A Look Behind The Book With Elisabeth Gifford.

IMG_6602It has been almost two decades in the making but this month Elisabeth Gifford has released her latest book, The Good Doctor Of Warsaw.

Based on a true story of some of the rare survivors of the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War, it features the inspiring story of Dr Janusz Korczak, who has been described as a “sort of Polish-Jewish Dr Barnardo”. He defied the Nazi brutality by creating an oasis of kindness and happiness for children.

Here’s the blurb:

good.doctor-4[2]Deeply in love and about to marry, students Misha and Sophia flee a Warsaw under Nazi occupation for a chance at freedom.

Forced to return to the Warsaw ghetto, they help Misha’s mentor, Dr Korczak, care for the two hundred children in his orphanage.

As Korczak struggles to uphold the rights of even the smallest child in the face of unimaginable conditions, he becomes a beacon of hope for the thousands who live behind the walls.

As the noose tightens around the ghetto Misha and Sophia are torn from one another, forcing them to face their worst fears alone.

They can only hope to find each other again one day…Meanwhile, refusing to leave the children unprotected, Korczak must confront a terrible darkness.

I am thrilled Elisabeth agreed to let me interview her for my latest Behind The Book post.

Here’s what she had to say:

You’ve written a biography and three historical novels. How did you come across the stories and what grabbed your attention and made you want to write about them?

When I come across a mystery or a question I’d like to find out about then the book is my way of answering that question. A fascination with the actual history behind the many mermaid sightings around Scotland last century turned into Secrets of the Sea House. I’m also keen to look at how we can have happier lives and relationships, and the books often have those themes bubbling in the background – does your past define you, how to be a good mum, honesty and intimacy in relationships, what children need to feel safe and loved.

Can you talk about how you first got into writing? What made you believe you could write a book (or four)?

I’ve always written but with three children and a teaching post it got put on the back burner for some years. Gradually I gave more time to it, poems and short stories and then I joined some writing courses as a treat to myself.

As you mention, you’ve studied creative writing. What made you want to go that route and how did that help you develop? Would you recommend it?

When I got to the point that I was boring strangers at bus stops with my plot ideas I did a diploma and then an MA in creative writing to have someone to share my obsession with. I love the craft side of writing also so I was thrilled to have access to a library of books about writing at Oxford for the diploma and then Royal Holloway for the MA. I found the other students very supportive and inspiring and enjoyed their company a great deal. I built up a body of writing as a result and at a reading for the MA group and agent offered to take me on. I’d say if you want to spend time developing your writing and enjoy it then consider a writing course. An MA is quite a commitment. Try some shorter courses first perhaps. There are so many good ones.

Your latest book, The Good Doctor Of Warsaw, sounds like an amazing tale (I can’t wait to read it), were you ever nervous about writing about it and making sure you got it right?

Yes indeed I was very nervous about attempting The Good Doctor Of Warsaw. It took me almost two decades between wanting to write about Korczak and the novel being published. It involved a lot of research and rewrites and a very patient and supportive agent and publisher. I met Roman Wroblewski who is the son of Misha and Sophia. They worked with Korkzac and were among the 1% out of a million to survive the ghetto. He was kind enough to share information and anecdotes from his parents’ lives and we Skyped a lot over the years. He was also very strict about accuracy and picked up on any errors, which was fantastic.

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Dr Korczak and the children. Photo credit: Elisabeth Gifford.

How much research is involved in your books? 

You need to do enough research to inhabit the world you are writing about, but then let the story breathe and tell itself through the characters’ lives.

You’re a full time writer, do you have a set writing day? How do you avoid getting distracted?

I try to write in the morning and do research or emails in the afternoon, but I’ll write longer as the book progresses. It does however depend on getting a good night’s sleep so you feel mentally fresh, and I can’t really drink and think so I avoid the wine or gin and tonic. And it is true that walking helps the brain so I try to get active for part of the day.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading?

I enjoy evocative prose or poetry and also fast paced thrillers. I love biography and history. Writing involves so many different layers. Different books offer different pleasures.

 

Are you working on anything at the moment and can you share?

I’ve just begun a historical mystery set back in Scotland again. Part of my family is Scottish, so it’s a place I visit often and love writing about. In the new book, a newly wed woman moves to a large house with her husband’s family and becomes obsessed with finding out the identity of a woman who was written out of the family history some years before – while wondering if she is really welcome there or whether she is imagining sinister things.

How do you feel come publication day? Are you excited? Relieved? Worried?

Publication day is exciting – I can’t quite believe it each time, but I get very anxious until I get some feedback that shows that the story has gone down ok with people.

Do you have any writing tips you can share please?

Read lots of course. That’s how you get an ear for what works on the page. Write something every day if you can. Try and join a group of friendly writers to workshop each other’s prose. And don’t stop until you’re done. A novel can take endless re-writes so don’t get discouraged.

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I’m so pleased Elisabeth finally got to write the book she always wanted to. The Good Doctor Of Warsaw is getting some wonderful feedback on Amazon so it was obviously worth making sure it was absolutely right. What fabulous writing tips too.

You can find out more about her via her website, her Facebook page and on Twitter. Her books are all available via her Amazon page.

Thank you very much to Elisabeth for taking the time to answer my questions. I’ll have another Behind The Book post for you soon.

 

 

 

 

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A Look Behind The Book With Natalina Reis.

MeWhile Natalina Reis has written other genres, she always comes back to her first love – romance.

Currently working on her sixth novel, Natalina juggles writing with teaching and family life.

Her latest release, Blind Magic, came out in November has been winning lots of praise on Good Reads so I was delighted when she agreed to let me quiz her for my Behind The Book series.

Here’s what she had to say.

You’ve strayed into other genres but always come back to romance. What is it you enjoy?

Romance makes me happy, gives me hope that no matter how bleak things look, there is always hope. Love transcends everything else, even death to a certain extent. And of course, there is always the happy ending.

You wrote your first book at 13. Has writing always been your thing?

Yes, I’ve been writing ever since I knew how. I wrote stories even in elementary school. Being an introvert who had the worst time expressing my feelings, writing offered me a way of doing so. For some reason the written word was always a form of solace, of therapy for my soul.

That first book was a collaboration with your best friend, can you explain how that worked? Do you write together or do you do a bit and then send it to her?

We were both on spring break and we spent our evenings in my room discussing characters and parts of the plot. She would suggest something and I would suggest something else. Once we agreed on what to write, I would write it down as part of the story. It was fun. Even though I haven’t done anything like that since, I still enjoy when my critique partners or friends make suggestions. Some great ideas came out of discussions just like those.

Blind Magic for jpegs_frontcover310In Blind Magic your main character, Marcy, is a witch. What made you want to include that magical element?

Marcy happened as a happy accident to be truthful. She first appeared as a sidekick on Loved You Always where I needed her as comic relief and also as an outrageous way of helping my two main characters out of a very dangerous situation. Turns out Marcy became so much more than that. My sister was also a great inspiration for Marcy’s occupation and beliefs, since she has always been interested in the esoteric.

Did you already have an idea for Marcy’s story when you were writing Loved You Always?

I never expected to love her so much and I definitely didn’t expect the readers would fall in love with her as hard as they did. There were so many requests to write Marcy’s own story that eventually I gave in and wrote it. She is one of my favorite characters.

Blind Magic is winning a lot of praise. How does it feel to know your readers have connected with your story?

It’s amazing. As a writer I love all my characters, but to have others love and connect with them as well is heartwarming and makes everything worthwhile. One of my favorite parts of the publishing process is the beta readers’ comments as they read the book. Marcy got a lot of oohs and aahs. She really touched a chord in many readers’ hearts (and so did her man, Oliver) and I’m still shocked (in a good way) by the reactions.

You don’t just write about male/female relationships, in Lavender Fields your main character, Sky, an angel of death, falls in love with another man. Can you talk about what made you want to explore that angle?

I wanted to write a story that my son, who is gay, could identify with. But most of all I just wanted to write a love story. It just happened that the two main characters are both men. All my books have a few things in common, and one of those is the theme of diversity and universal love. In fact I wrote my first M/M romance when I was about 19 years old (a story that will never see the light of day!).

Let’s go right back to the beginning and talk about your first published book, We Will Always Have The Closet. How long did it take to write? Did you submit it to many publishers?

I wrote The Closet in 30 days during National Novel Writing Month. I polished it, hired an editor and on a whim participated on a Twitter Pitmad and was shocked to have a publisher request the full manuscript. I was offered a contract shortly after and I think I’m still in shock.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a romantic comedy that started as a short story. It’s called Fictional-Ish and it’s set in Scotland where I lived for four years a long time ago. It’s a friends to lovers, second chance story with a lot of humor and, as in most of my stories, a bit of mystery drama.

Do you have any tips for writers?

Write, never stop writing no matter how much you doubt yourself. And don’t get too stuck on what the “experts” say because writing is as individual as humans are and what works for one writer may not work for another.

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What fabulous answers, a huge thank you to Natalina for taking part. I love that she wrote a story for her son and her writing tips couldn’t be more relevant to me this week when I’m having yet another crisis of confidence. I’m definitely going to be taking note.

If you’d like to connect with Natalina you can do so in various ways. On Twitter, Instagram,  Facebook, and, of course, you can buy her books via Amazon.

A Look Behind The Book With Ralph Webster.

Author PictureInspired by an overseas trip, Ralph Webster set about taking his family history and turning it into two books, which feature topics not only important to him personally but also the world in general.

His first, A Smile in One Eye: A Tear In The Other, which tells the story of his father’s flight from the Holocaust, was nominated for Best Memoir/Autobiography in the Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards.

His second, One More Moon, which is due to be published next month, tells the true story of his grandmother’s desperate journey from Naples to America as countries across the world closed their doors to Jewish refugees fleeing the spread of Nazi evil.

I couldn’t resist asking Ralph to be my latest Behind The Book interviewee and was thrilled when he agreed to answer my questions.

Here’s what he had to say:

I know that becoming an author was never really in your grand plan but the tale of how you came to write your first book is inspiring. Can you tell us about it please?

Thank you for asking that question because it really goes to the heart of what I am trying to do with my writing. A little more than two years ago my wife Ginger and I spent eight weeks in Europe travelling. We are retirees and have the luxury of being able to take off for big chunks of time. This was a pleasure trip. We were taking trains, backpacking, hiking, and biking. I suppose you could say we were celebrating the good life. We started in France and ended in Stockholm for their jazz festival.

Ironically our trip coincided with the escalating refugee crisis in Europe. Refugees in large numbers searching for safety, security, and economic opportunity were fleeing Syria and other areas under siege with literally the clothes on their backs. At night we watched the news reports on CNN and BBC. And, by day, we encountered groups of refugees on trains, at train stations, in cities, in small towns, and at border crossings. Right before our eyes we watched mothers, fathers, children, and groups of young men literally just trying to survive. We saw conversations and confrontations with authorities – some civil, some heated. We saw people being removed from trains and taken away by police officials. We recognised the difficulty and frustration in trying to communicate across the medium of different languages. It was easy to see that these were people simply looking for a hand up, not a hand out.

This touched our hearts and brought tears to our eyes. I hope we all feel compassion for those forced to leave the lands of their mothers and fathers through no fault of their own. Watching this I realised that this is what my family must have experienced when they had no choice but to leave their homes. It may have been a different time, a different circumstance, and a different generation. But I am certain that the feeling was much the same – the anguish, the loss, the confusion, the uncertainty, the isolation, the fears, the unknown, the way others reacted.

That is what inspired me. This is the story I want to tell. Far too often, particularly in the United States, refugee and immigration issues have become involved in the politics of fear. I wanted to do my part to shine a light on this issue. I want others to understand the personal depth of this humanitarian crisis. Mine is not a plea for money. It is a plea for compassion, respect, and dignity. I want us all to recognise that refugees, those forced to leave the lands of their mothers and fathers, are the victims. They should never be made to be the enemy.

How much research was required before you started writing? Did you have any family files to help you? How much involved talking to people and how much was spent in archives or online? How much is fiction and how much is fact?

Wow! That’s a lot of questions! I really can’t say that there was a great amount of research required before I started writing and that was true for both of my books. I did have to take stock of the items that we had in our possession. This meant checking in with other family members which can sometimes become complicated. They were curious to know what I was doing. Some wanted to become part of the process and they had their own opinions of various situations. I was resistant to share too much with others because I was still trying to get my arms around what I was really trying to do. I needed to complete my vision before I was ready to share. We had some items – mostly copies of official documents like birth certificates and marriage licenses. For my second book, One More Moon, I had a few pages my grandmother had written about various times in her life. As for talking to people, too many years had passed. Memories were lost and people who had been around then were no longer alive. For my first book, A Smile in One Eye, I had some communication with the British Archives and had to petition for the release of my father’s World War II records. As for what is fact and what is fiction? Both books involve real people, places, actual events, and pretty specific timelines. Connecting the dots between them often involved some informed speculation and conjecture. Admittedly, like a stage play, sometimes there are moments that need to be more expressive than real life. Sometimes fiction is more interesting than fact.

One other point and I think it is important. I wasn’t interested in family trees and ancestry research. Those are stories for others. I was trying to tell a very specific story of one generation (actually for a very specific time in our history). My focus has been on the story and personalities. I want the reader to intimately know my family – for the reader to feel that they are on the inside looking out.

Your first book was a Goodreads 2016 Choice Awards Nominee for Best Memoir/Autobiography. How did it feel to find that people were connecting with your story?

That is always especially gratifying. I think that is what we all hope is accomplished with our writing. What sometimes gets lost in the book description is that there really are two parts to A Smile in One Eye: A Tear in the Other – actually two stories that are married together into one book – two voices. The first is my father. He is telling the story of his journey from Germany to America. Remember his was a Lutheran family who were informed of their Jewish roots. They considered themselves Germans through and through. They had a difficult and emotional journey. The second voice is my own. I tell the story of the last eight weeks of my father’s life and how our family dealt with this family crisis. Every family at one time or another has to deal with the passing of a generation. I always receive comments from readers about this, especially when I meet with book clubs. It is a connection we all share and it is deeply personal.

OneMoreMoon_eBook_Cover_finalizedYou are about to publish your second book, One More Moon, where you go back another generation to your grandmother. Both books are important in terms of your family history but also for the wider world so we don’t forget what happened. Did it feel important when you were writing it?

Absolutely. I wanted to convey my message by telling a story. Isn’t that what all storytellers try to do? I want the reader to feel that they are in the moment. I suppose that gets to the heart of the difference between trying to write a family history to pass on to family versus a book which one hopes to share with a broader audience. When you write for a broader audience there is a certain commercial aspect to it. Afterall, what purpose does it serve if no one finds the book interesting enough to pick up and read all the way through. I want to write books that readers don’t want to put down. I want readers to stay up all night to get to the end. Those are the books I like. You don’t have to consider that when you write a family history for family members. The other thing that comes to play in all of this is defining the line of what is personal and what can or should be shared with others. I suppose that is a reflection of our personalities. Some of us are extremely private – others want to tell it all. Writing a book for others to read about real people within one’s family can become very complicated. My wife Ginger and I had many conversations about that very issue. I think she was aghast when she realised what I was doing. Consider that a forewarning for others who might attempt it.

On that same note, are you ever tempted to write about current refugees? You say “we must remember that refugees are the victims, not the enemy” something I that I think some people have forgotten. Do you think your books are a reminder of that?

I truly hope they are a reminder. If little else is accomplished with all of this I hope all of our children and grandchildren embrace this as an important value and a way they look at the world they live in – a world where some have more and some have less. As for writing about the current refugees, I honestly believe that is a story for others to tell. I believe I write with passion and emotion because I know my family’s story. Readers would recognize the difference. I think a good story has to be told from the depth of the heart.

How have you found promoting your books, being interviewed, and speaking at book clubs?

I love it. Apart from being good for the ego, the books have become a wonderful platform to express some values I find important. Even more than that, I have learned so much from the stories of others.

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What about the technical side of publishing? Can you talk about the route you have taken with your books?

My gosh! I have learned so much and continue to learn so much everyday. Writing a book and getting it noticed is quite an adventure. Fortunately I don’t have to make a living doing this. Perhaps that gives me some freedoms that others don’t have. I can write for the pleasure and for my purpose. Of course I value my time and I want something in return. That is where the readers come in. I want them to read my book. And when they do, when they leave a review or send me a note, whether it is good or bad, that is my joy.

It didn’t take me long to realise that I wasn’t a rock star, a controversial politician, a talented sports figure or an extremely imaginative writer. I am an older guy who wrote a book or two. I was not embarking upon a series or trying to build a brand. I took the self publishing route.  I chose not to invest the time in searching for an agent or a publisher. I wanted to get from point A to point B as quickly as I could so I could be here to see the finished product and enjoy the mystery of what might result. I suppose that adventure is the word that best combines rewarding with frustrating!

Are you working on writing anything new at the moment?

No. I am taking a breather. I think I have exhausted all of my dead relatives. I know my family agrees.

Do you have any writing tips you can share?

Make the story your passion. Remember writing begins with the reader. Always find an editor. Be humble and have a thick skin.

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Thank you very much to Ralph for answering my questions in such detail. I love the way he was inspired to write and hope, after a well earned rest, he carries on (maybe he can find another family to write about?).

One More Moon is scheduled for release on February 28th in soft cover and Kindle formats and is available for pre-order at Amazon. You can also follow Ralph on Twitter and visit his website.

I’ll have more Behind The Book posts for you next month.