Imogen Matthews writes an exclusive piece for Female First / Picture Credit: Sarah Halliday
Imogen Matthews writes an exclusive piece for Female First / Picture Credit: Sarah Halliday

To celebrate the release of her new book, The Girl Across The Wire Fence, we asked author Imogen Matthews to let us in on some interesting facts all about her! Here's what she had to reveal...

1. My cosmetics career: Long before I became a novelist, I worked in the beauty industry as a journalist, industry commentator and author of market research reports tracking the latest trends. I often got invited to amazing fragrance, skincare and make-up launches in swanky London venues where I got to meet brand owners, learn about their amazing new products and come away with a gorgeous goody bag to try them!

2. Creative writing courses at Oxford University set me on the path of writing novels. I started with memoir writing as I didn’t think I had the imagination to write fiction, before plucking up courage to move onto a short stories course and eventually one entitled “writing a mass market novel.” I found it terrifying but extremely exciting in equal measure! What writing courses taught me was that whether writing about real life (memoirs) or fiction, the principles are the same. And that all you need is the germ of an idea to be able to work it up into a story.

3. Writers’ groups keep me going with their encouragement and critique of my work. Not everyone understand the solitary life of an author, so it’s important to find like-minded people to share the ups and inevitable downs associated with writing.

4. My first books I self-published under a pen name, Alex Johnson, on Amazon, as I didn’t used to want to use my real name for which I’m known professionally. They are contemporary romance novels which allowed me to mine my extensive experience of the beauty and fragrance industry. I particularly loved writing The Perfume Muse as I treated myself to a long weekend with my husband in the world’s perfume capital, Grasse in the South of France. It was heaven!

5. My Dutch heritage has deeply impacted my writing of historical fiction novels. All my life, my Dutch mother told the family her unbelievable stories of courage and survival at the hands of the German occupiers who invaded Holland from 1940-45. The most heartbreaking was that my mother kept parents and herself alive by digging up tulip bulbs from the frozen soil which they boiled for a barely-sustaining soup. It’s a sobering thought that had she not managed this, I wouldn’t be here today.

6. Cycling holidays in Holland: Every year since 1990, my family has holidayed in the beautiful Veluwe woods where we love to cycle. It’s in these woods that I came across a memorial site dedicated to the people who had been given shelter in underground huts from the Nazis for nearly two whole years. They stayed hidden because they were looked after by selfless individuals who brought them food, clothes and medicines. I remember the goosebumps I felt at this discovery and knew I had to write this incredible and forgotten story. It became my first historical fiction novel, The Hidden Village.

7. Discovering I had a cousin who lives in The Hague: By chance, I came across a Dutch cousin I had no idea I had through Facebook. We share the great grandparents and have been swapping family stories online. Because of lockdown, I’ve been unable to visit her, but I can’t wait to sit down over coffee or a glass of wine and have a proper chat.

The Girl Across The Wire Fence, by Imogen Matthews, is out now.

About the book

1944, Amersfoort Concentration Camp, Holland. Based on a true story, the unforgettable tale of two young lovers who risked everything to keep hope alive in the very depths of hell.

On a cold, dark day in a tiny Dutch village, Saskia and her boyfriend Frans watch as Nazi soldiers force thousands of prisoners towards Amersfoort Concentration Camp. Their hearts break as they see the desperate faces of innocent men and women and realise that the war is closer to them than it’s ever been before…

Saskia’s father’s shop is raided when the guards suspect that he is Jewish, and Frans is soon forced to enter the concentration camp every day to collect scraps of food as it’s the only way to feed the animals on his family’s farm. But despite the growing fear the couple feel, when a prisoner begs Frans to send a letter to his beloved reassuring her he is alive, they know they must risk everything to help him. They smuggle his letter out, right under the noses of the Nazis. And eventually they ferry hundreds of messages for prisoners, bringing them hope in the darkest moments of their lives.

But every letter Frans gets out of the camp puts him in even more danger.

And every reply Saskia manages to collect is a risk.

And then Saskia is led into Kamp Amersfoort and is forced to wear a yellow star.

Inside, she cannot ignore the pain of the other prisoners, and Frans knows she will be putting herself in more danger to help them – attracting the attention of the guards. The couple know they must act. Everyone says it’s impossible to escape the camp, but it’s the only option they have left. Their love has kept them together but is it enough to help them survive?

A gripping story of love, betrayal and courage. Readers of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, The Nightingale and anything by Fiona Valpy will never forget this heartbreakingly beautiful novel and the great sacrifices Saskia and Frans made to change the fate of the world.

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