Paperback: 340 pages
Publisher: Trafford Publishing (March 20, 2008)
About the book:
Erich's first home is Goldschmidthaus, a Children's Home near Essen. He lives for visits with his beloved mother and longs for the day he will live with her. He is distraught when, after a heavy bombing raid, her visits abruptly cease.
After the war he finds himself, with hundreds of other German children, transported across Europe to escape the appalling conditions in their homeland. Operation Shamrock brings Erich and his brother, Hans, to a new life in Ireland but with different families.
During the next few years Erich experiences the best and worst of Irish life. Living in a string of foster families, he finds love and acceptance in some and indifference and brutality in others. At Daddy Davy's he finds a loving home and is re-united with his brother. But his brief taste of happiness is dashed by circumstances he cannot control.
This is the story of a German boy growing up alone in Ireland. He dreams of finding his mother. He yearns for a family who will love and keep him forever. He learns his brother is his ally not his rival. Plucky and resilient he surmounts the challenges his ever changing world presents.
Set in Germany's industrialised Ruhr Valley during the Second World War and post-war rural Ireland this book evokes a little known episode in German and Irish history. It is a moving tale of a German child caught in war's vicelike grip and flung into a new land to grow and forge a new life.
I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Diane, and pick her brain a little. Here's what she had to say.
Could you please tell us a little about your book?
‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ is the story of a German boy, Erich, growing up in war-torn Germany and post-war rural Ireland. It’s set against the backdrop of Operation Shamrock, a little known Irish Red Cross project which aided German children after World War II. It’s a fascinating look at a previously hidden slice of Irish and German history.
Erich, growing up in Germany’s embattled Ruhr area during World War II, knows only war and deprivation. His mother disappears after a heavy bombing raid and he is left responsible for his younger brother, Hans. After the war the Red Cross transports the boys to Ireland, along with hundreds of other children, to recuperate from the devastating conditions in their homeland. During the next few years Erich moves around Ireland, through a string of foster families. He experiences indifference, brutality, love and acceptance in varying degrees. Plucky and resilient, Erich confronts head on every challenge he meets.
Did something specific happen to prompt you to write this book?
Yes - I met a man who told me about his unusual childhood. This man was one of the German children helped by Operation Shamrock. He was brought to Ireland when he was very young and Irish foster families reared him. His life story opened up a new aspect of Irish and German history for me - one that has been overlooked in history books. I was very curious about Operation Shamrock and began researching it. I searched every source I could find and spoke to people who had participated in the project - the children themselves, their foster families, neighbours, friends and classmates. When I finished my research I wrote an article for an Irish magazine, Ireland’s Own, about the experiences of one child who participated in the endeavour. I intended to leave it there but family members urged me to use my research to create a novel.
Who or what is the inspiration behind this book?
The people who participated in Operation Shamrock were the inspiration behind my writing. I spent a lot of time researching the project and acquired quite a bit of material. For a history lover, like me, it was exciting to uncover little known facts but I also encountered amazing people (in person and in others’ recollections) - men and women who had survived the horrendous conditions in World War II Germany and kind, generous people who opened their homes to them. It was these individual’s stories that moved me and captured my imagination. After I’d written the article for Ireland’s Own and I thought I was finished with my research, I still had impressions and images of these people filling my head. So, a little prompting from my family set the wheels in motion and I began writing. BBC broadcaster and journalist, Brian D’Arcy, when he reviewed my book, understood that individuals’ experiences were the foundation for my story. He commented that the book was ‘beautifully written with a strong human element running through it’.
Who is your biggest supporter?
My mother was my biggest supporter. She was always quietly confident that I could do anything I set my mind to, including writing. While I was writing ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ she would often urge me to hurry up and finish the book so she could show it to her friends at the nursing home where she lived. She died a couple months before the final edit was completed; I’ve dedicated the book to her.
Your biggest critic?
My husband is never afraid to give an honest opinion - praise or criticism. I can always trust him to tell me what he really thinks of any piece of writing.
Who has influenced you throughout your career as a writer?
Writers who capture the humanity of their characters have the greatest impact on me. Maeve Binchy, Adriana Trigiani, Jodi Picoult and Diana Gabaldon create believable characters who I would like to meet in real life. I enjoy reading their stories because they bring their characters to life and they have inspired me to aim for this in my own writing. Hopefully I have learned from reading the work of these writers and the ‘strong human element’ Brian D’Arcy referred to, in his review of my book, is evident in all my writing.
What is the most important thing in your life right now?
Finding a balance between my writing and my relationships is my priority at this point in my life. Writing takes a lot of time and I want to devote the time to it. I have so many ideas and I want to work on them. But I also have a supportive husband and I need to spend adequate time with him. There’s also my good friends, who have backed my book wholeheartedly, and I don’t want to neglect them either. More hours in each day would definitely help!
What are you currently working on?
I recently completed a short story, ‘A World Apart’, about moving from the city to the country and adapting to a new lifestyle. Although it’s fiction, it draws on my own experiences of moving from Toronto, a metropolis, to a small farm in Northern Ireland. It will be published in the Fermanagh Miscellany 2 due to be released in December.
I’ve also been busy promoting ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ since it was released in March. So most of my writing has centred on answering interview questions and writing guest posts for other people’s websites. But I have some ideas in my head for a sequel to the book. I will have to start jotting them down, get organised and start writing.
What do you feel sets this book apart from others in the same genre?
‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ is different from other historical fiction novels, set during the Second World War era, because it is based on a slice of history that, as far as I’m aware, has never been written about before. The Irish Red Cross project, Operation Shamrock, has never featured in any other novel. Also, no other novel explores Irish life in quite the same way. There have been many books written that nostalgically recall the people and way of life in rural Ireland half a century ago. Maeve Binchy in ‘Light a Penny Candle’, Alice Taylor and Michael McLaverty all capture country and village life well. But none of them look at Ireland from the point of view of an outsider who does not speak English when he first arrives. My novel looks at the same people and places but through a foreign child’s eyes. It’s a unique window into this bygone era.
If you could go back and change one day, what would it be?
I don’t think I’d want to mess with world events - I wouldn’t know where to start. But, on a personal level, I would change the day my mother died. She would have been pleased if she had lived to see ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’ in print.
Are you a different person now than you were 5 years ago? In what way/s?
Five years ago we moved from an urban area to a small farm in Northern Ireland. In those five years I’ve been learning to live in a small, close knit community. I haven’t discarded my own ethos but I’ve added to it. I’ve slowed down a bit and discovered a more relaxed, people centred lifestyle. I’m not amazed anymore when I walk down the street in the nearest market town and meet someone I know. And I know my workmates will understand if I stop to talk and am late back to work after lunch. It’s a less stressful way to live and I like it.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
I’d like to briefly introduce you to Erich, the main character in ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’. Irrepressible is a good word to describe him. He gets into mischief but he doesn’t mean any harm. Dennis the Menace and Erich would be best friends if they met. Readers have told me that they like Erich because he isn’t romanticised; he behaves like a real child. Erich is a fighter but not in the brawling sense of the word. Before he’s even school age he has already survived a war and circumstances that most adults never face yet he is hopeful and resilient. He’s not easily cowed and doesn’t give up, even in the times when life just seems to get worse. Erich is fiercely loyal to the people he loves. Because he feels so deeply, he is also easily hurt by any perceived betrayals. He finds it hard to forgive and can hate as intensely as he loves. Impassivity is not part of his character. Erich will awaken the reader’s parental instincts to love and discipline him in equal measures. If you have not met Erich yet, please make his acquaintance in ‘Hitler and Mars Bars’.
To learn more about Dianne, please visit her blog at http://dianneascroft.wordpress.com
3 weeks ago