Monday, April 2, 2012

Behind the Scenes: Lizzie and the Guernsey Gang

An island occupied by Nazis makes life hazardous,

but for an adventurous nine-year-old girl
bent on escape, it could be deadly.

Lizzie and the Guernsey Gang might be a children's novel, but it has adults gushing with enthusiasm, as well. Steeped in WWII history, Lizzie's story is based on the life of my friend, Ruth Davies, who lived through the German occupation of Guernsey Island. Her life was an adventure before it had hardly begun, and it's those adventures I share with today's child, through the Channel Islands Resistance series.
To make things more fun, and to help kids keep the facts straight, Ruth and I have taken it upon ourselves to enlighten readers as to which parts of the book are real and which are make-believe.

We're traveling through the book chapter by chapter, chatting about her memories and bringing the past to life.

Before we jump into chapter one, here's a little about the book:

Lizzie Browning loves nothing more than her tiny, island-home of Guernsey, but when German bombs drop on her crystal beach, her peaceful world is shattered. For months, the big war on the continent has been nothing more than stories in the paper, but as the enemy takes over Guernsey, the war rushes to her doorstep. For Lizzie, younger brother Andre, and cousin James, the time to escape is now, and they know just how to do it.

Phillip Seifert, the odd boy from down the street, has all the markings of a genuine Nazi-lover. Lizzie knows better than to trust him, but he somehow manages to weasel his way into James’ good graces. Phillip joins the gang in their audacious escape plan, and Lizzie can do little more than pray he doesn’t get them all shot. But Lizzie soon learns that God doesn’t always answer prayers in the way she expects. He might actually plan for them to live under Nazi rule…forever.

Beware! If you haven't read the book yet, there might be spoilers. You can solve that problem by purchasing your copy of Lizzie and the Guernsey Gang today.

Ruth, tell us about your younger the brother, the one six year-old Andre Browning is modeled after. What's his real name? Do you have any other brothers and sisters? And what sort of relationship did you have with them?
I have two younger brothers; Les (Leslie) is the one nearer Andre’s age. My baby brother – Clarence (Clar) is 4-1/2 years younger than I, he is the one who had the mass of blonde curls. We were very close as brothers and sister, I always remember having my baby brother with me everywhere I went (wonder if I was the baby sitter??). I can remember lots about the things we did and games we played. When the 3 of us got into one bed, I told them bedtime stories, I feel quite ashamed because they were not bedtime Bible stories but Hans Christian Anderson. Every night they would ask for Hansel and Gretel, and the wicked witch who was going to eat them, my voice matching that of a really wicked witch. They liked the frights, at least – that is my story.

Did you have a cousin like James that you liked to play with?
There were several cousins who lived within minutes of our house, the two boys Paul (James in the book), and Ken were very friendly with my two brothers. Ken is still alive and Les still visits him about once a month. Ken’s Dad, my uncle, was killed during the war, 6 children in the family who never really knew their Dad. There were/are other cousins, but these were the ones we were with every day, went to the same school too, always on the beach together after school.

Suffolk Beach

Before the Germans came, what did the beach mean to you? How close was it to your house and how often did you play there?
Before the Germans came, beach was our second home, we went swimming every day, in fact, we hardly came out of the water, we were fortunate to live just a few minutes’ walk away. What we did then would not be allowed today, because we were all diving off the rocks, diving off the sea wall when the tide was in, and our mothers were home and dads were at work, not one of us drowned, there were always older people on the beaches and that was considered a sufficient safety measure. More often than not our Mom would have to come to get us off the beach; we had no watches and were quite oblivious of the time. Sadly this didn’t last long, I can’t remember exactly when they mined all the beaches and coastline, In my estimation that was the most cruel thing the Germans did – no swimming for almost 5 years (and no soap), don’t think absence of soap bothered us too much at that age.

London, 2009

What did you think of the possibility of being sent away to England?
When we heard about evacuating the Island in May 1940, most of us were very excited at the prospect of going to the UK, none of us realised that our parents may not be travelling with us, no men were leaving the Island, so definitely no fathers or elder brothers (over 16). Quite a few mothers did travel but were separated from their children almost immediately. I had visions of staying with an Aunt, Uncle and cousin in London, not realising that London was a more dangerous place to be. I think arrangements had been made for us to stay with my Grandparents near the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire, I had been there once before just 9 or 10 months previous, which was my first time out of the Island. At the time of the evacuation nobody ever mentioned the likelihood of German occupation, I think the main reason was the difficulty which could arise in obtaining food and other essential supplies, seeing the Islands were so close to France and the enemy at that time was also very close to France. The thought of bombing raids was the furthest thing from most minds.

Author April W Gardner lives in Georgia with her computer nerd Air Force husband, ten year-old bookworm son, and eight year-old art-loving daughter. The Gardners enjoy watching nature shows, visiting national parks, and eating popcorn and chocolate every Friday during family night. April writes her Lizzie stories for God, her precious children, and every other kiddo who loves a good adventure. She is also the author of the Creek Country Saga, an inspirational historical romance series for moms.

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