It was exciting to talk to Lisa Hutchison and have the chance to ask her questions about her stupendous book, "Iron Annie and a Long Journey," and her views on issues currently facing the world.
1. First I would like to praise you for writing such an interesting book of struggle and triumph. Iron Annie is an inspiring book and a great tribute to your heritage. Was it an emotional time for you writing about this journey?
Yes, it was an emotional time to write about my parents - actually I was more dumb-founded at their strength, their commitments to each other, their care and love and faith. All things I really knew inside of me but until one writes it down it kind of floats in one's psyche. But it was also an exciting time to write about them - I admire them so very much and to be able to somewhat immortalize them was a joy for me.
2. For readers who don't know who you are, please introduce yourself and give a little of your background and what was happening around you at the time of your birth.
My name is Lisa M. Hutchison, I was born in Berlin Germany during the latter part of WWII. It was a time when the mighty power of the German Armed Forces started to crumble and the full and total disaster was about to strike Germany and its people. It was a time when the losses of fathers, sons, nephews, uncles, and cousins mounted. A time of chaos and pandemonium, a time when lives changed forever.
3. Have you traveled back to Germany to visit the places you and your family came from?
I have traveled back to Germany many, many times visiting places of childhood as well as places of my parents' childhoods. I have sought and found graves of my grandparents and my great-grandmother. I have had the opportunity to show my husband not only the happy childhood places but also the ugly and painful ones; the still bombed out cities, places behind the then Iron Curtain, hostile border crossings that left him stunned. As a Canadian, he had never encountered border guards with machine guns and nasty dispositions. I have found my long lost sister - we had not seen each other for decades. I am so fortunate to have a number of school friends and we still meet on a regular, often annual basis in Germany.
4. How many languages is your book published in?
At this point my book is published only in English although I have an offer to translate it into German. Truthfully I could do that myself, but since I am writing another book and negotiating with other local authors a book of short stories I do not have the time. I would also need a cash infusion by a publisher to have it translated. I am positive it would do well in German.
5. What country is it selling the best in?
Presently it is selling best in Canada, although it is hard to tell. My publisher in Germany only lists the number of books sold, quite a few are e-books, so it could be anywhere. But since virtually all the comments I have received are from Canada I must presume it sells mostly here.
6. How many languages are you fluent with?
I am fluent in English and German
7. Why so many years between the books you have written?
The reason why there are so many years between my books is fairly simple - life took over! At the time when "Pieces of Us" was published I was newly widowed, nearly penniless and trying to build up a life for myself. I worked three jobs for some time and still needed time for my parents. When I met my present husband I was fairly well settled but a new marriage brought other issues along - becoming a step-mother to three grown children, a new step-grandchild, new family, demanding job, ailing parents as well as being active in the church my husband was a clergy in. Eventually, there were five more grandchildren, deaths of parents and in-laws - in short, a very busy and fulfilling time. Writing was a rare pleasure and was limited to short stories.
8. How long did it take you to research and write "Iron Annie and a Long Journey?"
"Iron Annie and a long journey" had been in my head (and soul) for a long, long time, just looking for the opportunity to burst forth! Active research was probably about a year, gathering some information from known sources, as well as some journal entries from my mother and letters from my grandmother to her daughter. Once I started to write I could hardly keep up with my thoughts amazing my editor with my weekly output. I finished it during a lengthy stay in Portugal, our annual two months retreat. I plan to finish my next book there this spring as well.
9. What kind of material were you able to find to assist you in writing your book?
Most of my material I found in my parents' personal papers as well as my memory bank of the events they told me over the years. So much more could have been added but I did not want to overload the reader with too many facts, rather keep it more personal. Of course, some important historical dates and events had to be googled and verified through various sources.
10. Do you plan on doing any touring in the US to promote your book?
At present I have no plans to tour the US for a book promotion - I have also not been asked by anybody.
11. Are you enjoying the experience of the success of your book?
Yes, I am enjoying the success of the book. I am overjoyed when people tell me that they could not put it down, that it is stunning and incredible, a thrilling page-turner. I had not expected that, so yes, it is something I am proud of. Having said that, I might add that "Pieces of Us" was wildly popular as well, selling out a second edition before going out of print. It spawned a number of newspaper articles, radio interviews as well as a TV interview. So I am delighted with the success of both books.
12. Do you think it is hard for readers to really grasp how difficult it was to be uprooted from your homeland?
That is an interesting question - many of the readers had experienced being uprooted from their homelands, be it they themselves or their parents or grandparents. I think the understanding in these readers is definitely there. But the depth of the uprooting differs if one leaves their home voluntarily or is displaced not by choice. As a 12-year-old child along with my 10-year-old brother, it was incredibly difficult to blend in and adapt. In those days one was not viewed as a refugee in need of help but more as an invader from an enemy country. It is likely that today's readers have difficulties relating to the loneliness and isolation we have felt in our first years in Canada. I did a lot of writing then, contributing to my old school newspaper and writing my very first children's book (never published) in longhand. Being a refugee is the loneliest life to live and unless one has been through it the understanding is in the head not in the soul - you cannot feel what you do not know.
13. What do you think your Dad and Mom would say about your work on their life?
I can unequivocally state that both my parents would be incredibly proud of my book and the testimony to them. They have always been supportive and since my mother wrote poetry in her youth they would applaud this book.
14. Today, how do you relate to all the issues with immigration and the negative feelings that many have towards those immigrants?
By and large, Canadians have been accepting of immigrants and eventually embraced the richness of their contributions. The negative feelings are not as much negative towards immigrants but more concerns how the present government is handling the situation. Where to settle them? How to find adequate housing and jobs? How to integrate a totally different type of immigrant from the long-familiar Europeans? How to deal with the so-called illegal immigrants? We have lived in neighborhoods in the Toronto area where my husband was literally the only Canadian and there were no problems among the varying ethnic groups. The negative comments are often made by immigrants themselves who feel they did not get all the help when they came here but had to fend mainly for themselves. Over history immigrants have always been viewed with a certain amount of hostility, skepticism, and uncertainty, that is human nature.
15. Were you surprised that Germany elected a woman Chancellor?
Angela Merkel has been chancellor for over a dozen years now - it did not surprise me that a woman was elected for that position. But I was surprised that a former East German was chosen. I still do not know if that was a political ploy to try to fuse the two countries back into one. Nobody believed that she would last that long in this position.
16. What are your views on Angela Merkel's policies?
My views on Angela Merkel's policies are very mixed. Her decision to open Germany's borders to whomever wants to enter was a political disaster; on a human aspect understandable but it was an arbitrary decision by one woman without any foresight of the ramifications. She did not honor her oath she made to the German people but let the population deal with the fallout of her decision. Germany has not been an immigration country and at the very least she should have sought advice from countries like Canada and Australia. She put the whole country, indeed all of Europe, at risk and has no idea how to backtrack now. The disastrous election results in September speak for themselves. Once I thought she was a good and solid leader, non-emotional and calm, but I am now hugely disappointed that she did not do the honorable thing and step down.
17. Do you read books written in German?
I read a lot of books written in German. I try to be as up to date as I can possibly be with new authors and current topics. Normally I rotate between one English and one German book, occasionally I read the same book in both languages.
18. Who are authors who inspire you in your writing?
I must admit that I do not really have a favorite author. I love history and biography books mainly about other countries and cultures. Russian authors have been my favorites most of my life, I like the slow moving and at times overdramatic style. I have enjoyed Alice Hoffman, Amor Towless, Ohan Pamuk and some Icelandic writers, just to name a few.
19. How can your fans contact and connect with you?
I can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on my dedicated Facebook page, Lisa M. Hutchison/Iron Annie and a long journey.