Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Maggie Brookes Interview - The Prisoner's Wife

Photo Credit: © Lyn Gregory LRPS

Maggie Brookes is a British ex-journalist and BBC television producer turned poet and novelist. She is an advisory fellow for the Royal Literary Fund and also an Associate Professor at Middlesex University, London, England, where she has taught creative writing since 1990. She lives in London and Whitstable, Kent and is married, with two grown-up daughters. She has published five poetry collections in the UK under her married name of Maggie Butt.


What inspired you to pen your first novel?
The Prisoner’s Wife is my first novel which will be in book stores, but certainly not the first novel I’ve written. I’ve been writing poems and stories since I was five years old, and I think I made my first attempt at a full length novel when I was eighteen. I have quite a few under my bed! The inspiration for this novel, was an old soldier in an elevator at my mother’s sheltered accommodation, who said, “I bet I could tell you a story about the war which would make your hair stand on end.” And it did!

Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
Reading, mostly. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, from my old favourites of Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, through to modern classics like Boris Pasternak and Helen Dunmore. I like a book which takes me to a place I’ve never been, and which underlines our common humanity. As Emily Dickinson said, “There is no Frigate like a book to take us lands away…”

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Reviews from people I’ve never met, living on the other side of the world, who absolutely understand what I was trying to do, and go right to the heart of what this story is about for me.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
I hope they will be astonished as I was that such a story could possibly be true. I hope they will be horrified by the examples in this book of man’s inhumanity to man, all of which are founded in deep historical research. I hope they will understand my belief that horrors like these could happen anywhere and any time that a fascist, totalitarian regime is allowed to come to power and flourish. I hope they will be lifted up by my characters’ capacity for love and sacrifice. This book is as much about friendship and love as it is about horror and war.

Tell us about your new book THE PRISONER’S WIFE.
The man in the elevator told me an incredible story. He’d been a Prisoner of War in Poland, when two escaped British soldiers were brought into their camp. Once the guards had retreated, one of the men said he needed to tell the other prisoners that the other man was not a man at all, but his Czech wife. They’d been on the run together, with her dressed in boy’s clothes, when they were picked up by the Nazis. The other prisoners agreed that the safest thing would be for her to continue to pretend to be a British soldier, and they would guard and protect her.

Tell us about your experience writing Izzy and Bill. Which character did you enjoy writing the most?
Well of course I fell in love with Bill, as Izzy did. And Izzy grew and grew in my mind as I wrote – the young woman who survived that extraordinary six month deception must have been so strong, so courageous – made of much stronger stuff than me. I also really loved writing the friends who support them – Ralph, Scotty and Max.

1) It’s based on an incredible true story. I sat with ex-prisoner Sidney Reed for a couple of hours, and took pages of notes. I couldn’t doubt the authenticity of what he was telling me - the details of how the Czech girl’s presence was announced to the hut, of how she coped with her period, of the way the men worked together to protect her, felt absolutely true. I knew I had to write this story, and it had to be in the voice of the Czech woman, trapped in a perilous world of men. Despite my experience as a historical documentary researcher and producer for the BBC, I was daunted by the difficulty of writing it as a novel.

2) The original title of the novel was The Girl Made of Silence.

3) I approached 20 agents with the novel before the 21st accepted it and sold it immediately to imprints of Penguin Random House in the UK and USA. The moral of this story is don’t give up!

4) I had to cut 30,000 words out of the novel.

5) It’s an almost-forgotten fact of WWII that as the Red Army approached from the East, hundreds of thousands of Nazi prisoners were marched out of prisoner of war camps. The evacuation began over night in January 1945, in the middle of a snowstorm. The men marched more than 500 miles through Poland and into Germany. Nobody knows how many died. There are reports of one working party from which 1,800 men set out on the Long March, and only 1,300 completed it, with 30% dying on route.

6) My husband and I drove one of the routes of The Long March so I could see the landscape and buildings with my own eyes, and experience the terrrible distance they covered. I walked a short distance of the route in a snowstorm to understand the feel of snow on my face, and the sound of the wind. On a snowy day in Poland we followed google maps off the road and onto a lane, which vanished into deep snow in a field at the top of the hill, with a building far off in the distance. By some miracle we reversed the hire car back from the field and onto firm ground.

7) Many aspects of the character and experience of Bill are based on my beloved dad, and I learned a lot of new things about him in researching this book, by reading the secret diaries of his best friend in prisoner of war camp.

8) The Nazi regime relied on prisoners to run its factories, farms and mines.The Geneva convention of 1929 allowed all ranks below Sergeant to be put to work when they were captured as prisoners of war.

9) The Prisoner’s Wife is going to be published this year in Czech, Polish, Hungarian, Portugese, Italian, Dutch and Spanish.The first Spanish publication will be in Mexico.

10) I’m also a poet, with 5 books published in the UK under my married name of Maggie Butt. I first wrote Izzy’s story as a long narrative poem which was published in 2008 by a poetry e-zine as a downloadable e-chapbook and MP3.

Inspired by the true story of a daring deception that plunges a courageous young woman deep into the horrors of a Nazi POW camp to be with the man she loves.

In the dead of night, a Czech farm girl and a British soldier travel through the countryside. Izabela and prisoner of war Bill have secretly married and are on the run, with Izzy dressed as a man. The young husband and wife evade capture for as long as possible--until they are cornered by Nazi soldiers with tracking dogs.

Izzy's disguise works. The couple are assumed to be escaped British soldiers and transported to a POW camp. However, their ordeal has just begun, as they face appalling living conditions and the constant fear of Izzy's exposure. But in the midst of danger and deprivation comes hope, for the young couple are befriended by a small group of fellow prisoners. These men become their new family, willing to jeopardize their lives to save Izzy from being discovered and shot.

The Prisoner's Wife tells of an incredible risk, and of how our deepest bonds are tested in desperate times. Bill and Izzy's story is one of love and survival against the darkest odds.


"A powerful love story that exquisitely depicts the courage and strength of the human spirit in the face of the tremendous cost of war." Chanel Cleeton, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Train to Key West

"A powerful page-turner." Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling author of Lady Clementine

"You will be spellbound by this stellar debut." Susan Meissner, Bestselling author of The Last Year of the War

"Perhaps the most unique World War II story I’ve ever read…A complete winner." Sarah-Jane Stratford, Author of Red Letter Days

“Avid readers of stories about the Holocaust should be prepared to be awestruck by this portrayal of a seldom-shared aspect of the war…The Prisoner’s Wife is tale of epic proportions. It does not shrink from the cruelty of war which, in this telling, is offset only by the strength of love.” The Jewish Voice and Opinion

"A heady mix of young passion, love, courage and hope in a dark world. I so hope that Bill and Izabella get away but this has captured me." Giles Kristian, author of Lancelot

"Based on the experiences of real people and real events, The Prisoner’s Wife seamlessly and skilfully breathes intense, fully realised life into the stark scenes it describes...I was by turns moved, outraged and humbled." Deborah Kay Davies, author of True Things About Me

"An engrossing, harrowing and heart-warming novel that reveals humanity at its best and worst." Ann Morgan, author of Reading The World

"An absorbing and engaging tale of wartime bravery and endurance. I loved it!" Rachel Hore, author of Last Letter Home and The Memory Garden

"It is a story that Hemingway might have envied." Juliet Gardiner, author of Wartime; Britain 1939 to 1945 and The Blitz; The British Under Attack

"Heart wrenching and heart-warming in equal measure…an unputdownable novel" Ben Kane, author of The Eagles of Rome series

'When a debut is praised by the likes of Jojo Moyes, you know it's worth reading…You won't be able to put down this tender and heartbreaking read." Judith Allnat, author of The Poet’s Wife and The Silk Factory

"A gripping debut novel...I feel enriched to have read it." Gill Paul, author of The Lost Daughter and The Secret Wife

"Tremendous ... this is much more than a love story; it’s about the instinct for survival, the value of friends, and the power of hope even in the midst of terror." Georgina Clarke, author of Death and the Harlot

You can purchase The Prisoner's Wife at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you MAGGIE BROOKES for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Prisoner's Wife by Maggie Brookes.


  1. "What is the most important object you own?" Probably one of my fabulous rare gems!

  2. It would either be my car (allowing me freedom) or my computer (allowing me access & communication).

  3. For me, all the family photos which are at least 5 generations back.

  4. My books are the most important things I own. And the Jenny Lind Table I inherited from my grandma where I "antiqued" the top with wear and tear plus use it for my laptop.

  5. My home. It is the place where the family gathers for celebrations as well as grief.