Could you briefly tell us what your story is all about?
The day the Berlin Wall came down, Jennifer returned to England, abandoning her week-old daughter, Szandi, to grow up on a Hungarian vineyard with 300 years of history. Now 18, Szandi is part of Budapest’s cosmopolitan art scene, sharing a flat and a bohemian lifestyle with her lover and fellow sculptress, Yang. She has finally found her place in the world. Then a letter arrives that threatens everything, and forces her to choose once and for all: between the past and the present; between East and West; between her family and her lover.
What are some of the themes you explored in your novel?
It’s basically a novel about identity. It’s about our struggle to find our home in the modern world. It’s a world that’s not only fragmented by nationality and sexuality, by past politics and family history, but by the divide between our real lives and the lives we live in cyberspace. I’ev used a fairly magical realist approach as a result of wanting to explore the last of these in particular.
The novel inhabits our world, only it’s not quite our world, in the same way you’d find in a Murakami novel, say. For me that means I can get to the heart of the questions without having to worry about the strictures of the laws of physics! So if it helps Sandrine to talk things through with a statue, she can do it, for example. It’s also a novel about families, and about the fragile relations within them.
The novel is set in the art and music worlds, which are the places I love, and which represent places outside of the boundaries we find elsewhere. Art and music transcend all teh rubbish of day to day life, and offer the characters a freedom they can’t find elsewhere.
Who is your favourite character in the story and why?
I can genuinely say I love all the main characters. One of the reasons I wanted to write the novel was to show that you could write an interesting story where none of the characters was bad; where no one had anything but the best motives. It’s life, and circumstance, that provide the conflict.
If I had to pick one though, it would be Yang. She smokes too much dope, and her art is full of its own importance, but she’s absolutely in love with Sandrine, and the lengths and sacrifice she goes to to support her are incredible. But I certainly never got the sense she was a soft touch. She’s capable of saying the tough things – but in a way that lets Sandrine know she’s always there.
What inspired you to write this story?
That’s a long long story. Truth is, I was fed up with my critic group saying I should be more commercial in my writing, so I set out to write something I wanted to read and blow them! Of course, it’s ended up more of a conventional story than anything else I’ve written.
I also grew up at the time the Berlin Wall came down and communism collapsed. I was a student through the war in the former Yugoslavia. I watched Europe fall apart at just the same time many people’s idea of identity was being blown apart by postmodernism. Throw the birth of the Internet into that, and the sense of sheer excitement at the growth of modern art that led up to the Sensatin exhibition, and this was a book I just had to write.
What advice do you have for aspiring creators who want to self-publish their own works?
I run a blog devoted to giving advice to aspiring self-publishers, and have just re-run my “10 commandments for aspiring writers” series on it. I’ve also been privileged to be asked to guest blog on the subject by some amazing people.
I think your question is actually two questions so I’ll pick out two bullet points. For self-publishers, my advice is: make sure you are writing for a small market that you know intimately, and you can reach more effectively than a mainstream publisher; and don’t be afraid to give your work away for free!
For aspiring writers, the most important thing to remember is that the literature business is about people. Be polite, friendly, and helpful in everything you do. Never moan, never bad-mouth. Help other people without expecting anything back. Do that (AND have a great book, of course) and all those doors you were told were closed, you’ll suddenly find open.
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