I’m working on a project that is inspired by a letter my mother wrote about one of her experiences during the Second World War.The Nazis invaded and occupied The Netherlands in 1940; my mother was sixteen at the time. The occupation lasted five long years and the Dutch population suffered more than the average person knows. Throughout her lifetime, my mother rarely talked about those years, and when she did she glossed over details of what life was really like then. So when she handed me the letter a few years before her death, it was like she was giving me a gift.
At the time, my life was quite full and preoccupying–three teenagers to raise, a masters thesis to write, a studio of students to teach–so I filed it away, thinking the story she wrote about would be a great novel to write some day. And I promptly forgot about it.
Now, many years later, I was struggling to find a writing project and my mother’s gift called to me. But her letter, like her stories while she was alive, was vague and lacked many details. As a fiction writer, this shouldn’t present a problem. I’m writing fiction after all. I love making up characters and details, filling in gaps with made-up stories. Yet, within my storytelling, I want to remain true to my mother’s tale by presenting life as it truly was during that horrific time.
Until I started my research, my knowledge of the Nazi occupation of Holland was very limited. What I have discovered through books and writings by people who lived in Holland during those years is nothing short of sobering. Understanding what my parents and their families and friends lived through has given me some insight into the people they were in later years. I regret not being able to talk to them now, wanting not only to learn, but to simply listen and hug them.
Friends ask me how my book is coming, knowing I’ve embarked on a new project. It’s difficult to answer that question since I have yet to write the first word of chapter one. Research has taken my writing time these past months, but it is laying the foundation for a story that I hope my mother would be pleased I wrote. My head has been filling up with characters and settings. Soon they will find their way onto a page.