Interview With Hulda Bachman-Neeb, Author of Perils and Pearls: In World War II, a Family's Story of Survival and Freedom from Japanese Jungle Prison Camps

It has been many decades since the events you share in this book occurred. Why now? What made this the right time to share your family's story?

I needed to write my book in English, as in the Netherlands the subject is well known and many books on the concentration camps misery see the light of day. Over the years I was not sure of my command of the English language.

My husband and I gave many presentations in and around our town of Estes Park in Colorado, with and without powerpoint pictures, on WWII in the Pacific Rim. The audience was always very appreciative and receptive. Often, we were asked for more information.

Holland was, and is, getting ready for the 75th year of our liberation, on the 5th of May from the Nazis, on the 15th of August from the Japanese. I wanted my book to be out there at the time of the commemoration services, lest people forget what the loss of freedom looks like.

How hard was it for you mother to go back and dig up these memories? For You? Who else did you reach out to to share their memories? Were they reluctant or glad to help?

The sessions with my mother were heartbreaking. She did not need to “dig up” the memories, they were right there, had been with her ever since. She had managed to give them a place so she could function as a wife and mother. She had her faith and a wonderful sense of humor with which she could put every situation in perspective. She realized she owed it to me as her daughter and eldest child to share our past and my beginnings. 

I had long conversations with my cousin, the daughter of my father’s sister, who shared what she knew. Edith (in my book) was ever so glad to exchange thoughts and memories and talk about our family members. Her sister Lily had died. My cousin Michiel, the son of the father who was beheaded, was a basket case whom we, members of the family, tried to rescue, finally to no avail. My brother Peter was very glad to help and provided me with much information from the family chronicles he keeps.

What type of additional independent research did you need to do to get places, dates, names and facts about the war correct?

The additional independent research consisted in refreshing my memory by re-reading the books I have at home and had gathered over the years. I mention some of these in my “Selected Bibliography” section of the book.

When In doubt, I consulted with my brother Peter in the Netherlands, by phone, e-mail or snail mail.

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How did the writing process work for you? Did you have a set time of day you wrote? Did you write when inspiration struck, or when you have new material to add? 

The writing process was steeled by pure discipline. I made sure to be at my laptop down in the basement in my husband’s workshop every morning at 9.00 a.m. I quit at noon, started again at 2.00 till 5.00 - five days a week, for 5 months. The workshop had two large tables, where I could spread out what I had written, what I had received from Holland and sketches of what I was planning. I also had a large clipboard on the wall for dates, questions, follow ups, etc. On my night table I had a pencil with a light at the end and some paper in case I thought of a word or a sentence that I decided to change. It was not a matter of inspiration, it was a matter of dogged perseverance.

As this is your first book, did you struggle at all with self-doubt or procrastination? If so, how did you deal with them?

There was no time for procrastination. I was afraid if I put off the writing, I would not be able to get back into the groove, so to speak. I didn't have any self doubt. During my 30 plus years in the Dutch Foreign Service in well over 25 countries I wrote weekly letters home that were always well received accompanied with positive compliments (being family, they would have been very critical if necessary!). This way, I had developed a fluency and an eye for a quick impression. BUT, this was all in Dutch. However, the eye and the pen were still there, and I trusted them!

What part of the book writing process came easy for you? What was the hardest?

There was no easy part in the book writing process, not at all. My family came alive. I was very emotionally involved. I wanted to speak to the five most important women in my life - my mother, my grandmother, my three aunts. They restored my sanity and my health. I missed them and at times I cried. I cried over my mother forlorn at the beach. I cried over the beheadings and the young woman’s courage. But I am a Christian and know I will be reunited with my loved ones and can thank them for their gifts - something I was not able to do in life as I was young. As an adult, I realized what I owed them.

It was also hard that I was not writing in my native language. There were words and expressions I needed to bend from the Dutch into English, helped by dictionaries and Webster’s. But my thinking and writing was predominantly in English.

Do you have any advice for others who also have powerful stories to share? How can they prepare themselves to deal with the difficult emotions revisiting these memories might stir?

If someone has a powerful story to share, this person first and foremost needs to have an overwhelming desire to tell the story and to make sure it has a message. My message is Freedom, my message is Gratitude to our previous generation. I needed to tell that story. If they have difficult emotions, they should not escape from them. Let the emotions play their part and then gently store them away again, realizing that this is living. Life is not necessarily sweet. Life on earth has tremendous challenges for each and every one of us. Accept it as part of the deal. But I was relatively lucky. I am not talking of maimed war veterans, of drug addicts, of mental health issues. That is another chapter altogether.

What's next for you? Do you have any plans to write another book?

I have no plans to write another book. I know I have plenty of material I could write about, having had a most interesting life with travels all over the globe. But writing is time consuming and fills my head. I left my husband alone for many hours on end. Apart from the hours of writing, it is almost easier than marketing the book. The marketing aspect of “Perils and Pearls” entirely puts me off about writing another book. I am lucky to have tremendous help from Veronica Yager of Yellowstudios in Colorado Springs, but the publishing world is such a jungle that quite frankly, I am not interested. Besides, I think I have said all I truly wanted

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