Blog Tour – Q&A with Kim Sherwood
Welcome everyone to my stop on Quercus’s blog tour for Testament by Kim Sherwood. I had the honour of putting some questions to Kim about her fantastic (and award winning) debut novel Testament. Focusing on a woman who searches for answers about her family’s past. Kim has to be one of the best authors I have interviewed because she answered all my questions with passion, appreciation and great energy. I hope you all enjoy this Q&A and make sure to support Kim and the bloggers on this tour by stopping by each of the stops to enjoy the content!
12.07.2018 / Quercus / Historical Fiction – Drama / Paperback / 448pp / 978-1786488664
About Kim Sherwood
Kim Sherwood was born in Camden in 1989 and lives in Bath. She studied Creative Writing at UEA, is now Senior Lecturer at the University of the West of England, and teaches prisoners. Her pieces have appeared in Mslexia, Lighthouse, and Going Down Swinging. Kim began researching and writing Testament, her first novel, after her grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away and her grandmother began to talk about her experiences as a Holocaust Survivor for the first time. It won the 2016 Bath Novel Award.
Eva finds the letter in the Blue Room. She spent the happier days of her childhood here, in her grandfather’s painting studio. After his death, she is responsible for his legacy – a legacy threatened by the letter. It is from the Jewish Museum in Berlin.
They have found the testimony he gave after surviving the death march across Serbia and Hungary, and they want to exhibit it. But the famous Joseph Silk – who came to England as a refugee – remade himself long ago.
As Eva unravels what happened to him, and to the woman he loved, she is confronted by the lies that have haunted her family. They will change her grandfather’s identity; but they could also turn the tide of history. Their story is in her hands.
Kim Sherwood’s extraordinary first novel is a powerful statement of intent. Beautifully written, moving and hopeful, it crosses the tidemark where the third generation meets the first, finding a new language to express love, loss and our place within history.
Thank you Kim for taking some time to answer a few questions about your latest novel Testament for this great blog tour. Could you give us your own personal overview of what we should expect in within your novel?
Thanks for having me. Testament is about identity, family and love. The novel follows the impact of the Holocaust on three generations of a family, from Hungary in 1944 to the present day. At the heart of the novel is the relationship between Joseph Silk, a Holocaust Survivor and one of Britain’s foremost painters, and his granddaughter, Eva. Silk has remade his identity, excising the trauma of his childhood. When he dies, Eva loses her father figure, and also loses who she believed him to be, discovering the past he worked so hard to bury. Eva must decide whether to let the secret at the heart of her family become part of the public record, changing Silk’s identity against his will, or keep it hidden.
What was your initial inspiration for Testament?
The first spark of the novel came to me in the Jewish Museum in Berlin, where concrete shafts – known as voids – cut through the building. I began to think about what those voids represent, and how they might be built into a novel. That same year, my grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away. George was very much a father figure to me, and so I began writing Testament as a way to articulate my loss. At that time, too, my grandmother on my father’s side, who is Jewish Hungarian and a Holocaust Survivor, began to talk to me about her childhood experiences for the first time. I started researching the Holocaust in Hungary in order to try and understand what she was telling me, and the novel grew from there, with Eva finding herself in the Jewish Museum in Berlin in search of what she has lost, and what has been hidden from her.
Can you give us a few details about the areas of historical fiction and the Holocaust you explore within your novel?
I am focusing on the Holocaust in Hungary, and particularly the forced labour service, which was unique in Europe. The system forcibly called up “unreliable” men and women who weren’t trusted to bear arms in the military, including Romanians, Serbs, Slovaks and Communist Hungarians. Primarily, though, it was Hungary’s “solution to the Jewish question”, with Jewish servicemen and women used as slave labour, subject to abuse and torture. The labour service groups were attached to Hungarian and German military and paramilitary units, and forced to work across Europe: mining copper in Serbia, clearing minefields with their bare hands in Ukraine, building fortifications in Vienna. My grandmother’s uncle died in forced labour service on a death march. The names of sixty thousand victims of Labour Service are recorded at the Holocaust Memorial Centre in Budapest, my grandmother’s uncle among them.
In Testament, I have been looking at ways in which historical fiction can reveal how past trauma ruptures into the present day. I have been inspired by novels like Anne Michael’s Fugitive Pieces, Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home, Ali Smith’s Autumn, and David Albahari’s Götz and Meyer, all of which bring the past and present together.
Is there a particular element or character in Testament that particularly affected you when writing Testament?
Good question. It’s hard to choose, because all of my characters mean so much to me, and are so bound up with me, they all affected me in different ways. Particularly, though, Eva, because her grief so mirrored my own, and Lászlo, Silk’s younger brother, because his feelings of isolation and rage, which grew throughout the novel, broke my heart in the way a character can when they seemingly take on a will of their own. In other elements of the book, I found writing about the death marches, and the camp and ghetto Theresienstadt, overwhelming at times, particularly when my research took me into the suffering of children.
What sort of challenges did you face when writing about a woman discovering her family’s past?
Excellent question, and interesting particularly that you foreground this is a novel about a woman discovering her family’s past. Women in fiction are very often bound by a domestic space or familial concerns. With Eva, I wanted to show her pulling against the family tether, on the one hand, and desperate to get it back, on the other. Eva has been Silk’s carer in his illness, but also his audience, the whole family harnessed to his success and fame. After Silk dies, Eva experiences a strange liberation, with nothing left to bind her to the family home, but the identity of that family home is being changed by all she discovers, so she wants to cling onto her childhood understanding at the same time. In many ways, the novel is about Eva negotiating her relationship with her family – with her grandparents, her father, her mother – while also trying to find her own identity outside of the domestic and familial space, which is a challenge many women in fiction, and real life, face.
Had you always wanted to become an author?
Yes. I was one of those precocious children who declare aged four, ‘I’m going to be a writer!’ I am very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive mother who never pooh-poohed my ambitions. Otherwise I’d be like that regiment in the last season of Blackadder who, in the immortal words of Stephen Fry as General Melchett, pooh-poohed the pooh-pooh, and had their morale totally destroyed. ‘A whole regiment destroyed by pooh-pooh!’
Are there any authors that you look up to as a writer that helped shape your work?
Too many to list! Zadie Smith and Ali Smith for what they do with form and time. Hilary Mantel for point of view and bringing up the bodies. Deborah Levy for how she explores shards of identity. Virginia Woolf for everything she ever did, really. Primo Levi, for his limitless bravery and questing at the edge of humanity.
How long did it take you to plan and write Testament?
Six years. The planning, researching and writing all happened together, each pushing the other forward.
Can you tell us in five words what being an author/writer means to you?
Everything. (Four words left – first time I’ve been under a word count in my life!)
Did you take the time to celebrate finishing your novel?
What a very good notion. I’ve had moments of celebration throughout the process, but in many ways publication day will mark the finishing line, so I suppose it will be my launch party when I celebrate.
Have you got a hobby/activity you do to wind down from all the writing?
I once told a friend about a great day I’d had at some museum, and enthused that it was educational and fun. Since then, my friends all chant, ‘Educational and fun!’ whenever I prose on about my hobbies, which include collecting dictionaries, lingering in museums and galleries and historical houses, and watching classic films.
Finally, have you read a book/article recently that you would personally recommend to the readers of this post?
Can I recommend two recent novels? Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City, which is blazingly brilliant, and Benjamin Myers’ The Gallows Pole, which brings pounding lifeblood to history. And, for anyone who reads Testament and likes the character of Dragan, a Serbian partisan inspired by my partner Nicholas Herrmann’s grandfather, you might enjoy this feature in The Calvert Journal by Nicholas, about his grandfather’s time on the prison island Goli Otok.
Thank you Kim for taking the time to answer these questions! Testament sounds both moving and meaningful. Keeping the memory of those who lost their lives, loves and those who survived during the Holocaust in our hearts is vital. Thank you to Quercus for thinking of me during this tour and for the opportunity to put some questions to an incredible (and award winning) debut author. I hope you enjoyed the Q&A and please support Kim by visiting all the other stops on the Testament blog tour!