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Book Release and Author Interview with Catherine Hokin, author of "The Commandant's Daughter"

Author Bio:

I seem to have followed a rather meandering career, including marketing and teaching and politics (don't try and join the dots), to get where I have always wanted to be, which is writing historical fiction. I am a story lover as well as a story writer and nothing fascinates me more than a strong female protagonist and a quest. Hopefully those are what you will encounter when you pick up my books.

I am from the North of England but now live very happily in Glasgow with my American husband. Both my children have left home (one to London and one to Berlin) which may explain why I am finally writing. If I'm not at my desk you'll most probably find me in the cinema, or just follow the sound of very loud music.

I'd love to hear from you and there are lots of ways you can find me, so jump in via my website or on my Cat Hokin FB page or on twitter @cathokin

Book Release:

Book Blurb:

‘What is this place?’ She lowers her camera and takes in the frail bodies and desolate faces staring back at her.

‘It’s hell on earth. Where the desperate abandon their last hope.’

In that moment, she knows that taking pictures is not enough, she has to help these people…

1933, Berlin. Ten-year-old Hanni Foss stands by her father watching the celebrations marking Adolf Hitler as Germany’s new leader. As the torchlights fade, she knows her safe and happy childhood is about to change forever. Practically overnight, the father she adores is lost to his ruthless ambition to oversee an infamous concentration camp…

Twelve years later. As the Nazi regime crumbles, Hanni hides from her father on the fringes of Berlin. In stolen moments, she develops the photographs she took to record the brutality of the camp – the empty food bowls and hungry eyes – and vows to get justice for the innocent people she couldn’t help as a child.

But on the day she plans to deliver these damning photographs to the Allies, Hanni comes face to face with her father again. Reiner Foss is now working with the British forces, his past safely hidden behind a new identity. He makes it clear that he will go to deadly lengths to protect his secrets, but Hanni knows she can’t give up her fight. But what will she have to sacrifice in order to keep the promise she made?

A heartbreaking novel about the incredible courage of ordinary people during the Second World War. Fans of The Alice Network, The Nightingale and The Tattooist of Auschwitz will never forget this powerful story of hope and humanity.

Book Buy Link:

Author Interview:

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I have made quite a few but my favourite was a trip to the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas, followed by a location-spotting walk down Cannery Row. I love his books and that really was a wonderful day. My own novels are all set in Berlin and I am lucky enough to be able to spend a lot of time in the city walking in my characters’ footsteps. Memorable moments there include visits to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and to Hohenschönhausen Prison which features in The Secretary. My best ever pilgrimage was a surprise trip to Buenos Aires when I was writing The Fortunate Ones. I never expected to see the places Inge saw and I did; it was magical.

Tell us the best writing tip you can think of, something that helps you.

Trust your own process and don’t try to work by anyone else’s rules. I write in longhand and then type up at the end of every day, and I draft as I go rather than writing a full manuscript without stopping. Lots of people would hate that approach, and would argue against it, but it works for me.

What are common traps for aspiring writers? Advice for young writers starting out.

Not letting other, trusted, people have eyes on your work before you submit it. You get so close sometimes that you can’t judge what reads well and what doesn’t. And – for historical fiction – confusing the history with the story. Most of what you know will never, and should never, hit the page!

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Keep going, keep polishing your craft and try to find a place where your writing sticks so you can keep getting better at it. I discovered an ability to write prize-winning short stories and that sustained me through the novel rejections. It might be a blog or a column but do something else writery even when you feel like giving up. It keeps your head in the game.

What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?

I am lucky enough to know some wonderful writers, both published and unpublished, and what we all have in common is the belief that a rising tide lifts all boats. Writers help other writers by celebrating their successes and also by knowing when to talk about anything else except writing!

Can you give us a quick review of a favourite book by one of your author friends?

One of my enduring favourites is The New Mrs Clifton by Elizabeth Buchan. This is one of those brilliant books which manages to use an intensely personal experience to make the often overwhelming horror that was WW2 vivid and real. And Elizabeth is very much a rising tides author.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

It didn’t change the process but it made me believe I could do it, even if the next three years brought a pile of rejections! And it got me an agent, which made me feel real.

What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Being able to earn a living from writing still sometimes feels so ‘pinch me’ that everything I’ve spent my royalties on is special!

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

For most avid readers, which I am, there’s one book you read as a child which makes you realise that there are far bigger worlds than the little one you inhabit. For me it was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I still open wardrobe doors with hope to this day.

What’s the best way to market your books?

If anyone could give a definite answer to that they would be ruling the world and I am saying that as a woman with a marketing degree! There are so many platforms these days and, like everyone else, I do what is needed but my honest answer? Write more books.

What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I do immersive research – reading a myriad of fiction and non-fiction texts, watching films and documentaries, making trips to key locations when the world allows – and, like every other writer, I probably do far too much. I spend about six months per book, of which the first three are the most intense and the last three are ongoing and entwined with the planning. I do love a library.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

There are two recently which made my jaw drop: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Sanders and Milkman by Anna Burns. What those authors do with structure while still telling a fabulous story is mind-boggling. I am in awe.

What are the ethics of writing about historical figures?

That is an interesting one. I wouldn’t write about anyone who was still alive and I research the, usually challenging, ones I do include (such as Goebbels and Himmler) in great detail. Accuracy is key and, for me, making sure that they are portrayed as human not monstrous – it is too easy to fall into that trap with some of the worst perpetrators of Nazism and I think it blunts us from seeing them as people who made choices and therefore carry responsibility.

Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

Of course, we all do even when we pretend that we don’t! I’ve learned not to let the bad ones linger – I’ve had five star and one star reviews for the same book on the same day so you’d go daft if you let the bad ones affect you!

What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?

I enjoy what I do very much but it is fair to say that all stages from planning to editing they have their issues. I have never met a writer who could bear their own book by the time they’ve got through to final files, which will be at least the twelfth time they have read it. Writing is a solitary profession and that is perhaps its one downside.

Tell us about your novel/novels/or series and why you wrote about this topic?

The Commandant’s Daughter is the first in a series of four books centred round Hanni Foss, a photographer working with the Berlin police in 1946 who is also, and secretly, the daughter of a high-ranking SS officer she is determined to bring to justice. I am a very visual person and have always been fascinated by the way images are used to tell stories. I am also interested in the experience of WW2 from the German viewpoint which is a theme across all my novels. During a visit to the History Museum in Berlin, I came across an incredible photograph of the torchlight procession celebrating Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 and that was where I had the idea for a little girl standing on a balcony enthralled by the lights, with no idea that her comfortable world is about to grow very dark indeed.

What is your favourite line or passage from your own book?

I’m not objective enough to answer that, so I will choose one my daughter loved from What Only We Know: ‘Michael had a girlfriend, a cigarette-smoking redhead he slobbered over like she was carved out of candy.’ I am rather fond of ‘My heart is broken; it still has to beat’ from The Lost Mother as it really sums the character of Anna up.

What was your hardest scene to write?

Anything that involves a scene in a concentration camp, which most of my books do. To borrow someone else’s words, I get in late and leave early. Readers need a sense of place and threat, but I don’t want to exploit what was real and terrible suffering.

Tell us your favourite quote and how the quote tells us something about you.

This isn’t a quote as much as a paraphrase of something songwriter Nick Cave has said in a number of interviews which is that you can’t wait for inspiration to strike, you just have to get yourself into the routine of writing. He ‘goes to work’ everyday as he puts it, sitting at his desk, picking up his pen and hammering out the hours. I am no Nick Cave, I am just a massive fan, but that sums up my approach to writing: you have to turn up and do it.


Thank you, Catherine, for stopping by the blog today and we wish you much success on "The Commandant's Daughter"!!

Dee Marley


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