A forgotten history in my handbag

The Hidden Village

 

Imogen Matthews

 

 

 

 

This novel takes you back in time to World War Two, in Holland, and is based on fact.  You will find yourself in the village of Berkenhout, hidden deep inside the woods.  Reading this narrative, with the hindsight of a 21st century reader, you fear for the people throughout the book.  Turning each page with dread, you try to hope…

From the outset, Jewish people disappear in the Dutch village.  There is ‘A windowless van parked up ahead, its back doors open and the German soldiers were shouting at the elderly couple to get in.’  Such occurrences become part of everyday life for a community that decides to ‘stand up’ and support their Jewish neighbours.   It is an incredible story!

The community hide their Jewish neighbours in attics and summerhouses. Eventually, an entire village is constructed, in the woods, to protect these vulnerable people.  It is intriguing to observe how a community work together.  In turn, Matthews examines how the hidden villagers feel trapped.  It is sad that ‘freedom seemed an impossible dream’ yet we know it is better than the fate of their counterparts outside of the village.  How could they have realised the danger?  The German occupation is an ever-present menace that pursues the characters.  ‘All it took was a stray German to bump into’ one of children running through the woods with supplies.  Will they be caught?

The pathways, the darkness and the sounds of the forest help to personify the menace that is present throughout the novel. Sofie observes that:

‘for now, the sun was shining and it filled her with the warmth she’d forgotten existed’

The woods that symbolised freedom and adventure for children become an uncertain place.  As in a nightmare, the shadows of fear begin to dominate but will the monsters ever become real?

A society is developed with rules, regulations and leaders but there is tension.  Matthews explores the pressures of a community within a community.  She presents some very strong central characters who grow up in this unnatural world.  It is heart-breaking to observe how the children lose their innocence.  These children live with uncertainty and broken families – they have to find an inner strength.  The community spirit is heartening yet wanes under the burden of war.  Some of the younger characters rely on friendships to support them but they learn about cold, brutal betrayal.

This isn’t a fairy-tale in the woods and ‘you just have to keep hoping’.   You won’t go hurtling from one resolution to another.  You know that not all the characters will survive.  But you will take a look at how brave, unselfish people can work together in the face of injustice and discrimination.  Children will play a real game of cat and mouse, with the Germans, as they risk their lives to deliver food to hidden villagers.

The woods also conceal a village that provides sanctuary for lost souls. You will find Englishmen, Russians, a defective German, an American. World War Two was fought in villages by brave people. Sometimes these brave people feel the weight of responsibility; sometimes these people go missing and sometimes they return.  The narrative successfully captures the world of chaos.  There are raids by German soldiers and some news of the outside world but even this information is in the shadows.  The reader is distanced, with the villagers, from the outside world but niggled by their twenty first century knowledge.

Imogen Matthews

As more and more refugees arrive in the village to seek sanctuary, one cannot fail to see the parallel with the refugees in Europe.  Matthews gives an insight into how desperate people are driven into circumstances. The author guides you towards the uncertain ending.  Find out about Lisebeth, Sofie, Jan and Oscar as they ‘soundlessly’ creep through their adolescence, in a chaotic world.  Get inside of the hidden village and find out more about the impact of the exceptional circumstances on the very real characters and dilemmas.  The characters of this book will never leave your memory and it will make you reassess the terrors in our own world.

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Please see all my reviews at Books in Handbag and my blog at jessiecahalin.com.

Rosemary Noble insists on a daily dose of realism and compassion

Rosemary Noble 

 

 

 

It was a pleasure to welcome, historical novelist, Rosemary Noble to Wales.  We met at Newport Station. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day but that was soon forgotten as we chatted about her novel, Ranter’s Wharf and retraced the Chartists’ footsteps as we walked down Stow Hill.  We went to visit the site where the Chartists were believed to have been held captive. Unfortunately, the original building has been demolished but the whispers of struggle can still be felt in the town.

Finally, we visited a fish and chip shop before I drove Rosemary to the Chat Room.  There is a good fish and chip shop in Newport that honours the northern tradition of cooking in beef fat.  Back at the Chat Room, we ate fish and chips and talked about Grimsby – the setting of the novel.

Rosemary Noble

Jessie: Your novel is well-researched and rich with historical references.  You have developed strong characters that one cannot fail to empathise with.   I can rant on and on about the merits of your book as I did in my review. Can you summarise the book in a few words?

Rosemary: It’s a moving family saga about love, loss and betrayal set in 19th century England. It follows three generations as they attempt to find a way to live honourably in tumultuous times.

Jessie:  Your novel has been a very popular download on Kindle.  I have noticed an impressive number of reviews.  Can you retrieve some reviews that capture the essence of your book? Always modest, Rosemary hesitated a little until I insisted that we read the reviews.

Rosemary: Maybe like any author, I dread the first reviews because you wonder if anyone will get what you are trying to do, especially when the subject matter is unusual. But I have been overwhelmed with the kind words people have written. For example:

“The wonderful characterisations in this novel make light of a challenging theme and transport the reader through the harsh times of Victorian Lincolnshire in a roller-coaster of emotions A little masterpiece of its genre” John Broughton – May 26 2017

“The joy of this book is that it is absolutely gripping. Because of the sympathy with which the characters are portrayed, you find yourself really caring about what happens to William – adopted as a bewildered child by his rich maiden aunt – and his heirs who carry on the fight for social justice into the next generation.” Perdisima May – 15th 2017

“Delightful and informative. An intriguing story with a wonderful insight of the times.” Amazon Customer – April 15th 2017

Jessie:  Can you tempt the reader with an extract from the novel?

Rosemary: “Her passionate nature freed itself from the reserve she showed the world, allowing her whole body to respond with joy to his smiles, with misery to his tears and a fierce desire to protect him.”

Jessie: How did you feel when you had finished writing your book, and did you miss any of the characters?

Rosemary: In some ways, relieved because it was a hard story to write. It’s based on my 3x great grandfather who was an ordinary farmer until he was converted.  I wanted the book to be engrossing and relevant but I had to keep the reader interested while dealing with the difficult subjects of poverty, politics and religion. Religion has featured strongly in all three of my books only because it was so important in the 19th century but it is not my natural element. My next book set in the 20th century will not be influenced by religion but will have its own problems for me to overcome as a writer and storyteller.

I always miss the characters in my books. As an author, they inhabit my mind constantly. Because the subject has relevance for today with Brexit and the Trump vote, I wonder what my characters would have felt and how they would react. I can hear William saying to his son,’ education is key’ and his son and nephew replying, ‘No, every man should have a vote if they contribute to the wealth of the country.’ I found myself quite conflicted when writing the final chapters.

Jessie: Who would you like to read your book and why?  This could be another author, someone famous, a friend or a member of your family.  

Rosemary: People like my hairdresser’s receptionist who said to me ‘your book makes me realise I should always use my vote.’

If I can move someone sufficiently to learn how hard life used to be and then become more active in demanding the voice of the poor and dispossessed are heard today, then I will be happy. I am no Dickens or Hardy but am conscious of the impact they had on 19th century society. Our current times are troubling and I see the hard-fought-for Welfare State crumbling through cut-backs. Let’s not go back to those times, please.

If there was one famous person I wish would read my books it would be the director, Ken Loach. I am in awe of his work such as Cathy Comes Home and I Daniel, Blake.

Jessie: Why should I keep your book in my handbag?

Rosemary: For a dose of realism and compassion. Allow yourself to be transported to a time where life was a struggle not just in a material way but also in a spiritual and political way. I want to know how you would react to ‘the undeserving poor’. Would you turn your back, cloak yourself in respectability or would you act to mitigate the poverty around you?

Rosemary Noble

Jessie: What is the last sentence written in your writer’s notebook?

Rosemary: A solitary gull glides and swoops in the azure sky below a trio of swifts cavorting and darting as though playing tag but in the far distance a black speck appears, a harbinger of death.

This is a note for my next book, working title, Sadie, which will link all my books together.

Jessie: What is the biggest challenge for an independent author?

Rosemary: Getting noticed which means learning about marketing on social media. The key for me is the relationships you forge with other indie’ writers. In any walk of life, you learn so much from other people and you’re stronger together in a team. In our case, a virtual team of authors from around the world as well as close to home.

What is the best advice that you have received as a writer?

Rosemary: Learn the craft but write the book you want to write. Stay true to yourself. I am in the lucky position that I don’t need to earn my living from writing which frees me to write what I want.

Rosemary is driven to give a voice to our ancestors, to those who never had a voice in real life. “I like to pose questions, encouraging readers to think for themselves, ‘what would I do in that situation, how would I cope’? The stories history sends us, have relevance for today and I like to tap into that because I am quite a political person though it’s only this year that I joined a political party.”

Rosemary is passionate about the messages that she conveys through her novels.  Ranter’s Wharf did make me think about the way that my own ancestors must have struggled.  Rosemary’s strong characters evoke empathy in the reader as she transports us to their world and their struggles. One only has to open a newspaper to see that poverty has not disappeared and neither has prejudice.  I do worry about the Welfare State and hope that politicians will listen to their conscience.  We must all continue to vote!  

 

Please see all my author interviews at My Guests and my blog at jessiecahalin.com