Why ‘Pictures Of Anna’? Why this story? Perhaps the better question is, ‘why me?’ Because the story was out there waiting to see the light of day – it is thousands of people’s story if the truth is told – and it found me via my wife, and it found her via an aunt of mine. And from that moment on it wouldn’t let me go. Why should it? It has everything that a great story needs (and a real-life story doesn’t need): hope followed by hopelessness, pain, loss, anger, confusion, tension, heartbreak, broken dreams and promises, blind prejudice, intolerance, even redemption. And it addresses a period in a country’s history—in two country’s histories really—which is untold, relatively unknown and has never been depicted in a contemporary story-telling. And while the story deals with events in 1940s Britain, its message is as relevant today as ever.
So, I wrote Pictures Of Anna—about an innocent victim caught up in the tragic events of her time, about the realities of indefinite detention without trial or sentence, about the matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong words in your passport, or worshipping the wrong God, or having the wrong parents, fleeing somewhere for a safe haven only to pitch up into further problems, blind prejudice, fear and paranoia, falling in love, rejection, broken dreams, a bride in tears…
And if it triggers the question “why?” in just one single person, then I’ll settle for that.
Then one day it got personal. Writing is often about “what ifs”. What if A happened and not B? What then? What would happen to your characters if this happened and not that? What would it mean to their story? In this case, the “what if?” was my own question to myself. What if, I asked myself one day, looking out of my window towards the vineyard at the far side of the Moselle river, what if this had happened to me? Here I was, a British citizen in a country which Britain had been at war with, a country which had once practised genocide like no other in human history… What would my own fate have been if I’d been sitting here in this very spot in the spring of 1940? The answer was pretty simple. And very scary. And the reason I would have lost my life would have been because of my passport. Because of my place of birth. I’d be the enemy. Fair or not fair? That would have played no role whatsoever. So “Anna” became me in a way. I could feel the story in me.
I hope it’s a big picture that I’ve painted, for a big canvas – one on which there are global and universal and personal and human issues at stake. “Just hope what happened to Anna never happens to you” might be a useful line to throw into the mix. In the face of certain extermination, torture, of unspeakable horrors that befall your people – things which should be no-one’s experience in the short time they are on this Earth—what do you do? Fight it? (not a chance in Germany in the 30s and 40s) Or do you take your chance and run? So you run. You run into trusted hands. And then it all goes wrong for you. I don’t know… I could write a thousand words and still not touch on what Pictures Of Anna means. I wrote it and I cried. I wrote it and I felt elated and angry and moved and sometimes just numb. “I just hope something like that never happens to me”. There, I’ve said it. But you know what, there are thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of people right now, right at his very moment, in various parts of the world, where it really is their own reality. History repeating itself. Or never really going away. Might we, through Anna Vieti’s story, be able to better understand their stories?
Written By Sam Martin