Ellie Midwood on The Wife Who Risked Everything

Ellie Midwood

The novelist discusses her latest novel, set in Berlin during WW2.
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Ellie Midwood, many congratulations on the new novel. What inspired you to write about the Second World War?

Thank you so much, and as for the inspiration, it was family history mostly. As a child, I preferred my grandfather’s war stories to normal kiddie fairy tales and I guess you can say that the interest for WWII is in my blood. So many of my family members lived through, fought and died in WWII that it was nearly impossible for me not to be interested in that dark aspect of our family’s past. With time, my interest in it shifted from purely personal to objective and scientific. I wanted to understand what moved people to follow such a madman as Hitler and how such a blood-shedding war could eventually produce so many stories of personal heroism, self-sacrifice and examples that keep inspiring people of my own generation. Before long, instead of just reading about them I began writing about these heroes, some of them still unknown to the general public, as I feel that it’s imperative to keep their memories alive and particularly today, with xenophobia and nationalism on the rise, so that we learn from history instead of repeating it.

The hero of your story, Margot, is compelled to protest outside Gestapo headquarters against their holding of her husband, in Berlin in 1943. Was this based on a real event?

Yes, it was based on the Rosenstraße protest—the only successful protest that took place in Germany during Hitler’s reign and the most amazing part was that its driving force were ordinary German women, not trained soldiers or some organized resistance cell. Ordinary German women who simply refused to stand by and watch their Jewish husbands being transported right in front of their eyes to concentration camps, where certain death awaited them. The protests lasted for several days and nights, with women chanting “Release our men!” right under the Gestapo office’s windows. Those incredibly brave ladies refused to be intimidated by the threats of the SS and even bombing attacks. In the country which considered them as weaker sex, good only for cooking, minding the house, and having children for the Reich, they showed determination and fearlessness that is truly awe-inspiring and I felt that such story certainly needed to be told.

Berlin was less enamoured with the Nazis than other German cities (Munich for example). Have you tried to write about a rebellious undertone in The Wife Who Risked Everything?

Oh yes, there are plenty of rebellious undertones in the The Wife who Risked Everything, some coming from Margot herself (just remaining married to a Jew was a major rebellion in the eyes of the Nazi government) and some—from other characters, such as Anastasia who defies Nazi laws quite a few times in the novel; such as Margot’s father, and Berlin underground communists who basically saved Margot’s husband during the Kristallnacht, and several other characters who joined the protests in times when even verbally expressing solidarity could land one in prison. That’s one of the reasons why I love setting my novels in Berlin—it was definitely a rebellious metropolis that still showed its teeth to the enemy even in the most dangerous of times.

Are there any WW2 histories, and historical fiction, that have been useful when writing your novels?

I have an entire library of research materials at home, including original historical documents I avidly collect and which help me portray the most accurate picture of the past in my novels. If I start enumerating them all, we’ll run out of time and space, (*laughs*) but I always make sure to list research material and any supplemental reading in my Note to the Reader at the end of each one of my novels, so my readers can do further research themselves. Memoirs, biographies, historical studies, fictional books written by authors who lived during that time period—all this is super useful while writing Historical Fiction, just like documentaries, interviews and diaries written about the war and the Holocaust. Anything you can get your hands on—use it. That’s been my motto for some time now.

Many of your previous novels involve the holocaust, why did you choose to write about it?

Well, first of all, I’m Jewish and my family lost several members to the Holocaust, so it’s always been an extremely important, personal and sensitive subject to me. They say generational trauma is a very real thing and I guess I carry it deep in my bones as I feel compelled to return to the subject even after taking a break and writing “lighter” stuff about resistance and actual war (yes, I know: how can writing about war be considered “something lighter,” but trust me, after you read, write, and talk about concentration camps for months, writing about a German resistance cell can be considered a break from gloom!). And another reason is a very simple one: it’s our duty to keep this very dark memory alive so that history doesn’t repeat itself. There is a banner here in NYC that says something along the lines that, “ovens only happened 75 years ago; no, it’s never too soon to talk about persecution of the Jews,” and that sentiment sums up my choice to write about it perfectly.

You’ve written about your grandfather who fought against the Germans during the war. Would you write about his experiences?

I have a handwritten manuscript that includes his and my grandmother’s experiences that I wrote down from their own words years ago, so yes, I’m hoping that one day it will become my newest novel. They had pretty incredible things that happened to them and which eventually brought them together, so I already know it’ll make an amazing novel. So, yeah, that’s definitely a plan!

You’ve published both independently, and now with Bookouture – what’s the difference, and what advice would you give to independent authors?

I love, love, love—no, scratch that, I absolutely ADORE my wonderful publishing family! I truly couldn’t be happier to be a part of such an amazing, creative, supportive team that always ensures that my books are in the top shape and that they reach the widest audience possible. And that’s probably the biggest difference between indie publishing and traditional one in my personal experience: instead of doing absolutely everything by myself, I now have a team of professionals who help me with everything starting with editing and creating a cover to promotion and organizing blog tours. It definitely took a huge load off my shoulders as now I can concentrate solely on writing knowing that all other aspects of book publishing are in the talented, capable hands of my wonderful team. As for artistic freedom (which was super important to me as an indie writer and one of the reasons why I was so hesitant to follow the traditional route), Bookouture leaves all the decision making concerning new ideas to me and I seriously couldn’t ask for more!

As for my advice to indie authors, follow the route that works for you and if you want to follow the traditional way, make sure you and the publisher are on the same page when it comes to things that are most important to you as a writer. Personally, I would never be able to write about things that are easily marketable but don’t interest me personally or work on a rigid publishing deadline, so finding a publisher that gives me all the freedom I need was imperative. And now, I can’t imagine my life without them (*whispering* go sign up with the Bookouture; they’re seriously the best!).

Finally, what’s next?

Two very special stories that will be taking place in two different concentration camps, both based on true events. That’s as much as I can say at this stage but stay tuned and sign up for Bookouture newsletters and you’ll be the first ones to find out all about my newest projects!

Ellie Midwood is the author of The Wife who Risked Everything, published by Bookouture.