I’m delighted to be welcoming in Imogen Matthews to Linda’s Book Bag to tell me about one of her books today as I know Imogen is going to take me on my travels and treat me to some history, both of which are favourite parts of my life.
Staying in with Imogen Matthews
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Imogen and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Hi Linda, I’m really honoured that you’ve invited me to stay in with you.
My pleasure. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve chosen my historical novel, The Hidden Village which I’ve set in World War 2 Holland. It was published a year ago, but I’m thrilled to tell you that it’s just come out as an audiobook.
(Congratulations. That must be such an exciting development for The Hidden Village.)
This book is very personal to me as my mother was Dutch and when I was growing up she used to tell us stories of how she coped during the harsh Hunger Winter of 1944/45. This undoubtedly influenced my writing, but the story is not about her memories. It’s set in different part of Holland I’ve been visiting for family cycling holidays for years, where I discovered a woodland village of underground huts built to shelter Jews from the occupying German soldiers.
(How brilliant. I’d love to have stumbled across something like that.)
I’ve written the story from the perspective of two young people – Sofie, a young Jewish girl forced to go and live in the village, and tearaway Jan, who is always on the look out for adventures, despite warnings not to go into the woods on his own. My mother used to say that for a young person the war was incredibly exciting (as well as frightening), and it is this that I wanted to convey through my characters.
Sounds wonderful. So, what can we expect from an evening in with The Hidden Village?
Can I try to paint a picture of the place where The Hidden Village takes place?
(Yes, please do!)
I remember the first time I came across the real hidden village. It was along a cycle path we’d been along umpteen times, but on this occasion I noticed a memorial stone I hadn’t seen before. It described how on that spot the local community had pulled together to help desperate people stay safe. Hidden away in the trees were some reconstructed underground huts. The place made me shiver as I tried to imagine what it must have been like living so far away from normality and one’s friends and family. It was a story I knew I had to tell.
Since The Hidden Village was published, I’ve been astounded at how many reviews I’ve had from people thanking me for bringing this piece of forgotten history to life. It really does seem to have struck a chord.
(Could you share a few with us Imogen?)
Here are a few reviews from Amazon:
“Thank you for sharing such a compelling story with us all. Well done, well written. Readers should read & remember, praying to God history is not repeated.” Like2Read
“Its an amazing story about a place where so many of its citizens were willing to defy the Nazis and help Jews and others who needed to escape. It’s miraculous that a hidden village was able to last so long without being detected. The characters are very real, they have their flaws but overall they are good and it makes you care about them. Their story draws you in. They were heroic (as were the real people who created and maintained this village) The book is very entertaining and a great way to learn about a part of Holocaust history that (I believe) most people have never encountered.” Cheri
“I have Dutch heritage on my mother’s side and learning about the people and culture is important to me. This is really interesting on a historical level and yet once again the horrors that the Jewish people endured. Very heartwarming to focus on the help and protection of non-Jews to protect and hide as many as possible. Well written…could hardly put it down. Pat Sands
(Those have given a real taster of what readers can expect Imogen and I know The Hidden Village would be exactly my kind of read. When you’ve gone home I’m going to add it to my TBR.)
What else have you brought along and why?
These are the Veluwe woods in Holland where my family and I love to go cycling at least once a year. They are criss-crossed with cycle paths that take you through beautiful beech woods, across purple heaths and even alongside sand dunes. These days, the Veluwe is nowhere near the sea, but as so much Dutch land has been reclaimed that there are pockets of “beaches” tucked away in the woods. It’s all very different to the way things were in 1943…
Can you imagine what it must have been like for whole families to live in such cramped conditions for so long? But they had to. The Germans were patrolling the woods nearby and if caught, these fugitives would have been shot or deported to concentration camps.
(It doesn’t bear thinking about does it. What a way to have to live!)
On a lighter note, our bike rides are never complete without a visit to our favourite pancake house in Vierhouten. Holland is not renown for its cuisine, but some things it does really well, like the delicious pannekoek met spek en appel (pancake with bacon and apple).
Now that sounds a much better prospect Imogen! Thank you for bringing it along and for staying in with me to tell me all about The Hidden Village. Congratulations again on the new audio book too.
The Hidden Village
Wartime Holland. Who can you trust?
Deep in the Veluwe woods lies a secret that frustrates the Germans. Convinced that Jews are hiding close by they can find no proof.
The secret is Berkenhout, a purpose-built village of huts sheltering dozens of persecuted people.
Young tearaway Jan roams the woods looking for adventure and fallen pilots. His dream comes true when he stumbles across an American airman, Donald C. McDonald. But keeping him hidden sets off a disastrous chain of events.
Sofie, a Jewish Dutch girl, struggles to adapt to living in Berkenhout, away from her family and friends. As weeks turn to months, she’s worried they’ll abandon her altogether.
Henk Hauer, head woodman, is in charge of building the underground huts and ensuring the Berkenhout inhabitants stay safe.
But many grow suspicious of his liaisons with the Germans. Is he passing on secret information that could endanger lives?
All it takes is one small fatal slip to change the course of all their lives for ever.
The Hidden Village is available for purchase on your local Amazon.
About Imogen Matthews
Imogen Matthews is English and lives in the beautiful University town of Oxford. Before she wrote The Hidden Village, she published two romantic fiction e-novels under her pen name, Alex Johnson. The Hidden Village is published by Amsterdam Publishers, based in the Netherlands.
Imogen has strong connections with the Netherlands. Born in Rijswijk to a Dutch mother and English father, the family moved to England when Imogen was very young.
Every year since 1990, Imogen has been on family holidays to Nunspeet on the edge of the Veluwe woods.
It was here that she discovered the story of the hidden village, and together with her mother’s vivid stories of life in WW2 Holland, she was inspired to write her novel.