Friday, September 9, 2022

Kristin Beck Interview - The Winter Orphans

Photo Credit: © Liza Mahler Photographer

Kristin Beck first learned about World War II from her grandmother, who served as a Canadian army nurse, fell in love with an American soldier in Belgium, and married him shortly after VE Day. Kristin thus grew up hearing stories about the war, and has been captivated by the often unsung roles of women in history ever since. A former teacher, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Washington and a Master’s in Teaching from Western Washington University. Kristin lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
From the time I learned to read, I wanted to be a writer. When I was in elementary school I joined young authors’ groups, wrote and submitted stories to school contests, and told anyone who asked that my plan was to become a novelist. Life intervened for many of my adult years, and for quite some time I enjoyed a wonderful career as a high school teacher. However, now I get to write full time, and I couldn’t be happier with my occupation! I feel incredibly fortunate that my long-held dream came to fruition.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Several readers have reached out to share that my debut novel gave them hope during a difficult time. COURAGE, MY LOVE is a story about people persevering through incredible adversity, and the book happened to release in the midst of pandemic lockdowns. It has meant so much to hear that this story has helped people navigate their own challenges in life, and perhaps provided them with a brief escape from those hardships as well.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
THE WINTER ORPHANS was largely written during the pandemic, so I was drafting it back in the days of being a brand-new, entirely unprepared homeschool parent! Like every parent during the early months of the pandemic, I found it challenging to balance the needs of my family with my work. However, this novel is based on the lives of real people, and they were so courageous and compelling that I was completely swept away by my writing sessions. It was an honor to write this story, and I’m grateful that it gave me so much hope and inspiration during those unprecedented times.

Why is storytelling so important for all of us?
Storytelling allows us to explore lives and experiences that are often very unlike our own. This enables us to develop greater empathy for others, to realize that we’re all not so different in fundamental ways, and it affords us the chance to imagine ourselves differently. I also believe that curiosity is a great gift, and books spur it on. Whenever I read about a new time, place, or person, I find myself researching various questions that arise outside of the story. In this way, I feel like I’ve been given a chance to live on a far greater scope than my own life could ever allow. On a lighter but no less important note, stories are fun!

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters?
In the summer of 2019, I stumbled across a story about passeurs who operated along the borders between France and Switzerland during World War II. These were people who hiked over wooded, mountainous borders to ferry goods, information, and human beings between the two countries. These trips, usually on foot, were incredibly dangerous – in some places, hikers could be shot on sight for attempting to cross the borders illegally. I became fascinated by this history, which was something I had heard little about in previous research. So, I dove down the proverbial rabbit hole to learn more. Very soon I came across the story of Anne-Marie Piguet, who crafted escape routes through the Risoud forest to save the lives of imperiled teenagers. Her story led me to the Swiss Red Cross colony, housed in an old château in southern France, where those teenagers were living. Château de la Hille sheltered approximately one hundred Jewish refugee children amid staggering, constantly growing hostilities, and many of them eventually needed to escape France altogether. Soon I was reading everything I could find about those children and the adults who endeavored to save their lives, and THE WINTER ORPHANS took shape.

Meet the Characters
Rösli Näf was the director of a Swiss Red Cross children’s colony in southern France from 1941 to 1943. Strong and stubborn, Rösli sometimes struggled to connect with the refugee children in her care. However, when danger threatened her charges, Rösli’s fierce resolve played an integral role in saving their lives. Her character is based on the life of a real person.
Quote from the book: “Follow your conscience and forget the rules. In France, your conscience may require much of you, but it’s the only guide you can trust.”

Anne-Marie Piguet was an idealistic and daring young woman who grew up in the Risoud forest draping the border of Switzerland and France. As the daughter of a forester, she knew every mountain path and hiding place in the dense Risoud, which would become invaluable expertise in the harrowing environment of occupied France. Anne-Marie’s character is based on the life of a real person.
Quote from the book: “Love makes us brave.”

Ella Rosenthal fled Germany on the eve of war, eventually ending up in southern France with her little sister, Hanni. Nearly eighteen, Ella’s childhood was consumed with trying to find safe harbor, which she finally does at Château de la Hille. However, that safety is tenuous, and when Germany occupies all of France she must escape once again. Ella is a fictional character inspired by the stories of the real survivors of Château de la Hille.
Quote from the book: “Isaak. Let’s fight back.”

What is the first job you have had?
My first job was babysitting neighborhood kids. This was in the early nineties, and at only eleven years old I was entrusted with caring for multiple children for entire afternoons! I think I was paid $1.50 an hour. Shortly thereafter, when I was not quite fifteen, I got a job at a local ice cream shop, and I rode my bike to work every day.

What is your most memorable travel experience?
In our late twenties, my husband and I traveled to Italy to teach abroad for a semester. On a whim, we took a train one weekend to Slovenia, which was a place I knew little about. We ended up in a beautiful valley ringed by snow-capped mountains, and somehow found ourselves signing up to go paragliding. We caught a ride up to a launch site on of one of those glaciered mountains, strapped ourselves into contraptions piloted by experts, and on the pilots’ cues we ran and jumped off the mountain. (This shocks me now – see my newfound fear of heights discussed below!) We paraglided out over a glistening lake, sailing through the quiet sky alongside migrating birds, and finally touched down in a field full of milk cows. It was a breathtaking experience that I will never forget.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
After studying abroad in Siena, Italy, I was offered a waitressing job in the center of town. I had to decide whether to take the job and continue to live abroad, or head home to finish university. I chose what was likely the wise path (university), but I’ve sometimes wondered what would have happened if I had thrown caution to the wind and stayed in Italy longer.

What is one unique thing are you afraid of?
Heights! It’s not particularly unique, but it surprises me because it’s a relatively new fear. When I was young, I was a bit of a daredevil and spent a lot of time in the mountains, and heights never phased me. After having children, that changed! Now I stay well away from cliffs and ledges.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
Once, when I was maybe nine or ten years old, I went over to a new friend’s house. She casually told me that she and her brothers had been collecting newspapers – the reason for this eludes me now. Then she opened up her two-car garage, and the entire thing was filled to the ceiling with newspapers. It was astonishing, and I’ve never forgotten it!

A poignant and ultimately triumphant novel based on the incredible true story of children who braved the formidable danger of guarded, wintry mountain passes in France to escape the Nazis, from the acclaimed author of Courage, My Love.

In a remote corner of France, Jewish refugee Ella Rosenthal has finally reached safety. It has been three years since she and her little sister, Hanni, left their parents to flee Nazi Germany, and they have been pursued and adrift in the chaos of war ever since. Now they shelter among one hundred other young refugees in a derelict castle overseen by the Swiss Red Cross.

Swiss volunteers Rösli Näf and Anne-Marie Piguet uphold a common mission: to protect children in peril. Rösli, a stubborn and resourceful nurse, directs the colony of Château de la Hille, and has created a thriving community against all odds. Anne-Marie, raised by Swiss foresters, becomes both caretaker and friend to the children, and she vows to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe.

However, when Germany invades southern France, safeguarding Jewish refugees becomes impossible. Château de la Hille faces unrelenting danger, and Rösli and Anne-Marie realize that the only way to protect the eldest of their charges is to smuggle them out of France. Relying on Rösli's fierce will and Anne-Marie's knowledge of secret mountain paths, they plot escape routes through vast Nazi-occupied territory to the distant border. Amid staggering risk, Ella and Hanni embark on a journey that, if successful, could change the course of their lives and grant them a future.

You can purchase The Winter Orphans at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you KRISTIN BECK for making this giveaway possible.
1 Winner will receive a Copy of The Winter Orphans by Kristin Beck.

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