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Blog Tour: Q and A with Lucy Adlington (The Red Ribbon)

So today is my day on The Red Ribbon book tour which gets released today and I get to have a Q and A with Lucy Adlington but first here is a little about the book:

Book Summary from Goodreads:

Rose, Ella, Marta and Carla. In another life we might have all been friends together. But this was Birchwood. 
As fourteen-year-old Ella begins her first day at work she steps into a world of silks, seams, scissors, pins, hems and trimmings. She is a dressmaker, but this is no ordinary sewing workshop. Hers are no ordinary clients. Ella has joined the seamstresses of Birkenau-Auschwitz. 
Every dress she makes could be the difference between life and death. And this place is all about survival. 
Ella seeks refuge from this reality, and from haunting memories, in her work and in the world of fashion and fabrics. She is faced with painful decisions about how far she is prepared to go to survive. 
Is her love of clothes and creativity nothing more than collaboration wth her captors, or is it a means of staying alive?
Will she fight for herself alone, or will she trust the importance of an ever-deepening friendship with Rose?
One thing weaves through the colours of couture gowns and camp mud - a red ribbon, given to Ella as a symbol of hope.

So here is the Q and A: 

Where did the idea for the story come from? 

The idea for the story came while I was reading about fashion in Germany during the 1940s. I’m a costume historian so my research takes me to all sorts of topics and places. Nothing quite as extraordinary as this: a mention of dressmakers at Auschwitz concentration camp. These were prisoners who were forced to sew beautiful fashions for their guards, and for the camp Commandant’s wife. Some were only teenagers.  

What kind of research did you do for the book?  Was there a piece of research that you found interesting or stuck with you? 

I’ve spent several years reading letters, diaries and memoirs of people during World War Two.  It’s an incredible privilege to talk with veterans of the war, and survivors of the Holocaust. I’ve also built up a glorious collection of 1940s vintage clothes and accessories, which help get a feel for the era.  One of the things that really stuck with me was reading about a prisoner at Auschwitz who was determined to salvage a beautiful outfit of her own if she survived to be liberated. She didn’t want to meet freedom in prison rags. Little details like that show just how powerful clothes can be.

Were the characters based on research or were they completely fictional? 

The characters of The Red Ribbon are fictional, but their experiences are drawn from true experiences of girls and women who endured the horrors of Nazi persecution.  There are many accounts of young people who wielded a needle to survive, both as civilians and prisoners.  It was only after I’d finished writing The Red Ribbon that I realised that one of the characters – Marta – shared a name with one of the real life seamstresses in Auschwitz.  They only share a name, certainly not any other traits. The two friends Ella and Rose are named after my grandmother, who was a dressmaker and artist.  One of her favourite expressions was, ‘It’s better than a smack in the eye with a wet kipper!’

Due to the subject matter, did you find the book hard to write at times?

Of course it is harrowing to read of suffering, whether past or present.  It should be. A writer has to be compassionate to create believable characters. Writing about the Holocaust should be done with respect and sensitivity.  The main emotion I struggled with was anger at the hatred and greed that escalated into mass murder.  My constant thought was: this should not have happened. And we should keep vigilant for discrimination in our own countries and cultures.

Is there another period of history that you would like to write about?

I’ve written books set in Ancient Egypt, and two books about women’s lives in the First World War.  Right now I’m still utterly absorbed in the 1940s.  Every week I’m uncovering new stories of remarkable women and girls around the world, whose lives were changed by war.

The ending of the book is quite ambiguous. Have you thought about what could happen to the characters after the end of the book? 

The ending of the book leaves characters poised to start a new life, and yes, it does leave unanswered questions.  It can’t be a truly ‘happy’ ending. At the end of the Second World War many people found they were the only survivors of their family… or of their entire village, so widespread was the violence and genocide.  My story ends with a reunion. This was rare indeed. The truth would be far more gloomy. However, I have high hopes for my two girls and their dreams at the end. I’m also writing the next book, in which we’ll find out what happened to Brigid, that quiet little ‘hedgehog’ seamstress in the sewing workshop.


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