Hi everyone! I know, what is this madness, event recaps two months in a row? Well it’s going to be a very busy couple of months for me, book event wise, as I’m going to Samantha Shannon’s Priory event in Glasgow on the 28th (so soon!) and then Victoria Schwab’s Near Witch/Steel Prince event, also in Glasgow in March, so there will be a lot more content than there usually is in this section of the blog over this month and the next.
I’ve been on the Hot Key mailing list for a while now, so I often get emails from them inviting me to their blogger brunches or events but 99.9% of the time, I’m in Scotland when their events are happening and their events are always in London, so go figure, I can’t make it. However, this time, I happened to be home anyway for my University’s Reading Week and being a history student who particularly loves Women’s History, I was super excited to be able to get to attend this event.
I got the train in from Cambridge to London at around 9.45, getting into London just after 10.35. I had to admit, I’d never been to the Bonnier Zaffre (the company which Hot Key is an imprint of) headquarters before, but luckily my mum knew the address and had given me instructions on how to get there. It wasn’t too far, I just had to get the tube from Kings Cross to Oxford Circus and after a few false starts with my Google Maps, I managed to find the building.
We were given name badges, and lead upstairs to where the event was taking place. We were all a little bit early, so there was some time to mill around, which meant, *shock horror* mingling. I was a little bit nervous because I was there by myself and I’m not the best with strangers, but thankfully bloggers are lovely people and I happily chatted with a few of them, including Amy from A Bookish Life who was also there alone and really made me feel at ease about the whole thing (thank you Amy!). It was quite funny because no one wanted to be the first one to go for the food, so we were all standing there, hungry, but we didn’t want to be the first one to break the ice. Thankfully, eventually someone did and then we all descended on the pastries.
The food was awesome, I had a chocolate twist, a pain au raisin, lots of raspberries and strawberries and some delicious cookies! After milling around and chatting for a little while, the people from Bonnier Zaffre came in and announced that we were ready to start. We did have to sit on the floor, which I wasn’t totally thrilled about, but I get that it was a small room fitting in a lot of people (hence the lack of pictures of the authors, I just couldn’t see over the people in front of me to get a good picture!).
Then Lucy and Heather came in, Lucy introduced herself and Heather (she was acting as the moderator for the discussion), and then the talk started. It was a lot more informal than many author discussions I’ve been to, which I really liked, I don’t know if the two of them had met before this, I assume so, but they had a very easy and natural rapport and despite talking about a very heavy topic (the Holocaust), they made the discussion engaging and fun to listen to (without taking the subject lightly in any way). The two of them talked about how they came to learning about the Holocaust and how to get young people engaged in that part of history and Heather discussed bringing The Tattooist of Auschwitz to a younger audience and how important it was not to over-sanitise the horrors of the Holocaust.
They talked a lot about how they did research for their books, which was obviously super interesting to me, being a History student, I love to hear about how historical fiction writers do their research. Heather talked a lot about interviewing Lale and the responsibility she felt for telling his story and how much of her research actually didn’t end up in the book in the end because she found out so much that she obviously couldn’t include it all. She also talked about how she wanted to make sure there wasn’t much emphasis in the story on the more famous names (i.e. the Nazis who committed such dreadful atrocities) because they don’t need any more attention drawn to what they did, she wanted to make sure that the story was all about Lale and his experiences.
Heather originally intended The Tattoist of Auschwitz to be a screenplay, and it was quite interesting to hear how the story went from that to a book, she was working on it with a film company, but the project stalled and she couldn’t stop thinking about the story, she talked about Lale so much that her family eventually encouraged her to just, in her words, “write the bloody book”. I’ve never heard of an author transferring their story from screenplay to book before, so it was very cool to hear from Heather how that process worked.
She also spoke more about her upcoming book, Cilka’s Journey, following one of the characters from The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka, also a real life person, and the difficulties she had in researching that book because Cilka died a long time ago, so unlike Tattooist, where she had Lale’s personal testimony, she had to rely on second hand accounts of Cilka. She discussed some of the reactions to The Tattooist of Auschwitz and it was awe inspiring to hear how many people had shared personal stories about how the book had affected them.
Both authors spoke about the importance of hope in Holocaust stories, and how that theme ran through their work, which I really loved as that’s what I always hang onto when reading books about this most harrowing part of human history, the incredible resilience and hope shown by people in the most unbearable of circumstances, so it was great to hear them speak about how they used that in their books.
After the discussion portion of the event had ended, the authors took questions from us, I was, as always, too nervous and awkward of speaking in front of people to ask anything, but both authors had really insightful responses to the questions.
Once they had answered questions, we got to hear a little bit from both authors’ books. Lucy read a chapter from her upcoming novel Summerland, which addresses the journey of one of the minor characters from The Red Ribbon after the war (she says she has always been interested in what happened to people after the war, as WWII stories tend to end when the war does) and with Brexit, refugees have been on her mind, so she really wanted to write a refugee story set after WWII. I have to admit, I haven’t read any of her books before, but hearing her read from Summerland made me really excited to read The Red Ribbon (plus I loved that each of the chapters from Summerland is named after a different 1940s recipe and that she’s going to make a recipe book of them!).
We then got to hear Heather read from the ending of The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Usually I would be annoyed for being spoiled for the end of the story before I’ve even read it, but since history can’t be spoilers, I wasn’t too bothered knowing the ending of Lale’s story! Plus, it was such a gorgeous passage that she read out to us, and was so heartwarming, that it really made me want to read the rest of the book, so mission successful.
Once the readings were over, we were allowed to go and collect books for signing. I had brought my own copy of The Tattooist of Auschwitz from home, but I needed a copy of The Red Ribbon (since Lucy made it sound AMAZING) and copies of both books for my friend Nicola who couldn’t make it to the event (since you know, she lives in Scotland!). The queues were quite long, so I only got to have a brief chat with both authors, but that’s okay with me since I’m awkward and can’t think of much to say anyway, I talked to Lucy about being a history student, the fact that I thought costume history was such a cool area to go into and that my friend (the aforementioned Nicola) is doing a WWII based dissertation. I’m pretty sure all I managed to say to Heather was that I’d never been to Poland, but always wanted to go. I don’t do well at coming up with stuff to say under pressure!
When I’d had my books signed, it was all over and it was time to go, so I picked up my coat from the hangers they had outside and then headed back to Oxford Circus to get the tube, and then the train home. All in all, a very successful day out for me, it was a super fun event and I hope that I’ll be able to go to another one, if the timing of the next event and me being back home happens to line up again.
Did anyone else go to the Women In History Bloggers Brunch? Did you enjoy it? Let me know in the comments.
I will be back tomorrow with my e-ARC review of Enchantee by Gita Trelease (spoiler alert, I really loved this one guys!).