Sunday, 20 December 2015

I've been in love with the cello since I was a child...

Interview with Andromeda Romano-Lax
by Agnes A. Rose

Andromeda Romano-Lax was born in 1970 in Chicago. Before she decided to create fiction she had worked as a freelance journalist and travel writer. Her first novel – “The Spanish Bow” – was hailed the international bestseller and so far it has been translated into many languages. Her second novel – “The Detour” – was released in 2012. She is also the author of nonfiction books which are related to her traveling. Among these books we can mention for example: “Walking Southeast Alaska: Scenic Walks and Easy Hikes for Inside Passage Travelers” (1997), “Searching for Steinbeck's Sea of Cortez: A Makeshift Expedition Along Baja's Desert Coast” (2002), “Alaska's Kenai Peninsula: A Traveler's Guide” (2001) and others. Andromeda lives with her family in Anchorage (Alaska), where she co-founded and now teaches for a nonprofit organization. Her next novel – “Behave” – is going to be published in USA in March 2016.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you very much for your accepting my invitation to take part in this interview. So far in Poland two of your books have been published. There are “The Spanish Bow” and “The Detour”. Let’s start our conversation with talking about the first one. I read that you wrote this novel because you had been inspired by the Pablo Casals’ life. Could you tell us how you found the biography of this eminent cellist and what was so special about his life that you decided to create a main character based on him?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I first became aware of Casals due to his performance of the Bach Cello Suites and only later came to know about his life story. My first research stage involved traveling to Puerto Rico (where Casals spent the end of his life) to learn as much as I could about him, originally intending it to be a nonfiction project. This was just after the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001, a time when I, like many people, was looking for heroes and stories of hope and beauty. I was fascinated by the political position Casals took against the dictator Franco, even when it meant sacrificing his own performing pleasure in order to make a public statement. The project evolved into fiction in order to embrace other characters and situations beyond Casals's own life. The intersection of politics and arts, and the question of personal sacrifice and its unintended consequences, impelled me to write The Spanish Bow.

Agnes A, Rose: How many common features do Feliu Delargo and Pablo Casals have and how much different are they?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Both are Catalan (Pablo's Catalan name was Pau, by the way), both share royal patronage (but by different queens), both possess a gem-studded bow and Republican political views. However, Pablo Casals was born in 1867, while the fictional Feliu was born in 1892 and in the novel comes into contact with different musicians and politicians. There are other differences that I explore in my author note and website. One of the things I loved about the novel is the greater flexibility it allows in combining experience and imagination, facts and fiction.

Agnes A. Rose: In your novel you revived a few historical heroes such as Francisco Franco, Kurt Weill, Pablo Picasso, Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg, and others. Could you tell us something about your historical researching?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Well, I love history, and I love research, including library and archival research, which invariably leads in unexpected directions. I never expected to include Kurt Weill in my novel, for example, and getting to learn more about Pablo Picasso and Queen Ena was a huge treat. My favorite kind of research involves travel to the places where a historical figure lived. Absorbing the landscape and culture, talking to local people, eating local foods, touring buildings, and serendipitous encounters are all part of the reward for writing historical fiction.

Agnes A. Rose: The friendship between Feliu Delargo and Justo Al-Cerraz is very strong. Feliu is quite sure that he knows Justo very well. While reading I had a feeling that the pianist was rather a mysterious character and he did not reveal his authentic thoughts. Could you tell us what inspired you to create Justo Al-Cerraz? Is he completely fictional or maybe did you model on anyone special?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Justo Al-Cerraz is also a composite, inspired by another musician, the pianist Albeniz, who lived in an earlier time period. He is – intentionally – a person who is not in touch with his own authenticity, but in the end, he was one of the most fun characters to write about. The character Al-Cerraz is a passionate searcher, full of joie de vivre, and though I first intended him to be an antagonist to the more noble Feliu, Al-Cerraz won me over. 

Agnes A. Rose: Feliu Delargo is very clearly opposed to the Francisco Franco’s politics. His disaffection is so huge that he wants to play the cello in public no longer. Do you think that this kind of manifesting of his reluctance is good for the public who really loves the virtuoso? Does a musician generally have the right to leave his/her performances on the stage because of his/her beliefs?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Those are great questions, and ones I hope every reader will consider, but I'm not going to answer them, because I want to leave them up to the reader to decide!

Agnes A. Rose: Have you ever been to Spain? If so, what did you like best in this country?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I first visited Spain when I was 15, traveling alone, and the time I spent in Barcelona made a huge impression on me. I returned for a longer trip in 2003 to do research for the novel. What do I like about Spain? Too many things to say here, but the first things that come to mind in no particular order are: the art (from Goya to Picasso), the literature (including Don Quixote), the fantastic museums, the Arabic influence especially in terms of architecture and music, the Spanish language, tapas and Spanish liqueurs, and a history that touches nearly every part of the world.

Agnes A. Rose: I know that you are a cellist just like Feliu Delargo and Pablo Casals. What motivated you to learn to play the cello? How long has your love for this musical instrument been lasting?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I've been in love with the cello since I was a child, and I've played off and on nearly my whole life. I am no more than a beginner, however. Writing The Spanish Bow gave me a great excuse to spend time studying and practicing for a concentrated period of time, and any frustration I had about not being a skilled musician I was able to direct into describing the expert cello-playing of other people. I set aside music lessons (and sold two cellos – a wooden instrument and a carbon-fiber one) a few years ago in order to devote time to other forms of research, study and travel. But when I finish my next two books and accomplish a few other goals I plan to buy another cello and start all over again. I miss it too much. My dream has always been to play the full Bach Cello Suites – or even one movement tolerably well!

Agnes A. Rose: Now let me ask you about your second novel “The Detour”. This book tells us the story of Ernst Vogler who is twenty-four years old and he is German. One day he is sent to Italy by his employer. In this book you go back to the Second World War but the war is only the background. In the first place we can see the main character. What did you want to convey to your readers deciding to create Ernst Vogler?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: If I wanted to convey one thing, it was the difficulty of moral decision-making, especially during this time period, which is so often obscured to us now that we are looking back on World War II, rather than living in the years leading up to it. Ernst is naive, somewhat passive, and troubled. He is not a hero. I am rather suspicious of novels about perfect heroes. I don't think they help us understand how it is to live in difficult times, affected by factors beyond our control, making hard choices without the benefit of hindsight.

Agnes A. Rose: As far as I am concerned I treat classical music as a work of art. Both in “The Spanish Bow” and “The Detour” you focus on different kinds of art. I think that your choice of the novels’ subject was not random. Why is art so important for you?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: First of all, I simply love art. Great art crosses boundaries of time and space, communicates what language cannot, makes the past come to life, unites, inspires, and endures. But art doesn't solve all problems and in a strange way, many of the 20th century's worst demagogues have used art to do great harm. In my first two novels, I ended up examining the way art's symbolism and power can be abused.

Agnes A. Rose: Which of these two books was more difficult for you to write and why?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: The Spanish Bow was the easiest because I wrote it entirely without expectations, for my own pleasure, without thoughts of any audience. The Detour was harder because I was writing about similar themes but trying very purposefully to tell the story in a different way and I was more aware of the challenges I was facing, in making a story about a 1930s German man who is serving the Reich appropriately palatable to the reader. The Spanish Bow is an homage to Don Quixote. It is a denser and purposefully episodic work that is meant to reflect its Spanish subject. The Detour is an homage to both classical Italian art and Italian cinema, in a sense. It is a much slimmer book, and written more in the fashion of a screenplay, to tell a more explicitly visual story.

Agnes A. Rose: Andromeda, before you started writing your fiction you had published several books about Alaska. Could you tell us something more about these works?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: My Alaska writing is nonfiction, mostly about the 49th state's wild public lands. Alaska is an amazing place and I've enjoyed helping interpret some of its natural wonders for the public. (I love science and nature as well as art and history!)

Agnes A. Rose: In a few months your readers in America will be able to read your newest book “Behave”. Could you tell us what is this novel about and how did your work on it look like?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: Behave tells the story of Rosalie Rayner Watson, a woman mostly forgotten by history, who was the lover/wife and assistant to John Watson, one of the 20th century's most influential pioneers of psychology. Aside from its subject matter – psychology, parenting, and the birth of modern advertising – it is a story of love, scandal, regret and reckoning. This is my first published novel set in America and I'm grateful to the main character for teaching me, so to speak, what it was like to be a woman in the fast-moving 1920s.

Agnes A. Rose: As shown above now you write historical novels. Have you ever thought about writing a fictionalized biography of a famous queen or princess? I notice that this kind of books is very trendy among writers at present.

Andromeda Romano-Lax: That's an interesting question, and the fact that a very fast "no!" jumped to my mind helps me understand and explain my own interests better! I am less interested in truly famous, well-known, glamorous or undeniably heroic people than I am in people who are forgotten, misunderstood, flawed, and more ambiguous.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you have an idea for another book? If so, could you tell us a little bit about your next project?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I have many more ideas for books and not enough time to write them all. I am nearly finished with drafting the next, which takes place in the past as well as the future, set in Taiwan and Japan. It's a very different kind of story, involving neither art nor science, but it does involve other time periods and jumping between the 1930s and 2030s, which was great fun.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you once again for this conversation. I am very happy about our interview. Is there anything you would like to add and tell your Polish readers?

Andromeda Romano-Lax: I'd love to tell my Polish readers that I'm grateful for their interest and especially appreciative of the Polish public's interest in classical music, art, politics and history. Thank you, Agnes. It was a pleasure.

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

Friday, 25 September 2015

Interview with Sandra Gulland

Sandra Gulland is the author of Josephine B. Trilogy, The Shadow Queen and The Mistress of the Sun.

source of the photo
Karolina Małkiewicz: You are the author of the Josephine B. Trilogy, which is about Napoleon's wife Josephine, as well as novels about the Sun King's first mistress, Louise de la Vallière, and Claude des Oeillets, maid to the Sun King's official mistress, Madame de Montespan. What inspired you to write books about these women? Which one do you like the most and why?

Sandra Gulland: These women – Josephine, Louise and Claude – are all very different, but they are alike in a significant way. None of them were born into high nobility, yet they each played an important role at Court. It's that transition that interests me. It's impossible for me to say which one is a favorite, for they are all dear to me.

KM: Are there other women in history who intrigue you? Which ones? And why exactly these? Would you like to write a book about them?

SG: Joan of Arc is certainly interesting, but many books have already been written about her, so I doubt that I will ever write about her.

KM: You wrote about the Napoleonic era and about France during the reign of the Sun King. Why did you decide to choose these parts of French history?

SG: My fascination with both these periods in French history began quite by chance. I happened to read a Young Adult biography of Josephine Bonaparte and became fascinated by her life. In researching Josephine, I learned about Louise de la Vallière, the Sun King's first mistress. Both periods are ones of great change, which makes for interesting stories.

KM:  Why did you decide to become a writer? Was it a childhood dream?

SG: I have always loved books, and my dream was to make one. First I became a book editor, telling myself that I would write a book of my own "someday." When I turned 40, I decided that it was time to get serious about that goal.

KM: What does Sandra Gulland do every day? What are her dreams? What does she want to do? What is her hobby?

SG: I rise early, usually around 6:00 am, make myself a mug of coffee, and settle down somewhere quiet with my laptop computer. I glance at my email, and maybe even look at Facebook and Instagram (to see if there is news of our children and grandchildren), but I then quickly move onto writing.

This morning quiet time is what I call my “Cup of Work,” and I try to do it even when we’re travelling. The writing work I do at this time might be working on an outline, writing first draft scenes or revising. It depends what stage the work is at. I write on a bed or couch – rarely at a desk. I find that’s best for me ergonomically.

After my Cup of Work, I break for breakfast, dress, and then return to writing work. I’ll break at 11:00 or so for exercise and lunch. In the afternoon I deal mainly with correspondence, research and household chores. And Social Media, of course, and posting to my blogs, which I enjoy. I also like to fit in a little time painting with watercolors every day, my current hobby. Writing is a very cerebral art, and it’s refreshing to create with stuff. As for dreams, I’m hoping to stay healthy and active long enough to write several more novels. I am 70; it takes me years to write a novel, so I’m not sure how many I will be able to finish!

KM: What's your next project? Could you tell us a little bit about it?

SG: Right now I’m writing a Young Adult novel about Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter Hortense de Beauharnais. She’s 15 when the novel opens, and 16 when it ends. The novel only spans a short period of her life, but a lot happens in that time. The novel is set in her boarding school until her step-father Napoleon takes power, and suddenly she’s something of a princess and living in a palace. The story is one of a girl mourning the death of a father who was guillotined during the French Revolution and coming to terms with her step-father Napoleon Bonaparte.

KM: What kind of books do you like reading? Do you have a favorite author or a book? Whose prose do you feel closest to?

SG:  I read lots of books for research, but for pleasure I enjoy reading literary fiction. Recently I read Nora Webster by Colim Toibin (I love all his novels), and I am now reading Lila by Marilynne Robinson. It's hard to pick a favorite author – I have so many – but Canadian authors Helen Humphries, Heather O’Neill and Miriam Toes would all be contenders   

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here
You can also visit the Sandra Gulland's blog



Tuesday, 15 September 2015

I kept an open mind, but sooner or later the idea came knocking at the door again ...

Interview with Vanora Bennett
by Karolina Małkiewicz

Vanora Bennett is a British journalist and writer, the author of  "Portrait of an Unknown Woman", "The People's Queen", "Figures in Silk", "Blood Royal", "The White Russian and Midnight in St. Petersburg".

Karolina Małkiewicz: Vanora, you have written two novels set in Russia or about Russians, four English historical novels and two non-fiction books about your experiences as a journalist. What inspired you to write these books?

Vanora Bennett: I have always loved writing, and started my career as a journalist working in Russia just after the Soviet collapse in 1991, so a preoccupation with things Russian and a fascination with how the past affects the present came naturally. Luckily for me, I'd started to learn Russian even before university, since a French teacher at my school was from a White Russian family and had chosen to teach me her first language, so I'd been exposed to that melancholy emigre way of thinking from very early on.

KM: "The People's Queen", "Figures in Silk", "Blood Royal" and "The Portrait of an Unknown Woman": your books tell about the time of the Plantagenets and Tudors – why did you decide to choose this part of English history?

VB: At first by complete coincidence! While I was working in Moscow in the early 1990s, I retuned to London for a weekend and went to an exhibition of drawings by the German artist Hans Holbein, who painted at the English court of Henry VIII in the mid-1500s. His portraits of the Tudor-era new rich – big unrefined men with great slabs of red-meat face and calculating eyes – reminded me so much of the Moscow new rich I was seeing emerge all around me that I bought the catalogue and read every word of it on the plane back to Russia. And there, somewhere in the small print, was a mention of a fascinating and far-fetched theory about a secret story that was hinted at in one of the pictures. I did what I could to find out more, and began to wonder how that story would look if it had really happened that way... and before I knew where I was it was turning into a book. It was really "about" the religious wars of the time, Protestants vs Catholics, which I discovered were absolutely absorbing history – but it also had a love triangle, a new and less positive view of an English hero, the Catholic Sir Thomas More, and a portrait of Holbein. 

It was such fun to write that I decided to go on. The great soap-opera moment of English history is Henry VIII's change of wives and decision to take England out of the Church of Rome, and my first book was set then, but I was a little scared of going straight for that iconic moment and found I preferred the untold stories of people further from the centre stage. And I found myself very interested by questions of reputation and power change – how one political narrative wins support and power, while another is doomed and fades away (again not unnatural after my time reporting in Russia, where such apparently dramatic change had come so fast) – and it was easy to find examples writing about the Middle Ages, when there were so many changes of regime. So I went backwards through time. It wasn't all that easy – life in the Middle Ages was very different from modern life! – and my technique for being able to think my way into a time was to always have a character with an artistic reputation and a body of work you could look at for another perspective. it made it easier to work your way into seeing people's personalities. So I had William Caxton the printer in one book, and Geoffrey Chaucer the great comic poet in another, and Christine de Pizan, the first French professional woman writer, in a third. Especially with the Chaucer book, the People's Queen, it was a tremendous help to have this other less historical viewpoint through which to examine my characters. But it was inevitable that, sooner or later, I'd go back to thinking and writing about Russia...

KM: "The White Russian" and "Midnight in St. Petersburg– why did you decide to write about Russia and Russians in exile? What fascinated you in this country and these people?

VB: So my most recent two novels have been set in early 20th-century Russia, which has given me a chance to revisit the Revolution, and Rasputin, and wartime Petrograd, which I had stayed in a lot several generations later both when it was called Leningrad and St Petersburg, and whose writers and artists I loved – a way to explore both my love of that side of Russian life and my scepticism about the hierarchical and autocratic way Russian politics and policing seem to be. 

As a journalist I spent a lot of time covering the first 1990s war in Chechnya, and came away from Russia with quite negative views about the Russian state's attitude to smaller peoples and minorities and generally to anyone who veers away from the expected norm. Making the heroine of Midnight in St Petersburg a Jewish girl in 1917, and a refugee from violence in the Jewish Pale of Settlement in southern Russia, someone viewed with suspicion because of her dark looks and foreign-sounding name, was a way of telling the same story I'd encountered in real life through my modern Chechen friends' experiences.

As for writing about exiles, it's kind of the same thing. My musician parents had a very international friendship group, so, growing up, I met many, many, central and eastern European and Jewish exiles from one kind of bad history or another, each with more memories than they felt comfortable with it and no way home. So I felt right at home in the world I chose to write about in The White Russian – the Russian emigre circles of Paris in the 1930s, poverty-stricken and paranoid, and, with the second world war coming, genuinely penetrated and infiltrated by Stalinist agents waiting to do more damage.

I think all the drama of novel writing comes from putting characters into a situation where they face conflict and showing how they deal with it and grow – and these are all not just conflict situations par excellence but also ones I felt relatively familiar with.

KM: What is the most interesting or maybe surprising fact you came across in your research for your books?

VB: Well, I learned to make a violin myself while writing about my Jewish heroine Inna becoming a violin maker in St Petersburg – and now have a violin to play on, a fact that still surprises me! I went to a workshop in Cambridge for about 3 years and finally finished the violin last year...

KM: Why did you choose this kind of literature? It must be very difficult because of doing detailed historical research. How do you do your research for your books? Which genre is more difficult: historical fiction or non-fiction?

VB:  In many ways the research is the most fascinating thing you can do. it can be hard to leave the library and actually start writing... Also, I started by wanting a factual framework to write within, because I came from journalism and was scared of writing about people and their feelings without any facts! But In the end I came to agree that it was hard researching the minutiae of daily life at a time when everything was so different. It was a relief to return to Russia in the age of electric light and the phone...

KM: Are there any other areas of the history you would like to write about in your future novels?

VB: I'm not sure – I am writing a non-fiction book about an aspect of Russian history at about the time of the Revolution now, and have thought I might like to try my hand at something contemporary next, perhaps about, or featuring, the many Russians living in London now. So I'll have to see how things develop and whether I get a new historical idea I feel excited about...

This is the Polish cover of
"Portrait of an Unknown Woman"
Published by ŚWIAT KSIĄŻKI
Warsaw 2009
Translated by Joanna Puchalska
KM: Which character of your novels you like the most and why?

VB: My favourite character by a long way is Holbein, in my first novel, PORTRAIT. He sort of wrote himself – big and rough and workmanlike, on the surface, but with a genuine greatness of spirit and intellectual finesse too. I loved the way he soaked up knowledge, and the passion he brought to his work, and the passion with which he fell in love, too.

KM: Which of your book was more difficult to create? Why?

VB: The hardest book to write was the third of the English stories, about Henry V's French wife – I think I underestimated how hard it was going to be to find out about the medieval French history of the period (since France was defeated there is surprisingly little written about it in France)... and it was a dark story about loss and madness which it felt hard to put a shape to. I originally envisaged it more as the story of three women in wartime – a princess, an artist, and the fighter Joan of Arc – each having different responses to danger. But perhaps not unnaturally my publisher was most interested in the princess! So I had to think it out again in an attempt to rebalance things. I hope it worked out OK in the end!

KM: How did you become a journalist?

VB: Again, by accident  I heard as I was finishing my university degree (and wondering what on earth I could do as a job when all I could do was Russian) that Reuters news agency wanted to hire Russian speakers. It turned out to be true, so even though I had done no journalism they sent me to journalism school for a year and trained me. Once I started work, they sent me, not to Moscow, but to Paris, and then to Asia, and then to Africa! But by then I was up and running.

KM: If you could go back in time and become any historical figures, who would it be and why?

VB: Oh, so many people! Probably a man, though that is hard to imagine from my female point of view – Gandhi or Nelson Mandela? I think I would enjoy being an explorer – I had a great-great-great-grandfather who was a botanist in Imperial India and our family legend says he was the first to import rhododendrons into Britain (by wrapping them in brown sugar and putting them on board ship to England) and that he recognised that you could make tea from India tea plants... 

KM: How do you think whether any of the modern women could become a character of the novel? Which one and why?

VB: It would be quite hard I think as modern women have expectations (thank God) that they can have so much power over their own lives, while in the past they had to work within the framework set down by their men. I think the reason that Henry VIII's second wife, Anne Boleyn, has become so popular among modern readers is that she followed her own ambition so ruthlessly – but she was incredibly rare for her time. I suspect if that modern women found themselves in a historical novel, they would very soon also find themselves being suspected for their independent mindedness, and probably end up being burned as witches, so there would not be a good outcome!

KM: When did you start writing? When did you realize that you wanted to start writing?

VB: I wrote stories and poems, the usual children's things... I think I realised I wanted to write more than news stories for Reuters when I was working in Africa, where frankly I was a little bored and lonely and had time on my hands. I started to try and write a long magazine-cum-book version of a trip I'd been on, got obsessed, and realised time was passing very quickly as I got absorbed in my project and that I must be enjoying myself a lot!

KM: How does your ordinary day look?

VB: Chaotic – I do try to keep to a timetable and write a regular amount every day, but I also have two children and an ancient house and a part-time job and a thousand calls on my time, so it often doesn't work out exactly as I planned.

KM:  Do you have any unusual writing habits?

VB: None, except gallons of black coffee.

KM: What kind of books do you like reading? Do you have a favourite author or a book? Whose prose do you feel closest to?

VB: I love big stories – whether it is Dickens or Emily Bronte or Tolstoy or Bulgakov. I have recently gone back a lot to Tolstoy – Anna Karenina having been my favourite book as a child, not, I hasten to add, because I loved or even was very interested in Vronsky, but mostly because I though the idealistic and sensitive Levin a most extraordinary character.

KM: Have you ever been to Poland? What do you associate with Poland?

VB: Ooh, yes, I have! And I loved it. I went for a week on a Polish government trip for four journalists, and saw – Warsaw, Krakow, and Mazuria, which I thought especially fascinating and beautiful and have indulged a fantasy for years since of going to live by the side of a beautiful lake there. Several years ago I shared a flat with an English girl who had fallen in love with all things Polish, which fed my interest in Poland. Through her I met several very interesting people including the writer Pawel Huelle and the film maker Pawel Pawlikowski – my friend, whose name is Antonia Lloyd-Jones, has since become the leading literary translator in England from Polish, including of a biography of the journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski who was my absolute hero for many years while I was a young journalist going to some of the same very remote places. I imagine Poland being full of pianists playing Chopin in parks, and when I was visited was delighted to discover this wasn't quite just a romantic fantasy, as we heard exactly this during a visit to one of Warsaw's beautiful parks. 

KM: I must ask you: what do you think what happened to the Princes in the Tower? Did king Richard murder his two nephews? If it wasn't him, then who did?

VB: I see you're saving the best if hardest question for last, Karolina! I suppose logic does dictate that king Richard killed them... but my heart wants to believe he didn't. There is a wonderful book by Josephine They called The Daughter of Time which rehearses the case for the boys being killed not by King Richard but by the next King of England, Henry VII. It is a good and compelling case. I read it as a child and it made a huge impression on me. I fictionalise one of the many other conspiracy theories that still exist about this historical mystery in PORTRAIT OF AN UNKNOWN WOMAN, and in my second novel FIGURES IN SILK/QUEEN OF SILKS have Richard III as a minor character - but leave the door open. Perhaps the real attraction of thinking about this historical mystery is that it will never be solved for good – and will go on being exciting to hypothesise about. 

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

Monday, 10 August 2015

It is very emotional writing the children’s stories as I’m so involved...

Interview with Cathy Glass
by Agnes A. Rose

Cathy Glass is a British author, freelance writer and foster carer. She writes books which are strongly identified with both the True Life Stories and Inspirational Memoirs genres. Her first book, Damaged, was published in 2007. This novel was number one in the Sunday Times best-sellers charts in hardback and paperback. In March 2008 Cathy Glass released her second book entitled Hidden. She has been a foster carer for many years, during which time she has fostered more than a hundred children. The name “Cathy Glass” is a pseudonym. She writes under it because of the sensitive nature of her source material. The names of the children she writes about are likewise altered. In Poland we can read about fourteen of her novels, for example: When the Angels Come, Please Don't Take My Baby, Mummy Told Me Not to Tell, The Saddest Girl in the World, Another Forgotten Child and many others.

Agnes A. Rose: Cathy, thank you very much for your agreeing to participate in this interview. You are very popular in Poland and you have a lot of readers in my country. Could you tell us why did you decided to write books about such moving problems like children deprived of parental care and their family homes?

Photo by Amit Lennon 
Cathy Glass: I have always been a writer of sorts – from when I was at school, with poems in the school magazine. In my teens I progressed to short stories and articles etc. I find writing cathartic – as do many – so it was the medium I turned to when I was trying to come to terms with the dreadful experiences of some of the children I’d fostered. Also, I wanted to raise public awareness – that many children suffer and that sometimes they are let down by the system that should have protected them. Writing a gripping book – a real page-turner- achieves this and is an enjoyable experience for the reader.

Agnes A. Rose: Was it difficult or easy to find a publisher for your first book? Do publishers willingly release books about such a difficult theme? 

Cathy Glass: It was relatively easy. I approached two literary agents, the second one signed me up, and then he found a publisher within a month. It was the right book at the right time to the right agent.

Agnes A. Rose: How much emotionally do you go through each of these stories? Have you ever thought that you will not finish a book?

Cathy Glass: It is very emotional writing the children’s stories as I’m so involved. But they are stories of hope. I sometimes cry while writing as I relive the journey we went through together, then I smile when there is a happy ending. I choose the stories I write very carefully but so far I’ve always finished once I have started.

Agnes A. Rose: As I mentioned above you are a foster carer. What motivated you to undertake this kind of work? In my opinion this must be a very hard job.

This is the Polish cover of "Damaged"
Published by Hachette Polska (2009)
Translated by Magdalena Osip-Pokrywka
Cathy Glass:  I saw an advertisement in the local newspaper saying that foster families were desperately needed, and I wondered if I had what it took. I went to an introductory evening and never looked back. This is covered in more detail in my book Cut. Yes it can be difficult at times, but not because of the children. It is the ‘system’ I have to deal with which causes me most frustration. The time things seem to take and the meetings instead of action. Sometimes I feel I am the only person in the child care system battling for what the child needs. I know many other foster carers feel the same. The whole child protection system needs looking at and revising. There are too few social workers with too large caseloads.

Agnes A. Rose: Could you describe us a typical day of your work as a foster carer?

Cathy Glass: No two days are the same in fostering which is why I like it. But I usually rise early before the children, so I can write, then if the child I’m fostering goes to school I will take them. There maybe meetings to go to, or training, as well as shopping, cooking and cleaning and running the house. I think my books give a pretty good picture of what life is like as a foster carer.

Agnes A. Rose: Do you have any advice for people who want to become foster parents? What kind of problems should they take into account to be good foster parents?

Cathy Glass: There is always a shortage of foster carers so if you are interested in fostering I suggest you contact your local fostering service and ask for more information. Different countries vary in their procedure for recruiting foster carers, but there will be an introductory evening where you will learn more about fostering and you will be able to ask questions and share your concerns. The application and assessment process to become a foster carer is long and in depth so you will have plenty of time to think about your commitment. Fostering doesn’t suit all families but if you go ahead and foster you will find the rewards – of seeing a child improve and be happy – are never ending. Applicants will have to want to work with children and young people and have room in their home. They will need empathy for the child and an understanding of the circumstances that has brought that child into care. They will have to have patience, a calm manner particularity in a crisis, common sense and a good support network.  It’s important to know when to voice an opinion and when to stay quiet and not to be judgmental. A foster parent has to be a good listener, be well organized, and have a sense of humour. We mustn’t be afraid to say 'No' to the child sometimes for all children need boundaries. It is also important to play with the children as well as making time for your own family.

This is the Polish cover of
"Please Don't Take My Baby"
Published by MUZA S.A. (2015)
Translated by Anna Rajca-Salata
Agnes A. Rose: What would you like to convey to your readers writing your books?

Cathy Glass: Readers tell me they have a feeling of well-being – of being part of a loving family, which is great. They say they feel as though they are in the room with me and share in my experiences. I hope that readers enjoy the books because that is what reading should be about. I also hope it makes people think about the issues I have raised.

Agnes A. Rose: What are the major challenges that you have faced?

Cathy Glass: Each child I foster brings with them their own challenges (and rewards) and you can only do your best. On personal note I found it very difficult when my husband left me, and also when my father died a few years ago.

Agnes A. Rose: If you had not been a writer and foster carer what do you think you would have been?

Cathy Glass: This is a difficult one because my life revolves around fostering and writing and all that entails. They are all-encompassing and life-changing. It would certainly have been a different life and I suspect a far less rewarding one. I think I am very lucky being able to foster and to write.

Agnes A. Rose: What is your next project? Could you tell us a little bit about it?

Cathy Glass: Girl Alone is my next book and tells the story of Joss, aged 13, who was angry and out of control when she came to live with me. Two previous foster carers and an aunt had tried but failed to help her. I had doubts I would do any better and I knew I was her last chance. Her next move would be to a secure unit for her own protection. In prison at the age of thirteen! Joss smoked cannabis, drank alcohol, went missing overnight and was in trouble with the police and at school. I worried about the effect her behaviour was having on my teenage children, especially when I wasn't able to make a difference and her behaviour continued to deteriorate. Yet I could understand why Joss was so angry, confused and upset. Four years previously, aged only 9, Joss had arrived home from school to find her father's lifeless body hanging in the garage. He had committed suicide.

Agnes A. Rose: Cathy, thank you very much for this interview. I wish you all the best for your further work and I hope that someday we will meet in Poland.

Cathy Glass: Thank you. I love hearing from my readers in Poland x

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