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Friday, 8 January 2016

Author Q & A Wendy Holden - Born Survivors

Finalist in the 2015 Goodreads Book of the Year

About the Book:
Among millions of Holocaust victims sent to Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1944, Priska, Rachel, and Anka each passed through its infamous gates with a secret. Strangers to each other, they were newly pregnant, and facing an uncertain fate without their husbands. Alone, scared, and with so many loved ones already lost to the Nazis, these young women were privately determined to hold on to all they had left: their lives, and those of their unborn babies.
That the gas chambers ran out of Zyklon-B just after the babies were born, before they and their mothers could be exterminated, is just one of several miracles that allowed them all to survive and rebuild their lives after World War II. Born Survivors follows the mothers' incredible journey - first to Auschwitz, where they each came under the murderous scrutiny of Dr. Josef Mengele; then to a German slave labour camp where, half-starved and almost worked to death, they struggled to conceal their condition; and finally, as the Allies closed in, their hellish 17-day train journey with thousands of other prisoners to the Mauthausen death camp in Austria.
Hundreds died along the way but the courage and kindness of strangers, including guards and civilians, helped save these women and their children. Sixty-five years later, the three 'miracle babies' met for the first time at Mauthausen for the anniversary of the liberation that ultimately saved them. United by their remarkable experiences of survival against all odds, they now consider each other "siblings of the heart."
In Born Survivors, now published in 21 countries and translated into 16 languages, Wendy Holden brings all three stories together for the first time to mark their seventieth birthdays and the seventieth anniversary of the ending of the war. A heart-stopping account of how three mothers and their newborns fought to survive the Holocaust, Born Survivors is also a life-affirming celebration of our capacity to care and to love amid inconceivable cruelty.

Title:               Born Survivors
Author:           Wendy Holden
Published By: Little Brown
Date:               May 2015
Link:               UK: Amazon     US: Amazon

We are delighted to welcome Wendy Holden to the blog to talk about Born survivors.

What was the inspiration behind this book?
It was luck. I was reading something online late one night about a woman who had died in Canada in her 90s. She had been a prisoner in Auschwitz – just like the three mothers in my book – 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 late mother Anka. Eva 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 as I had 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 now living 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 chronicling Hitler’s attempted destruction of the Jews.

Did you always want to be a writer? 
It’s not as if I had a choice. I have written something almost every day since I was able – a diary, a poem, even a few sentences. I penned my first play when I was six. It was called The Queen’s Birthday Cake and won a competition to be staged at my school. I carry a notepad everywhere with me and there is also one by my bed to scribble ideas onto in the middle of the night.

What other jobs have you had? 
None, really. I was a journalist for 18 years and then I became an author. To pay my way through college I worked as a waitress.

How did it feel when your first novel was published?
Bittersweet. I had just lost both my parents in quick succession and they were the first people I wanted to call up and tell. When The Sense of Paper was finally published in New York in 2006, I was so excited – far more than I had been for my non-fiction books as this was all mine.

Have you ever had writer's block? If so how did you overcome it?
Never. Some days I may write better than others but I have never been unable to write.

What motivates you to keep writing?
A deep inner need to express myself. Without that outlet, I think my mind would implode.

Do your characters moods ever affect your mood and vice versa? 
When I was writing Born Survivors, I was deeply affected by the Holocaust and all its horrors even though I knew there was a happy ending. We live near the sea in Suffolk so my husband and I would take the dogs on long hikes to clear the cobwebs and get me away from the sadness.

What three pieces of advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Read, read and then read some more. Only by accumulating words, thoughts and ideas can your own brain start to sift through them and figure out what and how to put down your feelings.

Which authors inspire you?
There are far too many to choose from but all the usual suspects, along with the many wonderful poets whose work feeds my brain. I am a sucker for E.E. Cummings and for Daphne du Maurier and I’m currently rereading all the works of Charles Dickens in chronological order to chart his evolution as a writer. I am enjoying a lot of new writers and especially loved All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr last year. I also loved Crooked Letter Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin, which was the closest I have come to the genius of To Kill a Mockingbird in a modern novel. I read a great deal of non-fiction too and love to be beguiled by the writing at the same time as learning something new, as I was with Deeper than Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul or pretty much anything by Simon Winchester.

What are you reading at the moment?
The Astonishing Return of Norah Wells by Virginia Macgregor
A Writer’s Life by Ruskin Bond

If your book was made into a film what song would you choose for the opening credits?

Who would you choose to play your favourite character in the film of your book? 
Carey Mulligan or Alicia Vikander

What is your next book about?
It is a novel called The Whisper in the Stars and it tells the story of a master glassmaker who flees her homeland of the Czech Republic to escape a dark past and try to find happiness with an Englishman and their child. I am also writing a screenplay treatment for Born Survivors and working on an altruistic non-fiction project about dementia, which afflicted and ultimately killed my mother and grandmother. Life is never dull!

Thank you so much for joining us and for the fascinating insight into Born Survivors.

Book Angel x

“An exceptionally fresh history, a work of prodigious original research, written with zealous empathy.” New York Times
“A work of quite extraordinary investigative dedication… Married to (the) narrative skills, Born Survivors is a moving testament of faith. Sir Harold Evans
“An incredible true story… In this meticulously detailed account, Holden compiles an enormous amount of information… The graphic history places readers in the moment and the story’s truth is chillingly portrayed. An engrossing, intense, and highly descriptive narrative chronicling the ghastly conditions three pregnant women suffered through at the hands of the Nazis.” Kirkus Reviews

"Holden weaves.. written, oral and recorded accounts, plus an array of historical records, into a spellbinding story of perseverance amid systematic abuse." American Jewish World
“One of the most important books of the year.” Last Word Reviews

About the Author:
Wendy Holden
Wendy Holden was a journalist for eighteen years, including a decade at the Daily Telegraph where she worked as a foreign and war correspondent. She is author and the co-author of more than thirty books, including several bestselling wartime biographies, including Tomorrow to be Brave, Till the Sun Grows Cold, and Behind Enemy Lines. She lives in Suffolk, England with her husband and two dogs and divides her time between the U.K. and the U.S.
Website and blog: Wendy also invites you to follow her on Facebook at the.real.wendyholden, on Twitter @wendholden, at wendholden on Instagram and on Tumblr, Goodreads, and Pinterest.

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