Thursday, February 4, 2016

Interview with B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Davina Blake

Please join me in welcoming B.R.A.G Medallion Honoree Davina Blake to A Literary Vacation today!  Davina lives in the north of England on the edge of the Lake District, an area made famous by the Romantic Poets such as Wordsworth and Coleridge. In the past she used to work as a set and costume designer for theatre and TV, so she enjoys researching, and loves this aspect of creating historical fiction. She has previously published three historical novels for adults and a trilogy for young adults under the pen-name Deborah Swift.

Hello, Deborah, and welcome to A Literary Vacation! To start off with, please tell us a little about your book, Past Encounters?

Past Encounters starts in 1955. It tells the story of how a young and restless housewife, Rhoda, discovers that her husband has been keeping a secret. When she tries to discover more she is brought face to face with her wartime memories, and also the extraordinary experiences of her husband, who had survived a German POW camp and the subsequent ‘Death March’ through Poland. The novel re-lives the years of 1939 to 1945 through the eyes of Rhoda and Peter, and is about how they eventually free themselves from the anchor of the past to be able to find themselves, and each other.

I read Past Encounters a little over a year ago and really enjoyed it. I think what I appreciated the most was the fact that you focused on aspects of WWII that I had not read about before, namely the thoughts, emotions and actions of British prisoners of war, forced to work for the Germans that they were there to fight against. What led you to focus on this aspect of the war?

When I was a child my grandparents lived close to a man who never came out of his house, I was told it was because he’d been a Prisoner of War. It fascinated me, because this was years later, yet still his experiences were affecting him in such a profound way. Through researching, I discovered that when they returned home there was no hero’s welcome, but instead the demand that they return to active service. POW’s were often considered second-class citizens, and there was a good deal of shame attached to the fact they had been forced to work in labor camps for the Germans instead of against them. Many people did not understand what they had endured. The Government – from necessity, and to maintain morale – had given the impression that being a POW was like being in some sort of holiday camp. The last thing The Government needed in this time of crisis was a campaign by distraught families, so the reality of the horrendous conditions in the camps was drastically underplayed.
I was not familiar with the Great March before reading your story but I think it ended up being one of the most poignant points of the book for me. Can you tell us a little more about it and why you chose to include it in your story? Do you have any recommended reading for further study?
The March took place at the end of the Second World War. About 30,000 Allied POWs were force-marched across Poland and Germany in appalling winter conditions of temperatures of minus twenty degrees. English, American, French – all were sent out with no clear idea of their destination, and with inadequate food, water and clothing. The POWs had suffered years of poor rations and were not physically fit enough for walking. Many died of frost-bite, starvation, and dysentery. The weakest were shot by their German guards. But those who made it through, said it was the camaraderie of their fellow POWs that helped them survive. I wanted to include it because it shows the power of friendship, the arbitrary nature of war, and that survival is fueled by love of another.

There is an excellent DVD available about the March on the Lamsdorf website, which also has lots more information about Prisoners of War.

Historical fiction happens to be my all-time favorite genre and I find myself going back and forth between what periods of history are my favorite to read about. While this novel takes place during and after WWII I know the time periods for your other novels vary. Do you have a favorite time period to write and/or read about, or do you enjoy jumping around as I do?

I will read anything and everything. I love history, and am undaunted by exploring new periods as a reader. I am just reading something set in the Victorian era. As a writer I have written most of my novels about the 17th century. I think this is because the more I research a period, the more I discover - and I can’t resist sharing my discoveries with my readers. I am planning another 20th century book (under pen-name Davina Blake) and two more of my 17th century novels will be coming out soon.

What does a typical day (if there is one) look like for you? How do you balance writing and the rest of your life?

I write in the mornings, and in the afternoons and evenings I do my ‘day job’ which is to be a tutor for the Adult Education Service. I zip about in my little red car to teach a variety of subjects including Creative Writing, Yoga and Tai Chi. Yoga and Tai Chi are a great antidote to the deskbound nature of my writing life, and an excellent way of keeping fit, meeting some nice people, and emptying my head of too much ‘stuff’. I share my home with my long-suffering husband (who knows exactly when to knock on the door with egg on toast and a cup of tea, and when not to) and with a nice black cat who thinks she owns the keyboard.

While Past Encounters was independently published I know that some of your other books have been traditionally published. Which process do you prefer and why?

Both have their benefits. As a traditionally published author I was able to access great expertise in the editing, proofing and designs of my books, and a reliable ‘machine’ for promotion and distribution to bookshops. Whilst all that was happening I was free to write, knowing they would take care of it all, and that the work would be of excellent quality. The downside is lack of control, for example over covers and pricing.

With the self-published book I had to spend many hours checking out copy-editors, sending samples, sorting out cover design, formatting and so forth. Not to mention lugging books to my local bookshops and libraries! However it was great to have complete control over the book, and to see it find its market was a great thrill – in some ways it was more ‘my baby’ than the traditionally published books. I was particularly keen for Past Encounters to be out in 2015, the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, and with indie publishing I could hit that deadline. Speed to the shelves is another reason why indie publishing is sometimes a very good choice.

How did you discover indieBRAG and what does it mean to you to have Past Encounters awarded the BRAG Medallion?

I heard about it via Facebook and the Layered Pages blog. (Thanks Stephanie!) I was keen to see if Past Encounters would pass the rigorous indieBRAG testing, and was really delighted when it was accepted for a Medallion. I am sure that having the award on my online pages has reassured browsers that the book is worth their time, and helped it to reach readers interested in WWII.
 Many thanks Colleen, for inviting me to your blog, it’s been a pleasure to answer your questions!
Thank you, Davina, for taking the time to stop by and answer my questions! You can find out more about Davina on Twitter, Facebook and on her website. You can also find the links to purchase Past Encounters HERE.

A Message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Colleen has chosen to interview Davina Blake who is the author of, Past Encounters, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ® , a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as Past Encounters merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


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