At the end of May I was interviewed by the UK-based author/interviewer Fiona McVie. I found her questions really good so thought it would be nice to repost the interview here for those who missed it. Among others, I talk about my recently published novel, The Cottage on The Border, Book #1 in The Jenna Kroon Series (Tirgearr Publishing, 29 May 2015) and share an excerpt of Book #2 The Farm on Nieuw Land Road, which will hopefully see the light in early 2016.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news?
Tirgearr Publishing have just relaunched my two earlier published books ‘Casablanca, My Heart’ and ‘The Cottage on The Border’, Book 1 in “The Jenna Kroon Series”. So I’m a very happy girl right now!
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing when I could hold a pen and I don’t really know why. I was just born that way.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I still don’t consider myself a writer. I have a full-time day job. Maybe after I retire?
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
Enid Blyton’s The Five Series when I was 8.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style?
My own? I’m not completely sure how to answer this question. I like all the wrong things in writing: long, flowing, descriptive sentences embellished with plenty of adjectives and adverbs. So, so wrong, of course! But then again, I was a poet before I was a novelist so blame the flourishing style on the ‘voice of the heart’ and on my addiction to 19th century novels.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Titles are not my forte. I tend to have one and then change it again and then ask for advice from my editor(s) and then change it again.
For ‘Casablanca, My Heart’ (which is a literary romance), I was inspired by a well-known romantic film about the white city, starring Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart. The main character, Heather Simpson, is in love with Casablanca even before she has seen it and falls in love with the aristocrat Ghalib while visiting it. There are many other matters of the heart discussed in the book, hence the title.
‘The Cottage on The Border’ is the first book in The Jenna Kroon Series, the main character being 19-year old Jenna Kroon de Coligny. The second book is called ‘The Farm on Nieuw Land Road’ and the title of book 3 is ‘The House on Broadway’. The main setting of ‘The Cottage on The Border’ is – rather obviously – a derelict cottage on the border between Holland and Belgium, a haunted place, where Jenna is to find out all about her mysterious past. The border also refers to her mental state. Jenna constantly hovers on the brink of mental illness.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
I write about exceptional women who have to make impossible choices in life and who – though tattered and unsure what decision to take next – face fate head-on, sometimes paying for it with their lives. I don’t really see this as a message, though. It’s more that I share Doctor Zhivago’s motto: “Life is not a stroll through the meadow.” Sorry if this sounds too heavy. I don’t write comedy though comic events happen in my books and people do have genuine fun. But my general outlook on life is that it’s tough and good and bad are not distributed fairly.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic?
Most of it, though Jenna is a bit of a psychic. I have a fantasy trilogy in the back of my writing head, which I’d like to try after I’ve finished the next 7 or 8 books. We’ll see.
Fiona: Are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
As a writer you always mix real-life events with dream flashes and story-telling by others, but in essence my work is pure fiction. Half of the time I don’t even know myself what it is my subconscious is coming up with and what storyline I’m going to follow next.
Fiona: What books have most influenced your life most? A mentor?
As I said earlier, definitely the 19th century classics, Russian, American, British and French, but my all-time hero is and always will be Leo Tolstoy.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’m always reading two or three at the same time but I seem to be most taken by Winston Graham’s Poldark series at the moment. Now reading book 1 ‘Ross Poldark’. Historical fiction but written in the 20th century. Light stuff that helps me to fall asleep.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
I’ve read a lot of books written by my online author friends and some of them are really good writers. But I’m not going to give any names because I don’t want to offend the ones I’m not mentioning. Now looking forward to reading work from the authors of my new Tirgearr family. It’s a pity, however, that I’m a slow reader with little free reading time on my hands.
Fiona: What are your current projects?
Currently writing book 2 in ‘The Jenna Kroon Series’. Already mentioned that. Then book 3. After that five books in the ‘Daughter of The Alvar Series’. Book 1 ‘Ingrid’ is already on paper, as is part of book 2 ‘Agnes’. Perhaps I’ll also write a sequel to ‘Casablanca, My Heart’ and then the fantasy trilogy. Enough work to keep me busy into my late 80s.
Fiona: Name one entity that you feel supported you outside of family members.
I’m not sure what you mean by an entity? And sadly enough my family members do not support me. Either they aren’t readers (like my sons) or they aren’t interested in me as a whole (the rest). My online friends and my publisher are the great supporters here!
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
No, but neither do I see it as a hobby or a past-time. To me, it’s the core of my being, which is much more than a career. It’s a destination.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Get rid of the clumsy sentences, make it a little shorter, skip the embellishments, go deeper into the corrupt but brilliant mind of Markus Brenner. Study all the philosophers he claims his sick, fascist body of thought is built on.
Fiona: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
Through reading. Only yesterday I passed the tiny village called ‘s Heer Abtskerke, where I learnt to read and write. The school building is no longer there but as I passed through, in a flashback I could see myself as the bewildered, little girl in her rumpled frock, with ink all over her fingers trying to grasp the magic her pen could do on the page.
Fiona: Can you share a little of your current work with us?
Of course. I’d be delighted. This is what I wrote today. It is part of Chapter 19 The Truth Hurts of ‘The Farm on Nieuw Land Road’. This is the episode in the story where the old rancher Andréas Pinto Xavier explains to Denise Janssen, (whom he is teaching all about the breeding of Criollo horses and who is married to his overseer Carlos), why he is so against Denise’s marriage. It has not yet been edited!!
“I’ve never been the marrying kind of guy. Of course, when I was younger, I used to enjoy the comfort of female company offered to me but that stopped abruptly after man landed on the moon. You see, two months later a certain Maria Rodriguez de Silva showed up here on the ranch claiming I’d made her pregnant. At the time, I couldn’t do anything but burst into laughter. A girl of easy virtue, perhaps even lying about the early stages of her pregnancy, coming all the way from Caracas to tell me, a simple rancher from out-of-the-way La Enena that I’d knocked her up. It was so hilarious I told her to go and find herself a rich husband elsewhere. No way, I thought she was telling the truth but it shook me awake. I had taken dangerous liberties in my drunken state and I felt remorse. So much even, that I went to confession to tell our priest what I’d been accused of. It taught me never to lie with an unknown woman again and I’ve kept that promise.” Pinto glanced at Denise again but she kept studying her hands. He pushed his empty glass in her direction. The ice cubes hadn’t even had time to melt.
“Fill it up once more.” Denise shook herself from her stupor to do as he asked. There was another long silence, in which Andréas concentrated on sipping his drink. Denise had never before seen him drink alcohol during the day, certainly not at such a rate so she became more and more worried what lay in the heavy silence. What was it to her if righteous Andréas Pinto had a child with a prostitute? Was it such a big deal? She reckoned there were more illegitimate children on this globe than kids born out of wedlock. She really couldn’t see what was making the old rancher so upset and what it had to do with her. Then he continued his monologue.
“Twenty years later, on the 6th of October 1989, I got a letter from a certain Luis Pérez Castillo from Caracas, who told me his wife Maria Perez de Silva had died the year before and that on her death bed she had told him that he wasn’t the father of their eldest son Carlos but that I had fathered the child. Luis hadn’t felt the need to get in touch with me before but now he wrote that Carlos was getting out of control, the lad was 19 by then and Luis was starting to get annoyed with him, becoming more and more aware of the differences between Carlos and his other three children.” Again Andréas sought Denise’s eyes to steady himself and this time she tried to answer his penetrating gaze but the shock she might actually be looking at her father-in-law sitting across from her made her mind otherwise go blank.
“Luis refrained from telling me in what sort of trouble Carlos was and at first I put the letter aside as I still thought it was all bogus. But then, one hot morning in February 1990, Carlos himself showed up on my doorstep. He told me his father had sent him to me to become a farmhand as he needed to spend some time away from the city. You can imagine that made my eyebrows go up high. My first concern was whether the lad knew anything about the stories being told about him and me but he reacted to none of my hints in that direction so I supposed his father had just sent him off as a one-way package without a return stamp. My second – even bigger concern – was that I immediately saw the young lad was a drug addict, big time. And that, my dear Denise, is the root of all the trouble.” Andréas halted. Sighing deeply, he took a big, white handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wiped his sweaty forehead. Then he slumped back in his chair, looking haggard. Devastation showing in his dark-brown eyes.
Fiona: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Describing people and writing sex scenes. I want my characters to appear vividly before the reader’s eyes, how they move, their peculiarities, character, looks, etc. but that is so incredibly daunting.
And sex scenes, boy-oh-boy, that’s the hardest of them all but sometimes inescapable as in life itself.
Fiona: Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?
To avoid repetition let me not bring up Tolstoy again (whom I admire for every word he’s ever written) but say I learn something from each good book I read or listen to. Recently, I was very charmed by John Galworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. Galsworthy could do so very well what I’m still a novice at: describe characters so you see them before you.
Fiona: Do you have to travel much concerning your book(s)?
Nope. Can’t afford it.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Two of Tirgearr’s wonderful cover artists. Casa’s cover was designed by Elle J. Rossi and the Cottage by Melody Pond. Melody already designed the covers for the next two books and I have to keep them secret but they are astonishing! I can tell you that much.
Fiona: What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Continuing with the story and staying glued to my office chair. Not checking Facebook or email every other minute, or leave my desk in search of a snack.
Fiona: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
That the well of stories inside me is endless. That I love and I hate the process almost in equal shares.
Fiona: Do you have any advice for other writers?
Try to be firm and disciplined about your writing but don’t overdo it. Find the golden mean that works for you. And read, absorb, read, learn, grasp, read. The masters before you will show you how to.
Fiona: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Just that I hope they like my stories and enjoy a couple of entertaining hours while being immersed in them.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
It was called ‘An en Moe’ (Ann and Mum) and it was the book that taught me how to read.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
I laugh/smile for many reasons: good humour, funny incidents, unexpected meetings, witticisms, the radiant sun, nature in full bloom, a child’s beaming face, a stroke of luck, love sparkling in the eye, great art, warmth, compassion, and honesty.
I cry for the fate of my children and that of my own and for all the great sadness of this precarious sublunary world, whether manmade or caused by other factors.
Fiona: Is there one person pass or present you would meet and why?
My daughter Joy. Because I miss her with every fibre of my body.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone and why?
Fiona: Other than writing do you have any hobbies?
Yoga, jogging, hiking, listening to audio books, a bit of gardening and I quite like my job.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
Good talk shows (Dutch ones), Band of Brothers, films or series based on good books, Dance programmes.
Fiona: Favorite foods / Colors/ Music.
Vegetarian dishes. I like all colours. 70s music: Pink Floyd, Neil Young, Patti Smith, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, etc.
Fiona: If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
I would have liked to be a professional dancer or a doctor in Africa.