Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Born Survivors - Wendy Holden for Holocaust Memorial Day

It's Holocaust Memorial Day today (27 January 2016). I am delighted that WENDY HOLDEN is joining me on my blog today as my Author in the Spotlight. Wendy's book - Born Survivors - was published by Sphere in October 2015. 

Please tell us about your latest book?
Born Survivors tells the story of three young women pregnant by their husbands during World War Two and praying for a brighter future. Their babies were born weighing just three pounds within weeks of each other in the most horrendous of circumstances. By the time they arrived, the Nazis had killed their fathers and their mothers were ‘walking skeletons,’ living moment to moment in the same concentration camp. Somehow, all three women managed to survive. Against all the odds, their babies did too. Seventy years on and now living in America and Britain, these ‘siblings of the heart’ have come together for the first time to tell the remarkable stories of the three mothers who defied death to give them life. It has been published in 21 countries and translated into 16 languages so far. Without doubt, it is the most important book I will ever write.

How did you come across the story?
By luck. I was reading something late one night online about a woman who had died in Canada in her 90s. She had been a prisoner in Auschwitz – just like my three mothers –and had given birth to a baby there, which had died. It occurred to me then that I have never read anything about babies born in concentration camps and my research led me to Eva Clarke and her mother Anka. She lived just over one hour from me in Cambridge, England, and having spent an emotional day with her I asked if she would do me the honour of letting me write her mother’s story. She reached out, touched my arm, and with tears in her eyes said: “I have been waiting for you for 70 years.” I told her I believe her story to be unique and that I have never found anything written about babies born in the Holocaust before. She told me that until 2010, she believed she was unique too but then discovered two other babies in America and they had since become very close. I knew then that I had to tell all three stories together in one volume spanning the war in Europe and Hitler’s attempted destruction of the Jews.

Why are you so interested in history and war?
I grew up in a family that had been deeply affected by war. My father fought the Japanese in Burma and my mother’s fiancé was killed aged 19 parachuting into Germany. She also lived through the London Blitz. Then when I became a journalist, for a while I was a war correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph and travelled all over the world covering conflicts. The experience scarred me and I suffered from a mild form of PTSD following my return to England. What struck me most about all that I had seen, though, were the great acts of courage and kindness that people were capable of even in the worst possible circumstances, or perhaps because of them.

What other books have you written about war?
Tomorrow to Be Brave tells the true story of Susan Travers, the only woman in the French Foreign Legion and was published globally. Behind Enemy Lines tells Marthe Cohn’s remarkable story of being a Jewish spy who risked her life after losing a sister to Auschwitz and her fiancé to a firing squad. Till the Sun Grows Cold tells the story of British teacher Emma McCune who married a Sudanese warlord and was then killed while carrying his baby. Kill Switch is the memoir of a British army major who was wrongly imprisoned in Afghanistan for a crime he didn’t commit. Biting the Bullet told the story of what it was like to be married to the SAS. Shell Shock details the story of the mind at war and how the experiences of soldiers at the front shaped modern-day psychiatry. Mr Scraps is a novella about a stray dog caught up in the London Blitz. The Sense of Paper was my first novel and tells of a former war correspondent haunted by her experiences, who loses herself in the work and materials of JMW Turner to try to reconcile herself with the ghosts of her past.

What or who inspires you?
Finding humanity in inhumanity. Generosity. Kindness. Thoughtfulness. And of course, fine writing. I only hope that one day I can come a little closer to what some of my personal heroes have already achieved.

If not a writer, what job would you do?
If I had my time again, I’d take a fine art degree and put my fledgling and entirely amateur ability as an artist – inherited from my grandfather - to much better use.

What does Holocaust Memorial Day mean to you?
Because of my own history and my interest in war, I have always marked these important anniversaries and memorial days in quiet reflection of the things I have witnessed and of those whose lives I have written about. I was raised a Christian although I rarely go to church these days but my father always taught me that we could be ‘Christian with a small c’ and try to be good people without having to kneel before any altar. This year will be especially poignant for me and the ‘babies’ after the worldwide publication of Born Survivors. Eva Clarke and I shall be appearing on Clare Balding’s Good Morning Sunday show on BBC Radio 2 on Jan 24 and later that day we’ll both be taking part in the Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations.

Born Survivors
By Wendy Holden
Published by Sphere (15 October 2015)

Find it on Amazon here.

About Wendy Holden
Wendy Holden, also known as Taylor Holden, is an experienced author and novelist with more than thirty books already published, including two novels. She has had numerous works transferred to radio and television.

She lives in Suffolk, England, with her husband and two dogs and divides her time between the UK and the US.

Find Wendy on her website and follow her on Twitter - @wendholden

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