Welcome to my stop on the Fifteen Words Blog Tour!
Not only did I get a copy of the book to read and review, I also got a Q&A with the lovely author. Keep reading for more!
Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max – whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler’s regime. His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry.
But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realised; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain Fifteen Words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?
Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history.
About Monika Jephcott Thomas:
Monika Jephcott Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, north-west Germany. She moved to the UK in 1966, enjoying a thirty year career in education before retraining as a therapist. Along with her partner Jeff she established the Academy of Play & Child Psychotherapy in order to support the twenty per cent of children who have emotional, behavioural, social and mental health problems by using play and the creative Arts. A founder member of Play Therapy UK, Jephcott Thomas was elected President of Play Therapy International in 2002.
- Hi Monika, Thanks so much for taking the time to do a Q&A with me. Firstly, can you tell us a bit more about Fifteen Words?
It’s the story of two German lovers – Max and Erika – both newly qualified doctors, struggling to reconcile their different political and religious views in Nazi Germany until World War Two separates them for four years, Max trying to survive the barren cruelty of a Siberian POW camp, whilst Erika watches her beloved Germany destroyed as she tries to raise their daughter alone. There are the physical dangers of war for both but also the temptations of new companions and unlikely friends made in these extreme situations that threaten to keep them apart forever.
Max’s faith takes a battering on the gloomy edge of the Arctic as he loses friends to the climate and to his captors.
Erika’s faith in the Führer gets severely redefined as she witnesses the destruction her leader has brought to her country.
So for much of the book, Max and Erika are apart. The question is will Max make it back to Erika and the daughter he’s never met? And, if so, will he be the same man Erika knew and loved when he left?
- What is your writing process like? Do you have any rituals or preferred writing places?
My preferred writing place is in my study in our country house in France. Looking into nature, hawks teaching their little ones to fly, nature just going on with its changes adjusting to reality of weather around it is a great grounding force for me. This frees me after my professional work is done to turning to creativity. Writing is a great catalyst for me to free my inner self unrestricted by reality.
- Have you always wanted to be a writer, what made you want to write this book?
I was doing some research into my family history, as most of us do at some stage of our lives and, also as most of us do, whose parents grew up during the world wars, I felt their stories were the stuff of novels. However, unlike many, perhaps, who will be reading this, my parents were both German. They met during the Second World War and were eventually separated by it, as Max and Erika are in the novel – my father having to go off and serve as a doctor in the German army, not because he wanted to (he was not a supporter of the Nazi party), but because he was conscripted, like so many young men across the globe in the early ’40s.
The novel is heavily inspired by the real-life trials and tribulations of my parents’ early married lives – simply because they are so inherently dramatic – whilst allowing me to depict the complexity of growing up in Nazi Germany among the potent forces of religion and fascism competing for young souls. It is also an exploration of the strength of human relationships, which the war tested greatly, in an age when letter writing was one of the few long distance forms of communication available to most; when the fighting separated husbands and wives, children and parents for extensive periods of time and over vast distances.
- How much research did you have to do for Fifteen Words?
All of the events in Fifteen Words are based on true events from the diaries, letters, documents and stories passed down from my parents. So you could say, the research was already done, but it took some effort to sift through it all, choose the relevant parts and then supplement this material with more information gleaned from reading around the subject. Letters are a very important part of the novel and 99% of the letters in the book are taken from real letters (not just of my parents) but from archives of correspondence between soldiers and their loved ones during World War 2, which I think adds to the authenticity of the story.
- The story behind Fifteen Words is clearly very personal to you, were there any parts that were difficult to write/explore?
Writing the novel was a very emotional experience. I often found myself in tears! So I regularly had to make sure I stood back and thought: to someone not as attached to this material as I am, will the writing still move them and have the desired impact? I hope/think it does.
- Thank you again Monika. One last question before you go, do you have anything else in the pipeline?
Yes. There is a sequel coming called The Watcher. It follows on from the end of the last book and focuses on Max and Erika’s child, Netta, growing up in occupied Germany. It’s something of a whodunit. And once again very much based on true events.
Fifteen Words really really moved me. A great debut novel!
I enjoyed this book. Probably more than I thought I would, actually.
It was so refreshing to read a WW2 novel from the German perspective and that of civilians too. Germany is always associated with the Nazis, and I think people forget that real people, with real lives went through the war in Germany as well.
Max and Erika’s relationship was really moving. Knowing that it was all based on real events did make it a very emotional read, but so worth it. After I had read the first couple of chapters, I couldn’t put it down.
If you enjoy emotional, thought-provoking, wonderfully written love-stories packed with action, then this one is for you!
I cant wait for the sequel!
THANK YOU SO MUCH TO RACHEL AT AUTHORIGHT AND MONIKA FOR GIVING ME THE CHANCE TO READ THIS WONDERFUL BOOK!