Like most authors, I glean inspiration for my stories from anywhere and everywhere. An overheard conversation in a coffee shop, (yes, I am incredibly nosey), or a documentary can spike my imagination. But when I began to write The Secrets We Share I had the privilege of knowing I had two astonishing stories to work with.
The first person to inspire The Secrets We Share was my maternal grandmother. Known to many as Oma, the German for grandmother, we knew she had come to Ireland at the end of World War II, but her story was never really discussed. On the morning of my twenty-first birthday, she phoned to tell me that she had a gift for me. ‘It’s not one you can open, but I hope you will treasure it.’ Needless to say, I rushed to her home utterly intrigued. As we shared a slice of warm almond tart with a cup of dark aromatic coffee, Oma told me her story.
Her parent’s love was never meant to be. Her father was the son of a Cavalier and lived in a grand house in the first quarter of Vienna. Her mother was a Jewish orphaned housemaid who was supposed to be seen and not heard. When they met, it was love at first sight. They started a love affair and when my great-grandmother discovered she was pregnant, she ran away. She believed she was saving the love of her life from being denounced by his family.
Their baby girl was born and immediately sent to a foster family, and my great-grandmother sought work. Utterly heartbroken, she resigned herself to the fact that she would never see her soul-mate or her daughter again.Little did she know, he spent eight long years searching for her. Oma regaled the moment when a car arrived driven by two strangers, saying they were her biological parents…
The second person who inspired me to write The Secrets We Share was holocaust survivor Tomi Reichental. This wonderful man is a family friend, and I’ve had the privilege of hearing him speak in public as well as sharing many cups of coffee and intimate chats around the fire at home. Tomi is the embodiment of forgiveness. He is one of the most serene and wonderful human beings I’ve had the honour of knowing. He told me many stories of his time in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and how he coped. He gave me his blessing to incorporate part of his story, in my own words. ‘I don’t want the world to forget what happened to six million Jews,’ he said.
So this book, although much of it is fiction, has real stories interwoven into its very soul. Oddly, when Oma first told me her story all those years ago, I urged her to write it down. I was so blown away by her journey and wonderful love story therein, that I wanted the whole world to hear it too. ‘Some day you will write it down, my dear,’ she said patting my hand. ‘You will know when the time is right.’
Oma’s words have stayed with me. Her story has remained in my heart, waiting to be told. I felt the time was right and I am so excited about sharing this story with you. I sincerely hope you all enjoy reading this novel as much as I enjoyed writing it. I have been told via my website (emmahannigan.com) that this is a ‘mascara ruiner’ and I’ve had to apologise to several lovely people for making them blub and sob. But I hope there are many parts of the book that will make people smile too.
I believe books are the perfect way to keep stories alive. Just as recipes and skills are passed on from generation to generation, so too are the details that make us who we are today. I am so proud of my ancestry, and I know I am blessed to be in a position to pass a part of my past onto others.
I’m off to do what I love! I’m knee deep in my next novel and adoring every minute of it. Thank you for taking the time to read my little blog post, and I hope that you enjoy The Secrets We Share or any of my other novels should you be kind enough to read them!
Love and light,