Thursday, 18 June 2015

Author Spotlight: Joanna Campbell

I'm so delighted to welcome lovely, talented author Joanna Campbell to the Reading and Writing blog today.  Joanna has been an online friend for many years and I’ve loved so many of her vast number of published short stories that I knew it was only a matter of time until her début novel would be available. Tying Down the Lion is a treat I am looking forward to reading in paperback and Joanna kindly wrote this very interesting post, exploring some of the themes in the novel such as the Kindertransport.

Welcome,  Joanna, and thank you for being my guest today and for writing such an emotive post. I wish you every success with all your writing. 

Tying Down the Lion

It is the summer of 1967 and the Bishop family are departing their house in Britain for a continental road trip. Their destination: Berlin, the gritty city recovering from the bombs of 1939—45 and now sliced in two by the Cold War. Will the journey unite the Anglo-German family, or forever rip them apart?

Not only does Grandma Nell loathe foreigners—especially Bridget, her German daughter-in-law—she is none too pleased about son Roy jamming the whole family into his aging Morris Traveller car for the duration. Granddaughter Jacqueline observes the trip—and the resultant spillage of family secrets—with a keen eye, wry sense of humour and a notepad in which to pen it all.

This is a story of ordinary people in an extraordinary situation, and the discovery of how something divided can be more revealing than a perfect whole. It is a quest for a family who build walls in their minds as they try to discover who they are and where they belong.

Tying Down the Lion is available in paperback and as an e-book from Amazon UK and Amazon US


Tying Down The Lion is a novel about how people rediscover or recreate their homes after being uprooted, and this theme reflects the Nazi persecution of the Jews and their subsequent suffering and displacement.

In November 1938, a brutal signpost appeared on the path that led to the outbreak of World War II. In one terrible night, the Nazis methodically destroyed and plundered Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses. It came to be known as Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, the name arising from the shards and splinters of the smashed windows that covered the streets. Likewise, the future for the Jewish community in Germany lay in ruins.

The following month, a rescue mission—the Kindertransport—was set in motion. It would eventually transport ten thousand children, mostly Jewish, from Germany, Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia to live with foster families in Great Britain. The picture shows the first refugees arriving in Harwich.

In Tying Down The Lion, English narrator, Jacqueline, visits Berlin nearly thirty years after the shattering event that triggered this mass evacuation. She stands in the magnificent, domed Friedrichstrasse railway station where so many bewildered children waited for the train that would take them away from home to begin their lives all over again in a strange country.

Each one carried a small suitcase and wore a manila label around their necks. Armed guards checked their passports, in which the Jewish ‘Sara’ or ‘Israel’ had to be added alongside their own names, so that the Reich ministry could easily identify the Jews. There was also the chilling rubber-stamped word—‘stateless’.

Britain was on the verge of war, but could at least keep these disorientated children safe from tyranny and torture. However, the impending danger in their homeland meant little to the youngest waiting in the queue at the station in Berlin, watching their mothers wave handkerchiefs in farewell. All they knew was the confusion of being wrenched from everything that was trusted and familiar, and from everyone they loved.

Jacqueline contemplates the emotions of the children who left Berlin. Some were orphans with no one to wish them well, whereas those with parents were allowed only to wave goodbye. As they prepared to leave, the Nazis did not permit either adults or children to cry.

Which, Jacqueline wonders, was worse—being taken from your mother, or embarking alone on a journey to the unknown without anyone to see you on your way? Some must have looked out of the train window at their mothers, eyes welling with forbidden tears, while others simply stared ahead, listening to the rumble of the wheels on the track.

Jacqueline, who has a small brother, Victor, imagines a little boy’s mother leaving the station and returning home alone, knowing her child’s life would be spared, but, almost certainly, not her own—the majority of the Kinder never saw their parents again.

After walking out of the station into the sun, she would listen for the last vibration on the track to settle before her smile disappears and she dares to cry. She would hesitate before turning away, scared to go home and see his clockwork train at a standstill, his ranks of cowboys and Indians waiting for him. Her own torture and death lie ahead and the only comfort is that he might soon be home, wherever that will be.

Reading memoirs of those who were part of the Kindertransport, it is striking that some cannot recall the moment of departure, as if a veil had to be drawn across a memory too painful to keep.

After arriving, exhausted and homesick, in a strange land, and having to learn different customs and a foreign language, new roots had to be put down in order to survive and prosper—a mammoth task for an adult, but for a child torn from their homeland, an overwhelming task. Yet for so many of the Kinder, Britain became—and remained—home, both in a practical sense and also within their hearts.

As a way of understanding the theme of home, Jacqueline studies the way spiders repair their webs.

If a spider’s web is broken, the spider starts spinning again straightaway. The silk thread keeps unravelling. The work never ends until the spider dies. He rebuilds anywhere he can, throwing out the dragline to get the work underway for the millionth time.

Finally, there are no more appropriate words than those of German novelist, Hermann Hesse, to capture the theme of home within Tying Down The Lion:

Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.


Thank you so much, Rosemary, for giving me this opportunity to write a guest post, and also for advising me last year to send my novel to the smaller, independent publishers. Brick Lane were the first I tried and, not only did they offer to publish Tying Down The Lion within three weeks of my initial enquiry, they are also wonderful to work with and have made the entire publishing process a great pleasure.

I’m so thrilled for you, Joanna, as you deserve great success!

About Joanna

I began writing in 2008 and my short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including literary and women’s magazines, as well as anthologies. I was delighted to win the Exeter Writers short story competition in 2011 and the Bath Short Story Award’s local prize in 2013.

I write full-time in an old cottage in the Cotswolds while my husband runs his IT consultancy on the other side of the wall. I am supposed to be his secretary, but he can sometimes wait all day for his coffee and has to answer his own calls.

Although I still write short fiction—my collection, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, is being published by Ink Tears Press later in the year—I am enjoying the departure into novel-writing.

I used to teach German and took my degree at Exeter University, living in Germany for a year as part of the course. The scarred city of Berlin inspired me to write Tying Down The Lion and I was thrilled when Brick Lane offered me a publishing contract.

Tying Down The Lion began as a 1,000-word piece that made its way into the shortlists of several competitions. The central characters refused to leave my imagination until I had written another 99,000 words of their story.

You can connect with Joanna on her website, Facebook or Twitter
There is an advance review of Tying Down The Lion on novelist Rachel Connor’s website.


Joanna said...

Thank you very much, Rosemary, for this opportunity to be a guest on your wonderful blog and for all your lovely, kind words. Your support and friendship means such a lot to me and I will always remember you urging me not to falter and turn back on that long, winding path to publication - I am eternally grateful.

Teresa Ashby said...

Lovely post - thank you Joanna and Rosemary. I am currently reading Tying Down The Lion and find it very hard to put down! I knew it would be worth waiting for and it is.

My mum used to tell me about the heart wrenching sight of the children arriving in Harwich having left their parents behind xx

Joanna said...

Teresa, thank you so very much for your lovely comment. I'm absolutely delighted you're enjoying the book!

It really must have been a very sad sight when the children arrived - safe from persecution, yet torn away from home. I believe that many of them still reunite to commemorate their rescue, but for many, there has nonetheless been a lasting sense of displacement. That is the theme which inspired Tying Down The Lion.

Thank you so much, Teresa. xxx

Rosemary Gemmell said...

It's a pleasure to host you, Joanna, and your quality of writing ensures your success.

Hi Teresa - so glad to hear you're enjoying Tying Down the Lion. I'm looking forward to it!

Vikki said...

Great post Joanna. Tying Down The Lion sounds fascinating and I'm really looking forward to reading it. Wishing you lots of success with it and hope your launch in Bath goes really well-enjoy the experience! xx

Joanna said...

Thank you very much, Vikki. I'm excited that you're going to read it and so grateful for all your encouragement over the years too. I hope all is going well for you with the publishing process - looking forward to hearing about it. xxx

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Vikki!

Teresa Ashby said...

My grandad worked on the SS Prague which brought the first children over to Harwich, Joanna. It is sad to think of so many thousands of children arriving in a strange country without their parents, but thank goodness they did xx

Joanna said...

That's so interesting about your granddad, Teresa. He must have some incredible memories. It really was an amazing rescue mission. I believe the Quakers were deeply involved with this very poignant evacuation - one where there was virtually no chance of finding parents or other relatives, neighbours or friends, still alive at the end of the war. And by then, the children had become very different people, immersed in a totally new way of life. Many of those who weren't placed in a Jewish family lost the mainstay of their religion as well as their homes and families. But as you say, thank goodness they were brought here. Thank you so much for your comments. xxx

Nicola said...

A fantastic post, Rosemary. I remember taking my granddad to our nearest city of Cologne a few years ago and he relayed his experience of being in the RAF during WWII. He teared up when he saw how the beautiful city, noteably the Dom (cathedral) had been restored. He obviously harbored a lot of sadness but was pleased to see the world in a much better 'place'. He sadly passed away shortly after his visit. I have a lot of wonderful memories of him.
I wish Joanna the success she deserves and look forward to reading Tying Down The Lion.

Joanna said...

Thank you very much, Nicola, for your lovely comment. I am so moved by the story of your grandfather. It must have been a very emotional experience for him, and also for you to see him in Cologne with all his memories.
I hope you enjoy Tying Down The Lion - and thank you so much for reading it and for all your support and interest. I'm very grateful. xxx

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Nicola - many thanks for your lovely comment about Joanna's post and mentioning the experience of your granddad. It's such an emotive subject.

Joanna said...

Rosemary, thank you so much for hosting and being such a wonderful support. I really enjoyed writing this post and it was fantastic to read about the thoughts and memories of that time in the comments. Huge thanks to you all for your kind words and good wishes. xxx

Rosemary Gemmell said...

You're very welcome, Joanna, and I can tell you that you're post has had a huge amount of views. Wishing you lots of success.

Kate Blackadder said...

This sounds fascinating, Joanna. Thanks for drawing it to my attention, Rosemary.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Kate!

Joanna said...

Thank you so much, Kate. it's very kind of you to comment and I'm glad you enjoyed it.