Welcome to a new series on Meeting the Authors …. Friday with Friends. On select Fridays we will feature a unique guest post/interview with an author that has previously been interviewed on MTA. Welcome to Wendy Holden to kick off this new series.
Counting My Lockdown Blessings
It’s not every day that an author finds herself with not one but two books coming out within the space of two weeks, but that’s exactly what is about to happen with me. One is the paperback of One Hundred Miracles, released this week (May 14, 2020), and the other is a special new edition of my international bestseller Born Survivors to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II.
What should have been a double celebration of this momentous milestone in a writing career spanning four decades has turned into something of a nightmare. The coronavirus pandemic has closed all bookshops and massively disrupted distribution, marketing and sales. Up until ten days ago I had a European and Brazilian tour lined up, a television interview, book launch parties, literary festival appearances, radio slots, public speaking engagements and fully booked creative writing courses. Instead, as publishers and publicists, the media and festival organisers decamp to their homes to juggle schooling with the day-to-day running of the business we all earn our crust from, everything has fallen away. To add insult to injury, Amazon has decreed that books are ‘non-essential’ items and are stocking only limited supplies of new titles.
At a time when it seems to this author that books have never been more essential, the systematic amputation of almost every limb that moves the publishing process forward is potentially devastating. No matter how much I try to promote my two new ‘babies,’ the bottom line is that even the most loyal of my readers are likely to experience difficulties in buying them. And by the time the virus has finally burned itself out, those outlets that have survived will be inundated with a tsunami of new titles that will have been held back for that very moment.
I realise that this is a ‘First World problem’ and appreciate that I am far more fortunate than most. Nobody I love has caught the virus or died from it, thankfully. I live in a beautiful part of Suffolk, England, where we grow our own vegetables and can walk the dogs every day. I have worked from home for over twenty years so the concept is both familiar and comfortable, plus I don’t have young children to home-school. My husband is a capable smallholder and occasional builder and can keep us warm, fed and safe. But we still do rely on my income for what we have and after poor health kept me off work, what was going to be my bumper comeback year has the potential to be our worst in decades.
When my friends ask me how I can remain so cheerful in the face of this latest catastrophe, I tell them that the answer lies within the pages of the very books I’m talking about. They are both Holocaust memoirs in which three young mothers and a teenage girl with everything to look forward to suddenly found themselves in unspeakable circumstances and in daily fear of their lives, having lost everyone they ever loved. It is these singular women I look to now and whose experiences have marked me for life. Writing about them so immersively, I feel that I came to know them well and only hope that some of their courage, wisdom and resilience has rubbed off on me.
If three pregnant women can defy the Nazis and give birth in the camps, and if a young piano prodigy with hands broken by slave labour can go on to become one of the world’s foremost musicians, then who am I to complain? The stories of these women are timeless. They will not disappear and both chronicle remarkable lives that are waiting to inspire future readers. As I embark on virtual launches, blog tours, podcasts and whatever I can to tell the world about them, I am confident that the light these courageous women shine on our troubled world will not go unnoticed.
What drew you to help Holocaust survivors write their stories? Why is this important to you?
I feel as if my whole life has been moving me towards writing about war. My father fought the Japanese in Burma and my mother lived through the London Blitz. She also lost her 19-year-old fiancé parachuting into Holland. When I worked for the Daily Telegraph I was a foreign and war correspondent for a while so I saw first hand the cruelty and brutality of war. As a journalist I was always looking for the humanity in the inhumanity and when I gave that up to write books full time, I looked for the same.
Born Survivors came to me by chance after I’d written two other books about war, Behind Enemy Lines, the memoir of a diminutive female Jewish spy, and Tomorrow to be Brave, the true story of the only woman in the French Foreign Legion (soon to be a film). Through these remarkable stories, I became even more obsessed with the subject of war, the Holocaust, and especially the way women had to step up and become something far more than they might have been because of terrible circumstances. This is endlessly fascinating to me.
Have you met the subjects of these memoirs in person, or any of their relatives?
Yes, almost all of them. Sadly, all three mothers in Born Survivors had died by the time I came to their stories, but I worked very closely with the three surviving ‘babies’ and other relatives, one of whom I flew to Nashville, Tennessee to meet. Their gracious contributions to my research made all the difference to that book and helped bring these stories to life.
With One Hundred Miracles, I met Zuzana Ruzickova in Prague and worked with her closely right up until a week before her death at the age of ninety. She was a tiny powerhouse of a woman with twinkly grey eyes and an infectious smile. She was such an inspiration after all she had been through and remained surprisingly positive, thanks to her passion for music. She taught me so much about resilience.
How can those reading this post help you to spread the word about these powerful books?
I spend much of my time talking to children in schools in the hope of educating the next generation about the important values of tolerance, compassion and understanding. Born Survivors has been widely adopted into the curriculum in the UK and the US for Year 9 and above. One Hundred Miracles is also being used widely in classrooms. People can’t possibly identify with 6 million dead but they can identify with three young mothers.
The only way we can combat hate speech and the rise in nationalism is by learning more about these dark times, reading these kinds of books, talking about them, sharing them with our friends and – perhaps most importantly of all – teaching the next generation, especially in this special 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. The events within these pages books happened within living memory and there are still a few survivors left who bear witness to what happens when good men and women do nothing. Within a few years, the three babies from Born Survivors will be the only living Holocaust survivors walking on this earth and that is a very salutary thought. We must never forget.
Thank you Wendy for sharing a powerful post and books with us. I’m thrilled to hear that Tomorrow to be Brave will be made into a movie! I thought it an incredibly moving story. I’ve also read Born Survivors and found it to be emotional, moving, and deeply powerful. – Camilla
One Hundred Miracles: Music, Auschwitz, Survival and Love by Zuzana Ružičková with Wendy Holden. Bloomsbury £9.99
o “[An] extraordinary memoir … A moving record of a life well lived in the face of appalling obstacles” – Nick Rennison, Sunday Times
o “A compelling story of terrible suffering surmounted by incredible bravery” – Anne de Courcy, Daily Telegraph
o “Zuzana’s humanity shines through all the inhumanity …Vivid and moving” – The Jewish Chronicle
o “Through Auschwitz and the brutalities of the early Soviet era, the music of Bach shines like a beacon of hope” – Financial Times, Books of the Year
Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance and Survival by Wendy Holden, Sphere £8.99 (special WWII 75 th anniversary edition with a conversation with miracle ‘baby’ Eva Clarke added to the audiobook)
o “An exceptionally fresh history, a work of prodigious original research, written with zealous empathy.” New York Times
o “A work of quite extraordinary investigative dedication. Born Survivors is a moving testament of faith.” Sir Harold Evans
o “A sensitive, brave, disturbing book that everyone should read.” Rabbi Baroness Neuberger DBE
o “Packed with harrowing detail and impressively well researched…. intense, powerful and moving… a worthy testament to these three women and the miraculous survival of the children.” Jewish Chronicle
Wendy Holden is a British author, originally from London but now living in Suffolk, three hours north east of London, near the sea. She was a journalist for almost 20 years, including time as a war correspondent, and has been writing books full time for 22 years. She has more than thirty titles published, ten of which are bestsellers.
Follow the link below to read Wendy’s interview of last year …
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