Archives for World War Two

A writer who inspires me: Judith Kerr

Where do I start? Judith Kerr. You perhaps don’t know her name but you will know her books. Mog the Cat and The Tiger Who Came to Tea are ageless books for children. I don’t write children’s books, so why am I inspired by Judith Kerr? It’s difficult not to be. Here are some inspiring facts:- Mog. The Tiger. In 1933 when she was nine, she escaped from Berlin with her parents and brother. After moving around Europe, they settled in London in 1936. Her father was a writer and drama critic whose books were burned by the Nazis. Judith continued drawing throughout the whole experience. She’s 91 and still drawing and writing. She has written countless books for children, which never go out of fashion. She has no time for trendy education methods, and thinks children need to be sat down and taught spelling, grammar and times tables. Her trilogy Out of the Hitler Time – comprising When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Other Way Round and A Small Person Far Away – is the story of Anna and her family from 1933 and the rise of Hitler, through the war to Anna’s return to Berlin many years later.
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Categories: Book Love and On Writing.

Book review: The Beekeeper’s Daughter

I haven’t read a book by Santa Montefiore before, and if I’d seen the cover in a shop I doubt I would have picked it up: flowers, soft focus woman in a flowing dress. A bit twee for me. But I didn’t see the cover, I downloaded it from Net Galley. And it just goes to show how a cover can deter as well as attract, because I enjoyed the book. In a ‘I need an unchallenging read for a hot summer day when my brain isn’t fully-functioning’ kind of way. I was 75% of the way through the book before I worked out why I was slightly dissatisfied, and I emphasize the ‘slightly’. Something was missing: context. The bees are drawn beautifully, the description of bees, the beekeeping, their role in Grace’s life. I could not say the same for the World War Two strand, in which war was a distant event: the women take over work at the Hall, and they have plenty of vegetables to eat. Likewise the Seventies, lightly drawn with sweeping pencil strokes. That’s why for me, the book is a lightweight read although it examines heavyweight topics and the characterization is strong. So I
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Categories: Book Love.

Book review: Citadel

I read a lot of books. Amongst those with the strongest sense of place, the ones that linger in my imagination, are the Languedoc trilogy by Kate Mosse. Citadel, the third novel in the series, is set in ad342 and 1942 during World War Two. Unusually with a trilogy, you don’t have to have read the other two books in order to enjoy this one. Certainly it is some years since I read Labyrinth and Sepulchre and the details are hazy, each book stands on its own. I enjoyed this book immensely. The story centres on a small group of women who fight against the Nazi regime and who, by the very fact that they are women, are able to slip unnoticed along the night-time streets of occupied Carcassonne. The Prologue describes ‘the woman known as Sophie’ and the reader is left to wonder, which of the women in the story is ‘Sophie’? I must point out that the story is slow to get going, I had to be patient, but I trusted Mosse [below]. It did make me question whether my attention span is shortening, I hope not. If it is I must read longer novels to re-stretch my
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Categories: Book Love.

Book Review: Dominion

You know that feeling, it happens once in a while, when you finish reading a book that was so good you want to go back to the beginning and start again? Well, it was like that for me with CJ Sansom’s Dominion. It was the premise that caught my attention as soon as I read the pre-publication reviews: an alternate history set in Britain in 1952, peace is made with Hitler in 1941 which changes the direction of World War Two. An alternative world. Previously I had read one Sansom novel, Winter in Madrid, which I enjoyed; three of his Matthew Shardlake mysteries sit on my to-read shelf. After Dominion, I will turn to them quickly. The story focusses on four main characters, a scientist, a civil servant, the civil servant’s wife, and a Gestapo officer based at Senate House in London, the tall university building being the Gestapo’s London HQ with torture cells in the basement. This is a different Britain, where Jews are being rounded-up and transferred to camps in the country, where the Isle of Wight is occupied by the German army [which is still fighting in Russia], and where it is rumoured in Berlin that Hitler is either
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Categories: Book Love.

Reading for research… Young Voices

As research for the next novel, I’m reading a lot about the Second World War. For a while I’ve been working my way through a fascinating book called Young Voices by Lyn Smith, produced with the Imperial War Museum. I picked it up in my local library. It is an account of children’s experiences during the war. I’m particularly interested in children who lived through Occupation and there are children quoted throughout who grew up Guernsey. One woman tells how it became compulsory at school to learn the German language. One day the German kommandant arrived to present a prize, which she as top of the class in German, was to receive. He asked her a simple question in German, ‘how old are you?’ Her brain froze and she couldn’t answer, terrified she was going to be shot. Someone whispered the question again in English, and the girl was able to answer correctly. The prize? A book in German which she was unable to read. Fascinating stuff, don’t know yet how I am going to use any of this. I enjoy researching my next novel while writing the current one. Sometimes it just gives the brain a rest, a new
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Categories: On Researching and On Writing.