Sunday, 1 December 2013

I hate leaving my characters hanging!

Agnes A. Rose - the author of the Polish blog In the Land of Reading & History talks to one of the most famous American writers - Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is one of the most famous writers in the world. She was born in New York, in suburbia on Long Island. The houses all looked the same and were called the Storybook development. She went to public school and had some great English teachers who encouraged her to write – and to apply to Princeton University, which had one of the best undergraduate creative writing programs in the US. She got accepted and worked there with Mary Morris, primarily. She truly believes if not for Mary, she would not be a writer today.

Agnes A. Rose: At the beginning I would like to ask you what you wanted to become when you were a child or a teenage girl?

Jodi Picoult: A writer. For real. It was my dream, but I never imagined it would happen. At first I didn’t care if anyone ever read my stuff; I just wanted to see it in print. But even when I was thirty and published I dreamed of writing books that sold well enough to actually contribute to my family income which took much longer than you’d imagine!

Agnes A. Rose: What is your writing plan? Do you write every day? Or maybe you prefer working a few days a week?

Jodi Picoult: I don’t work on weekends, usually (although I have been known to sneak up to an office when I’m in the middle of a chapter – I hate leaving my characters hanging!) But other than that, I’m a workaholic. I will start a new book the day after finishing a previous one. What you need to remember, however, is that there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than writing. My kids know that I need it like some people need medication – as a preventative, because when I don’t write for a few days, I get predictably cranky. They’ve become used to sharing me with people who don’t really exist, but who are incredibly real to me while I’m telling their stories.

Agnes A. Rose: Some of the authors very often know the last scene of their books. While writing do you always know in what way your book will finish?

Jodi Picoult: Let me put it this way – I think I do, and I’m usually wrong. When I start a book, I juggle a what-if question in my head, and push it and push it until I feel like I have a good story. I figure out what I need to know and do my research, via the Internet or email or in some cases getting down and dirty. I start to write when I come up with an excellent first line. And then I keep going, chapter by chapter, exactly in the order in which you’re reading it. Often, about two-thirds of the way through, the characters will take over and move the book in a different direction. I can fight them, but usually when I do that the book isn’t as good as it could be. It sounds crazy, but the book really starts writing itself after a while. I often feel like I’m just transcribing a film that’s being spooled in my head, and I have nothing to do with creating it. Certain scenes surprise me even after I have written them – I just stare at the computer screen, wondering how that happened. For example, the scene in “The Pact” where Melanie nearly runs Chris down with her car. Or in “Keeping Faith”, when Millie Epstein resuscitates. Or in “Salem Falls”, that last scene. When I was writing “Plain Truth”, I called my mom up one day. “You’re not going to believe what’s happening to Ellie!” I told her. I think she said I was scaring her and hung up. I know it seems a little unnerving, but I love the moments when my characters get up and walk off on their own two feet. In my 2011 book, “Sing You Home”, one of the main characters did something very stupid that’s going to hurt him in the long run, although I keep telling him not to!

Agnes A. Rose: I’m sure that each of your novels is very special to you. But I wonder if you have your favorite one?

Jodi Picoult: In more than a decade, every time I’ve been asked this, I always have said, “Oh, that’s like asking me to pick which kid I love the most!” or in other words, something I wasn’t ever going to do. But right now, I do have a personal favorite – “Second Glance”. I think it’s the most complex book I’ve written to date, and I am incredibly proud of the characters in there. Some of whom I’ve never seen in fiction ever before. Plus, it addresses themes and concepts that are rarely discussed in fiction. There’s a real tendency when you write to think that Shakespeare did it all, and that we just recycle it, so when you feel like you’ve broken new ground as a writer, it’s a big deal. For all those reasons, I think “Second Glance” is my biggest accomplishment to date.

Agnes A. Rose: In your books you describe very serious and controversial problems. Where do you draw ideas for writing them?

Jodi Picoult: Usually, a what-if question: what if a boy left standing after a botched suicide pact was accused of murder? What if a little girl developed an imaginary friend who turned out to be God? What if an attorney didn't think that the legal system was quite good enough for her own child? I start by mulling a question and before I know it, a whole drama is unfolding in my head. Often, an idea sticks before I know what I'm going to do with it. For “Mercy”, I researched Scottish clans without having a clue why this was going to be important to the book. It was only after I learned about them that I realized I was writing a novel about the loyalty we bear to people we love. Sometimes ideas change in the middle. “The Pact” was not a page-turner when I conceived it. I was going to write a character driven book about the female survivor of a suicide pact, and I went to the local police chief to do some preliminary research. “Huh,” he said, “it’s the girl who survives? Because if it was the boy, who was physically larger, he’d automatically be suspected of murder until cleared by the evidence.” Well, I nearly fell out of my seat. “Really?” I asked, and the character of Chris began to take shape. Sometimes I write books because other people make the suggestion: “Plain Truth” came about when my mother said I ought to explore the reclusive Amish. "If anyone can learn about them,” she said, “it’s you.” And sometimes, ideas grow out of the ones I’m researching. That happened with “My Sister's Keeper” – information I learned while researching “Second Glance” so fascinating to me that I stuck it into its own file and turned it into a story all its own.

Agnes A. Rose: You also wrote the book about the Holocaust which is entitled “The Storyteller”. What made you decide to create such a story?

Jodi Picoult: This book actually began with another book – Simon Wiesenthal’s “The Sunflower”. In it, Mr. Wiesenthal recounts a moment when, as a concentration camp prisoner, he was brought to the bedside of a dying Nazi, who wanted to confess to and be forgiven by a Jew. The moral conundrum in which Wiesenthal found himself has been the starting point for many philosophical and moral analyses about the dynamics between victims of genocide and the perpetrators…and it got me thinking about what would happen if the same request was made, decades later, to a Jewish prisoner’s granddaughter.

Agnes A. Rose: What about researching?

Jodi Picoult: This research was among some of the most emotionally grueling I’ve ever done. I met with several Holocaust survivors, who told me their stories. Some of those details went into the fictional history of my character, Minka. It was humbling and horrifying to realize that the stories they recounted were non-fiction. Some of the moments these brave men and women told me will stay with me forever: such as Bernie, who pried a mezuzah from his door frame as the Nazis dragged him from his home, and held it curled in his fist throughout the entire war – so that it took two years to straighten his fingers after liberation. Or how his mother promised him that he would not be shot in the head, only the chest – can you imagine making that promise to your child?! Or Gerda – who won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and who survived a 350 mile march in January 1945 – because, she told me, her father had told her to wear her ski boots when she was taken from home. Or Mania, whose mastery of the German language saved her life multiple times during the war, when she was picked to work in office jobs instead of in hard labor; and who told me of Herr Baker, her German boss at one factory, who called the young Jewish women who were assigned to him Meine Kinder (my children) and who saved his workers from being selected by the Nazis during a concentration camp roundup. At Bergen Belsen, she slept in a barrack with 900 people and contracted typhoid – and would have died, if the British had not come then to liberate them.

Agnes A. Rose: Among your novels in Poland very popular is the book you wrote with your daughter, Samantha. Could you tell me something more about this novel? Why did you decide to create it with your daughter?

Jodi Picoult: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten a letter from a fan asking me whether I would ever consider creating a sanitized, simplified version of “My Sister’s Keeper” or “The Pact” or “Nineteen Minutes” for young adults. Each time I wrote back, saying that I wouldn’t. I have always written adult fiction and I’ve always been delighted that so many young adults have found their way to my stories when they are emotionally ready to do so. After all, I used to joke, after you’ve read all the Harry Potter books, what’s next!? I have also gotten letters from parents asking me how old their child should be before reading one of my stories. The answer is: it differs for every kid. Some are more ready for the very intense content of my books, some parents prefer that their child not be exposed to swearing or to sex scenes or to violence. Any kid who isn’t ready for my novels will, eventually, grow up and can tackle them then. The whole YA label, in my opinion, is a shifting one. Many YA novels these days are hungrily read by adults (“The Hunger Games”, “Harry Potter”, “The Twilight” series) and many adult novels are enjoyed by adolescents.

So why did I set out to write a YA novel – one that is considerably lighter than the subject matter I usually cover? In part, because my daughter Sammy conceived the idea and suggested we write it together. But also because I’d like to give young readers who aren’t ready for my “heavier” novels a chance to still enjoy my fiction. To me, “Between the Lines” is a great fit for preteens and younger teens who may not be quite ready to tackle moral and ethical dilemmas in fiction. There are characters their own age, feeling feelings they have probably felt. As in my other novels, the teens in the book seem very real – they talk and act like adolescents. So maybe the twelve year old who reads “Between the Lines” and loves it will want, next year, to pick up a copy of “My Sister’s Keeper”…and continue walking on that bridge to adult fiction.

But the other reason I wanted to dip my toe into YA waters is because I know what it’s like, as a mom, to share an author you love with a child. Alice Hoffman, who is my all time favorite writer, could rewrite the phone book and I would buy it. In triplicate. I have loved her novels for years, but when Sammy was twelve or thirteen and itching for more substantial books, I didn’t feel like she could hunker down with one of Alice’s adult novels yet, without feeling overwhelmed or missing half the story. Luckily for me, Alice had written multiple YA novels. The first one Sammy read was “Aquamarine” – and she adored it. She read “Green Angel” next. And then, one day, she pulled “The Probable Future” off my bookshelf. Now Alice has another fan for life.

I hope that moms who have read me forever will share “Between the Lines” with their daughters. And that you have as much fun reading it as Sammy and I had writing it.

Agnes A. Rose: What should someone who dreams about writing do? Could you give any advice?

Jodi Picoult: Do it. Many people have a novel inside them, but most don't bother to get it out. Writing is grunt work - you need to have self-motivation, perseverance, and faith… talent is the smallest part of it. If you don't believe in yourself, and you don't have the fortitude to make that dream happen, why should the hotshots in the publishing world take a chance on you? I don't believe that you need an MFA to be a writer, but I do think you need to take some good workshops. These are often offered through writer's groups or community colleges. You need to learn to write on demand, and to get critiqued without flinching. When someone can rip your work to shreds without it feeling as though your arm has been hacked off, you're ready to send your novel off to an agent. There's no magic way to get one of those - it took me longer to find my wonderful agent than it did to get published! Keep sending out your work and don't get discouraged when it comes back from an agent - just send it out to a different one. Attend signings/lectures by authors, and in your free time, read, read, read. All of this will make you a better writer. And – here’s a critical part – when you finally start to write something, do not let yourself stop…even when you are convinced it’s the worst garbage ever. This is the biggest caveat for beginning writers. Instead, force yourself to finish what you began, and then go back and edit it. If you keep scrapping your beginnings, however, you’ll never know if you can reach an end.

Agnes A. Rose: Would you like to change anything in your life? If yes, what would it be?

Jodi Picoult: After college, instead of going to work right away, I would have traveled around the world.

Agnes A. Rose: Could you tell me anything about your nearest plans? Are you working on your new novel or anything else?

Jodi Picoult: I am working on the 2015 book, doing research. It is about race relations in the US. The 2014 book, “Leaving Home”, is already in production. 

Agnes A. Rose: Finally, is there anything you would like to tell your Polish fans of your work?

Jodi Picoult:  I hear from my Polish fans all the time and I am so grateful to them for choosing my books to read, out of all the thousands of novels that are published!

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you so much for this interview. On behalf of myself and all the other Polish readers of your work, I wish you further success and many more great books in the future. 

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

Saturday, 26 October 2013

"Dom na krawędzi" Maria Nurowska

Polish publisher: Znak, 2012
By reading Dom na krawędzi I have thrown myself into the very centre of the story about the ex-convict, Daria. This woman killed her husband and spent 6 years in prison. I have not read the first part of this story titled Drzwi do piekła and I felt a bit confused at times. Particularly, when the past of the heroine was concerned. However, Nurowska has created a further part of the story, where the need of a new life has conquered the past.

Daria changes her identity and she builts a house on the edge in Bukowina. She opens a guesthouse and tries to straighten her winding paths. But fate has different plans and Daria meets Iza, the former prison psychiatrist, who helped her to survive the years of isolation. For Iza career is the most important and she leaves her daughter, Ola, at Daria's place. This bitter-sweet relationship will irretrievably affect Ola's life, who has got two mothers now. It all gets even more compliacted when Daria falls in love with Paweł- the doctor who visited her guesthouse. For Ola it is also a time of fascination with Paweł's terminally ill son, Antek. It appears that each character has something to hide and detaching oneself from the past is more difficult than they can imagine.

I really like the author's style: poetic, full of melancholia entwined with descriptions of nature. Nurowska will enter the inner world of the characters with surgeon's precision and great attention to analyze their emotions. Each relationship is taken to pieces with great intensity and the reader is a bit embarrased that he took part in it. I reckon that attentive reading of Drzwi do piekła will help me to understand the two women's toxic relationship better, beacuse it it the outline of Nurowska's novel. I just simply regret that I have started reading in the wrong order.

fot. Elżbieta Lempp, link

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Santa Montefiore - the interview for Polish readers

Agnes A. Rose - the author of the blog In the Land of Reading & History talks to the British writer - Santa Montefiore. 

Santa Montefiore was born in England in 1970. She grew up on a farm in Hampshire and was educated at Sherborne School for Girls. She read Spanish and Italian at Exeter University and after finishing her secondary school she left for Buenos Aires. She converted to Judaism in 1998 and married historian Simon Sebag Montefiore in the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London. They live with their two children, Lily and Sasha in London. She is the author of the international bestseller such as: “Meet Me Under Ombu Tree”, “The House by the Sea”, “The French Gardener” or “The Sea of Lost Love”.

You are one of the most famous writers in the world creating literature for women. Why did you choose this particular kind of literature?

I didn’t deliberately choose to write a certain genre, it’s just the natural way I write – probably the only way I know how to write. 

You started writing books after getting married. Why? Had you never thought about writing books before?

I started writing books as a child – it just took 31 years to get a book published!!

Your first novel is the book entitled “Meet me under ombu tree”. Its storyline is set in Argentina. You spent a year in this country so I wonder how much your stay there inspired you to write this book.

My year there totally inspired the book. I lived there and fell in love with the country and the people I met – then I left and returned to England, regretting very much that I had to leave.  When I returned a year later it wasn’t the same. The young people I had hung out with had all dispersed across the globe, to study and work, and the farm where I had spent so much of my time was no longer full of my friends. Also, I wasn’t working like I had been, so I was suddenly a tourist in a place where once I had truly belonged. I was a tourist and it felt as if I had lost something very precious.  I suppose I had: my sense of belonging!  So, I wrote “Ombu” as an allegory of my love affair with Argentina.  It was cathartic and wonderful, because I was able to relive my experiences.  The story and the people are all invented, but the place is exactly as I knew it.

The novel “Meet Me Under Ombu Tree” very quickly became an international bestseller. Did you expect such success writing this book? Do you remember what you felt then?

It’s extraordinary to think that so many people love that book and enormously flattering! It totally swept me away! When the book came out I worried who would buy it and made all my friends go out and purchase it so I sold at least a few copies! I write to entertain and to touch people on an emotional and spiritual level – the greatest part of my job is when people write to me and tell me that they love my stories.  Bestsellers lists are nothing in comparison to that.

I must admit that each of your books is remarkable, simply magical and very touching. Where do you draw ideas for writing them? Are there any real-life stories/experiences behind any of your books? Or is all of it pure fiction?

I think they’re a mixture of both.  I am a sum of my experience and everything I have lived through, seen and heard goes into the cauldron out of which I draw my characters, settings and plots.

Some of the characters of your books very often must deal with the painful experiences of their past. Most of us also fight our own demons. Is really the past so important for us? Maybe we should leave it all behind and never look back?

I don’t think one should look back if it is painful. The present moment is the only reality and the future is just a projection of our hopes and dreams. I like looking back because I love to remember my past. I’m very nostalgic.  However, sometimes in order to make sense of the present one has to make sense of the past.  In order to find happiness the past has to be understood before it can be let go.

I’m sure each of your novels is very important to you. But do you have a favourite one?  

I have certain favourites, but they are all special to me!  At the time of writing each book I felt like it was my best work – now looking back, I think some are better than others, but they all contain a part of me and they’re all written from the heart.

Has any of your books been filmed yet? If not, would you like it to happen? Which would you most like to see adapted for the big screen/silver screen?

I’ve love my books to be made into movies or mini series – I think “Ombu”, “The French Gardener”, “The House by the Sea” and “Secrets of the Lighthouse” would make good adaptations.  Nothing yet… but you never know…

If you had to choose your profession once again, would it also be writing?

Singer songwriter.

What do you read every day? Do you have your favourite kind of literature or authors?

I love lots of authors both contemporary and classic. They have to be beautifully written, profound and heartwarming. My favourite authors are Isabel Allende, Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, Dumas, Mary Wesley, Philippa Gregory and Garcia Marquez.

What are your plans for the nearest future associated with writing? Are you working on a new novel?

I have finished The Beekeeper’s Daughter, which will come out next year and I’m planning the next.  I’m also working on a children’s book with my husband.

Finally, is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers?

That I’m enormously grateful for their support.  Thank you!

Thank you very much for this interview. On behalf of myself and all the other Polish fans of your work, I wish you further success and many more great books in the future. 

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

The Saragossa Manuscript

There are films that do not lose their magnetism as the years go by. They are still watched with growing interest. I can add The Saragossa Manuscript by Wojciech J. Has from 1965 to this list of timeless classics . Recent digitally-renewed copy makes the adventures of the main character even more improbable and mysterious.

The film is an adaptation of a vast book written by count Jan Potocki, whose life was the source of research and speculation. Potocki lived at the turn of VIII and XIXth century and he implemented the philosophy of Enlightement, religion, kabbalah, magic and science in his epic work . The Manusript is a frame-tale novel, where one story enroots in another one, and the second one enroots in a third. The plot takes place during 66 days and the reader familiarises himself with 33 stories told by different characters. Alfons van Worden, captain of the Walloon Guard is the link between all the tales.

The Saragossa Manuscript is a very challenging work for a film creator, but Has made a film which still intrigues. He decided to transfer 10 stories included in the original book and to unify their main characters. However critics also had something to say. Has was accused of diminishing the book's philosophy. The choice of the actor in the leading role also spurred some controversies. Another issue discussed by the reviewers was using Beethoven's Ode to Joy, which was composed 10 years after publishing the book.

In the 1960's the voice of critics might have some validity, but nowadays who would imagine a different actor in the leading role than Zbyszek Cybulski? While listening to philosophical reasoning of Uzeda (Adam Pawlikowski) or the mathematician Velasquez (Gustaw Holoubek) I get the impression that Has did his best to transfer the book's philosophy in a nutshell. The director created a universal story about Good and Evil, where magic entwines with everyday life. The Saragossa Manuscript is a milestone of  Polish cinema and an obligatory position for every filmgoer.

Original title: Rękopis znaleziony w Saragossie
Director: Wojciech J. Has
Cast: Zbigniew Cybulski, Gustaw Holoubek
Polish premiere: 09.02.1965

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Writing has always been a part of me

The author of the blog Kraina Czytania (The Land of Reading) talks to the writer – Agnes Steur – about literature, her new book “The War in Jangblisia. In That World” and her emigration experience.

Agnes, first of all I would like to ask you, what exactly happened in your life that made you decide to devote yourself to writing literature? I think, the desire to tell various stories to the other must have its origin somewhere?

Photo by Arnold Nienhuis
It seems to me that writing has always been a part of me. My desire to recount has no source in a specific event of my life. Certain topics have their source, but not creation, it is in me. It is not the result, but rather content. On the one hand, it is an internal need to shed thoughts, ideas upon paper, and on the other hand the desire to meet another person in this unique way, thanks to what I do. Since being a little girl I changed my dreams into stories and shed them on paper. In this way they became true. When I went abroad, writing has gained one more dimension, it has become a very important that accentuate my identity. I am writing in Polish, and therefore I do not lose what I left behind.

Recently, your debut novel has been released, entitled “The War in Jangblisia. In That World”. It is a fantasy novel aimed primarily to young people. Why did you choose this group of readers as recipients of your work?

Each stage of human life has its magic, but it seems to me that stepping into adulthood is a sensitive and unique moment. There is a lot of decision-making during that period. Young people are no longer children, but they still believe in fairy tales. No peak is too high, but the real world is now perceived with all senses. Rebellion, questioning of the values and searching for their own path, these are very important. My children are now facing the border of this stage, and I will watch their way with great curiosity. How they will handle the changes. I really wish that they could preserve something of their childishness, but also enter the new phase of life with certainty. Sometimes I think that I also do not want to lose this particle of innocence that is in me, which makes me like children’s and youth literature.

I must admit that when I was reading your story I was pleasantly surprised by its originality. Mostly it is so that the characters of “our world” in some magical way get into the world of fairy tales, where they meet a variety of creatures. It is the other way around in your case. How did you come up with this idea to send foreign entities on a journey to the world of men?

For many years I have been living outside the Polish border. I became an emigrant, and at one point I was terrified by the fact, that this one word somehow defines me as a whole person. In those experiences I found and inspiration for my book. The problem of being an alien is very fascinating to me. I have figured out long time ago that his feeling is a state of mind in large extent. Alienation is often the inner part of a man, and not something exterior. This consciousness is not comforting. In addition, living in another country has convinced me that sometimes, what is obvious may become strange, and everyday life of other people can really surprise us. I wanted to show the known world, as a stranger. The reverse process was very important to me. Thanks to that, Jangblisians came to the reader, or the reader discovered Jangblisia in himself/herself. After all, there is plenty of “ordinariness” around us that we do not understand. We do not have to leave to ask ourselves the question: why is it just the way it is, and why (horror of horrors!) so many people agree on it in silence?

Your novel contains a number of universal values such as love, friendship, tolerance, but also there is no shortage of what is bad. Why do you think so many writers still focus on the battle between Good and Evil? This problem, discussed in so many publications, may prove to be dull and wordy for many readers. Weren’t you afraid of this kind of criticism while creating the plot for your novel?

While creating Jangblisia I was afraid of criticism, but it is not on this topic. I firmly believe that there is content that will never become boring. Maybe it is cliché, but the struggle between Good and Evil takes place in each of us. I do not mean extreme situations like war, but those quite ordinary. We make decisions every day, that in some way affect us and the others. It is important to allow the Good to win in this area. These are universal themes. It is a bit like asking whether a book about love ever become boring, or criminal stories, or vampires and magic. The next generations will be fascinated about them, and while for some these themes are a bit wordy, they should be repeated.

Photo by Arnold Nienhuis
The world of Jangblisians that you created is on the one hand a world very similar to ours, but on the other hand it can also be deducted that it significantly differs from the reality that surrounds people. Of course, I have in mind mainly the residents of Jangblisia. How did you manage to create such original characters with very peculiar appearance and tastes?

I let my imagination run wild. I realize that to come up with something new is almost impossible. New things are usually a mix of what is already there. But I really wanted something on my own. My work is dictated by what is happening in my life. One day the children asked about evolution and what different people say about it. In response to their various questions I came up with an idea that maybe I will create a story, in which evolution will develop in different directions. Everyone ask themselves, what if. My response has become the story of another place.

Let’s also recall that your novel has been born by the extraordinary illustrations of Ewa Kieńko Gawlik. Where did the idea come from to enrich the visuals of your book?

I have known Ewa for many years. I have always admired her work. Working with her is a pleasure, and I am sure that we will show up as a duo again more than once. She is a very gentle person with an unusual strength. The most painful is that we live so far apart. Every encounter with Ewa is very inspirational to me. It is a pity that there are not so many meetings. The moment, when the queen Zara emerged in my head, I knew that Ewa must create the visual part of the book. The drawings themselves were changing during the draw. First, we wanted them to be sketches, but Ewa suggested adding some colours. I told her how I saw the images and she just poured them onto the paper and each time she surprised me, because what she created was more beautiful than how I had imagined them.

As an emigrant you are actively working for Polish community in the Netherlands. Could you tell the readers what this activity is about, and what it brings to your life and the Poles living abroad?

It deals with various Polish activities. Very often, these are actions related to culture. Currently I am a member of the jury in the competition of poetry for children “I Would Like To Be Like Tuwim!”, organized by The Literary Correspondence Club of The Young Polish. I receive wonderful poems written by children living outside Polish borders. Involvement gives me great joy, but also makes me worried, because I have to make a decision. The kids are fantastic, but I have to say, that one is better, and someone else is worse – a huge responsibility. The subject of bilingual children in Netherlands is very important to me. There are parents that neglect Polish language of their children, but also those, who have a lot of doubts in this matter. I also meet parents, who only have to hear that there are others who have to face the same problems. I get involved in the Polish community meetings and talk about bilingualism and its good sides. Thanks to that, I also get to know wonderful people. These are unforgettable moments.

You also won several literary awards and honors, among which is the distinction of Marshal of the Senate of the Republic of Poland himself for Polish and Polish Diaspora Journalists. It must be an extraordinary prize for you, isn’t it? Do you remember how you felt, when you found out that it was you to be granted?

It was my first award in a foreign land. I was very proud because I got it for my journalistic debut. I was also very pleased, when I had the opportunity to meet the Marshal of the Senate personally. Then also for the first time I understood, what the author-reader relationship is. After the publication or the winning texts I began to receive letters from people, who experienced “something” while reading them. When I hear or read that my works raised feelings or gave something, this is the greatest reward.

A short literary form is also not a stranger to you because you can indeed write a fantastic story with an original message. It is also planned to publish a collection of your essays. Can you tell the readers what topics you discuss in them, and to whom they are addressed?

My first texts that have been published in the Polish community press were essays concerning life on emigration. Eventually, I began to write about everything. For several years I have been working with the “Polish Stage” in Netherlands. Also writing for Lejdiz Magazine in England is a reason to be proud. When in 2011 I worked with PNKV in Netherlands, I was offered to release my essays, which then have quite accumulated, in the form of a book. This project is very important to me because it will be a bilingual edition and will be called “Words for internal use”. Reading my words in a different language is strange, exciting and a little unreal.

You have already had your first author meeting, which took place in your hometown in Poland. Was it a very stressful event for you as a debutant?

The first author meeting was a very stressful experience for me. I must admit to you that there were times, when I thought that I would be the first ever debutant, who will pass away during this kind of meeting. Now when I have it over with, I can, with hand on my heart, say that evening in Walbrzych  in the Library beneath Atlanteans will remain one of the most pleasant memories. I met so many nice and warm people. Not only people from my past came to the meeting, but also strangers, who shook my hands and shared their experiences.

Are you planning to do more author meetings, for example in the Netherlands?

Meetings with readers are wonderful and certainly, as soon as opportunity arises, will be organized. In the nearest future there will be meetings in Netherlands with the readers of my second book, a collection of essays.

Perhaps it is still too early to ask you about this, but I am curious whether you want to write just for the youth, or maybe are you planning to write a novel addressed to adult readers?

At the moment I am absorbed by the further fate of Jangblisians, I also began a series of fairy tales for children. I have a lot of ideas in my head. I think one day I will write something addressed to adults. Now, however, I will remain for some time in the world of fairy tales and fantasy.

As far as I know, “The War in Jangblisia. In That World” was released at the same time in Poland, the Netherlands and England. Is there a difference between retrieval of the book by readers from these three countries? Or maybe their tastes are the same everywhere?

This is true. The reception varies greatly, but the difference of tastes is not the reason. Emigrants are adult people, who work hard and often do not have the time to journey into the world of fantasy. They come abroad with children, who go to school here and very quickly begin to read in language of the country. Youth living in the Netherlands read practically only in Dutch, so maybe if I can translate my book, I will get more readers. Of course, this is not a rule, but unfortunately it is true for majority. Anyway, seeing “Jangblisia” published in Dutch is my next dream to be realized.

I know that your debut novel is just the beginning of the story of Jangblisians. This story is supposed to be a trilogy. Therefore, when can we expect a continuation of this unique tale?

I wish that the second part will be published a year after releasing of the first one. I hope that I will cope with the challenge. I know already that this book will be more extensive. The characters live in my head and force me to write. “The War In Jangblisia. In That World”, it is just the beginning. In the next part, the storylines develops and the answers of the earlier questions come.

Agnes, I would like to thank you for your time and I wish you every success at the threshold of your literary career.

Thank you for this conversation and the opportunity to be your guest.

This interview is published also on Link to Poland - click here
If you want to read this interview in Polish, click here

Saturday, 25 May 2013


It is not easy to write a review of a film such as Baczyński and not get tangled in pathos and big words. The WW II is a topic still alive in modern Polish cinema, but it is also a very ungrateful one. Each and evey attempt to picture it entails a wave of radical opinions, both positive and negative. Fortunately, the creators of Baczyński have found an individual approach to this tricky topic and have portrayed the life of the great Polish poet Krzysztof Kamil Baczyński, who fought and died in the Warsaw Uprising, from an interesting and artistic perspective.

Kordian Piwowarski's film has moved me deeply. In this case minimum of means resulted in reaching the maximum effect. Hearing Baczyński's poems read by young Poles to celebrate his 90th birthday anniversary, the viewer knows how do the characters in the film feel. The dialogues are rather scarce but they are entwined with beautiful, artistic pictures. Add to the whole the remarkable Mateusz Kosciukiewicz in the leading role and we end up with a little masterpiece.

The film has also educational merits. Is is a fictionalized documentary and I am sure it would perfectly fit to the curriculum of Polish or history lessons. There are dates, names, archival photographs and genuine film footage from the time of war. Everything is served in a very dense and approachable way. Such films teach more than a standard textbook.

Some critics argue that the young actors do not feel comfortable in this historical-war convention, but I have to disagree. Kościukiewcz, as well as Katarzyna Zawadzka, have created a full scale characters. Let us not forget that the film lasts for 70 minutes, so in my opinion the creators of Baczyński deserve a big round of applause.

Original title: Baczyński
DirectorKordian Piwowarski
Cast: Mateusz Kościukiewicz, Katarzyna Zawadzka
Polish premiere:15.03.2013

Friday, 24 May 2013

Destiny is hidden in your dreams

Agnieszka Lingas-Łoniewska

(The Sixth)

Polish Publisher: REPLIKA
Zakrzewo 2012

On the sixth day God created man – a man and a woman
On the sixth day… I will take your life because I am your god

Have you ever thought what role in your life the destiny plays? Does it even exist? Or maybe one day people created the word “destiny” to avoid responsibility for managing their own fate?

Inspector Martin Langer does not certainly believe either in destiny or in dreams until he finds out that somewhere there is someone who planned his life carefully. At the time, when we meet Martin, the man is thirty-two years old. He is the chief of the Criminal Investigation Group of Silesia. All his attention is focused only on his job. He also lives in an unhappy relationship with a younger model – Angela. The girl is interested only in herself. For her the most important thing is her job. This situation is very similar to Martin’s one. She does not seem to be interested in her boyfriend’s life at all. Angela is a so-called “young lady from a good family”. Angela’s father is a millionaire who tries to fulfill all her desires while Martin’s life has never spoiled him and he had to achieve everyhthing on his own. So, such a relationship may not be successful.

One day while jogging Martin loses his consciousness. He is taken to the hospital with a diagnosis of pectoris. His condition is quite serious, but not life-threatening. Langer’s elder brother – Michael and his wife are watching at Martin’s bed all the time. At the time of the fall, Inspector Langer suffered from a serious head injury. That is why now he is unconscious and staying in ICU.

On the next bed there is a man, Jack Szymczak. He is also unconscious, but his doctors do not give even the slightest chance of survival. Returning from the short honeymoon, both he and his wife involved in a serious road accident. To save Alice, Jack sacrificed himself. He preferred not to survive a collision with a lorry than lose his Ali. Although he is dying, he is not going to cease to care about her.

Six years later Martin Langer is no longer the head of the Silesian section of the Investigation Group of Silesia, but now he stands on its head. Still the work is the most important thing for him. Despite the warnings of doctors, Martin is still working intensively. His relationship with Angela continuous, but over the years, nothing has changed between them. Furthermore, Martin is haunted by dreams about the unknown woman who every time when she comes to him, says the same sentence: “I have been waiting for you, Martin”. The woman has light hair and beautiful green eyes.

Now Inspector Langer works on a very difficult case. He tries to find a serial killer who is prowling in Silesia. His victims are green-eyed blondes. He abducts the women and then kills them on the sixth day after the abduction.

In this way a senior midshipman, Alice Szymczak appears in Martin’s life. The woman is a police profiler, whose task is to create a psychological portrait of the killer. When Martin meets Alice for the first time, he is sure that the woman, standing in  front of him, is the same that he can see in his dreams. At this moment his consciousness is reaching the meaning of these strange hallucinations which have been visiting him for many years. As you know, it began when he was lying in the hispital. And thus the mad race against time to save another green-eyed blonde from death begins. Apart from that the passionate feeling also breaks out between Alice and Martin. However, both are convinced that their acquaintance is not incidental, they do not give vent to their passions at once.

If you want to know what will happen to this police couple and whether Martin will manage to save his beloved against the death from hands of the psychopath, you must absolutely read The Sixth! Certainly you will not find out about it reading my review.

The Sixth is the first novel of Agnes Lingas-Loniewska I read. I remember that I was waiting for that moment for a long time. I do not regret any moments I spent with this book. As a reader, I received everything what I expected. The novel kept me in suspense from the first page. I still wondered what would happen next and who would be a real psychopath who brutally murdered green-eyed blondes. Unfortunately, I was unable to predict the real killer, so this fact means that the plot of the novel is constructed fantastically. Think, if the reader knows who is the murder after reading a few chapters, what sense is to read next ones? In this situation the novel would be very boring. It this case it is not! We can only guess who is a psychopath but we have to wait for the final solution of this mistery until the end of the book. In addition, the action is still rushing forward. It is very dynamic, which makes that the readers have the impression that they are participating in it with the book characters. The author uses easy and fluent language. This fact causes that the book is read very well. The reader is not tired and he/she does not have to wonder what the author meant while writing. In this book there is no shortage of vulgar words but these are not used by chance. You must know that if you want to show the reality of a specific human environment, sometimes you might need to use some vulgar words. It is normal, so we should not be upset because of that.

Once Terence said: “I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me” (Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto). While reading The Sixth I often thought about this sentence. Why? Because I observed that most Polish writers are afraid of describing sex scenes in their books. Sometimes they do not decide to do it even where this kind of scenes are needed. I am sure that Agnes Lingas-Loniewska does not belong to the group like this. I think that it is one of her books’ advantage. Thanks to it, the story is very authentic and described in a professional way.

Finishing I would like to add that in my opinion The Sixth is the perfect thriller which should be filmed one day. I hope it will happen soon. You must know that The Sixth is not the only book of Agnes Lingas-Loniewska. The author is very talented and she releases the new book in short periods of time. So, I hope that one day someone will translate each of her novel into English.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

"Honey, I killed our cats" Dorota Masłowska

Polish publisher: Noir sur Blanc, 2012
I have not read Wojna polsko-ruska pod flagą biało-czerwoną (in the UK published as White and Red, US: Snow White and Russian Red). I just could not manage. After reading first chapters I noticed that here in front of me is a bit weird, although original work of art. There might have been some message behind it but I was discouraged by its difficult language.

When Honey, I killed our cats appeared, the headlines screamed about Masłowska's great come back. I thought that maybe I should give her a try. Besides, the book is only 156 pages long, so if the situation from White and Red reappeared, the nightmare would soon be over. So I have started reading and... was very positively surspried!

The plot is not particularly complex or breathtaking. There are two entirely different friends, Farah and Joanne. Farah is a well-mannered lady, who works in an office, attends yoga class and reveals an unhealthy attachment to antibacterial gel. Joanne is a simple hairdresser and a vegetarian, but she has no problem in swallowing a fat kebab once in a while. Both ladies derive from different backgrounds, but it only helps them get along even better. However, a man in love with Joanne stands on their way. Their friendship will be subjected to the hardest trial.

As I already mentioned before, the plot is not very sophisticated. But the most important thing is how Masłowska tells it. Honey, I killed our cats is composed out of  clever descriptions, amusing comparisons and ironic comments. By revealing an extraordinary sense of observation the young author provides the reader with a cynical vision of the world in which we live in. World of Facebook, billboards, healthy lifestyle and ecology. Witty and humorous narration uncovers the sad truth about contemporary life: filled with paradoxes, hipocrisy and loneliness.

Masłowska plays with her role as the author, depicting herself as a writer without inspiration. We are witnessing her creative process, difficult at first but later on formed by small things: an accidental meeting in a lift or a cat laying on the street. In Honey, I killed our cats Masłowska proved that she is a talented and mature author, who has a lot of distance to the world around her. I cannot wait to read her next book.

Fot. Filip Klimaszewski/ Agencja Gazeta, link 

Dorota Masłowska

  • Polish novelist, journalist and playwright
  • Born 3 July 1983 in Wejherowo, Poland
  • List of published books
  • Read the article about the author