Alchemy in my Handbag

As if by magic, I am presenting ‘Stone Circle’ by Kate Murdoch.  The novel is a rich historical fantasy about a young man’s coming of age, as he learns about magic rituals and alchemy. I have asked Kate to present and extract of her debut novel.  She has written to her readers about the book and her chosen extract.

Dear Readers,

I would like to present you with an extract from my debut novel, ‘Stone Circle’.  

It’s a story of magic rituals and rivalry in a 16th century Italian town.

The extract, selected from the middle of the book, is a scene where my protagonist, Antonius, is being initiated as a seer. It describes the ritual he must go through. 

It is a key scene in my book, because Antonius’s life is undergoing enormous change, and the ritual is a symbol of that. 

Romance, thrilling escapes and alchemy – what’s not to love?

Best Wishes,

Kate x



Antonius watched the blue and amber flames as they crackled upwards, repeating the same patterns into infinity. He felt his body move to the rhythms, and realised they all moved in tandem around the fire. The music, the flames, and the night were as much a part of them as the blood coursing through their veins. The pace quickened and they followed, twisting and turning with fluidity.

Antonius’s mind was clear and untroubled. At the same time, he watched Giulia’s russet hair swing across her back and the long line of her slender white arm as she moved with perfect grace. He felt the eyes of many upon him, but he was not afraid. It was a sense of being held in the embrace of the observation, as if he were returning to the home of a friend that was as familiar as it was strange. Glancing at Giulia, he saw she scattered herbs into the flames. His nose twitched as their combined scent wafted towards him—sage, elderflower, cloves, and others. Three crystals were then released into the fire—purple, white, and gold. Several loud cracks erupted into the air and multi-coloured sparks flew, with a hiss and a whine. In a low voice Savinus chanted. It was a mellifluous language he had heard during the rituals at the blue cave. He spread his arms in an outward motion, as if clearing away smoke.

More About the Novel

Stone Circle explores themes of class, rivalry and spiritual growth. It is a historical fantasy novel.

Is the ability to read minds a blessing or a curse?

Kate Murdoch

When Antonius’s father dies, he must work to support his family. He finds employment as a servant in the Palazzo Ducal, home of Conte Valperga. Sixteenth-century Pesaro is a society governed by status, and Antonius has limited opportunities. When a competition is announced, Antonius seizes his chance. The winner will be apprenticed to the town seer. Antonius shares first place with his employer’s son. The two men compete for their mentor’s approval. As their knowledge of magic and alchemy grows, so does the rivalry and animosity between them. When the love of a beautiful woman is at stake, Antonius must find a way to follow his heart and navigate his future.

Reviewers’ Opinions

‘Murdoch presents a delightful romance, feathered with light touches of fantasy. The development of her love triangle is gratifying, and even secondary characters offer stark dramatic moments…’ Kirkus Reviews ‘

‘Her characters’ interactions with each other and their individualities helped shape the book into something wonderful; at the same time she excels at pacing the story with her characters, all within a framework designed to help readers understand the world of seers and alchemy she has created.’ Readers’ Favorite

‘Kate Murdoch’s fabulous writing is full of vivid sounds, sights and scents that pull us into the scene, expressed in inspired word combinations that are a joy to read. A wonderful, entertaining book.’ Gail Cleare, USA Today bestselling author

Words about Kate:

Kate is a painter turned author who enjoys writing flash fiction and short stories when she’s not writing historical fiction. Her debut novel is a romance with an element of fantasy.  Kate became completely immersed in her Renaissance town and characters when writing the novel.  Kate found it difficult to depart from the world in her novel and this bodes well for a reader intent on escape. The best of luck to Kate with her debut novel.


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Innocence and Experience in my Vintage Handbag

Maggie Christensen the Good Sister

The Good Sister

Maggie Christensen







Maggie’s inspiration for the novel

A haunting introduction from a dying woman commences this story. Isobel has written the story of her life for Bel, her niece, to read.  The narrative of the past begins in the thirties, and Isobel’s past life punctuates events in the present day.

Isobel has remained in the same house her entire life while her niece escaped to Australia.  Bel’s move to Australia symbolises the freedom of her generation – she could walk on the ‘long stretches of sand’ and feel the sun on her skin.

Glasgow: ‘She raised her eyes to the grey sky and shivered.’

In contrast Isobel has lived in cold, grey and rainy Glasgow and was inhibited by her morals. But morals seemed to have been loosened, for others, during the uncertainty of war.   But a chill of despair runs throughout Isobel’s life.

I admire the emotional parallels between Isobel’s love for Bob and Bel’s stirrings of a new love, as a mature woman,in her sixties. The contrast between Isobel’s innocence and Bel’s experience is moving; there is a beautiful connection in the feelings. I loved Isobel as she wasn’t bitter about her ‘lost chances’. Isobel seems to seek peace in orchestrating new romance for her niece.  She tells Bel, ‘I want you to get to know each other.’ The elderly lady intervenes in her niece’s happiness because she neglected her own pursuit of happiness.

The mystery of why Isobel remained alone, intrigues Bel and the reader.  Bel’s frustration with her aunt’s passivity, when younger, demonstrates the differences in the generations.

‘Bel couldn’t believe her aunt had been so foolish.’

One does wonder why Isobel denied herself opportunities, but I also felt completely frustrated with Isobel’s love interest, Bob.  Bob is also a victim of the era, as he fails to communicate with Isobel.  I really wanted to know what was happening inside Bob’s mind, and perhaps this is another novel. Why didn’t Bob speak with Isobel? I was furious with him, at times – but that is the fun of reading.

Fashion in Forties

Despite inhibitions, Isobel does have economic independence through the dress shop.  The shop is called ‘Plain and Fancy’, and I wanted to step back in time to visit place.  Perhaps, I could have found a fancy vintage handbag. Isobel’s glamorous presence throughout the novel is impressive.  Isobel is glamorous yet vulnerable, but her life experience translates into a formidable character in old age.  This made me reflect on how we change according to our experiences.

The contrast between the innocence of the young Isobel and experience of the mature Bel is poignant.  It is as if the two characters are one person experiencing the same life in a different era. The novel also shows us that ‘lost chances’ can be avoided, particularly in the twenty first century.

This is a charming, heart-warming story of second chances and the strength of family support.  The narrative moves at a good pace. I found myself hanging on to every word of Isobel’s story and willing Bel to unite with the enigmatic solicitor.  I hope there will be a sequel to this novel!

Maggie Christensen






To find out more about the author, Maggie Christensen and heart-warming stories of second chances see:


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Coraggio (courage) in my handbag

Tuscan Roots

Angela Petch






On opening this beautiful book, I arrived in the ‘early morning sunshine at Perugia’, with Anna.  I sat back as she drove the Italian car and observed the way that the road ‘…cut its way through tobacco fields sprouting green shoots and [took] a mountain road joining Sansepolcro to Rimini.’  I admired the olive trees and waited as the ‘road climbed’.  It was impossible not to see the ‘lake glistening’ and to imagine the people sheltering in this setting during World War Two.

On arrival at Rofelle, I found my way through the tangle of ivy, listened to the river rushing past the stones and opened the large wooden door to the mill.   The paint was peeling, but the knocker of the lion’s head stood proud; as if to announce the courage of Davide, Ines and their parents.  I opened the door to enter the past, with Anna, through the letters and diaries.  It was wonderful to meet Anna’s mother, in the diaries, but painful to discover that her ‘heart began to shrivel a little each day…’ during her traumatic life.

I stopped at the mill ‘hidden in the folds of the Alps of the Moon, where the sun sets from the jewel red skies behind misted blue peaks.’ Anna’s mother once lived in a mill, and she explains ‘…the old building in ruins, crumbling into nothing seems to mirror what I am leaning of Mamma’s past.’ The Mill is ‘fragile’ and is a symbol of lost history and lost dreams that could be rekindled by the new generation.  Sitting on the steps to read the letters and diaries, I sensed the ‘breeze that dances on the river’.  Listening to the ‘sound of the river and distant sheep bells’, I could feel the loneliness of Ines. I am sure I heard the voices of the German soldiers who would have bathed there, and the whispers of the POWs and partisans hidden in the mountains.

I was completely spellbound by the characters and the clever structure of this novel.  ‘Tuscan Roots’ is a beautifully written novel examining cultural differences, the impact of war and the risks that ordinary people will take.  I was intrigued by the details of post war Britain, but wanted to stay in Italy. The contrast between the two settings and cultures reinforces Ines’ emotional landscape.  The patchwork of history and the present are sewn together effortlessly with Angela’s distinctive prose.  How much do we really understand about our grandparents and parents’ experiences?  Such a poignant message is presented:

‘We should not bury our memories, even if they are painful, even if mistakes were made in those times, which causes us anguish…we must learn from them.’

I discovered Anna’s history, trusted her observations and understood her pain.  I was very fond of the vulnerable, innocent Ines who demonstrated incredible bravery. The descriptions of the setting rooted me to the novel, and made me understand how it bound Ines to her homeland.  I pondered the way that a landscape can remain untouched throughout the generations but people leave clues about the place’s history.  The author examines how war changes circumstances and the simple things that we take for granted.  I was in awe of the people who made sacrifices for others during the war, in Italy. The romance of the setting presents the reader with the hope of love.  The romance in the novel is wonderful, natural and tender. Angela’s writing style is captivating.

The food prepared by the locals, in the Italian Apennines, transcends time and bridges the gap between the generations.  I enjoyed ‘the stuffed zucchini flowers, little squares of crostini topped with spicy tomatoes, liver pate and a creamy relish made from dandelion flowers, roasted bay leaves topped with ovals of melted cheese.’  Food is prepared to celebrate feasts, to welcome people into the home, to celebrate family occasions and to woo.

This novel evokes the senses and leaves the reader firmly fixed in Tuscany.  Not the tourist’s Italy, but rural, down to earth Italy – ‘this landscape feels lived in’, and the author breathes life into ‘the ghosts from the past’.  The story of the POW and partisans provide another dimension to this story, and I was impressed with how this was skilfully woven into the story.

Read Tuscan Roots, and you will not want to leave the romantic beauty of ‘indigo blue mountains’, or the ruins of Il Mulino (The Mill).  You will be impressed with the bravery of the Italian community during the war, and you will not want to leave the blossoming romance. I highly recommend this book!


Please see all my reviews at Books in Handbag and my blog at

Will I need space for a broken heart in my handbag? 

Now and Then in Tuscany

Angela Petch






‘In my heart there was a storm that needed to break and my heart hurt like thorns on the wild rosa canina growing in the hedgerows…’

If you embark on this journey of discovery then be sure to prepare some delicious crostini, in advance, as you will not be able to put the book down….

This is a story of love wrapped up in an insight into rural history and customs of Tuscany. Meet ancient craftsmen and farmers, of Montebotolino, and marvel at the tenacity of their families; see how they survived difficult times.

The history of Giuseppe, a farrier and a cobbler, is completely absorbing.  Giuseppe was born at the beginning of last century.  His naivety leads him down some challenging paths, but this shapes the man, and ‘suffering begins the journey to wisdom.’   I found myself wanting to shout at Giuseppe and send him in the direction of love; the loves story is beautiful.

For me, the novel unlocked secrets of the enchanting holiday destination.  I have often wondered who had once walked along the ancient tracks, and who once lived in the ancient dwellings that nestle in the mountains.   As the title suggests, the reader delves into rural Tuscany as it is now and as it was back then at the beginning of last century. The reader has the privilege of meeting characters from the different generations and has more knowledge than the characters:  it is satisfying to fit the jigsaw together.  Indeed, there is a cleverly crafted narrative, in which there are emotional parallels in the lives of the characters from the past and the present.

Giuseppe’s grandson, Francesco, and his English wife, Anna have turned the ancient houses into holiday lets. Their son, Davide, encounters some of the emotional challenges of childhood that Giuseppe, his great-grandfather, had to face. Alba, Giuseppe’s great-granddaughter, faces choices about education very different to her great-grandparents.   Whilst Giuseppe’s grandson Francesco and his wife face different daily routines; this reminds us of how life has changed. However, the tenderness between the couples from both generations is crafted skilfully, and there is an exploration of love.

Life, in Montebotolino, was hard at the beginning of the last century.  Yet, the people had to make the most of nature’s larder, and the peasant food is so tempting.  It seems that the working people, from the past, shaped the menus in contemporary Italy, sadly many of their homes have been left empty as their lifestyle was too difficult. The charm, and majestic beauty of the Tuscan landscape is still there to seduce the modern traveller.  Fortunately, we can still see:

‘Cypress tree lined twisting white ribbon roads up hills towards impressive stone buildings…trees like stakes holding down the land.’

This story takes the reader beneath the surface of the magical holiday destination, associated with a paradise for the eye and the belly.

The transumanza is the Italian term for transhumance, the traditional twice yearly migration of sheep and cows from the highlands to the lowlands, and vice versa. The word literally means “crossing the land”. Ref:  Wikipedia


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Packing for a Trip to the Past

Anna Belfrage

What would you pack if you regularly visited the seventeenth century? On this occasion, you really wouldn’t have anything to wear. Our staple of jeans and a t-shirt would be provocative in the seventeenth century.  Author, Anna Belfrage, regularly sends her characters back in time, and I was intrigued to discover how she helps her heroine, Alex, to pack for another era.  Where does a writer start when dressing characters for another era? Alas, I would have to begin by abandoning my handbags as they didn’t exist.

I am handing over to Anna Belfrage, author of The Graham Saga, and her costume department.  Anna’s novels have allowed her to fulfil her dream of becoming a professional time traveller.

Dressed for Success in the Seventeenth Century

Frans Hals

One of my series, The Graham Saga, is set in the seventeenth century for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with the prevailing fashions of the time. While others may go “ooh” and “aaah” at the paintings of dashing cavaliers adorned with lace and ribbon, I like my men in breeches and a simple linen shirt, a no-nonsense coat worn atop, which is probably why my hero, Matthew Graham, dresses like that. Well, it may have something to do with his convictions as well. After all, Matthew is a devout member of the Scottish Kirk, and he and his brethren have little liking for fripperies.

Where Matthew was born and bred in the 17th century, his beloved wife, Alex(andra) Lind, grew up in our time. In difference to many of us, she never had a hankering for living in the past, but sometimes impossible things happen, which is how she ended up in the 17th century, wearing jeans.

Cook with a Hare

“I like her djeens,” Matthew says, his gaze lingering on her legs. “But, aye, you’re right: she can’t wear them here. Seeing her thus revealed is only for me to see.” (He has a certain amount of cave-man tendencies does our Matthew. Blame it on the times…)

So instead, Alex has to start by donning a shift. This is a long linen garment that reaches halfway between knees and ankles, it has long sleeves and a neckline with a drawstring. It serves as a combined nightie and underwear. (Forget about a silky negligee when in the mood for some action which is why I recommend nudity for seduction). This shift is worn until it can almost stand on its own – laundry is a heavy task.

On top of the shift Alex wears stays. Okay, so they’re not as bad as those sported by Scarlett O’Hara but once they’re laced they have a somewhat inhibiting effect on her movements. Stockings in scratchy wool are rolled up the legs to thigh-level and gartered into place. Petticoats help keep Alex somewhat warm, ending just above the ankle. A bum roll, heavy woollen skirts, a bodice and an apron complete the outfit. Let me tell you, this weighs a lot. It is difficult to run in full skirts. Or climb a tree (which is a bad idea anyway, as women shouldn’t do something as indecorous as climb a tree).

At this point Alex stops to inspect herself – she has a small looking glass, lucky her. The collar is tied into place, the hair is braided back and coiled into a tight bun before being covered by a linen cap. A woman without a cap is a sinful thing indeed! By the door are the shoes – they might be a pair of latchet shoes, but they might just as well be clogs. Actually, maybe using clogs is the better choice – at least they keep the feet dry!

“I’m not wearing all that,” Alex told me the first time I presented her new wardrobe for her. “I’ll stick to my jeans—and my underwear.”

“No, you won’t.” Matthew shakes his head. “To go around dressed like that is to attract unwanted attention. And should anyone find out you’re from the future…” he mimes a sliced throat. Too right: either you conform, or you risk sticking out like a sore thumb and potential witch. Not good in a time and age where witches are still being executed.

Alex sighs. “Fine,” she says, throwing me an angry look. (She blames me for throwing her back in time. She rarely thanks me for gifting her with the rather wonderful Matthew.) “But just so you know, the moment I get back, I’ll be in jeans again.”
Back? I share a look with Matthew. Alex isn’t going back. After all, while time travelling is a rare occurrence, time travelling with a return ticket is even rarer!


Sir Anthony van Dyck and Lord Bernard Stuart

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, chances are she’ll be visiting in the 17th century, more specifically with Alex and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This series is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. A ninth instalment has just been published, despite Anna having thought eight books were enough. Turns out her 17th century dreamboat and his time travelling wife didn’t agree…

Anna can be found on her website, on Facebook and on her blog. Or on twitter and Amazon.


Please see all my guest posts at Mail from the Creative Community and my blog and website at


Dutch War Secret in my Handbag

Do you know the Dutch built a village for the Jewish community in World War Two?  Imogen Matthews tells the inspirational story in ‘The Hidden Village’.  She has written to her readers to explain more about the forgotten history and to introduce her dramatic extract.

Dear Readers

I’m so pleased to tell you about ‘The Hidden Village’, my novel set in WW2 Holland, deep in the Veluwe woods. It’s a story about survival, hope, despair, and ultimately, love, as a community pulls together to build a purpose-built village to shelter those persecuted by the Germans. The lives of young Sofie, Jan and Liesbeth become entwined with devastating consequences for their future.

About half-way through the book, Jan and his brother, Oscar, are arrested by the Gestapo for helping a fallen American pilot. This extract describes what happens after their terrifying journey in the back of the Nazis’ vehicle.

I chose this extract because it represents a dramatic turn in the story and shows how ruthless the Germans could be towards the Dutch people, even children.

I hope this extract will tempt you to read the book.  I am delighted to present more context about the novel.

Best wishes

Imogen Matthews



‘Is this a prison?’ he whispered to Oscar, who stood, white-faced, next to him.

‘It’s a police station but there are cells through that door,’ said Oscar.

‘They’re going to lock us up?’

‘Looks like it.’

Jan wished Oscar could be a bit more encouraging.

It was their turn next and they went up to the desk together.

‘Name,’ said the man behind the desk without looking up.

‘Oscar Mulder and Jan Mulder,’ said Oscar.

‘One at a time.’

‘We’re brothers. He’s only eleven,’ said Oscar.

Jan pushed close against him.

The man lifted his gaze for a brief moment, before going back to his form. After a short pause, he pulled out another from a pile and wrote Jan’s name in capitals across the top, followed by a line and a squiggle Jan couldn’t read.

Jan decided to let Oscar answer the questions. When he’d finished, they were both led by the smirking SS-er to the door leading to the cells. Again a feeling of panic rose from Jan’s abdomen at the prospect of being separated from his brother. They were marched along an echo-y corridor lined with closed doors. Jan had to break into a trot to keep up. At the end was a metal door that needed four keys to open it.

Jan and Oscar didn’t need telling. They walked through and the door swung back behind them with a decisive clang.’


More about the Novel

Deep in the Veluwe woods lies a secret that frustrates the Germans. Convinced that Jews are hiding somewhere close by, they can find no proof.

The secret is Berkenhout, a purpose-built village of huts, many underground, sheltering dozens of persecuted people.

Henk Hauer, head woodman, is in charge of building of underground huts and ensuring the Berkenhout inhabitants are kept safe, But could his friendship with certain German soldiers endanger the very existence of Berkenhout?

Sofie, a Jewish Dutch girl, is one of the first inhabitants of Berkenhout. At first she refuses to participate in village life and pines for her friends and family. But she realises there is no choice and comes to appreciate the support of the local community who make their survival possible.

Young tearaway, Jan, finds the woods an exciting place, but they pose danger from the patrolling German soldiers. His discovery of Donald, an American pilot, changes everything.

The Reviews

Ms E. Holmes-ievers: “From the first chapter you are engaged with the characters and I even found myself warning them when they were due to be raided – OUT LOUD! Sensitively written, with a page-turning plot, this is a wonderful new book from Imogen.”

Gilly Cox: “This skillful blend of fiction within the factual events happening to many at those times, holds you till the end. I couldn’t put it down, nor did I want to until the final page.”

Clarky: “Though the subject matter is tough, there are lighter moments and the book rattles along at a good pace. The varied cast of characters, especially the younger ones, keeps your interest. Highly recommended.”

The Characters

This was a story I felt I had to get down, so when I’d finished I was pleased I’d told a story that so many people won’t have known anything about. It left a big hole as I’d spent so long on the book and I realised just how attached I’d become to my characters.

I miss Sofie’s feistiness and determination not to let her life change by hiding away from the Germans. And I miss her best friend Liesbeth, who sticks by Sofie through thick and thin, even though she also has to make her own big sacrifices. I even miss the enigmatic Henk, the head woodman, who’s instrumental in getting the hidden village built, but struggles with his loyalties. I particularly miss Jan, who’s always getting into scrapes but is only trying to help others and do good. He goes through so much that I just want to give him a big hug and tell him that everything will turn out alright.

The Author

My Dutch heritage has shaped me and influenced the writing of this novel, which is set in the woods where my family and I have cycled for the past 27 years.

This is a story about events in WW2 that hardly anyone knows about. Once you start reading The Hidden Village you’ll be gripped and won’t want to let the book out of your sight!

The Hidden Village’ is a bestseller in the US with over three hundred reviews.  The novel explores wartime Holland and asks: Who can you trust?  You can read my review of this book at……

Imogen re-visited the setting of the novel and has mailed an article to Books in my Handbag Blog.


Please see all my extracts at Book Extracts and my blog at


Stumbling Across History with Imogen Matthews

In November, I received some mail from Nunspeet, Holland.  Imogen Matthews posted an article to Books in my Handbag Blog, during her annual holiday. On opening the email, I was delighted to read about how she stumbled upon history and the real hidden village.

Imogen Matthews is the author of The Hidden Village, an intriguing historical fiction, and it is a pleasure to hand over my blog to her, today.



The real hidden village and why I wrote a novel about it

The Pas-Opweg: Inspiration for the front cover of The Hidden Village

The woods are perfectly quiet at this time of year and the only sound is our bikes crunching over fallen beech nuts. We’re on the long straight avenue of tall beech trees arching upwards to meet in the middle. Their leaves still cling on, burnished gold by the sun’s setting rays. It’s a scene I never tire of.  At the crossroads, we stop briefly to take photos, as we always do, and carry on towards the hidden village. We know it well after discovering it only a few years ago.



Signpost to Het Verscholen Dorp -the real hidden village

I always look forward to our annual holidays in Nunspeet, where we stay in gezellig holiday houses tucked away in the woods. We know all the cycle routes that track across the heath, past improbable sand dunes and along narrow paths leading deep into the woods.


At least, we thought we did until one day back in 2011, we cycled past a large boulder with something written on it. I stopped to discover it was a memorial stone to the local community who had sacrificed so much to help people persecuted by the Germans in World War 2. I was astonished to learn this piece of history. In 21 years of cycling holidays, no one had ever mentioned this place, nor had I ever read anything  about it.

Across the path was a sign to Het Verscholen Dorp, Dutch for hidden village. It wasn’t easy to see what was there, which was probably the point. We followed a rough path through the trees and ahead of us was a hut of some sort, only partly visible. The roof was covered with moss, vegetation and branches to look like the ground beside it. It was a reconstruction of an underground hut that had stood on this spot.


Reconstruction of an underground hut

These huts were as dark and secluded as the one shown here, designed to be invisible to the naked eye. Whole families lived inside these cramped spaces and many were so relieved to have somewhere safe to live that they were prepared to put up with less than perfect conditions.

After discovering Het Verscholen Dorp, I was enthused to find out more, but there was very little written material or information on the internet. This made me even more intrigued: so few people today know about what happened on this spot that I wanted to write my own story visualising the events and their effect on these brave people. I knew I didn’t want to write a historical account, but a narrative based on imagined characters who flee to safety inside the village and others who put their own lives at risk to help them. The reality was that there was a huge community who devised the plans to build the village, clandestinely helping to bring people there and provide them with everything they needed, including food, clothing, medicines books and news from the outside. It was remarkable that this village stayed hidden for so long from the Germans patrolling these woods. They suspected something was going on but were unable to uncover the village however hard they tried.

Every year we go back and I walk around the “village” which today consists of three underground huts. There would have been more back in 1943-1944, housing nearly 100 Jewish men, women and children, fallen English and American pilots, Dutch men who resisted going to Germany to work for the Germans and other nationalities looking to escape the Nazis. People were in hiding all over the Veluwe woods, in farmhouse attics, cellars, outbuildings and other purpose-built dwellings, but this was the only organised village.

Today, the woods are a haven for people looking to escape busy lives in towns and cities. The Veluwe is a popular holiday destination, but deep in the woods  it’s always tranquil. I imagine how quiet it must have been 74 years ago, although for many the peace was tempered by an undercurrent of threat and fear.

In my story, Tante Else and her helpers do all they can to keep up people’s spirits by visiting every Sunday with coffee, cakes and news.

Tante Else put down her basket and took out a packet of coffee and a cake wrapped in a tea towel. The smell of cinnamon filled the room. She must have baked it that morning. Everyone crowded round to see and soon the hut filled with chatter and laughter.

‘It’s real coffee,’ cried Corrie, taking a deep sniff as she spooned it out into the pan. Tante Else smiled, but wouldn’t let on where she’d obtained such a rare commodity. None had tasted real coffee for months. Everyone had grown sick of the ersatz stuff made from roasted chicory that didn’t taste at all like coffee, just burnt. The smell of coffee filled the air and its effect was as intoxicating as alcohol.

Soon their conversation becomes subdued as Liesbeth, Oscar and tante Else bring them the news from outside. Sofie, just 16 years old, has recently moved to the village and is having difficulty settling in and following all the rules.

‘They’re forcing Jews to wear a big yellow star when they go out. Everyone and anyone can be stopped and searched and if they don’t have ID on them, they’ll be arrested. Every day we’re hearing about people disappearing,’ said Liesbeth.

‘My uncle was arrested in Amsterdam last month. He only just avoided being sent to Vught. Father’s been so angry about this. It’s why he wants this village to be a success,’ said Oscar quietly.

‘This is why it’s best you’re here for the time being. I hope you understand now why we have these rules, which might seem petty, but are for everyone’s safety,’ said tante Else, whose gaze landed on Sofie.

It was too much to bear. Sofie looked away…


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Visit my Author Chat Room to meet Imogen Matthews.  Please see my review of The Hidden Village at My Reading.


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