Today, not just one Author Chat, but an entire tea party. So, put on the kettle, make a cuppa and meet the authors of The Road to Liberation. You’ll be glad you did. And you may never want to leave. First a word about the new anthology:
The Road to Liberation: Trials and Triumphs of WWII
By Marion Kummerow, Marina Osipova, Rachel Wesson, JJ Toner, Ellie Midwood, and Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger.
Riveting stories dedicated to celebrating the end of WWII.
Welcome, authors, and thank you for coming. Let’s chat!
What is the first book that made you cry?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: That might have been Thorn Birds. Although, I’m sure Charlotte’s Web and The Trumpeter Swan also made me cry. And a thousand others. I’m a crier. If I cry, it’s good. If I get shivers up and down my spine — especially when I’m reading my drafts — then I know it’s good. So yeah, goosebumps and tears, those are my indicators of “good stuff”.
Rachel Wesson: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I loved the prisoner and Pip and felt so sorry for Miss Havisham. It made me cry and laugh. I loved a lot of Dicken’s books growing up.
JJ Toner: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck.
Ellie Midwood: I don’t remember the title now, but it was about the dog that got lost (it was written fully from that dog’s POV) and how it was making its way back to its master. That was actually the only book that brought me close to tears – I can hardly be called an emotional person but whenever I read about a pupper in trouble, my heart breaks. Go figure!
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
Rachel Wesson: A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute.
JJ Toner: Perfume by Patrick Susskind. A wonderful story, full of visceral, subliminal emotions and understated passion. Susskind is unsurpassed as a writer, in my view. I have met people who hate the book and very few who love it the way I do. It made a wonderful film, too.
Ellie Midwood: The Forgotten Soldier.
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Rachel Wesson: To see Jean Moulin’s home in Bezier in France and to tour the area of Riversaltes in South Western France to see where the French Resistance fought, died and the landscape where the French Camps were. Every town has a plague to the Resistance. Every graveyard has graves. You can put your fingers in the bullet holes on the walls. Even now people don’t want to discuss the dark days.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: My second-grade teacher, Mrs Sharon Davis (I’m grateful to her to this day for her creative writing assignments), asked us to write a spooky story for Halloween. I just happened to really be into ghost stories and haunted house stories in those days, too. I was rather impressionable, and I put together a 6-page story — three times longer than anyone else’s — of “plagiarised” retellings from those books I’d read.
The day of, all the kids sat in a circle on the floor. Each child was asked to stand up and read. The rest of us were getting impatient, shuffling about, and some kids poked at one another, giggled, that kind of thing. I was kind of a nerd, and I was also really, really nervous about it being my turn at some point. My heart raced, and I tried to listen, but we were in second grade and easily distracted. I think the most used word that day was not “ghost” or “haunted” but “shush.”
Then it was my turn. I stood up with my stack of pages, and I think Mrs Davis must have cringed… but she asked, and I delivered. I started to read. And I noticed something was terribly wrong. The room had gone completely quiet. When I looked up from my stories, I saw that all the other kids’ faces were honed on me. Mrs Davis nodded encouragingly. I looked down at those pages, and I know I did not understand it just yet, but looking back I do now: I realised I had found true power. From that day on, I was driven to hold that kind of power in my hands again and again… When I was 10, my grandmother asked me what I wanted to be: I said, “Storyteller.”
Specific to your newest release,
When you did your research, did it change your plot or your characters significantly?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: As Magda’s Mark started out as a short story before I expanded it into novel-length, I ended up doing the research in three phases: the first was done over the Internet including finding my setting. The town of Litomerice did the trick. It was big enough to “hide” my heroine but I hadn’t yet realized that “Terezin”, across the river, was Theresienstadt, where the Jewish ghetto and concentration camp was. I only realized that when I was half-way into the story and needed to deport my Jewish family to the nearest camp…!
My second phase included more extensive reading material as soon as I began expanding and outlining the story into a novel. I then let Theresienstadt play a much larger role. My mother, who’s a major history buff, chased down all the hard stuff for me.
The last phase was driving out to the district in January this past year with my dear friend, who is also my cover designer. I had a day-long meeting with two historians at Theresienstadt, and one of them is involved with a group who conducts WW2 re-enactments. That meant he knew a lot about the military manoeuvres. Between these two historians and the staff at the city archives, I got so many impressions and so much information that I really had to revamp a number of things in the novel, but to its and Magda’s benefits. It was in Litomerice that I most especially was able to capture more of the “feel” of the place. This is why I insist on travelling to my settings. I let the atmosphere seep in, the people, and the landscape, the geography. I walk everything that my characters would walk. I’ve stopped taking notes; I really pay attention and then replay things in my mind while writing. I only wish I’d had at least two or three more weeks there. For example, as I continue on my Reschen Valley series, I get down to South Tyrol as often as possible to allow these impressions refreshen, pick up new things, etc. I didn’t have this luxury with Magda’s Mark… not yet, anyway. There is a chance — if the COVID restrictions are relaxed — that I maybe get to go back before the novel releases as a standalone next year.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Rachel Wesson: The women being beaten on Kristellnacht, the fear in the children, the consequences for Heinz when he intervened to stop a German Officer from hitting a woman.
JJ Toner: The last scene when Gretchen and Oscar sit in the allotment hearing a Red Army tank drawing near.
Ellie Midwood: The very last one, in which Gerlinde finally meets her war criminal father, Otto Neumann. Ever since the end of the war, the American OSS agent, Lt. Morris, was trying to persuade her to give her father up and it took quite a while for agent Morris to finally open Gerlinde’s eyes to the bitter truth concerning her father’s crimes. She has changed a lot since the end of the war – from a brainwashed BDM girl into a compassionate and rational young woman – but she still wasn’t sure that she’d be able to give up her own flesh and blood in the name of the abstract, universal justice. Their meeting and conversation that followed definitely made the scene very emotional.
What would you want readers to think when they reach “the end.”
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: The reason I decided to expand the short story into a novel was because I felt there was a theme that was begging to be explored: Magda’s Mark was inspired by a true anecdote. My friend married an Austrian whose father was an Austrian commanding SS officer in a Morovian town (Czechoslovakia). Her mother-in-law had a reputation of being a bossy, selfish woman, and the help really did not like her at all. The woman took extra rations, citing she was an officer’s wife, and left nothing for the locals as she felt entitled to everything. When my friend’s husband was born, the mother had a midwife at the house. The son was returned to her after the birth and there was nothing unusual until she and the SS officer discovered that he had been circumcised.
My mouth dropped to the floor. I immediately begged my friend to let me “have” this story. I wanted to write about the person driven to the point of committing such an act, and could only imagine the risk and danger she or he put herself in. My next thought was, “But would it make that person better than the Nazis they held in contempt? To do such a thing to an innocent child?”
And then I had my theme to explore. How far will we go to the “dark side”, to exact vengeance under the name of “justice”? And does that make us better or worse, or just the same – human?
This makes me think back on the photo research I did regarding the acts of humiliation and cruelty conducted on the women in Europe who were labeled as collaborators. Or the photos of people posing with the broken and mangled corpses of Mussolini and his lover. Look at those faces. Look at those posing over them. The men holding the tufts of hair on the women’s shaven heads, jeering, smiling, posing… It’s shocking. And it’s human. We cry when we see men standing over their trophy elephant. And it’s human to cry. It’s human to decry such acts as “horrible and monstrous”. And it is human to find justification in acts of violence, in acts of vengeance.
And that is what I want people to think about during those last scenes in Magda’s Mark. How far would I go in the end?
Rachel Wesson: Not everything is at it seems, don’t be so quick to judge people. When you say “I would never stand back and let all those people be murdered, have you really thought about the consequences for you and your family, your loved ones if you had to help a stranger’s child?”
JJ Toner: That the people of Germany are now, finally, free of the mesmerizing influence and power of a mad despot. They are free to rebuild their proud country in peace and goodwill toward every other race, placing their dark history firmly in the past. The point of the book, really.
Ellie Midwood: I want them to ask themselves the same questions Gerlinde asked herself: am I blindly following what I’d been taught and staying loyal to my family simply because “our blood is above all” or am I following my own path and choose the world where everyone is accepted and supported and where hatred isn’t welcome because it’s the right thing to do? “The Aftermath” makes one ask themselves very personal and sometimes uncomfortable questions and, perhaps, even makes one reevaluate their entire system of values, but that’s precisely why I wrote it. I want readers to ask themselves such uncomfortable questions. Only by asking ourselves such uncomfortable questions can we grow and evolve into better, kinder humans.
Quick Q & A
Tea or Coffee?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: Coffee! Black and strong…!
Rachel Wesson: Coffee.
JJ Toner: Both.
Ellie Midwood: Coffee.
Dark or Milk Chocolate?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: Dark, of course.
Rachel Wesson: Milk.
JJ Toner: Neither, chocolate is verboten.
Ellie Midwood: Milk.
When were you the happiest?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: Now.
Rachel Wesson: Child aged 3 on the beach with my hero, my paternal grandmother.
JJ Toner: As a student in the late sixties when anything seemed possible
Ellie Midwood: I try to find little “happy” moments in each day. It’s my profound conviction that we all can be happy about the smallest things – my dog greeting me at the door when I come home for one instance – and it’s important to teach yourself to recognize those little “happy” moments.
Favourite Children’s Book?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: I don’t think we have that space available but off the top of my head: Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpeter Swan, Little House on the Prairie series, Five Little Peppers, and anything that had to do with stories from the past…
Rachel Wesson: The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett.
JJ Toner: Winnie the Pooh by A A Milne.
Ellie Midwood: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Favourite Adult Novel?
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger: I go through novels like a bowl of banana chips: I devour, swallow, digest and move on to the next one. But ones that left an indelible impression? One Hundred Years of Solitude, Like Water for Chocolate, The Color Purple, Beloved, All Things Fall Apart, Homestead, The Bastard of Istanbul… Yeah, I love color – stories that take me around the world in history, with loads of sound, sights, smells, and color.
Rachel Wesson: To Kill A Mockingbird.
JJ Toner: – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by D N Adams.
Ellie Midwood: Too many to enumerate here but the first one that came to mind is All Quiet on the Western Front
Riveting stories dedicated to celebrating the end of WWII.
From USA Today, international bestselling and award-winning authors comes a collection filled with courage, betrayal, hardships and, ultimately, victory over some of the most oppressive rulers the world has ever encountered.
By 1944, the Axis powers are fiercely holding on to their quickly shrinking territories.
The stakes are high—on both sides:
Liberators and oppressors face off in the final battles between good and evil. Only personal bravery and self-sacrifice will tip the scales when the world needs it most.
Read about a small child finding unexpected friends amidst the cruelty of the concentration camps, an Auschwitz survivor working to capture a senior member of the SS, the revolt of a domestic servant hunted by the enemy, a young Jewish girl in a desperate plan to escape the Gestapo, the chaos that confused underground resistance fighters in the Soviet Union, and the difficult lives of a British family made up of displaced children..
2020 marks 75 years since the world celebrated the end of WWII. These books will transport you across countries and continents during the final days, revealing the high price of freedom—and why it is still so necessary to “never forget”.
Stolen Childhood by Marion Kummerow
The Aftermath by Ellie Midwood
When’s Mummy coming? by Rachel Wesson
Too Many Wolves in the Local Woods by Marina Osipova
Liberation Berlin by JJ Toner
Magda’s Mark by Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger
About the Authors
Marion Kummerow was born and raised in Germany, before she set out to “discover the world” and lived in various countries. In 1999 she returned to Germany and settled down in Munich where she’s now living with her family.
After dipping her toes with non-fiction books, she finally tackled the project dear to her heart. UNRELENTING is the story about her grandparents, who belonged to the German resistance and fought against the Nazi regime. It’s a book about resilience, love and the courage to stand up and do the right thing.
Marina Osipova was born in East Germany into a military family and grew up in Russia where she graduated from the Moscow State Institute of History and Archives. She also has a diploma as a German language translator from the Moscow State Institute of Foreign Languages. In Russia, she worked first in a scientific-technical institute as a translator then in a Government Ministry in the office of international relations, later for some Austrian firms. For seventeen years, she lived in the United States where she worked in a law firm. Eventually, she found her home in Austria. She is an award-winning author and a member of the Historical Novel Society.
Rachel Wesson is Irish born and bred. Drawn to reading from an early age, she started writing for publication a few years back. When she is not writing, Rachel likes to spend her time reading and playing with her three kids. Living in Dublin there are plenty of things to do, although the cowboys and Indians of her books rarely make an appearance. To chat with Rachel connect with her on Facebook – authorrachelwesson. To check out her newest releases sign up to her mailing list.
My background is in Mathematics and computing, but I have been writing full time since 2005. I write short stories and novels. My novels include the bestselling WW2 spy story ‘The Black Orchestra’, and its three sequels, ‘The Wings of the Eagle’, ‘A Postcard from Hamburg’, and ‘The Gingerbread Spy’.
Many of my short stories have been published in mainstream magazines. Check out ‘EGGS and Other Stories’ – a collection of satirical SF stories. I was born in a cabbage patch in Ireland, and I still live here with my first wife, although a significant part of our extended family lives in Australia.
Ellie Midwood is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning historical fiction author. She owes her interest in the history of the Second World War to her grandfather, Junior Sergeant in the 2nd Guards Tank Army of the First Belorussian Front, who began telling her about his experiences on the frontline when she was a young girl. Growing up, her interest in history only deepened and transformed from reading about the war to writing about it. After obtaining her BA in Linguistics, Ellie decided to make writing her full-time career and began working on her first full-length historical novel, “The Girl from Berlin.” Ellie is continuously enriching her library with new research material and feeds her passion for WWII and Holocaust history by collecting rare memorabilia and documents.
In her free time, Ellie is a health-obsessed yoga enthusiast, neat freak, adventurer, Nazi Germany history expert, polyglot, philosopher, a proud Jew, and a doggie mama. Ellie lives in New York with her fiancé and their Chihuahua named Shark Bait.
Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger was born in Minnesota in 1969 and grew up in the culture-rich neighborhood of “Nordeast” Minneapolis. She started her writing career with short stories, travel narratives, worked as a journalist and then as a managing editor for a magazine publisher before jumping the editor’s desk and pursuing her dreams of writing and traveling. In 2000, she moved to western Austria and established her own communications training company. In 2005, she self-published a historical narrative based on her relatives’ personal histories and experiences in Ukraine during WWII. She has won several awards for her short stories and now primarily writes historical fiction. During a trip into northern Italy over the Reschen Pass, she stood on the edge of Reschen Lake and desperately wanted to understand how a 15th-century church tower ends up sticking out of the water. What stories were lying beneath? Some eight years later, she launched the “Reschen Valley” series with five books and a novella releasing between 2018 and 2021.
For more on Chrystyna, dive in at inktreks(dot)com.