Writing has been part of my life for as long as I can remember and my earliest writing memories date back to when I was eight years old. I was living with my family in Nigeria at the time and attended the local village school where the Scottish headmistress (Mrs Mickey) took a shine to me. Every morning, we were asked to write a story on any subject we liked in our exercise books, which she then read and marked by the end of the school morning. From what I remember, I never had any difficulty with finding ideas and enjoyed letting the words flow onto the page. According to my mother, Mrs Mickey said she always looked forward to reading my stories, saying I was the only one in the class who not only completed the assignment but had a vivid imagination. Her praise only made me want to do better!
Yet despite this early promising start, it took me another four decades before I found the confidence to write fiction, starting with short stories and gradually plucking up the courage to tackle a novel. I never had another teacher who was so encouraging, and I went through my remaining school years believing that I was mediocre so I gave up trying. In the meantime, I turned to journalism and market research for my professional career, which served as a useful springboard into other kinds of writing.
Some fifteen years ago, I signed up to the first of several creative writing courses run by Oxford University’s continuing education department. Because I’d spent so many years writing factual documents, I didn’t trust myself to write fiction. Like so many in my position, I thought I didn’t have the imagination! The first course I took was on writing memoirs and I surprised myself with how I could dredge up memories from many years ago. From there, I moved onto poetry (and received my first award for a poem at a writers’ conference) and screen-writing (which I quickly dismissed as being not for me). Then came a course on writing short stories: it was the first time I began to experiment with a completely unfamiliar style of writing to me that didn’t rely on facts. It wasn’t that easy, but I persevered till I had a story I was satisfied with.
There was one more course entitled “Writing a Mass-Market Novel”, which I forced myself to take but approached it with some trepidation. How could I possibly write a work of fiction of 60,000 plus words? The answer came to me as the course unfolded and I began to write. I realised that after attending all these courses I actually had the tools in my toolbox and that it was down to me to make it happen. My tutor wasn’t a particularly sympathetic person, but she had been a journalist like me, so I listened to her. The best bit of advice she gave me was that there is no such thing as not having the time to write a novel. She said:
“Write every day in the morning before you get distracted by anything else. It doesn’t matter if you only write for ten minutes a day. If you keep at it, the words will mount up.”
Taking this advice to heart, I went on to self-publish two contemporary fiction novels before I hit on a subject very close to my heart: World War 2 fiction set in Holland. My mother was Dutch and I grew up hearing her vivid accounts of life under German occupation, but it was a place I discovered a place deep in the Dutch Veluwe woods, where the local community helped shelter Jews from Nazi persecution that inspired me to write my first historical novel, The Hidden Village, which published in January 2022.
Hidden in the Shadows is the next in the wartime Holland series, published by Bookouture. It is a stand-alone novel that starts with two young lovers’ escape when the hidden village is stormed. Wouter is stranded on the far side of the village when the Germans start shooting, but as he desperately scrambles through dark dense woodland, he has no idea if Laura has made it out alive. Each chapter alternates between Wouter and Laura, who find the strength and courage to continue searching for one another, even when the odds are stacked against them.
In all my Dutch-themed books, I draw on my mother’s stories for authenticity and a deep interest in little known stories of ordinary people’s struggle for survival during the most difficult of times.
(c) Imogen Matthews
About Hidden in the Shadows:
The hidden village was meant to keep them safe, but the Nazis have found it… There’s no time to lose. Laura gathers the children and whispers to them to be brave. The smallest cowers in her arms as they hear the crack of gunshots outside. Laura knows they’ll have to run if they are to survive…
Nazi-occupied Holland, 1943: In a makeshift village in the middle of the woods, hiding from Nazi soldiers determined to find them, a beautiful young Jewish woman named Laura thought she was safe. By day she remained silent and out of sight, but as darkness fell, she began to fall in love with a resistance fighter named Wouter. Until everything changed, on the day the village was stormed…
Desperate to protect the six small and terrified children in her care, Laura races towards the church spires of the nearest town in the distance and just manages to escape from the soldiers.
Wouter is stuck on the other side of the village when the German officers start shooting. As he desperately scrambles through the dark, dense woodland, he has no idea whether Laura has made it out alive.
Devastated that he hadn’t tried to save her, Wouter spends his days delivering food and transporting people to safety, determined to help those most in peril. But he never gives up hope of finding the woman he loves.
Even when he hears the rumours about the Nazis cramming Jews onto cattle trains for deportation to brutal work camps, he can’t believe she’s gone forever. How could he live if Laura was amongst them? And if he does find her, will their love have survived the ravages of everything they’ve been through, together and apart?
An utterly heartbreaking tale of love, betrayal and sacrifice, Hidden in the Shadows is perfect for fans of Fiona Valpy, The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See.
Order your copy online here.