I first met this month’s guest on social media through our shared interest in reading and writing. She has published two books so far and is busy working on the third so I’m pleased she has agreed to have a chat with me.

Good morning, Beverley, I thought we might start by learning a bit more about you. Perhaps you could tell me a bit about yourself?

Good morning, Marcia, thank you so much for inviting me to your blog.

I grew up in the city of Leeds in West Yorkshire and I now live in a small rural village in North Yorkshire with my husband. It had long been my ambition to write a novel, but as a wife and mother, as well as holding down a full-time job, I just never found the time. Now, with my family grown up and with busy lives of their own, I finally have the time to fulfil my ambition.

Well, I know that feeling!

My first book, HANNAH, was released in August 2021, although I began writing it two years before it was published. HANNAH, although a piece of fiction, is very loosely based on my own experience of being a victim of domestic violence.

I was able to draw on my own experience when writing Hannah’s story. It is a powerful account of how a very young woman eventually freed herself from a situation, in which she had been trapped for a number of years.

I hope that the book will be an inspiration to other victims of abuse.

My second book, ESTHER’S JOURNEY, is also a story of courage and survival, during one of the worst cases of genocide, during WW2.

Esther, who is the central figure, endures and survives the horrors of the notorious extermination camp, Auschwitz. The book follows her amazing journey after liberation.

My third book, THE WINEMAKER’S SON, is in the process of being published and will be available later this year.

What inspired you to start writing?

I had always wanted to write a book about my experience of being a victim of domestic abuse, to hopefully help others who find themselves in the same situation, but I had a very busy life and could never find the time.

Once my children were all grown up, I decided to write a piece of fiction, based on my experience of being in an abusive relationship. So, although I used my own experience to guide me when writing it, all the characters in the book are fictional.

I enjoyed the experience of writing and having my work published, and so, after visiting Auschwitz, just before the first lockdown, I decided to write a piece of fiction about a French- Jewish family, whose lives were torn apart by the Nazi Regime.

What do you enjoy most about writing?

I love developing the personality of each character, especially the main ones. I find myself developing a bond with them and caring about them deeply. When I’m writing, I’m in a different world, surrounded by my characters. I love it!

Do you like reading the same type of books that you write?

Yes, I do tend to. I love anything that’s based on real-life experiences. My favourite genre is historical fiction.

If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

Either Provence or Tuscany.

What was your favourite book as a child?

The Magic Faraway Tree, by far. When I was a little girl I used to get completely lost in the book, and dream about what an adventure it would be, to visit the many characters in the book.

Now, I have a feeling that was by Enid Blyton, my favourite author as a child, but I’ve never read that one. I always favoured the “adventure” books like “The Island of Adventure” and also the Famous Five books.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I would tell her to believe in herself and her own ability, and not allow herself to be affected by other people’s negativity or criticism!

Sounds like good advice. How many drafts do your books generally go through before publication?

Usually around four.

That’s about the same as me, though sometimes I think it has been five. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I enjoy travelling, eating out, and spending time with family and friends and of course, I love to read.

What was your favourite subject at school – and which was the lesson you always wanted to avoid?

My favourite subject at school was History, followed closely by English. My worst subject was Physics. I just didn’t understand it and found it really boring.

Where is your favourite place on earth and why?

It has to be the Norwegian Fjords, for their incredible beauty. I have visited them twice, and I know I will do so again. They are absolutely stunning.

Now, that’s somewhere I’ve never been, though we have talked about it. One day, perhaps.

If you could meet one person from history, who would it be – and why?

That’s a hard one because there are so many. If I’m honest, it would be Martin Luther King. I have always admired his courage and integrity, and how he stood up and spoke out for what he believed to be right, knowing it could cost him his life, which sadly, it did.

Now that we’ve heard a bit about Beverley and her writing I thought it would be nice to find out more about one of her books. Here is Beverley’s description of Esther’s Journey:

Isaac and Esther Barak are a young, beautiful, and talented couple who are living in the South of France, during WW2. They have everything to live for, fame, a loving marriage, a beautiful home, and two young children. As Jews, they are targeted. Their fame and their money cannot save them. In an effort to save the lives of his children, Isaac, turns to a close friend, a non-Jew. With false papers and new identities, the children are smuggled out of France and kept safe until the war is over. Shortly after, Isaac and Esther are captured as they attempt to flee to a hiding place deep in the French countryside. As a result, they are sent to separate extermination camps in Poland. Almost two and a half years later, Esther is liberated by the Russian army. But what of her husband? Esther’s journey continues, with the hope that she, Isaac, and the children they haven’t seen for more than two years, will be reunited….

And here is Chapter Three of the Book

Auschwitz -Birkenau Extermination Camp September 1942

Esther climbed out of the cattle car and stepped into the dark night. Her back, legs, and feet were stiff and painful from standing for what had seemed an eternity in the tightly packed carriage. It had been unbearably hot, with little air, because there had been no windows, as the cattle car had previously been used to transport cattle, not human beings.

The smell of sweat, urine and human excrement had caused Esther to gag. There had only been one bucket provided for the prisoners to use as a toilet, and so many of the prisoners had urinated on the floor. Some had suffered diarrhoea, because of the terror of not knowing what might lie ahead of them once they reached their final destination. Esther had been so overcome with exhaustion, that at times she had dozed off where she stood, as she leaned her head against the back of the person in front of her. She had never known what it was like to go hungry in her entire life because she had had a privileged childhood, where all her needs and more had been met. But right now, the hunger and the raging thirst were so severe, that she was experiencing severe stomach pains.

After she and Isaac had married, they had eaten food and drank wine in some of the best restaurants in France. She and Isaac had been forbidden to use those same restaurants for some time now, just as they had had to wear the yellow Star of David whenever they went out so that everyone in their area would know they were Jews. And so, they had found themselves becoming more and more isolated in their home, as they chose to be seen less and less in public.

Esther’s last meal had been in the prison camp in France. She had been given a small piece of dry bread and some watery soup that had tasted like rotten vegetables. She had forced herself to eat the bread and drink the soup, in her determination to survive for the sake of her family.

After getting off the train, Esther soon became consumed with terror! Above the sound of crying children, some prisoners were screaming as if they had already lost their minds! The menacing sound of the SS caused a cold shiver to run up and down her spine, as her blood ran cold. She had no idea where they were, although she knew they were no longer in France. She imagined that they might be in Germany, but she wasn’t sure. She would learn by the end of the night, that they were in the notorious concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

Some of the SS guards were holding back large ferocious dogs on leashes. The dogs barked and bared their teeth, terrifying the new arrivals, and frightening Esther almost out of her wits. The air was full of smoke and ash that Esther would later learn came from the burning bodies of the victims who had been gassed. Everyone was ordered to leave their belongings on the ground, and to then move forward. Esther had nothing with her because hers and Isaac’s few belongings had been confiscated the night of their arrest. She had been wearing the same clothes for days, and she knew she did not smell good! They were all marched forward, all gripped with the fear of what was going to happen to them.

Esther could hear the screams of families and friends as they were torn apart from one another, and then forced into separate lines: the men in one line, the women, and children in another. As they edged forward, Esther became filled with a feeling of impending doom, and she had never felt more alone in her entire life. And yet she was too petrified to cry; she couldn’t even pray; she was so paralysed with fear. As she got closer to the front, she noticed people were being separated. Some to the left, others to the right. Pregnant women, young children and their mothers were being put in another line, along with the elderly and the infirm.

The woman in front of Esther turned to her companion and whispered, “That line is for the gas; let’s hope we don’t get put in that one.” Esther let out a gasp as she looked across at the small children. She stared at their young mothers and saw the terror in their eyes as they held onto their babies and young children. Esther’s blood ran cold at the realisation that the children and their mothers were all going to die! “Oh, God; oh, God,” she cried inside her head as her whole body began to tremble. She wanted to run, but there was nowhere to go. They were trapped like caged animals, and totally at the mercy of their evil captors!

The person who would normally be here to protect her was not here, but somewhere else, probably suffering as much as she was, or even worse! She wanted to feel Isaac’s arms around her, and to hear his voice, telling her everything was going to be all right.

Esther had never felt so alone as she took her turn to stand in front of the commander. She stood very still, willing herself not to faint, knowing it was up to him whether she lived or died. He held his thumb up in front of her—if he pointed his thumb to her left, she would be going to the gas chamber; if his thumb went to her right, she would be entering a life of unbearable misery.

The smell of death hung over the camp, filling Esther’s senses with a feeling of complete hopelessness as she stood silently awaiting her fate. The commander had recognised her immediately. He knew she was the well-known classical singer, Esther Barak, who was married to the concert pianist, Isaac Barak. He narrowed his eyes as he looked her straight in the eyes, while he held his thumb in front of her for a little longer than usual. At last, he turned it to her right.

Esther obediently joined the line behind the other women. The woman who had spoken to her friend was in the line in front of Esther, but her companion had not been so fortunate and was on her way to the gas chamber. Esther turned around at the sound of a woman screaming as she was dragged along the ground by her hair towards the line of prisoners that were to be taken to the gas. What looked to be the woman’s teenage daughter was crying and calling, “Mama. Mama.” It was a heartbreaking scene as Esther watched on. She witnessed the girl receive a slap across her face by one of the SS and then ordered back in line. It came as a shock to her that men could treat women and children with such cruelty.  An SS guard shouted for Esther to turn around, and she did so, for fear she would be struck by him.

She and the other female prisoners were taken somewhere, where they were forced to undress in front of the male SS guards. It was bad enough for the married women, to be made to stand naked in front of them, but some of the female prisoners were young girls who had never been seen naked by a man in their entire lives. The guards stood grinning at their naked bodies, while they jeered. They made disgusting comments about their breasts and other parts of their bodies, as they continued to laugh and laugh at the terrified women. Esther had never felt more humiliated in her life as she stood naked and shivering with fear!

She had managed to hold onto her tears, but when her long jet-black hair was shaved off her head until she was completely bald, she could no longer stop the tears from flowing. But there was worse to come when other parts of their bodies were shaved too. It was the most humiliating experience that any woman or young girl could go through. Esther could hear others crying too, and all the while, the SS guards laughed as they looked on. The hair was sold to German companies as raw material, where it was used for stuffing mattresses and other furniture.

The women were taken to the shower block, where they endured the freezing water. There was no soap, so, it was impossible to clean ones-self properly. Still, it was better than nothing. Once they left the shower block, they were given thin-striped uniforms to wear that had the Star of David stitched onto them, and wooden clogs for their feet. Then they were taken to the tattooist to have their own personal identification number tattooed on their forearm. From that moment on, they would have no name, they would only be known by a number.

Esther flinched when the sharp instrument broke into her skin. The young man whom Esther could see was a prisoner himself too, looked at her with deep sympathy, and silently mouthed the word, “Sorry.” Esther’s eyes filled with tears once more, for it was the first glimpse of human kindness she has seen since her arrival in the camp. After that, they were given a potato and a small piece of dry bread, and a cup of cold black coffee.

After they had eaten, they were then marched to wooden huts that contained wooden bunks, where they had to sleep six to a bunk, on top of uncomfortable straw mattresses that smelled of human sweat, urine, and excrement. They were given just a couple of thin blankets to cover them against the cold night, but at least they were at last able to lay down their exhausted bodies.

Esther slept that night through sheer exhaustion. She had no idea where Isaac had been taken after she had been dragged from his arms. When he had whispered to her not to scream for fear she would be beaten or shot, she had obeyed his warning; despite the hysteria, she had felt inside. She hoped that since Isaac was a strong and healthy young man, he had not been taken straight to a gas chamber and that he was still alive, somewhere.

The next morning, Esther stood with the other prisoners for what seemed like an eternity as they were counted. The bodies of those who had died in the night were brought out to be counted too. Anyone who could not stand was shot or beaten to death. Esther trembled while trying to grasp the reality of all that was going on around her. She had never seen a dead body in her life, but she had seen several since her arrival the night before. After the roll call, they were given some watery soup and a piece of bread. The soup tasted terrible, and some of the new prisoners could not eat it, despite their hunger. Esther forced herself to drink it because surviving to see her family again was the most important thing to her. They were given more cold black coffee to drink before being marched off to their work assignments. The skeletal bodies of those who had been killed during the roll call were thrown onto carts as if they were the carcasses of dead animals. Not even in death were the prisoners given any dignity, making Esther question how she was ever going to survive the hell she now found herself in.

Fortunately, Esther was put to work in the kitchen, which meant there would be a little more food. Over the months that followed, she would resort to eating vegetable peelings and any scraps that had been scraped from the guard’s plates, if she could get to them before anyone else did, in her efforts to survive. Although the work in the kitchen was hard, it at least meant that Esther would not be working outside when the harsh winter came, like so many of her fellow prisoners.

Anyone who had any kind of musical talent could be used to entertain the guards, to help boost their morale. Esther could play the piano, although not as well as her talented husband, so she was able to accompany herself on the piano as she sang to her captors.

There was a small orchestra in the camp that would often play as she sang. But her songs were not for the SS, her songs were for her husband and her children. She would picture each of them in her mind’s eye, as she sang with feeling, while the German guards listened to the beautiful tones of her voice, while their thoughts turned to their wives and sweethearts back in Germany.

The commander of the camp had told the SS guards that Esther was not to be put into any of the selections for the gas. He wanted her alive! Not that he had admitted to anyone that he found her voice enchanting and that he loved to listen to her sing.

So, for that reason, Esther became one of the few protected prisoners inside their barbed wire prison!

Thank you, Beverley, for taking the time to talk to me. I wish you every success with all of your books and, of course, your new book, The Winemaker’s Son.

Readers, you can find Beverley on the following social media links:

https://m.facebook.com/beverley.latimer.9/

Instagram

Amazon.co.uk: Beverley Latimer: Books, Biography, Blogs, Audiobooks, Kindle

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