Elske Höweler is the author of historical novel set in Amsterdam during the last few months of the World War II. Here the Suffolk-based single mum-of-two explains how Left Behind was inspired by my grandmother who, during the war, saved the life of a Jewish girl by hiding her in her attic
There have many twists and turns to my life that I never expected, like leaving all my friends and family behind to move to England and making a life here. And ending up working in IT – I never would have guessed that. And of course, fulfilling my dream of writing a novel. Overall, I’m happy with where I am at the moment.
Just before the pandemic hit, my life was pretty normal: married, two kids, nice job, book in the making, everything was ok. Then one week before the first lockdown my marriage broke down and within seven days, I was a single mum, home-schooling two kids, working from home, unable to ask for any help or see any of my family who all live in Holland whilst dealing with the break-up of a 20 year relationship and all that comes with that. It was incredibly hard. Getting up early to get some work done before the kids got up and again working late in the evening when they were in bed. I still have no idea how I made it through those first few months. But the thing I took from it was; If I can get through that, I can do anything.
A few years back, I wrote an article for Dutch the Magazine, a Canadian magazine about The Netherlands and its people, about my grandmother who, during WW2, not only lived around the corner from where Anne Frank was hiding, she also, herself, saved the life of a Jewish girl by hiding her in her attic. After it got published, I felt I needed to do more with it. And one day, when I was on the ferry on my way to Holland, a story started forming and the main character popped into my head and wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote her down.
My grandmother was an incredibly brave woman who lived through things none of us can even imagine. Although it’s a work of fiction, some of the things Louise, the main character from the 1945 timeline, lives through in the book, are based on my grandmother’s experiences. I felt very strongly about telling this story to make sure that all the brave actions of so many amazingly strong women wouldn’t be forgotten.
I work five days a week and apart from every other weekend, my kids live with me full time. So, after work, clubs, cooking, washing and sometimes a bit of cleaning, there’s very little time left to write. And even if there is, the energy often isn’t there. I find the key is to grab every little moment you can, rather than try and sit down for a couple of hours to fully focus. I wrote the first ever draft of my novel on my phone because that was the only thing I knew I always had with me. My son was two at the time, so it was a case of five minutes here and there. No wonder it was so bad and needed about a million rewrites!
Left Behind is a dual timeline novel set in both 1945 and 2018. During the last few months of WW2, Louise, a young mother living in Amsterdam, is hiding a Jewish girl with a baby in her attic. Her husband is on the run from the Nazis. Louise is cold, hungry, scared and has no way of knowing who to trust.
Fast-forward to 2018 and Sarah, Louise’s granddaughter, has just lost her mum. When she travels back home to sort out her mother’s estate, she finds her grandmother’s wartime diary among her mum’s belongings. A past she knew nothing about begins to unfold.
As a writer, I probably shouldn’t say this, but I literally have no words to describe how exciting this is. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to write a book and to have published it and people reading and loving it, it’s a dream come true.
I have already started book number two. I won’t give too much away but it’s another historical novel, but this time about the great flood in 1953.
The ultimate dream is to give up the day job and just write books for a living. There are so many stories I want to tell, and to be able to have the time to do that would be truly awesome. But for now, I’m happy to see where this book takes me and spend some more late nights and early morning writing the next one.
What would I give someone to save my life? Oh, that’s a tough one. I think the circumstances under which people find themselves owing others their lives dictate how they deal with it and how they try and repay that debt. I just hope that, if I were to ever find myself in such a situation, I’d be brave enough to do the right thing. Whatever that may be.
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