the 2012 story of Kat Jourdan, Margaux’s granddaughter, who uncovers a trove of Dior dresses in her grandmother’s Cornwall home, and a link to the well-known designer. It is here that she starts unravelling Margaux’s past when Elliott Beaufort starts asking questions about a Margaux Jourdan, an ATA pilot and SOE agent who helped the French Resistance and survived imprisonment and escaped. As Kat delves further into the mysteries with Elliott, and finds out about Skye, Margaux, Nicholas, and Liberty, she begins to question what she knows.

AWW2020The novel weaves in and out of the years leading up to World War Two, World War Two, the years just after the war and 2012, telling the reader and Kat the story as it moves along – as though Kat is reading the diaries of those from that time. Each part and perspective is richly brought to life through all the senses and a range of emotions as the war lurches on, and Skye faces loss over and over again, in many ways, tearing her apart from what she knows.

Cleverly, Natasha Lester ensures that the reader does not get lost in the changing characters – each part is clearly marked as to whose story it is, and each part is told in third person, making the transitions seamless and at times, they feel like they are sitting side by side – as something in the past happens, it feels like it might relate to the future.

Fashion plays a big role in this book – the Dior dresses are key to Kat finding out who her grandmother really is, and what happened to Margaux, Skye and Liberty – and why Elliott is determined that Kat’s Margaux is the one he is looking for.

Natasha Lester does something amazing with her books – she puts female history front and centre – and makes this the focus of her book, and leads us gently, and delicately into the romance at the end – much like Kate Forsyth and Jackie French in their historical novels where women are front and centre. The story is about what the women did, and how they coped in the face of sexism and discrimination, and assumptions about what they could do. This is what draws me to these books – seeing the women like Skye as active participants in history and learning about topics and perspectives that I had never known about even with all my reading. These are perspectives that are not always shared widely and books like this give an introduction to this history and for me, a deeper and further interest in trying to find out more. The happy ending was great too – and left me with a huge smile on my face.

Natasha also drops her clues very carefully and cleverly, and I enjoyed trying to work out who was who with what I was given – a very nicely written mystery!

I hope all of Natasha’s fans enjoy this book when it comes out, as it covers so many things – war, friendship, family, and love of all kinds, and illustrates the complexities of history in an accessible manner.

Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2) by Kelly Gardiner

phoenix-coverTitle: Phoenix (Firewatcher Chronicles #2)
Author: Kelly Gardiner
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scholastic
Published: 1st February 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 272
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: May 1941.
The German bombing campaign is reaching its fiery climax, and Christopher and the firewatchers battle against the flames and huge bombs through the worst night of the Blitz.
Christopher tries to go back to 1666; to find his new friends and learn more about the power of his phoenix ring.
Instead, he finds himself in a deserted city, overlooking a smaller, older river port town known as Lundenwic, where the Anglo-Saxon community faces an invasion by the dreaded Vikings.
Christopher must discover why the ring has brought him here, and how to get back to his own time. But there are Viking ships on the Thames, and their warriors threaten to burn the city and conquer the whole of England.
~*~

As the Blitz rages on, and Christopher’s father arrives home, injured and discharged, London will never be the same. As the war rages on and his mother volunteers to help fight fires instead of watching for the bombers, Christopher finds himself mourning friends and neighbours, in between attending school, watching for bombs and looking for treasures with his friends by the Thames. During one of these hunts, Christopher finds a pendant with Thor’s Hammer, that transports him back to the ninth century, where Vikings are threatening to invade the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Lundenwic. Whilst here, he encounters the Vikings, a girl named Elda and is thrust back and forth between their conflict, and German destruction of London. Christopher can’t stop the German bombs coming but he can find a way to stop the Vikings attacking an empty town.

As the novel moves back and forth between 1941 and at least a thousand years in the past, and hints at London’s history, and the layers of history that lie beneath the streets of modern London are hinted at in an accessible and exciting way for young readers, aged eight and older. Aimed at middle grade readers, it combines history, time travel, action, mystery and adventure, the second book in this trilogy alludes to what came before, and the role fire has played many times in shaping London and its history.

AWW2020I waited a long time for this book to come out, and I ordered it into my local bookstore and waited for it to arrive – and managed to read it within two days.
This is a trilogy worth reading – filled to the brim with amazing diverse characters – with disabilities, who aren’t white and the women in history – the Vikings, and Elda, Molly and Christopher’s mother and teacher – who are exceptional in many ways and do not fit the supposed gender norms or expectations of their times, or what history assumes they did. I loved this aspect of the book, and the hints at history we don’t know about – it opens it up for readers and leads them – hopefully – to researching it further. Because, how can we know what is out there if we don’t look and if there isn’t anything like this fabulous series to guide us? It certainly led me to looking up Saxon women, Lundenwic and Vikings – leading me down many research rabbit holes whilst writing this review.

This is one of my favourite middle grade trilogies – we have some fantastic authors in Australia writing for all age groups, and we should be supporting them as often as we can, if not all the time. When a novel like this combines history and time travel, and adventure, it makes history fun for kids, and can introduce concepts, ideas and knowledge that they may not get elsewhere or that become facts that are picked up because they are there. At the same time, this novel confronts ideas about gender and race in the 1940s, but briefly and is shown to illustrate that these ideas existed, but that they can be challenged and people can change their perceptions and attitudes, and prove that history is more complex than previously thought and even more complex than the way we are taught at school.

This is another reason these historical fiction novels when learning about history – they introduce a new side to history that is hidden in a variety of ways, and doing so through fiction makes it exciting and relatable. With the third book out later this year, I can’t wait to see how this trilogy ends.

The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune McAdam

the 900Title: The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz

Author: Heather Dune McAdam

Genre: Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 28th January 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 438

Price: $34.99

Synopsis: The untold story of the 999 young, unmarried Jewish women who were tricked into boarding a train in Poprad, Slovakia on March 25, 1942 that became the first official transport to Auschwitz.

‘Books such as this are essential: they remind modern readers of events that should never be forgotten’ – Caroline Moorehead

On March 25, 1942, nearly a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women boarded a train in Poprad, Slovakia. Filled with a sense of adventure and national pride, they left their parents’ homes wearing their best clothes and confidently waving good-bye. Believing they were going to work in a factory for a few months, they were eager to report for government service. Instead, the young women-many of them teenagers-were sent to Auschwitz. Their government paid 500 Reichsmarks (about 160) apiece for the Nazis to take them as slave labour. Of those 999 innocent deportees, only a few would survive.

The facts of the first official Jewish transport to Auschwitz are little known, yet profoundly relevant today. These were not resistance fighters or prisoners of war. There were no men among them. Sent to almost certain death, the young women were powerless and insignificant not only because they were Jewish-but also because they were female. Now, acclaimed author Heather Dune Macadam reveals their poignant stories, drawing on extensive interviews with survivors, and consulting with historians, witnesses, and relatives of those first deportees to create an important addition to Holocaust literature and women’s history.

~*~

War had just broken out, and the Nazis were steadily marching across Europe, taking over towns, cities and countries, and rounding up Jews. Jews were being sent away to work or rounded up and sent to ghettos in their countries. They lost jobs, homes and education as the Nazis and the governments of each nation rolled out laws over the late nineteen thirties and early nineteen forties to limit the rights of Jews.

In March of 1942, just short of a thousand young, unmarried Jewish women were made to board a train in Poprad, Slovakia. They were told they were headed for a three-month work order – which turned into three years. The original 999 or 997 – taking into account one girl who died on the train and the discrepancies and spaces in the hastily typed and written records of all the girls by the SS (as uncovered by the author in her extensive research with survivors of this transport, such as Edith Grosman (#1970), and her work to fight against Holocaust denial) girls and women were at Auschwitz before the iconic railway tracks and gates proclaiming Arbeit macht frei – work makes you free- ever existed at the camp. These days, some of the buildings have been destroyed, and some of the survivors have led talks at the camp.

In the three years the original women were at the camp, they saw every other transport come, they watched as children, men and women were herded into the gas chambers, and they watched people they knew die from illness, on the fences or when they were shot. This transport is interesting, and as Heather Dune McAdam notes, despite the precise records kept by the Nazis, it has been absent in other Holocaust literature – the stories of the women untold, and not every name or number properly recorded at times, so information has been lost. It is the hidden story of the women that the Slovakian government paid the Nazis to take away, and of the original nine hundred, only a handful survived, and it is to these women, and their families that Heather Dune McAdam respectfully reached out to in the course of her research, as well as utilising various Holocaust and Jewish institutions across the world.

In her introduction, Heather outlines her research process both primary and secondary, and how when she spoke to Edith, Edith told her that she should tell everyone’s story – and that is what Heather has done with what she has found and been given. She acknowledges gaps, and tells us why she changed names, and gives us a list of the real names with their pseudonyms in the front of the book. What she is doing with this story is giving more of a human face to the Holocaust – a bigger truth as well, and letting the girls speak for themselves, despite having to imagine what some of those conversations might have been based on descriptions – she indicates these imagined voices using a dash, and quotation marks for actual conversations and testimony.

The book is a companion to the film of the same name, currently in post-production. Combined, it is hoped that they will contribute to education about the Holocaust, and add something to the #MeToo debate, showing that the issues around consent have always been an issue and shouldn’t be ignored simply because of the passage of time or accepted norms of the time. Heather’s other goal in writing this was so that these stories are told, and the Holocaust remains in our memories – not only in those affected and their families. It is an essential book that reminds us events like this should never be forgotten – and ideally, should never happen again. As intriguing as this book was, as interesting as I am in reading about and hearing the untold stories in history – this is a difficult read and rightly so. We should be made to feel uncomfortable with what happened to these girls, and what they went through. Those of us who do not have family who suffered like this, in an inhuman way can never fully understand what these girls and millions of other people like them from groups that the Nazis saw as a threat to Aryan purity went through, but books like this go a long way in highlighting what it was like for them. A dark, yet necessary book, highlighting themes of inequality, war, and the human need to survive beyond the worst imaginable prospects – and how those remaining managed to survive the years in camp, the death march and the final days at Bergen-Belsen, where many, including Anne Frank, died only fifteen days before the camp was liberated by the allied forces, and what happened to them in the days, weeks, months and years after they were freed, and where they all ended up in the years after the war.

Books and Bites Bingo – Intro and square one marked off

Just for fun, I am picking up another bingo challenge. Like all challenges this year, I have chosen them based on the openness of the categories, to fiction and non-fiction and to Australian and non-Australian authors. I feel this will give me a better chance of filling in all or as many of the categories as I can in each.

 

books and bites clean

Found in the Books and Bites Online Bookclub I am in, started by Monique Mulligan, who works at Serenity Press, this one has a few categories the others do not, but I will easily find books – either one or multiple – that slot into each once easily and nicely. My aim here, as in all others, is to mark off the ones I can do easily first, and work towards the others as I go through the year. Hopefully, many will be checked off by work and review books as well as my own reads, and I have already checked off one in this book bingo, which is published on the 28th of January.

 

books and bites game card

 

I’ll add that to this post, and then aim to post an update every couple of weeks. My first square checked off for this one is a title longer than five words: The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune McAdam.The review will go live in a few weeks, and I hope to link it to this post then. From there, as with my other book bingo, I will post in fortnightly increments, whilst aiming to post monthly updates in relation to all challenges and reading in general.

Books and Bites Bingo

 

Set in Europe

Debut Novel

Travel Memoir

Published More than 100 Years Ago

Written in the First Person

 

Fairy Tale Collection

A Book with a door on the cover

Written by someone called Jane

An Australian crime or thriller

Wherever you go

 

Eco-themes

A Neil Gaiman book

Short story collection

Published the year you were born

Makes you blush

 

That Book you keep putting off

A book with lots of hype

Has “Girl in the title

A book with bad reviews

Book to movie

 

Scary

Someone you love’s fave book

Made into a TV Series

A title longer than five words: The Nine Hundred: The Extraordinary Young Women of the First Official Jewish Transport to Auschwitz by Heather Dune McAdam

Fave childhood book