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Interview: Ingrid Coles talks about Two Slices of Bread

Ingrid Coles, wife, mother, grandmother of ten, retired nurse and hobby gardener, may seem to be an ordinary person, but appearances can be deceiving. Born in Java, Indonesia, in November 1942 she and her family endured imprisonment by the Japanese invaders for almost three years. After liberation from the Japanese, in August 1945, they then faced the Indonesian War of Independence until May 1946, when it became so dangerous for civilians that they had to be evacuated to their motherland, the Netherlands. Orphaned when barely 16, Ingrid had a clear idea of her future calling and emigrated to New Zealand to begin nursing training. Ingrid traces her background and growing up years and reveals the secret of her successful time in New Zealand, and how she overcame the hurts and hurdles of the past. Ingrid talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about TWO SLICES OF BREAD.

Two Slices of Bread is the story of my life, that began tumultuously even before my birth in Java, then the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), when the Japanese had invaded the country and created havoc everywhere. The story shows what war did to our family, leaving them all scarred and bereft of hope after death separates them.

The reader is led from violence and fear to forgiveness and hope.


What (or who) inspired you to write this book?

In about 1999, a hobby writing class teacher at the Hastings Boy’s Highschool advertised the class: “Come along and learn to write for your grandchildren.”

The teacher and keen attendees then urged me on as we all wrote our memories – mine in longhand! From then on, I joined another writing group by correspondence and the rest is history.


What research was involved?

To begin research, I needed computer skills. A friend taught me from knowing nothing to cutting and pasting etc. Then I needed to learn English grammar and better writing skills, so I joined the Christian Writers (then CW Guild) where author and teacher, Bartha Hill, volunteered her time and went the extra mile in teaching me. She encouraged me to do a Home-study Freelance writing course in 2004 and ‘Writing a Family History’ in 2007. Both these courses introduced me to much of what I needed to know to start my family story. I kept entering CWG writing competitions with short stories from the past, which were judged and corrected. This went on for some time until I decided it was time to give my full attention to my family story.


A few editors directed me in various ways, but something niggled me about the story and our grandchildren appeared bored while reading it . About two years ago, I became discouraged and wondered if a ghost writer might do better but decided against that idea when another editor advised me to make drastic alterations to get a better flow and change the story to an autobiography with my personal experiences added.


Although it was heart-breaking to edit many loved family stories, the flow improved. I then dreamed up ways to retain precious memories by adding them to a chapter titled STORIES AND LETTERS. Several family trees had to be excluded, along with boring family introductions and history. More cutting and pasting, some large parts.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

To begin with, I just wrote many touching memories and perfected them later, trying to make the chapters flow.


How difficult was it to write this book, given it is such a personal account of your family’s experiences?

Because I was just 3 months old when we were incarcerated, and I didn’t personally remember the brutality of POW camps, when the facts were relayed to me by my siblings for the book, I could shut off my feelings and keep writing. Although hearing of my parents’ and siblings’ hardships caused floods of tears and great sadness, my pain was different from theirs. I could write through the eyes of my three siblings and keep my mind on the stories, gruelling as some were.


Writing the stories came easy but gathering the chapters into a cohesive ‘whole’ proved challenging. Much of the earlier edition has been edited drastically since. That editing was time consuming and a real battle. I didn’t know how to do this. It was only after employing a professional editor, and understanding her suggestions, that I began to see my book through different eyes.


What do you hope people will take from this book after they have read it?

I hope that people will be encouraged to think more of others than themselves, that they will learn to forgive even if others don’t. For them to look at and see people for who they are, not for what they might give them.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I’ve been so busy, there hasn’t been time for celebrating. We do plan to meet with friends and family at a local restaurant soon. I am also going to have a catch-up with a good friend over coffee.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

My favourite book this year out of many other books on the Second World War, is VILLAGE OF SECRETS, a book about defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorhead. The reason it is my favourite read is, the courage and determination shown by the volunteers in this book touches my heart. There’s no way anyone could be bored reading this book.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

Tidy and prune the garden, feed and smell the roses, enjoy our fruit trees and shrubs. Spend more time with the family and grandchildren, possibly travel and see my sister in Holland and brother and sister in Australia. Maybe write another story, perhaps about nursing in the 1960s to 80s or a health-related topic. I’m expecting to be inspired while gardening.

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