Dangers of mind-bending cults exposed in Harrogate author's novel

Harrogate author Judy Birkbeck. (1704101AM1)
Harrogate author Judy Birkbeck. (1704101AM1)

A Harrogate writer has opened up about her own experience of domineering cults and communes which inspired her new book.

Published author Judy Birkbeck, who lives in the Oatlands area of town, said Behind the Mask is Nothing draws on her personal experience of being in a cult-like group, though only on the fringe, and raises questions of the abuse of power.

Judy said: “I was on the fringes of a cult-like group led by a therapist when I lived down south. I went in with some personal issues and found myself going along with things. I knew it was wrong but the group pressure was enormous. I found for myself that such a situation can end up being abusive.

“I kept a diary. Afterwards I wondered why I accepted it at all.”

Published on May 17 by Holland House Books, Judy’s debut book tells the fictional story of a woman drawn unwittingly into a cult in a remote part of Exmoor while her beloved grandmother, who is writing her memoir about growing up in the Hitler Youth girls, looks on helplessly.

Judy took five years to write this debut novel, and started it while living on the doorstep of Exmoor and doing an MA in Creative Writing at Exeter.

Much of the time was taken up with historical research, reading first-hand accounts of people whose childhood was consumed by the Hitler Youth, and visits to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, four times because it was too horrendous to stomach in one visit.

Despite having had short stories published in the likes of Litro, The Lampeter Review, Liars’ League and elsewhere before, the publication of Behind the Mask is Nothing only comes after three previous books were passed over.

Success at last tastes sweet to this former German and French translator who moved to Yorkshire permanently eight years ago to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren.

Judy said: “I’ve been writing for 20 years and I spent the last two years with this book writing to 67 agents but I never gave up hope. I was ecstatic when I got an email saying they wanted to publish it.”

“He said this is a wonderful novel.”