I’m delighted to be on tour for debut The Rabbit Girls. Anna Ellory is chatting to us about her inspiration, characters and more.
The Rabbit Girls is an exquisitely written story about finding hope amidst inhumanity and follows a family across generations, form the Holocaust to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The publication date, 1st September, marks the anniversary of the start World War Two.
Berlin, 1989. As the wall between East and West falls, Miriam Winter cares for her dying father, Henryk. When he cries out for someone named Frieda – and Miriam discovers an Auschwitz tattoo hidden under his watch strap – Henryk’s secret history begins to unravel.
Searching for more clues of her father’s past, Miriam finds an inmate uniform from the Ravensbrück women’s camp concealed among her mother’s things. Within its seams are dozens of letters to Henryk written by Frieda. The letters reveal the disturbing truth about the ‘Rabbit Girls’, young women experimented on at the camp. And amid their tales of sacrifice and endurance, Miriam pieces together a love story that has been hidden away in Henryk’s heart for almost fifty years.
The Rabbit Girls by Anna Ellory is out now, published by Lake Union, priced £20.00 in hardback and available as an audiobook from Audible. Buy from Amazon.
Hi Anna, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
Please summarise The Rabbit Girls in 20 words or less.
The Rabbit Girls is a story of love, friendship and survival it asks; What does hope look like in hell?
What was your inspiration for The Rabbit Girls Anna?
I read an article about Stanislawa Leszczyńska, the Polish Midwife in Auschwitz and I hadn’t heard her story before. In fact, it got me into thinking about female holocaust stories, how do women respond and react to these atrocities? And, for me, just after having my son I also thought of birth and children in such a place. I did some research into Ravensbrück which I hadn’t heard of before… the story started there.
Please tell us about the characters in your book.
Miriam is the main character, she holds the narrative of the story and the majority is written from her perspective, she is afraid of her own shadow and, when we meet her, she is caring for her father Henryk. Miriam is struggling to live life in the basic sense of the word, trying to do what’s right for her father and exist day-to-day as best she can. So, when she finds a uniform with letters sewn into the seams, she is taken on a journey into her father’s past – which, for her, is a reprieve from her present circumstances.
Henryk is dying and from his narrative we hear about a love affair he had with a woman called Frieda that cost him his job, his wife and almost his life.
And then, within both the narratives is Frieda; she is young, bold and bright and thrust into a world she has no control over. Within her letters she finds both brutality, the worst of human behaviour, but also the best – in her newfound friends and the family unit within the camps.
These are the main characters, but there are a plethora of side characters whom I love just as much as those I spent the most time with. If you have read the novel already then you’ll know that Hani is a big character, both for Frieda, but in personality too – she is my favourite character and I could have written a whole book just about her.
I wrote the book for Bunny; voiceless, powerless, traumatised; her story kept me writing, page after page, draft after draft. I wanted to bring words to a story that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your book was optioned for a movie Anna?
I love this question.
Miriam came to life for me after I watched an interview with Bryony Hannah on her process of acting, it was a long time ago, but I remember Bryony Hannah talking about hands, and it was as if everything fell into place for me and Miriam became a fully-fledged, failing person. If Bryony Hannah was ten years (plus) older she would make a perfect Miriam.
Simon Callow reads the audiobook of The Rabbit Girls for Henryk’s chapters; and the rich cadences of his voice bring Henryk’s voice to life in such an incredible way. Henryk came to life through his acting. Extraordinary.
Young Henryk I thought would look like Eric Bana; and Frieda someone like Michelle Williams; although Gemma Arterton would also be an incredible casting.
Judy Dench as Eva; Natalie Portman as Bunny; Helena Bonham Carter as Wanda … I’ll stop there, because this is so much fun (oh, to dream!).
What inspired you to write?
I read the article about the Polish Midwife in Auschwitz. I hadn’t written ANYTHING before that point in time. I have always been a reader, I love reading, I love books, but I was a nurse and new-Mum. I didn’t think about picking up a pen until I realised that I wanted to read this story, so I tried my hand at writing it. With no experience (aside from the books I have read) I set out, I took some amazing classes, I tried and failed and tried harder. It was the story that inspired me to write and it is stories like these that will keep me writing.
Which authors have influenced your writing?
Every book I have ever read, good and bad influences me as a writer. There’s a lot to be taken from a ‘bad’ book.
There are many writers I love and those that inspire me;
Zadie Smith – I like how she thinks and I love how that translates onto a page.
Samantha Harvey for stories that live beyond the book, they exist somewhere in me and I love books that make you, as a reader, change in some way. Every Samantha Harvey book does this for me.
Donna Tartt, Jamie Quatro, Eimear McBride – I’ll read anything written by these authors.
One of the most influential authors has been Toni Morrison. In Beloved she showed me what fiction could do and every book she has written touches the soul and plays with emotions in such a way. A creative writing colleague once said that Beloved was the only book in which he had ever felt physically sick while reading, and although this sounds perverse, to be able to illicit such a response from words is something I aim to achieve in my own work.
What are you reading now Anna?
I am currently reading a lot of research books in preparation for book three, which tends to take over my reading time every day. But I do have Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s AMERICANAH on the go and, because of all the research-reading, I am taking my time with it, which is perfect. She crafts such beautiful prose that you live within rather than read. Ifemelu is a unique character voice and I love the story so much I struggle to put it down. Chimamanda is one of the best writers working today. I am in awe of her craft.
Finally, are there any tips you could share with new writers that have worked well for you?
Write for the story – the people who inhabit your words and the worlds you create, don’t just write for the words.
Believe in what you are doing, listen to all advice that comes your way, grow, but never give up.
Read often, read widely and read well – it’s the best advice I’ve been given.
Thank you for being my guest. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Anna Ellory is a former children’s nurse from Bath. She completed an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University, where she was mentored by author Fay Weldon. Anna was inspired to write The Rabbit Girls as a way of shining a light on the rarely told experiences of women and children during the Holocaust. It has sold in over 10 territories worldwide so far. Connect with Anna on Twitter @AnnaEllory.
Don’t forget to check out the other hosts on tour.