The Hour of Separation
Of all my novels, this is the most autobiographical. It begins in the summer of 1939, and was inspired by a trip across Belgium and Holland to Amsterdam, a city I'd never visited before. Inevitably one of our destinations was the Anne Frank museum, and for the first time I was struck by the fact that Anne Frank had been born just a couple of years after my own mother.
My grandfather had fought in the First World War, been gassed and declared missing in action, but recovered and came home. My mother was born in 1927 and had a relatively happy war. Her family lived in the suburbs, my grandfather served in the Home Guard and my grandmother kept ducks in the garden and went to work for the Board of Trade. My mother was a school-girl, but in her sixth form went to work on Hertfordshire farms during the holidays. Meanwhile Anne Frank, a couple of years her junior and also a bright and eager pupil, was forced into hiding and perished in Auschwitz.
I think they might have got on. My mother introduced me to literature. From a very early age I sat in the kitchen reading aloud to her while she ironed or baked, until I was old enough for the roles to be reversed. She was a career woman, graduating from Queen Mary's College, London, and becoming a teacher of French, a language she loved, partly perhaps because she had a French grandmother. Anne Frank, vibrant, passionate, brilliant, of course never had the chance to grow old or have a daughter to whom she might read stories. She was exterminated.
The springboard for The Hour of Separation is therefore accident of birth. In my novel, two young women, one Belgian, one English, meet for the first time in the spring of 1939. And then...