Historical Fiction Set in WWII

READERS STILL CONNECT WITH WWII

This year marks seventy-five years since the end of World War II, an important part of our heritage. And perhaps because of the pandemic and other modern day hardships, books set in WWII seem to be more popular than ever.

Stories of WWII heroines and heroes continue to inspire us.

When working on another book set in Paris, I stumbled across true accounts of Muslims at a Paris mosque who saved Jewish children during WW2, and it became the inspiration for my new book, Beyond Belief – Heroes of the Holocaust.

Beyond Belief – Heroes of the Holocaust

In 1942, in the Grand Mosque in Paris, 11-year-old Ruben is hiding from the Nazis. Already thousands of Jewish children have disappeared, and Ruben’s parents are desperately trying to find his sister. Ruben must learn how to pass himself off as a Muslim, while he waits for the infamous Fox to help him get to Spain to be reunited with his family.

One hint of Ruben’s true identity and he’ll be killed. So will the people trying to save him. But when the mosque is raided and the Fox doesn’t come, Ruben is forced to flee. Finding himself in the south of France, he discovers that he must adjust to a new reality, and to the startling revelation of the Fox’s true identity.

Family stories about my grandfather’s time in Dachau and my father’s escape from Austria after Kristallnacht, made me want to write about the Holocaust and when I came across the true life interfaith solidarity story of Muslims saving Jews from the Nazis, I knew I had to tell it.

REVIEWING THREE GREAT WWII HISTORICAL FICTION WORKS

Today I’m featuring three amazing  books set in WWII –  Conspiracy of Lies by Kathryn Gauci released in 2017 and two new books out this year, The Deceptions  by Suzanne Leal and Red Day by Sandy Fussell.

CONSPIRACY OF LIES – ADULT HISTORICAL FICTION

When Claire meets the mysterious Marcel, she knows there will never be another man like him in her life. But he’s not the man she thought he was and by the time she realizes, it’s too late. She’s already in love with him. When she takes on a pivotal role in the Resistance, Claire is risking her life for both her man and her country, but ultimately she must choose between them.

Conspiracy of Lies

Conspiracy of Lies is rich with suspense, and interwoven with complex relationships, both past and present. The dual timeline story keeps us turning the pages as we discover the truth alongside Claire’s daughter, Sarah.

This is a book for adult readers with the relationships explored on both an emotional and physical level. The characters are so well drawn that we feel like we know them, even the minor players.

One of the things I loved most about this book was the way the incredible historical detail was woven seamlessly into the story. The story starts in Brittany in 1940. The Phoney War is over and the real war has begun in France.

Author, Kathryn Gauci’s depiction of occupied France and life in the Resistance is so visceral that we can imagine ourselves right there in the story.

Kathryn and I talk about the research behind our books, Beyond Belief – Heroes of the Holocaust and Conspiracy of Lies here.

THE DECEPTIONS by Suzanne Leal

I interviewed author Suzanne Leal on my blog on 17 April so I already knew some of the background to The Deceptions and the fact that it was inspired by true events, and perhaps that’s why the authenticity of the story and setting shine through.

The Deceptions

It is both tragic and inspiring as we follow the survival story of Hana Lederová taken from her home in Prague in 1943, and imprisoned in a ghetto where she accepts the advances of a gendarme in return for his protection, but soon discovers that nothing and nobody can protect her from the Nazis.

This is another dual storyline as we follow the stories of Hana and her modern day granddaughter, Tessa who is suffering the same kind of manipulation by a man in power.

When their two worlds come together, secrets of the past are spilled and deceptions revealed that have far reaching consequences.

Suzanne Leal draws us into Hana’s life of fear and hardship, and we take each step with her, wondering what new horror is around the corner and whether she can survive it. We know she does because she has a granddaughter, Tessa, but we wonder whether her life can ever have any semblance of normality after what she has gone through.

Powerful characters, suspense and the eloquence of the narrative kept me turning the pages of The Deceptions and made me ponder at the end whether truth really is more important than anything.

RED DAY by Sandy Fussell

Set against a backdrop of the 1944 Cowra Prisoner of War Camp breakout, this powerful story explores an important part of Australia’s past and how it informs the future.

Set in a modern-day small town among the remnants of a Japanese POW camp, this is the story of Charlie. Charlie has synaesthesia and hence sees and hears differently: people have auras; days of the week are coloured; numbers and letters have attitudes. But when Charlie meets Japanese exchange student Kenichi, her senses intensify and she experiences flashbacks, nausea, and hears unfamiliar voices in her head pulling her back to the town’s violent past.

Red Day

Main character, Charlie isn’t looking forward to the arrival of Japanese exchange student, Kenichi, especially seeing as he’ll be occupying the room that used to be her brother’s.

Charlie is determined not to like the new arrival, but they have a connection that she has no control over, and he seems to have special abilities just like her.

As their friendship develops so does the mystery and intrigue in the story, and the widening gulf between Charlie and her mother.

It’s only through exploring the past that they can possibly find some resolution to the events that have come between them, and find closure for Kenichi and his family too.

I loved the uniqueness of Charlie, the main character and the way this story transports us between different worlds in such an unusual and vibrant way.

There’s also a strong theme of family and here again we see the effects of war through the generations. Red Day not only transported me into the fascinating world of synaesthesia but also Japanese war history of which I had very little knowledge. And it depicts an Australian experience of WWII.

With its elements of fractured families, fear and prejudice, Red Day is very relevant in today’s world.

Haywire

I have another book on order set in Australia in this era and also for young readers – Haywire by Claire Saxby and I’ll be interviewing Claire right here so keep your eye out for this post.

Have you read any other great books set in WW2II that you can recommend? Please let us know in the comments below.

 

Pitching Your Work at Conferences

Pitching your story to a publisher/agent panel is nerve wracking to say the least. I’ve done it twice and now I’m hanging up my pitching shoes, but I wanted to share the things I’ve learned to help anyone planning to pitch their work at a conference.

Although it’s scary, pitching offers a chance to hone your story concept, to get professional feedback on your work, and hopefully get some interest from the panel.

WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT

  1. It’s a chance to step out of your comfort zone, and make new publishing contacts. A little fear can be good for your creativity 🙂
  2. When you prepare your pitch it helps you get your head around what your story is really about. If you can’t summarise it succinctly enough to pitch, it might mean that you have too much going on, or that your story concept isn’t strong enough. Do you know who your character really is? Is there enough at stake for them?
  3. It helps you really own your story

The panel itself is actually the second step. First you have to get past the selection committee, and to do this your story concept needs to be fresh and clear, and your writing strong.

HOW TO CONVEY THE AWESOMENESS OF YOUR STORY

When it comes to presenting to the panel, there are some things you can do to help calm your nerves, and convey how truly awesome your story is.

I. I usually start with my personal connection to the story … this tells the publisher something about me and why I had to write this piece … and why I am the person to write it. For example, when I pitched my WW2 holocaust novel, Beyond Belief, I mentioned that my father had fled Austria because of Hitler, and this was my connection to the story.

2. Don’t try to tell the whole story. You need to say who your main character is, and what their story problem is and how it’s about to get even worse. Leave the panel wanting to know more.

3. Keep it simple. Don’t confuse people with detail. Focus on the high points of your story – the best bits, these are probably the parts you enjoyed writing most. You have to convey the essence of your book.

4. Make your pitch clear and coherent. In a way, the publisher panel is under just as much pressure as you are. They have to listen to your pitch, and give ‘on the spot’ feedback. Make it easy for them. Give them a story concept that can be summed up in a short paragraph, one that’s easy for them to comprehend.

For example, 12 year-old Abby is mortified when her embarrassing parents sign them all up for reality tv show, Happy Families. To make matters worse, Abby discovers one of the other contestants Is her arch enemy Melissa Hill with the perfect family. Melissa is going to make her life hell, but Abby can’t back out now because her parents desperately need the prize money to save them from bankruptcy.

Here I introduce the character and her story problem. I make things even worse for her, and I show what’s at stake and why she has to work through her problem.

5. Go to bookstores and libraries and research competitor books in the marketplace. If you have time, in your pitch, state why your book is unique and why it will appeal to readers.

6. Remember that agents and publishers are real people. They can relate. They may have a dog like yours, an allergy to capsicums or suffer from bad hair days. They are people and they want to hear your story so be proud to tell it.

7. Be prepared for questions. You know your story backwards, but the people you are pitching to won’t have read it. So try and anticipate questions that might be asked and have answers prepared.

8. Plan to read about one page of your work. You only have three minutes to sell yourself and your story. Your writing will speak for itself so one page is plenty. If you try to read too much, you’ll find yourself talking too fast, and the beauty of your writing won’t be clearly conveyed. Allow yourself time to get the panel connected with your character, engaged with your story and wowed by your writing. 3 minutes is not a long time.

You might decide to edit the first pages just for the pitch … so you can give your reading the most impact. You don’t have long to introduce the main character and hook people into their story.

9. Prepare and practice your pitch. Don’t go in cold turkey. Prepare what you are going to say in advance and practice, practice, practice. Practice it in front of your mirror, your dog, your cat, your goat or anyone who’ll listen.

10. When you practice your pitch listen to feedback. If someone says they’re not sure about something, your concept is unclear or your story doesn’t excite them … then keep working on your pitch. All is not lost. Your pitch just needs honing.

Even if you don’t plan to pitch publicly, preparing a pitch is actually a great activity to do in order to help you get to the heart of your story.

EXPECTATIONS

Even if publishers love the sound of your story, don’t expect them to sign you up on the spot. They will want to read the whole thing. The pitching helps them get to know you and whether they think they could work with you … and it helps them get to know your story.

Don’t be disappointed if they don’t jump on your pitch straight away. Look at it as information gathering … it’s a chance to test the viability of your concept … and for you to assess which publishers you might like to work with.

Have fun and be proud of your story … and the fact that you have taken this brave step.

Good luck 🙂

If you have any additional tips on pitching, please feel free to include them in a comment below.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this post if you think it might be helpful to others.

Dee

School Libraries Matter – Do you have a school library story to share?

I’m a member of the School Library Coalition, aiming to save school libraries from further funding cuts and decimation.

To help us in our campaign, we’re gathering stories from people whose kids have benefitted from the resources in their school library.

This year, the School Library Coalition will mount an Australia wide campaign to demonstrate how important they are, not just for your child’s school years, but for lifelong learning and fulfillment.

To help us, we’re looking for stories about how children have received significant benefit from participating in the literacy, social and cultural activities of the school library, or simply from feeling nurtured and engaged.

Or perhaps you have an experience of how school library staffing cuts have impacted on your child’s learning or wellbeing.

If you have a personal experience that you’re happy for us to share (we can change names if necessary), we’d love to hear from you.

Please email your story or contact details to dee*at*deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Thanks for any help you can give us.

Happy reading and writing 🙂

Dee

A Book For All Children

What an amazing experience it has been to see our new picture book, Reena’s Rainbow released to both deaf and hearing communities.

Reena’s Rainbow tells the story of a deaf girl and a homeless dog and how they bridge the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds.

One of the most amazing things about our Reena’s Rainbow events has been being able to include both deaf and hearing children.

This was made possible thanks to a grant from Regional Arts Victoria that funded our fabulous Auslan Interpreters Meg, Pauline and Bec.

It meant that deaf children could feel included and valued, and be introduced to a story in which they could see themselves represented.

It meant that hearing children could experience communicating in Auslan, and it allowed them to walk in the shoes of deaf children.

We were truly fortunate to be able to also be able to have both deaf and hearing children at our workshops where they could learn about how books are created.

There were interpreters.

Our Auslan Interpreter, Meg, our fabulous launcher Mitch Vane, me and Tracie at Dromkeen.

Tracie, me and Bec our Auslan Interpreter

Auslan Interpreter, Pauline, interpreting how to create Rainbow Stories

There were lots of eager young readers.

There were supportive bookshops and galleries including Dromkeen, Squishy Minnie and Collins Bookstores.

And there was cake. And books of course.Thanks to everyone who has supported Reena’s Rainbow and its launch into the deaf and hearing worlds. Special thanks to my fabulous partner-in-picture books, Tracie Grimwood who created all the fabulous illustrations and did so much more.

Happy writing, illustrating and creating 🙂

Dee

Break Your Silence – Explore the Writer in You Writing Workshop

I’m delighted to be presenting a writing workshop in Trentham on 21st August, as part of the Words in Winter Festival.

Words in Winter logoI’ll be inspiring writers of all ages from 15 to 115.

If you’ve been getting around to getting started, felt intimidated by ‘writers’ or found it all too expensive, then this is a golden opportunity to participate in a safe, easy environment at a super affordable price.

Places are limited, so book yours soon. Book here.

Screen Shot 2016-07-17 at 3.13.51 PM

For more about the fabulous Words in Winter festival check out their website.

Hope to see you there 🙂

Dee

Monthly Manuscript Makeover – Two of My Characters Sound Like Each Other

I had an enquiry from Kat who is writing a young adult novel in multiple points of view, and was worried that two of her character’s voices sounded a bit similar. They are both written in first person.

This has happened to me, and my tips are based on what I did to fix this in my own manuscript.

  1. Write a single paragraph summary of each character – something to really capture their essence so I could clearly distinguish them in my own mind. You can even do a table to show how different they are. For example:
L M
cautious bold
dreamy focussed
thinks before she speaks forthright
optimistic pragmatic
family orientated family orientated
loyal loyal
lives in a bit of a fantasy world truth seeker
believes best of people realistic

If you look at the key characteristic/s of your characters by doing this, you will see they are both very different.

  1. Look at how each character speaks. You can show differences in the length of their sentences, their word choices, the actions that go with their words, their speech patterns (do they pause a lot or is their speech free flowing?), their mannerisms, their thought patterns.
  1. Think of a situation – it could be one from your novel. How does/would each character react in this situation? It’s likely that both your characters will react in different ways. This will help you understand their differences, and convey this in your writing.
  1. How each character thinks is really important. Try to look at things through each character’s eyes, from their point of view. This will also help you understand their differences. For example, if there were an ‘anti-war demonstration’ in your character’s town’, would they go? How would each of these characters view war? Would one volunteer to fight and the other not? Would they both be opposed to it? Would they both volunteer? Characters are like people. They don’t think the same way on everything.
  1. Try rewriting part of your character’s point of view in third person, if you haven’t done so already. This will help you step outside the character a bit and may enable you to see and learn new things about them. It will enable you to see how they interact with others, how others see them, and what their place in the story is.

I hope you found this helpful. If you have any tips on how to make a character’s voice distinct from another, feel free to leave them in the comments section of this post.

Happy writing:)

Dee

ABOUT THE MONTHLY MANUSCRIPT MAKEOVER

If you’d like to get some feedback on an excerpt of your manuscript, Here’s what you have to do.

  1. Send me 200 words of the manuscript with your question or outline of what you need help with OR
  1. Alternatively, you can just send me the writing question itself. For example, “My main character isn’t very likeable, what can I do about it?”

Email your 200 word writing piece or your question or both, together with a paragraph about yourself and a paragraph about your work in progress.

Also, if you’d like to see a blog post about a particular topic, please feel free to make suggestions.

Email to dee*at*deescribe*dot*com*dot*au

Writer’s Masterclass for Teens

Letters to Leonardo Book CoverI’m going to be running a full day writing workshop for students in Years 7, 8 and 9 in July.

My workshop titled, ‘From Portrait to Prose’ will incorporate my experiences writing Letters to Leonardo.

I’ll go through the process of how I used paintings by Leonardo da Vinci as inspiration for events and settings in the story.

My workshop will take writers through the process of how to develop a character from a photo or a portrait, and how you can use this character to write a compelling story.

The workshop will be held in Oakleigh, Melbourne on 3rd July and places are limited.

For more information and bookings see the WriteAwayWithMe website

Hope to see you there.

Dee

WRITING RETREATS

By popular request, I’m now offering all day writing retreats for writers who would like to spend time writing, networking, learning new skills and getting constructive feedback on their work.

The retreats will take place at my home about 45 minutes north of Melbourne. Limited accommodation is available for interstate writers.

Each retreat will be tailored according to the experience levels and needs of the writers.

Day writing retreat BLOG PAGE

TURNING A NANO DRAFT INTO A NOVEL

November has been a big month in our household.

My husband grew a moustache for Movember, and I wrote a YA dystopian thriller for NaNoWriMo. It’s a very rough first draft, but it has a beginning, a middle, an end and characters I have got to know well and become attached to.

As I said in a previous blog post, NaNo for me is not about the word count, it’s about setting writing goals, reinstating good writing habits and falling in love with being a storyteller all over again.

It’s about the weeks and months after NaNo when I will add all the bits and pieces that will turn it from a NaNo first draft into a novel.

I had so much fun working on my 2011 Nano project. I didn’t participate in NaNo forums or chats so much this year because I had so many family things happening at the same time.

The way I do NaNo is the way I usually work. I write and keep writing. I don’t stop, I don’t look back and I don’t revise. I get the story out of my head and onto the paper or computer screen. I have to empty the clutter from my brain to get to the crux of the story, to be able to look at it objectively and see what needs attention.

As I’m writing, I realise there are things I’ve left out, things that need to be expanded on, things that don’t need to be there.

I don’t do any editing as I go but I make heaps of notes about:

  • setting detail
  • plot clues/foreshadowing
  • character’s emotional responses
  • plot inconsistencies
  • character traits/habits
  • plot and setting practicalities
  • physical descriptions and artefacts that relate to the plot
  • scenes that need developing more
  • scenes that link one piece of action to another
  • linking relevant character knowledge
  • tension building
  • technologies and plot devices
  • reminding readers about turning points
  • detail about procedures/processes/schedules/habits
  • reordering things

I usually spend the first week after NaNo doing all the things I didn’t get done in November and becoming reacquainted with my family again. Then I move on to the next draft.

What do you do with your NaNo draft? Do you shelve it or do you start rewriting straight away.

I’d love you to share your experiences and any tips you have for redrafting.

Happy writing and I hope you achieved your writing goals for November.

Dee:)

HOW TO MAKE A GOOD MANUSCRIPT EVEN BETTER – TUESDAY WRITING TIP

I recently read a blog post by US agent, Nephele Tempest where she said,

I see a great many manuscripts that show promise: good story, interesting characters, steady pacing that builds suspense. But all too often, the writers have jumped the gun and sent me a draft that still clearly needs rewriting.

http://nephele.livejournal.com/146822.html

 She also said that…

writers have to make sure the prose on the page actually conveys what they see and imagine in their heads, and in a fresh, compelling manner.

As I commented on Nephele Tempest’s blog,  this is one of the hardest things to do as a writer. We know what we want to say, but how do we pass that on effectively to our reader – and how do we know when it hasn’t quite worked?

If we can bring our reader into our character’s head and into their world, our good writing becomes even better.

So, how do we do it? How do we bring the reader closer?

Recently, when I was working with my wonderful crit buddy, Alison Reynolds on my YA manuscript, I realised it’s those little extras that take something that’s a good read to something that a reader can more closely connect with.

They’re the things that help the reader understand a character’s motivations and forge a closer connection. They’re the little things that bring a character’s voice into the reader’s head as if they were standing in the same room.

In my current YA, the little things that needed tweaking in my manuscript were mainly  character and voice.

For example, my main character’s mother seemed impassive to her daughter’s pain. In my mind this was logical behaviour because the mother was repressed due to something that had happened when she was young. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel things; she just didn’t show them. It was her defense mechanism. I knew this about my character but forgot to convey this to the reader so the mother just came across as being uncaring. Making this small connection for the reader helped them to empathise with her character and feel closer to the entire family situation.

One of the flawed characters in the book did something major to redeem themselves fairly late in the book. This piece of information/action got lost in the redrafting process, but it was something that was vital to the resolution of the story and future outcomes for the main character.

In a previous draft, I had realised that it was my character’s voice that was letting the story down. The dialogue was competent and the character was likeable, but I hadn’t done enough with her words and actions to make her stand out as a person – to give the reader reason to like her so much that they cared about what happened to her. The things your character says and does are what make them stand out – what make them unique – what make them sparkle – what make them matter to the reader.

Another of my problems can be that I’m focussing so much on building up tension that I make my plot too linear. Don’t be afraid to have flashbacks and play with format to give your story depth and interest.

Letters to Leonardo started life as all letters, but on my wonderful editor, Sue Whiting’s suggestions, I changed it to a mixture of narrative and letters. This gave the letters more importance and added texture to the story – it was like having two characters – the narrative showed the action and the letters took the reader on a more intimate journey into what the main character, Matt was feeling.

Character, voice, setting and structure are all things to look at when trying to give your story more sparkle.

The hardest part is taking a step back so you can see for yourself where things aren’t working as well as they should.

I am learning to trust my instincts. If a voice in my head says, “this could be stronger” or “this doesn’t quite work”, I stop and pay attention.

I also try to leave plenty of time between a final draft and when I send it out.

Good luck with your submissions.

Do you have any tips of your own about how to make a manuscript sparkle – how to turn good writing into something great?

I’d love you to leave your tips and share your experiences in the comments section of this blog.

Happy writing:)

Dee