Book People: Anna Ciddor

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I’ve just finished reading ‘The Family with Two Front Doors’ by Anna Ciddor, a story which absolutely captivated me and took me back to my pre-teen years when I went through a stage of reading historical fiction rather obsessively – though this was very different from anything I ever read.

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the Family with two Front Doors

Meet the Rabinovitches: mischievous Yakov, bubbly Nomi, rebellious Miriam, solemn Shlomo, and seven more! Papa is a rabbi and their days are full of intriguing rituals and adventures. But the biggest adventure of all is when big sister Adina is told she is to be married at the age of fifteen – to someone she has never met.  Based on the author’s real family, the Rabinovitches dance, laugh and cook their way through an extraordinary life in 1920s Poland.

As we have come to expect from Anna Ciddor, the writing in ‘The Family with the Two Front Doors’ is sophisticated, multi-layered and utterly engaging. Told from both male and female viewpoints, this is a fascinating insight into the lives of Orthodox Jews in the 1920s, gender roles and food – oh the food – if I do this for Year Six book club, we will totally be cooking up a meal worthy of the Rabinovitches!

Teaching notes for ‘The Family With the two Front Doors’ are here.

I’m so excited today to have Anna Ciddor on the blog! Thank you so much Anna, I absolutely loved reading your answers.

Anna Ciddor

Anna Ciddor

Ten Things You Need to Know About Anna Ciddor

Tell us about your latest book.

My latest book, The Family with Two Front Doors, is based on my grandmother’s childhood. While I was growing up, she never talked about the past, because there were so many tragic memories from the war years, but when I realised she was reaching the end of her life, I thought I should interview her about her childhood before it was too late.

It was only then I discovered there was a fascinating, hidden world before the war I had never known about – a happy, colourful lifestyle filled with tradition and laughter. Nana Nomi was one of nine children. In the 1920s they lived in Lublin, Poland. Their father was a rabbi and they had to rent two apartments to fit them all in (hence the two front doors). Nana told me about Thursday afternoons when the front doors were thrown open and all the beggars of the neighbourhood were invited inside for a bite to eat, about her mischievous little brother who sneaked off to watch the blacksmith instead of learning his prayers, about making loaves of plaited challah bread for Friday nights, and about her older sister getting married – at the age of fifteen – to someone she had never met!

Nomi as child in Lublin

Nomi as child in Lublin

I knew that one day I would turn my Nana’s story into a book. But I was busy working on another story at the time… And then another… When I eventually sat down to write the book, twenty years later, I found I had more questions that needed answering: What was the family’s address? What was the name of the older sister’s groom? What clothes did they all wear? Sadly, Nana was no longer around to answer, so I set out on a quest to find the missing pieces, never dreaming it would take four years, and carry me fifteen thousand kilometres away to Lublin and Warsaw in Poland!

As I worked on The Family with Two Front Doors, I had great fun picturing myself making challah bread, shopping at the market and handing out food and coins on Beggars’ Day. I am thrilled that when people read the book, they too, seem to become as intrigued as I am by the everyday lives and characters of my Nana’s family.

How did you get started as a writer?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a writer! My Mum still has a collection of the stories I started writing from about the age of six! But, seriously, as a professional writer I was a bit of a late starter. Although I loved writing as a kid, I never thought of being an author when I grew up. I planned to be a teacher, and when I left school I obtained a teaching degree and started teaching – mathematics, of all things! It was only when I married, had my own kids, and started reading them picture books, that it crossed my mind to become an author and illustrator. Fortuitously, a brochure from the Council of Adult Education landed in my letterbox advertising a course for writing and illustrating children’s books. But of course, it was all very well wanting to be an author – finding a publisher was another matter! I think it was two things that got my foot through the door: 1. Finding a niche that was needed but not well covered at the time – Australian social history written for children – and 2. Being really, really persistent, listening to feedback and adapting.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I get my best ideas when I first wake up in the morning (or during the night) so the first few hours of the day are spent at my computer trying to capture those ideas in the right words, drafting, redrafting, and re-redrafting! (That’s why it has taken me 4 years to write my latest book.) When my brain gets too tired, I do shopping, cleaning, going for walks and, most importantly, looking after the grandchildren. Being a mum, and now a nana, is a vital part of my life. Then, in the evening, it’s back to the computer… I am writing this now at midnight because there just aren’t enough hours in the day!

Anna's grandchildren reading an advance copy of her latest book!

Anna’s grandchildren reading an advance copy of her latest book!

Can you describe your workspace for us?

Well, apart from two computer monitors, printers in varying stages of repair, piles of papers and books, lots of filing drawers and a light box for doing illustrations, I surround myself with precious mementoes and inspirational objects. My study is also my private, personal space. In this photo of my desk you can spot:

  • A samovar like in The Family with Two Front Doors
  • A flower decoration made from coloured dough by my granddaughter
  • The tape recording of my Nana telling me about her childhood
  • Old sepia photos of my great grandparents (Mama and Papa in The Family with Two Front Doors)
  • Family photographs
  • A tiny Pueblo storyteller statuette from my trip to the US to attend a Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ conference
  • A tiny dwarf in a ‘Viking’ helmet from my research trip to Norway for my Viking Magic books
  • A mouse mat from my trip to Poland researching for The Family with Two Front Doors study 2

Any words of advice for young readers and writers?

Read out loud – whether it is your own work-in-progress or other books. It makes you take more notice of the vocabulary, construction and rhythm.

If you were not a creator of books for young people what would you be?

I might have stayed in teaching because I love being with young people, and some of my best times now are going out and talking at schools about my work. However I probably would have re-trained in a different teaching discipline such as English or History – something that gave me more scope than maths to chat with my classes about issues and life.

What is your favourite food to eat and/or your favourite music to listen to whilst you are working on your books?

I have to have complete quiet when I write. If my poor husband is home while I am writing, he has to creep around the house and try not to disturb me! If I am doing illustrations, I like to listen to audiobooks. As for food – I can’t get through a day without porridge for breakfast (I have it with salt and lots of milk, no sugar or fruit.)

How much of yourself or people you know is in your books?

It is rarely a conscious decision to put myself or people I know in a book, but once it is written I usually recognise the characters as parts of myself or people I know. The only conscious effort was four-year-old Devorah in The Family with Two Front Doors. She is definitely based on my granddaughter who was four at the time I was developing Devorah’s character. My granddaughter used to say ‘lellow’ instead of ‘yellow’ so in the story Devorah says ‘reen’ instead of ‘green’.

If you could have one wish for the world what would it be?

I wish that everyone could understand that all people are basically the same whatever their colour, religion or place of birth. I hope that The Family with Two Front Doors will go a small way towards showing that people from different cultures who seem to have strange customs and lifestyles are really just the same as ourselves.

The Body Shop

Megan Daley Bio

Looking for more great book reviews and recommendations? I’m Megan Daley and you can find out more about me here.

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