Wednesday, 20 November 2019

I’d always wanted to write a book set on the beautiful Oregon coast...


Irene Hannon is a bestselling and award-winning author. She has written more than fifty romantic suspense and contemporary romance/women’s fiction novels. Irene holds a B.A. in psychology and M.A. in journalism. She juggled two careers for many years until she gave up her executive corporate communications position with a Fortune 500 company to write full time. All of her novels are written from a Christian worldview. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, gardening and singing. As a trained vocalist, she has sung the leading role in numerous musicals. She is also a soloist at her church. When not otherwise occupied, Irene and her husband enjoy traveling, Saturday mornings at their favorite coffee shop and spending time with family. They make their home in Missouri. In Poland we can read three of her books: THAT CERTAIN SUMMER, ONE PERFECT SPRING and HOPE HARBOR.

Agnes Anne Rose: A very warm welcome to you, Irene, and can I thank you, for taking time to talk to me today. Have you always considered yourself to be a writer? Can you share a bit about your journey to publication?

Irene Hannon: I’m happy to be here! Yes, I’ve always considered myself a writer. I think writers are born, not made – and that writing, like any other talent, is a gift. However, in my younger years I never considered writing novels as a realistic career choice. Everyone knows how hard it is to make a living in any creative field, and I didn’t want to have to worry about having enough money to live. So after I got my journalism degree, I took a job in the business world, where I wrote everyday – and I began writing books at night. It took a long time to sell my first book, and there were plenty of setbacks along the way. But I kept writing and eventually reached a level of success that allowed me to leave the corporate world behind and write full time.

AAR: Who have been the people who’ve encouraged you and seen the potential in your writing?

IH: My parents were my greatest supporters in the early years. They believed in me, which gave me the confidence to keep trying. My dad continues to encourage me, and I know my mom is watching over me from heaven. The first person who convinced me I had serious potential was a high school English teacher. She was also passionate about the power of language, and she passed that passion on to me.

AAR: As I mentioned above, your stories are told from a Christian worldview. What made you decide to create Christian fiction?

IH: Two things. First, I’ve always believed that you can tell compelling stories without including vulgarity, explicit violence, or bedroom scenes.  Christian fiction is a perfect home for those kinds of stories. I also like the genre because it’s hope-filled and centers on the things that really matter. That said, the faith element in my books tends to be low-key. Usually I show the characters living their faith rather than talking about it, but it’s clear that their beliefs affect all their choices.

AAR: How do you make a story believable, particularly if you haven’t had personal experience of the difficulties your protagonists endured?

IH: My degree in psychology is helpful. So is my stage work, which requires me to take on various roles and become another person. Bottom line, empathy is the key. You have to put yourself into the character’s shoes and do your best to imagine what they’re feeling. Reading extensively helps with this, because there are many wonderful authors out there who’ve created characters that help us better understand a huge variety of experiences and challenges.

This is the Polish edition of
Published by REPLIKA
Translated by Piotr Kuś
AAR: Now let’s talk about the books that were published in Poland. The first one is THAT CERTAIN SUMMER. It was released in 2013. According to some Polish reviewers, this is a beautiful story about the power of faith and interpersonal relationships, as well as the amazing combination of events that come together the fate of several people one summer. Could you tell us what inspire you to write this book?

IH: I wanted to write a book about healing in a sibling relationship. So I created a story in which two very different sisters who’ve been somewhat estranged for quite a long time are brought together one summer to deal with a family crisis. There’s resentment and rivalry and past hurts to overcome. The message I wanted to send is that it’s never too late to make amends and start over – and that forgiveness for past transgressions is often the key to a better future.

AAR: Your next book, called ONE PERFECT SPRING, was published in Poland in 2014. Some of the Polish readers say that it is a very pleasant novel about the power of prayer and faith in the fact that our lives are saved by some higher power and everything that happens to people leads them to what is intended for them. Could you tell us how you remember your work on this book?

IH: ONE PERFECT SPRING begins with a letter from a little girl, in which she asks a philanthropic businessman to help her plan a birthday surprise for her older neighbor. That simple gesture of kindness ends up touching countless lives and reaping a host of blessings. One of the messages in this book is that everything we do can have a ripple effect, and that grace can enter our lives in the most unexpected ways. It’s a beautiful, uplifting story about second chances and starting over.

AAR: A few weeks ago I read HOPE HARBOR that was released in Poland last year. I am very impressed with this novel. I can’t forget about it. Let me ask you how did the idea of telling the story of Tracy and Michael appear?  

IH: I’d always wanted to write a book set on the beautiful Oregon coast, so several years ago I made a trip there to research the setting. One of the crops grown in Oregon is cranberries. So I decided to have a heroine who owns a family cranberry farm that’s having financial difficulties. She also has a deep sadness in her background. Michael comes to Hope Harbor in search of answers… and redemption. He has a painful secret too – and deep regrets. I wanted to take readers on a journey with these two wounded souls as they find healing, hope and love. There’s also a secondary storyline about an older woman who’s holding a grudge that has isolated her for many years. Watching her transformation as she begins to interact with Michael is a key part of the story.

This is the Polish edition of
Published by REPLIKA
Translated by Monika Orłowska
AAR: Apart from these three books we discussed above, you have written many more. Could you choose one of them and recommend it to your Polish readers? Tell us why this one.

IH: I would recommend any of the books in my Hope Harbor series. In addition to the first title – HOPE HARBOR – there are four more… and at least three to come. I’m thrilled that readers worldwide have embraced this little Oregon seaside town. DRIFTWOOD BAY, the most recent Hope Harbor novel, has been especially popular. Each story stands alone, but there are a few secondary characters that appear in all the books – Floyd and Gladys, my seagull couple; the bantering clerics from the two churches in town; and Charley Lopez, an artist who runs a taco stand on the wharf. I invite everyone reading this blog to drop in on Hope Harbor and get acquainted!

AAR: What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book/books?

IH: That writing never gets easier. People who aren’t writers don’t always understand that. But the truth is, the longer I do it, the harder it get. That’s because I want every book to be better than the last one, so I’m always trying to improve. And I learn something new with each book I write.

AAR: Do you have a favourite character that you have written? If so, who? And what makes them so special.

IH: I love all my characters, but the reader favorite is Charley Lopez, the character I mentioned above from Hope Harbor. He always has words of wisdom to offer and seems to know a great deal about everyone. I’ve received more reader comments about him than all of the characters in all of my other books combined.

AAR: Your latest book DARK AMBITIONS was released in October. This is the third part of CODE OF HONOR SERIES. Could you tell us something more about this novel and the whole series?

IH: I write in two genres – contemporary romance and romantic suspense. DARK AMBITIONS is a suspense novel. The Code of Honor series features three childhood friends from difficult backgrounds whose bond has been strengthened by time… and danger. As children, they vowed to make the world a better place, and that’s the code they live by – hence the series title. DARK AMBITIONS is the third book in the series and features an ex-military pilot who now runs a camp for foster children. The story begins when he finds a trail of blood in the snow at his camp. He hires a female private investigator to help him solve the riddle his visitor left. But the deeper they dig, the more danger they’re in – because someone doesn’t want the truth to be told. It’s an edge-of-the-seat story with a climax that most readers didn’t see coming. And as with all my series, every book is a standalone. There are no plot threads that carry over from book to book.

This is the Polish edition of
Published by DREAMS
Translated by Emilia Niedzieska
AAR: Could you give us a window into your writing style? Are you a planner or a seat of your pants plot follower?

IH: A little bit of both. I spend quite a while getting to know my characters and my basic plot before I start writing. I also do a lot of research at that early stage. Once I start writing, I let the story take over. I don’t have an outline or even a scene-by-scene plan.

AAR: You’ve written more than fifty books. Do you ever experience self doubt?

IH: Often – especially when I’m trying to figure out where to go with my next book. That stage feels very unproductive to me, because no words are appearing on the page. I’m in thinking mode. I know it’s a part of my process, but at that point I sometimes think the threads of the story will never come together or that I won’t find a really compelling idea. My husband could tell you about the self-doubt, because he has to listen to it!

AAR: As I mentioned above, you are an award-winning author. For example you are a seven-time finalist for and three-time winner of the RITA award. This award is considered to be the “Oscar” of romance fiction. But you have won many more of the awards. Could you tell us something more about them? Do you have the one that is most important to you?

IH: I’ve been very fortunate to have my work recognized with multiple awards, including National Readers’ Choice, Daphne du Maurier, Retailers’ Choice, Booksellers’ Best, Carol, and Reviewers’ Choice from RT Book Reviews magazine. My lifetime achievement award from RT Book Reviews, which recognized my entire body of work, was special. But the one that means the most to me is being inducted into Romance Writers of America’s elite Hall of Fame. That happens after you win three RITA awards in one category, and only 16 authors have done that in the almost 40-year history of the organization.

AAR: What does literary success look like to you? How has your life changed?

IH: Being able to make a living with my fiction writing has been an immense blessing. I work long hours, but my schedule is far more flexible than it was during my corporate days. So now and then my husband and I can sneak away for lunch to a lovely spot in the country on the spur of the moment. Other than that, my life hasn’t changed all that much because my priorities are the same… faith, family and fiction. My husband and I live in the same house we bought when we got married, long before I’d achieved much literary success. I do more interviews and make more appearances than I used to, but when I’m home (my favorite place to be), I’m the same Irene I’ve always been. I’ve never need material things to make me happy, and while I enjoy the occasional moments of glamor my success has brought, I’m happy that most of my days are quiet and low-key.

AAR: Finally, I would like to ask you if you are working on anything at the present. Could you share with your readers about it?

IH: I always have a book in the works! Next April, Book 6 in the Hope Harbor series will release. It’s called STARFISH PIER. And next fall, I’ll start a new suspense series featuring three sisters involved in truth-seeking professions. The series is called Triple Threat, and Book 1 is called POINT OF DANGER. So lots of novels are ahead!

AAR: Irene, thank you so much for this nice conversation. It was a great pleasure for me to be able to talk to you. Is there anything you would like to add or tell your Polish readers?

IH: I’m delighted that several of my books have been translated into Polish and hope more will be translated in the future. Thank you to all who’ve read or bought my books in Polish. For those who read English, I invite you to visit my Facebook page (, where I chat with readers almost every day. And my website ( has more information on all my books and my background. Thank you, Agnes Anne, for inviting me to visit. I’ve enjoyed it!

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Even if I was never published, I would still be writing stories...

Interview with Elizabeth Chadwick
by Agnes A. Rose

Elizabeth Chadwick was born in Bury (Lancashire). When she was three years old she moved with her family to Scotland where she spent her childhood. Aged ten, she came to Nottingham and she has lived there ever since. She says of herself that she was born a storyteller. She remembers that before she could read and write, she would open her picture books at her favourite illustrations and make up some new tales. But she did not write anything down until she was fifteen. Her first foray into historical fiction, a work of fiction about the Holy Land in the twelfth century, led her to realise she wanted to write historical fiction for a living. After years of writing and rejections she was finally published in 1989. The novel was titled The Wild Hunt and won a Betty Trask Award. Elizabeth Chadwick has gone on to become one of Britain's foremost historical novelists and has been called by The Historical Novel Society “the best writer of medieval fiction currently around”. She is published internationally and her work has been translated into many languages. The author is renowned for her extensive research into the medieval period and particularly so in the area of the Marshal and Bigod families. Her novels about the 13th century magnate William Marshal, The Greatest Knight (2005) and The Scarlet Lion (2006), have brought her international acclaim. Recently her trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine has been published in Poland.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you so much that you accepted my invitation to take part in this interview. I am very honored that I can host you on my blog and talk to you. You create stories set in the era of the Middle Ages. Why? What is special in this epoch that you decided to write about it?

Published by SPHERE
(4 Dec. 2008)
Elizabeth Chadwick: It’s pure chance that it came to be the Middle Ages. I became interested in the period after I watched a couple of historical dramas on the television. The first was “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”, starring Keith Michelle and I began writing a Tudor story. I was 14 at the time and it was the school holidays. When school began again, I put the book away. The next year the BBC put on a children's historical adventure series that was titled “Desert Crusader”. It was dubbed from French. The original was titled “Thibaud ou les Croisades” and you can find episodes these days on YouTube under that title. I fell in love with the hero and began writing my own form of fan fiction. However, the story developed a brand-new life of its own and became very from the character in the TV programme. Writing the book in between my school lessons made me realise that I wanted to write historical fiction for a living. I was only 16 years old, but I knew my career path. I wanted my story to feel as real as possible and that meant doing the research. The more I researched, the more interested, I became in the medieval period and the more I wanted to write about it. It was never ending circle, one interest feeding from the other.

AAR: Before you published “The Wild Hunt”, you couldn’t find a literary agent. Your books were rejected for many years. What were you feeling at that time? Were you furious because you knew that you were writing well but no one wanted to appreciate your work?

EC: Not in the least. I knew it was what I was meant to do and that at some point I would get there. Basically, I was serving my apprenticeship and those hours at the typewriter and in front of the screen had to be done. I never saw rejection as a personal thing. It just made me all the more determined that the next book I wrote would be so good that people wouldn't be able to refuse it. Even though it happened many times, it never put me off. I had been telling myself stories of one kind or another since small childhood so it was actually a part of who I was. Even if I was never published, I would still be writing stories. You need to be lucky to be published, but you also need to be good enough and the times I was being rejected, I was still learning my craft, but had not reached a high enough standard. Toward the end of my apprenticeship. If that is what you want to call it, I was recognising that I was becoming as good as the published novelists out there. I began winning competitions and I had faith that I would succeed. So no, I never felt furious. If I wasn't being published, then I wasn't good enough. I recognised that reality without beating myself up about it. It just gave me the determination to be better.

AAR: After having published “The Wild Hunt”, you wrote the continuation of that story. What motivated you to take on this challenge?

EC: My motivation was that I was interested in the family I had written about and wanted to continue their story for a while at least. The main drive to me is the writing and being curious about history and about the people who lived in that history, whether real or imaginary.

AAR: I must admit that I have been interested in the history of England for many years. I am still discovering something new in it. I also write and read a lot about the United Kingdom’s history. Three years ago I wrote an article about William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke. I know that in your literary output you have also books related to this character. Could you tell us something more about them? What motivated you to write about William Marshal and his family?

The Polish edition of
 "The Greatest Knight"
Published by AURUM PRESS (2010)
Translated by
Anna Krawczyk-Łaskarzewska
EC: William Marshal was the fourth son of John  FitzGilbert, who was the Royal Marshal at a time of great upheaval in England. He was of the middle rank of the aristocracy. But William was destined for greater things. He was nearly hanged as a small boy when he was a hostage during a siege. However, the king could not bring himself to do the deed and William was later returned to his family. He grew up to become an expert in the military arts, with a particular talent for the tournament when he made a name for himself.

He entered service with the Angevin kings, first as a tutor and Marshal to King Henry II’s eldest son, also called Henry. When young Henry died rebelling against his father, William swore to take the young man's cloak to Jerusalem and lay it on the tomb of the holy sepulchre. Having achieved his goal, he returned and continued to serve Henry II.

Following Henry's death, William entered the patronage of Richard the Lionheart, who granted him a hand in marriage of a young heiress, Isabelle de Clare. William now became a magnate of the realm and when Richard went on crusade he left William as one of the co-governors of the country. Following Richard's death, William also served King John and was one of the senior barons involved in issuing Magna Carta. For a while, he was also Regent of England for the young King Henry III.

His lifetime was one of high drama. He was a great fighter, sportsmen, statesman and politician. In his domestic life he was father to 10 children, five boys and five girls and his marriage seems to have been a long and loving partnership of 30 years. I have written several books about him. “The Greatest Knight” covers the part of his life as a young knight and leaves him in 1194 with his wife and the beginnings of his family and looking to expand his horizons. Its sequel “The Scarlet Lion” takes him through the rest of his life when he became a great politician and statesman and took on his wife's Irish lands. There is a prequel to these two novels titled “A Place Beyond Courage” that tells the story of his father John FitzGilbert. “The Time of Singing” is the story of a family related to the Marshals, the Bigods, and its sequel “To Defy A King” is the story of William Marshal's daughter Mahelt, who married into this family. My most recent novel in the UK is “Templar Silks”, a stand-alone novel covering the time that William spent on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

As far as what prompted me to write the Marshal stories – it is always about interest and curiosity with me. I go delving and then I want to know more. Originally I was just going to write about William Marshal because I felt he had a really interesting life that would translate well into the medium of the novel, but I discovered when I began researching that it went far beyond that and I had enough material for several novels and a passion to keep me interested for the rest of my life. I have been studying the marshals now for 15 years, and I'm still learning new things every day. I have a deep admiration for William Marshal. He was a man of his time, certainly, and operated within the norms of that society, but underlying that is a powerful integrity of which I feel there isn't enough in the world today.

The Polish edition of
 "Daughters of The Graal"
Published by
Translated by
Anna Krawczyk-Łaskarzewska
AAR:  Apart from the trilogy about Eleanor of Aquitaine and “The Greatest Knight”, your Polish readers can also read “Daughters of The Grail”. Could you tell us something more about this book? What prompted you to write this story?

EC: I was commissioned to write “Daughters of The Grail” by a film producer who had written a treatment and wanted it fleshing out into a novel. The film never got made but the book went on to be published around the world. It’s a sort of medieval “Da Vinci Code” with a slight fantasy element and covers the story of the persecution of the Cathars, among them the descendants of a certain bloodline.

AAR: Now let’s talk about your trilogy related to Eleanor of Aquitaine that has been published in Poland recently. It is said that Eleanor was the most prominent woman of 12th century Europe. She was recognized by Time magazine as one of the most influential and powerful women of the past millennium. Do you think that the Queen deserved to be called “the most influential woman of the millennium”?

EC: I think she was an amazing woman. Strong, forthright, resilient, very intelligent. I think there must be very many women of that period who have the same qualities, but Eleanor has been the one to stand in the spotlight. Yes, she deserves it for all that she was, but she could be part of a much greater chorus of women.

AAR:  What most surprised you while working on the trilogy?

EC: What really astonished me was how difficult it was to find a decent biography of Eleanor. There are numerous works an interested reader can study about her, but many are highly unreliable. They state opinions as facts and are very loose in their interpretations. Given that the only representation of Eleanor is her tomb effigy, a stylized stained glass window and a grey-haired lady in the Fécamp Psalter who may or may not be Eleanor, it’s astonishing to find her biographers calling her a black-haired, black-eyed beauty with a curvaceous figure that never ran to fat in old age. Or a saucy hot-blooded blonde, or a humorous green-eyed red-head. None of these can be taken as accurate because there is no existing physical description of Eleanor from her own lifetime. Basically most of her biographers cannot be trusted. I did find a couple of books that were grounded and gave good information but overall it was difficult to find decent factual works about her that didn’t leap off a cliff into flights of fantasy. I know I am writing fiction, but I like to have a strong grounding in a factual historical background and it was hard despite – or perhaps because of the numerous nonfiction works that have been written about Eleanor.

AAR: How much time did it take you to prepare to write the story of Eleanor of Aquitaine? Did you have any problems with researching?

EC: I have been writing medieval fiction for several decades, so I already had a base line awareness. Writing the William Marshal novels I had become familiar with Eleanor too, so I already had some research under my belt. I always research as I write, so probably the intensive research took about 18 months, but I already had a strong background awareness. My problems as above mentioned is that many of her biographers could not be trusted. I tried as much as possible to go back to primary source research, but that in itself is a difficult project. I can get by in Latin and Old French but I do prefer to read works in translation.

AAR: If you could travel back in time and meet Eleanor of Aquitaine, what would you like to tell her? How do you generally imagine meeting such the powerful Queen?

EC: I would tell her to run away from Henry II! What I would say from the research I have done is that anyone striving to know Eleanor better should read a book called “Inventing Eleanor” by Michael Evans, which shows how much has been made up about her down the centuries and how the image we have of her today (especially if we read some of her popular biographies) is nothing like the person who inhabited the 12th century.

Here is the Polish edition of the historical trilogy about Eleonor of Aquitaine:
The Summer Queen, The Winter Crown & The Autumn Throne.
They were published in 2017/2018 by PRÓSZYŃSKI I S-KA
Translated by Magdalena Moltzan-Małkowska

AAR: It is said that Richard the Lionheart was the most beloved child of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Could you tell us how you perceive this King? Have you written a novel about him? If not, do you have such a plan?

EC: No, I haven’t written about Richard the Lionheart nor do I plan to. My good friend Sharon Penman has written two excellent novels about him – “Lionheart” and “A King’s Ransom”, should anyone want to read a work of fiction about him. I would say that he was Eleanor’s favourite, but this was partly because from birth he was the son destined to inherit the maternal lands. He was raised to be her heir and so she was bound to gravitate to him. His skill was warfare. He was also an accomplished musician in his quieter moments and politically astute.  A complex and interesting man.

AAR: During the Second Crusade where the first Eleanor’s husband, Louis VII of France, took part in, there were some rumors that the Queen was having a love affair with her uncle, Raymond of Poitiers. What do you think? Were there definitely just rumors, or maybe Eleanor really became the main character of the moral scandal?

EC: I don’t think she had an affair with her uncle. When you look at the evidence for and against in depth, it mostly emerges on the negative side. Some writers have suggested it happened, but I suspect it’s the sensationalism that draws them rather than admitting to the probable more prosaic truth. I have written a full blog about why I don’t think for one minute that they had an affair. Here’s the url.

AAR: As I mentioned above you live in Nottingham. According to the legend, Robin Hood was supposed to live near this place. He is also very strongly associated with two sons of Eleanor, Richard the Lionheart and John Lackland. I must admit that I have been fascinated by Robin of Sherwood since my childhood. Although I have read and written about him a lot, he is still a mystery to me. Could you tell us what the truth is? Did the Eleanor’s sons really have anything to do with Robin Hood?    

EC: No, I don’t think they did. Indeed, I do not believe that Robin Hood was every actually around so early. He’s a product of the ballads of the later Middle Ages and as such is a fictional character. He may be an amalgam of several outlaw types rife in the 14th century onwards but in actuality the myth has grown out of itself and become the life that never was. Hollywood and modern fiction writers are the main instigators of Robin Hood in the late 12th and early 13th centuries I’m afraid.

Published by SPHERE
(7 Sept. 2006)
AAR: Let’s go back to your books for a moment. So far you have written a lot of novels. Do you have your favourite story among them; the one you love more than others?

EC: For me that would be a bit like asking a mother if she had a favourite child! Each book I write always has something unique about it that makes it special to me. My first published novel “The Wild Hunt” was the one that won a major UK award and that obtained me representation by a top London literary agency. “Lords of The White Castle” was my first attempt at biographical fiction and has been a bestseller, “The Greatest Knight” was a New York Times bestseller and started me on my journey with William Marshal. My Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy has led me to think in very different ways about a great Medieval queen and who she might have been really under all the glitter and dust we have sprinkled over her life. Every book has taught me something unique about the people and their life and times as I research. So the answer has to be no they are all my favourites.

AAR: And what about the protagonists? Is there the one that you like most and you always smile when you are thinking about him or her?

EC: It’s the same answer as the previous one but with a couple of exceptions. John Marshal in my novel “A Place Beyond Courage” has always stayed with me because I feel history has written him a bad deal – or rather our modern interpretation of history and our laziness in not actually pausing to lift the sheets and look under the surface has given us a simplistic view of a complex man striving to survive in very difficult times. And of course, the great William Marshal. A legend in his own lifetime, and even more of one today. But underneath it all a flesh and blood man with flaws and merits, passions, preferences and dislikes. I’d like to have been in a position to have known him in his own lifetime.

AAR: Is there anything, any era or a character, you would like to write about, but you think that the right time has not come to do it?

EC: Yes, many, but I’m not going to tell you. That’s something that creatively stays under my hat until I’m ready!

AAR: How important are your readers to you? Do you have a good contact with them? How much do they help you while writing?

EC: If I didn’t have readers I wouldn’t have a job! I get on very well with my readers, many of whom have become good friends. I have an open Facebook author group for news and features and feedback – it’s not all about promotion.  I share my research with my readers and daily doings. We’re all people with all our particular interests and skills and it’s good to socialize while doing the day job.

AAR: You told me that there is a chance of publishing your next book in Poland. Could you tell us something more about it if it is not a secret?

Published by SPHERE
(13 Sept. 2012)
EC: I think “Lady of the English” is soon to be published in Poland. It’s about two women and the struggle for the English crown in the 12th century. Matilda, daughter of the king, has had her throne usurped (as she sees it) by her cousin Stephen and she is determined to have it back for herself and her heirs. She is helped by her stepmother, who is actually Matilda’s own age and with a gentler personality, but nevertheless a steely determination to see that justice prevails.

AAR: Finally, I would like to ask you about your next project? Are you working on a new novel?

EC: I have just begun one, but since it is the very early stages and has not yet gone to contract, again I cannot say, beyond the fact that it is set in the 13th century and stars two very charismatic protagonists!

AAR: Elizabeth, thank you so much for this nice conversation. It was a great pleasure for me to be able to talk to you. Is there anything you would like to add or tell your Polish readers?

EC: Just thank you for reading my books and I hope you all continue to enjoy them! And thank you for interviewing me and asking such varied questions!

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

I met Henry by a random referral when I wrote for the newspaper...

Interview with Katrina Shawver
by Agnes A. Rose

Katrina Shawver is an experienced writer, blogger, speaker, and the author of Henry  A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America, an adult nonfiction biography released in 2017 to high praise. She holds a BA from the University of Arizona in English/Political Science, and began her writing career more than twenty years ago by writing hundreds of newspaper columns for The Arizona Republic. Her favorite quote is ”What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” She lives in Phoenix, Arizona, USA with her husband Rick.

Agnes A. Rose: Katrina, I am very honored that I can host you on my blog and talk to you. In November you published your first book that tells about Henry Zguda who was a Catholic Pole. What happened that you met Henry? After all, there are many Poles who lived or still live in America because they left Poland due to the Second World War or communism. Why was it Henry?

Katrina Shawver:  I am equally honored by your interest. I met Henry by a random referral when I wrote for the newspaper. Except for that phone call we would have never met. I did not seek this story; it came to me by sheer luck and providence. I had never known anyone who was Polish before Henry. I still cannot explain the impulsive decision to offer to write his story, except that he was 85 years old, so there was no time to waste in capturing his memories. He and (his wife) Nancy had no children, and he had no siblings to leave his story to. His story truly would have been lost to history had we not met. He was also very nice and easy to talk with.

AAR: Henry Zguda was arrested in 1942 in Krakow by Germans and sent to Montelupich Prison. Next he went on to survive several concentration camps. Knowing the realities of the Nazi death camps it is very difficult to imagine how Henry was able to survive there. So could you tell the Polish readers, who have not read your book, what he did that he managed to save his life?

KS: Henry would argue that he survived because others saved his life several times, just as he helped who he could. I truly believe that every story of survival is unique and involves a great deal of luck. Did the guards look away at just the right moment? How does one manage to avoid typhus when everyone around you is dying of it? Why was the person standing behind you selected for a firing squad when you weren't? Things happen without explanation.

Henry was fortunate that he had studied German in high school so he could understand, read, and write German. Prisoners who understood German had a longer life expectancy in any concentration camp. At the time of his arrest, Henry was twenty-five-years old and a strong athlete. He was used to hard work and was a quick thinker. He did observe that academics and those accustomed to less physical conditions perished far faster. They just could not adapt physically to the harsh conditions.

AAR: What happened to Henry’s family when he was arrested?

KS: Henry was an only child, and his father died when Henry was an infant, so there was only Henry's mother, Karolina Zguda. She remained in Krakow and continued to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy family throughout the war. Henry's mother lived in Krakow her entire life.

AAR: When Henry arrived in America how did his life look like? What was the most important for him when he started living in a new place?

KS: Henry and a friend defected from communist Poland in 1956 when the regime became very hard line. Neither had ever been married. When he and his friend set sail for America two years later they were free to create new lives. He wanted to see the land of two of his movie heroes: Tom Mix and Elvis Presley.

AAR: Did Henry ever think about coming back to Poland and spending here the rest of his life? As we all know, Poland ceased to be a communist country in 1989.

KS: No. Henry arrived in New York City in January 1959 and married his wife Nancy a year later. She came from a large Italian family and they built a very happy life together. He later became a US citizen. Henry did visit Poland at least once in the 1970s that I know of. Nancy did not accompany him because she felt awkward not speaking Polish, and there was still an active arrest warrant for Henry as a defector. In 1989 when communism finally fell, Henry was already seventy-two years old, retired, his mother had long since passed away, and he had outlived most of his friends in Poland. His life was in the United States, even though he always carried Poland in his heart, and always told me how beautiful his home country was.

AAR: While researching what was the most frightening for you? What event in your hero’s camp life was the most gruesome?

KS: During the interviews, when Henry discussed some of the harder aspects of concentration camps, or when we looked through books of black-and-white photos, I wanted to stop the conversation. Redirect to something more pleasant. Nevertheless, I wanted to honor Henry, and so many others who did not have the opportunity to stop the tape, close the book, and change subjects. As to most gruesome? He briefly worked in the crematorium in Buchenwald, which I visited in 2013.

Katrina and Henry in 2003

AAR: How long did you work on this book? What was your most difficult challenge while writing?

KS: I met Henry in November 2002, so it has been fifteen years from beginning to publication. Unfortunately, Henry passed away a year after we met. Several times through the years I set the project aside, either overwhelmed as the amount of work needed to finish, or simply life interfered. I had three young children, an aging parent, and some family health issues that took priority. Until recently I also held a job, so the progress has been at a slower pace than if I was a full-time writer.

As to difficult challenges, there was nothing easy about this project. I read everything I could find with this caveat — I only speak English. Besides the huge task of research, translation of documents, and planning a trip to Poland, there were challenges transcribing each of the interviews. Henry used the terms and names he remembered in Polish and German, without translating to English. It was not practical to stop him after every word for an explanation. Even places, street names, and people I could only write out phonetically. When I reviewed my notes ten years later I had so many "aha" moments as to what Henry was saying that I had not understood at the time. Henry once joked "You should learn Polish. Then we could really talk."

AAR: Could you tell us how your meetings with your readers look like? While talking to them what do you pay your attention to? What questions do they ask?

KS: The book has only been out for two months. Over 85 people came to my book launch event in November, and many referred me to other book groups to speak. I have spoken at a Jewish Community Center, a genocide conference, and writers' groups. Everyone seems fascinated with the story. Except for Poles, Henry's story is a piece of history that no one has heard — the Holocaust as seen through Polish eyes. This story seems to resonate with so many people both as a forgotten and important piece of history, an intelligent read, and getting to know a likeable person such as Henry. Even in a concentration camp he found humor at times.

I do love connecting with an audience in person and enjoy public speaking. In addition to local events, I am really trying to reach out online and through social media. I can reach so many more people around the world from my computer. I feel fortunate to have connected with you

AAR: How much has Henry’s story affected your life? How has it changed?

KS:  Meeting Henry Zguda did change the direction of my life. When I began I did not know, what I did not know. Today I am a published author and educated on Poland and WWII and how little credit Poles, and Henry, have received for their suffering and deaths. Early on, I realized Henry's story represents so many other Poles who never received credit outside the Polish community, which I thought was terribly unfair. My definition of a bad day has changed. Compared to a bad day in a concentration camp, if all that happens is someone cuts me off in traffic or work is especially stressful, well that means I'm blessed to own a car, and that I'm employed. I am far more conscious of not wasting food — food was a precious commodity for most of Henry's life.

AAR: In your book you write that you and your husband were in Poland in October 2013. You visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. Could you tell us something more about your trip?

KS: It helped that we had an excellent translator with us all day. I had an appointment in the morning with head of the archives for the museum. I had sent several research requests and prisoner names on ahead, and staff had pulled a huge stack of records for me to review. After going through the documents, Dr. Plosa very patiently answered all of my questions.

We had arranged for a private tour guide at 4 p.m. for a three-hour tour. I had very specific locations to see and questions to ask about Henry's experience. Henry was only imprisoned in the original Auschwitz I, so we spent most of our time there. At the end of the day I wanted to see Birkenau since there is a story of Henry walking to Birkenau. As it happened, my husband Rick, Magda our tour guide, and I were the only three people remaining in Birkenau as the museum closed, a place that used to hold more than 100,000 people. We shivered because it was a cold winter evening, dark, and silent. We had not brought enough warm clothes. There is no comparison to visiting a concentration camp on a cold dark day to get a sense for what it was like for miserable prisoners. In the silence I truly felt the ghosts of a million murdered souls who called to me "Do not forget us." I never will.

Published by Köehler Books
Virginia Beach (USA) 2017

AAR: How do you think why WWII is still a part of our culture today?

KS: I think there is an ongoing fascination with WWII for several reasons. We are still within two or three generations of the history and we still have a few survivors from that era, though not for much longer. They are all in their 80s and 90s so their memories are precious and golden and need to be captured before they are lost to history.

The Holocaust from the Jewish perspective has been extremely well documented and taught for three generations. There are thousands of "Holocaust" memoirs in print, and I think people are still trying to figure out "why" and "how" ordinary German people, many highly educated, could turn into truly evil killers, and participate in the calculated mass murder of millions of people.

AAR: Why are you so interested in Polish history? 

KS: Almost everyone asks me this. I am an American with no previous Polish connection. When I planned a trip to Poland many people asked "Why Poland?" I am quite unique. The simple truth is I met someone from Poland, offered to write his story, and needed to understand the reality and context of a time and place I had not experienced. I have always loved history, and a good writer must be curious and ask questions, especially why things happened, not just that they did. As a journalist I need to cross-check my sources, which means finding the same information at least twice. Early in our interviews I realized that the dynamics of European history and changing borders are extremely relevant to what happened to Poland during and after World War II.

AAR: Apart from writing you also deal with other things. Could you tell us something more about it?

KS: I love classical music and attending the symphony. I like to hike the mountain near my house, and try to find time to read. I also love taking my daughter out for mother-daughter dates. We are very close.

AAR: What is your next project? Could you tell us something about it?

KS: Right now I am focused on launching Henry and getting his story out to as many people as possible. I am confident the next story will come into my life at the right time.

AAR: Katrina, thank you very much for this conversation and for your book. I hope that someday your book will be translated into Polish. I am very happy that in America so many authors write about Poland and its history, especially about the wartime history. Is there anything you would like to say to the Poles?

KS: I too hope my book will be translated into Polish. I have gained a huge respect for Poland and Poles. The Polish-American Congress, Arizona division has been supportive, and included me as a guest at the Polish Heritage Ball recently. That the country continues to survive and today thrives is a testament to the strength of the culture. I am proud to say two copies of HENRY are in the library and collections of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum. For English-speaking Poles, HENRY is available internationally through Book Depository, Amazon UK and others such booksellers.

I do love to hear from readers, even if it is only in Polish. I use online translation software so it is no problem reading a language other than English. For longer texts I have Polish friends who will help me with translations.

I can be found at:

Email: katrina [at]
HENRY on Book Depository: Click here
HENRY on Amazon UK: Click here

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here.
If you want to read my book review, please click here