Title: Reluctant Courage: A Family’s Fight for Survival in Nazi Occupied Oslo
Genre: Historical Fiction
Synopsis: It is 1942 in Oslo, two years into the German occupation of World War II. Maria and her three daughters are used to coping with the hardships of war, but when Maria’s husband leaves her for another woman and a German officer is billeted to their home, their troubles are only just beginning. Maria and her daughters must stop fighting with each other and find a way to survive through grief, dread, and fear.
Rica Newbery, Author
International Author on Cheryl Holloway’s Blog
CH: Today’s International Guest Author is Rica Newbery. She is a retired psychiatrist who recently wrote her first novel. Welcome to my blog, Rica.
CH: So many people have written about World War II, why should we read this book?
RN: My novel takes you right into the heart of a family surviving the Nazi occupation of Oslo. It is, above all, a story about Maria and her three daughters, Eva, Inger and Solveig. Maria’s husband, Johannes, a policeman, gambler and womaniser, leaves her for a younger woman. Herr Wolff, an officer in the Wehrmacht, is billeted into their flat and becomes obsessed with Maria despite himself. Maria remains cold and aloof. Inger becomes seriously ill, Eva is brutally raped and Solveig, distraught when nobody seems to care about her father, sets off on a long journey to find him.
So why should you read this book? Hopefully you will be interested in the characters and want to know more. What will become of them? Will they survive? At the same time, the story is completely entwined with historical events, places and conditions, so you might accidently learn a bit of Norwegian history!
CH: What made you decide to write about your family’s struggle during the Nazi occupation?
RN: When I came up for air after years of immersion in my work as a psychiatrist and bringing up two children, I signed up for an Open University course in Creative Writing.
The idea of writing a novel about my mother just emerged as an obvious thing to do. I had not analysed my motives then, I simply knew I was going to write about her childhood. I wanted to understand how my mother became the person she was when she was young: incandescently charming, beautiful, a talented artist, ambitious house renovator, and courageous single mother of three. She was the sun and her children were her planets, their role to circle her, and hers to be the only source of light and life. In the absence of a time travel capsule, I had to create her past with my imagination backed up by research. I wanted to write a novel, rather than a memoir, so that I could bring the characters to life. And have some fun.
CH: Are all of the situations and issues in the book from real life?
RN: No, but I have used historical facts to inform events, some from stories my mother told me and many from research I did.
This is what I knew from my mother’s many stories: My mother was the youngest of three daughters, as Solveig was. Her mother was cold, elegant and ‘only interested in men.’ Her father was a policeman, who was a womaniser and a gambler, and he disappeared during the war. They believed he had died of an illness in a prison camp. My Norwegian cousin tells me that the Gestapo had come to their flat looking for him. My mother’s sister became seriously ill in the war with stomach pains, which were dismissed by the doctor. My mother always told me that bread was eked out with newspaper and because of the diet, swedes and more swedes, many people had stomach pains. There was also a German soldier or officer billeted into their flat, but I have no idea how long this was for.
There was no rape. However, we know from history that German soldiers were encouraged to impregnate local girls because of their Nordic ‘Aryan’ looks which fed into their Nazi ideology. ‘Lebensborn’ mother and baby homes were set up and many of these babies were taken out of Norway to Germany for adoption. Abortion became punishable by death.
There was no journey to Falstad prison, but we know from the museum there that prisoners were tortured and killed, that there were many prisoners buried in the nearby woods, and that local farmers helped prisoners escape and gave them medical supplies and food parcels. (http://falstadsenteret.no/en/history/falstad-prison-camp/)
Teachers and priests refused to propagate Nazi ideology and many teachers were arrested, treated appallingly in prison camps, only to be let go, as no one else was prepared to take over.
Underground papers printed cartoons mocking the Nazis and graffiti abounded. The Resistance Museum in Oslo has a wonderful display, which would make any Norwegian proud: food was scarce, and women queued for hours or pawned their belongings to afford items such as eggs or meat on the black market. (https://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/570901690243528974)
On the docks, there is a memorial to 532 Jews, arrested by Norwegian police and handed over to the Gestapo at Pier 1 in Oslo Harbour. They were sent to Auschwitz via the famous SS Donau on 26th November 1942. (http://www.hlsenteret.no/gormley/english.html)
CH: Did you have to do any special research to write this book?
RN: Yes, I did a great deal of research. I bought text books, visited the Resistance Museum in Oslo (https://www.visitoslo.com/en/product/?TLp=181474), walked around Oslo, travelled to Trondheim by train observing the country side and visited Falstad Museum on the site of Falstad Prison. And, of course, did much googling on the topic!
I discovered that my Norwegian grandfather had escaped to Sweden a year before the end of the war, as there are records of him arriving in Kjesäter refugee camp. He lived in a village near Stockholm and worked as a woodsman. Sadly, he died of an infection a month after the war ended, and his relatives never knew. I never told my mother this as it would be unkind to dig up painful memories and make her review her ‘facts’ after a life time of coming to terms with them. She died before I published my book and was thankfully never at risk of reading what would have been a painful evocation of the past, probably made worse by many inaccuracies.
CH: Did you run into any challenges while writing this book?
RN: Where do I start? Yes, loads. It was difficult to get started as I had to overcome my lack of belief in myself. Who did I think I was? I have gathered that many writers struggle with this and have to find their own ways of dealing with it. I joined ‘NaNoWriMo’ (https://nanowrimo.org/) who challenge you and support you in writing 50,000 words in one month. That spurred me to write most of the first draft of the book. After a great deal of editing I finished with about 75,000 words. Although, I did not realise it then, this was only the beginning.
I paid for an honest review and had feedback from two writers at a weekend course for writers. They all said the same thing, that they liked my writing style, but that it lacked a proper story. My characters were just pinned passively onto a time line. I knew they were right, but did not feel I could tackle it. The project was shelved, and I started another book. However, my book, then entitled, Seeing Red, would not die peacefully and so I had to resurrect it. I had spent too much time on it, and needed something solid to justify all those lost hours.
The next phase was difficult and slow. I deleted as much as I rewrote and wrote anew. I added inner reflections to the characters, who had previously been portrayed literally as if one were watching a film and changed my main protagonist from Solveig to Maria. Whereas before, my ending had just petered out like the Nile Delta into many random tributaries, I worked to find an ending which made sense, was plausible, and which gave the characters closure. It was worth it.
CH: Was it easy or did the memories make it difficult to tell your family’s history to the world?
RN: Once I started, it was relatively easy, as I already knew my mother’s story and the places involved. I had even visited the spacious town flat where my mother was brought up and I could remember the long central corridor and massive lounge. I had a vivid imagination as a child and had pictured the stories that my mother told me, so all I had to do was recall those stories. The best moments were when I felt as if I were in a film imagining it as I went along, so I could simply describe what I saw. Similarly, I could see and hear some of my characters, from images I had already formed of them when I was a child.
Brit Maja Holmsen, Rica’s Mother, 1931 – 2017
CH: What is different and exciting that you bring to your readers through your writing style?
RN: I am told that my writing style is ‘sharp and simple’ and that I let the drama speak for itself. The story is indeed dramatic, and several people have told me that it is ‘a real page turner.’
One thing my writing course taught me was to avoid too many adjectives and adverbs, and so I delete as many of these as I can when I edit. I try to describe things as vividly as I see them and try to inject humor when possible.
CH: I know you tell your mother’s story, but are there stories in the book about each of your sisters and yourself?
RN: No. The little girl, Solveig, based on my mother, was a child in this story. Originally, I had written it through her eyes, but early on the characters of her mother and elder sister, Eva, took over and eclipsed her.
CH: In this book, which person was hardest to develop?
RN: Oddly enough, it was the character based on my mother. I think this is because I was seeing the world through her eyes and not seeing her so much. I hope this character comes over as authentic. The characters in my book developed their own personas. They exist in an alternative universe, and have become their own selves, apart from real life. I did love this little girl, Solveig, as I wrote about her and felt her struggles.
CH: Is there a message in your novel that you want the readers to grasp?
RN: Hopefully, it will just be a good read. But, in the same way that I have been inspired by the courage of ordinary people to survive in the face of the horrors of Nazi rule. I hope that anyone who reads my book will feel the same way.
CH: What kind of feedback are you getting from readers of this book?
RN: It has been surprisingly positive. People really do seem to be drawn into the story and empathize with the plight of these women, and the two main male characters. Most of the readers, who have given me feedback, have known little or nothing about Norway in World War II and enjoyed learning more.
CH: For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?
RN: Having belief in the idea and persevering despite grave doubts about the validity of me writing at all. Once I have gotten started it is okay, but every time I come up against a hurdle, I dread going back to it and procrastinate for days or even weeks, before summoning up the will to face it again. I have spent my whole life trying to be useful and been blessed with the opportunity to fulfil this, but no-one asks you or even wants you to write a book. This is purely your own thing. That makes it much more difficult to respect.
CH: What can we expect next from you?
RN: Given the parameters mentioned above, I have started another novel. The protagonist is a young woman who journeys perilously through mental health services in the late 1950’s. Will she end up as a ghost of herself in the far reaches of a long stay ward in the asylum? Can she or anyone else prevent this happening before it is too late?
CH: Can you give my audience your website address?
RN: I don’t have a website as yet.
CH: How to Find Rica Newbery:
CH: Can you tell my audience where this book is sold?
RN: Available on Amazon and Amazon UK. And the Kindle version is also available. It is also available at Book Venture Book Shop (USA) https://www.bookventure.com/bookstore.
CH: Any closing remarks?
RN: I hope you enjoy my book. If you do, I am sure you will feel the same admiration for the Norwegian women, children and men who survived the Nazi occupation that I do. Thank you so much for your interest in my book, Cheryl.
CH: Thank you so much, Rica Newbery, for taking time out of your very busy writing schedule to join me and my blog followers. It has been a real pleasure discussing your book with my audience. And readers, if you’re like me and would enjoy this book. I suggest you pick up a copy at your earliest convenience.
Note: Photos/Clip art are compliments of the Internet, Rica Newbery and Cheryl Holloway.
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