My Czech writing home
It was Easter 1990 when I first stepped off the train in Prague. I didn't know it at the time but it was the beginning of a love affair with the Czech Republic. A love affair which is still as strong, indeed stronger, a love affair which is the reason I am today sitting at a desk in the living room of an old Bohemian farmhouse. I have just got back from England. Tomorrow I will start to write my latest book, but tonight I am writing this post.
The Prague I discovered twenty-four years ago was just waking. The nightmare of the communist years and before that Nazi oppression was over. There was a palpable excitement in the air. People were walking around with grins on their faces and yet at the same time they were at last able to express the grief they felt for the victims of the tyrants. As I walked the streets I would pass small shrines of candles and flowers in memory of the fallen. It was as if the air was full of angels, both rejoicing and grieving.
The Czechs believe in angels. They may be the most atheist nation in Europe but they believe in angels, devils and fairies, or at least they seem to talk about them a lot. This is a magic realist country. It is my sort of place. I sometimes wonder whether I was already partly Czech and just didn't know it, until I arrived on that cold spring evening. I grew up loving those tv fairytale series that the BBC imported from the Eastern bloc in the 1960s. I read illustrated children's books, which unbeknownst to me were translated from the Czech and brought over by Paul Hamlyn.
And then there was Hannah Kodicek. We had met when I borrowed some puppets of hers for an exhibition of television puppets. We immediately became friends. It was Hannah who was waiting for me on the platform at Prague station. As she renewed acquaintances and researched an article for the Sunday Times about a Czech emigree returning to the city she had fled in 1968, I wandered the streets in a state of euphoria induced by the atmosphere and too many cups of black Czech coffee. When we got back, I found myself writing a long poem for voices inspired by the experience, and Hannah, inspired in turn by the poem, produced an amazing sequence of four-coloured prints. The poem Fool's Paradise won the award for best poetry book in the EPIC awards last year.
|Horice na Sumave, from the hill above the farmhouse|
After a few years Hannah bought a flat in Prague and left Britain. I was busy following a career in community regeneration. I used to fly over two or three times a year and we would talk and walk. I had stopped writing by this point. Nothing was flowing but I told myself I didn't mind. I had a career, I had other things of value to do. I told Hannah that too, but she didn't believe me. She worried that I was suppressing the creative side of my nature. Nearly nine years ago I decided she might be right and to address my writer's block I would buy a house here. Or rather, I decided I would buy a little hut in the woods: nothing too expensive, nothing that needed work on it, somewhere I would come for a few weeks each summer. My lovely husband was persuaded by this, especially as he believed and still believes that I was born to be a writer. But fate intervened. Hannah's carpenter (known to us all as Frantisek Jesus, because he played the lead in the local passion play) heard of a place which was coming up for sale. It was large five-bedroomed farmhouse in so bad a way that only a crazy Brit would consider buying it – the Czechs knew better.
For the first few years nothing creative happened. I was too busy supervising builders and Czech builders certainly need supervising. Again I told myself I didn't mind. Then I had what was probably a breakdown. I gave up my career and came here for six weeks. I wrote the first draft of my first book, which will remain along with the finished draft forever in the bottom of a drawer somewhere. But the log jam had broken, the words had begun to flow. At the third attempt I wrote a book that I and Hannah thought good enough to publish. Three more books have followed.
So does my Czech homeland feature in my books, do I hear you ask? Yes, not entirely by any means, but yes. In my Healer's Shadow Trilogy, the heroine, the traditional healer Judith, is attracted to the Forester. She visits it twice and marries a Forester, but fights against settling there. In the final book, The Company of Shadows, she is forced by circumstances to go. The reason for her fear is that there is in the Forest a great healer and Judith is afraid that in meeting the healer she will have to realize what is inside herself, Now who does that remind me of?
When Zoe was a little girl, her inventor father taught her to "look at things another way", while her mother taught her to see dragons in the shapes of natural things. Zoe is still putting into practice what she was taught.
In 2012 Zoe published her first novel, Girl in the Glass (the first book in The Healer’s Shadow trilogy). Four books have followed, including the rest of the trilogy and the award-winning poetry book Fool’s Paradise.
Zoe aims to write popular books that have complex characters and themes that get under the reader's skin. She finds her experience of working with people on the edge of society an inspiration for her fiction.
Zoe uses magic realism in her writing and has a magic realism blog, where she reviews a magic realism book a week: http://magic-realism-books.blogspot.com. She also administers the Magic Realism Books Facebook group.
Find her here:
Two bits of personal business before I go:
1. Crosswind is officially entered in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards this year. If you're on the fence about reading it, you can click here for a preview of my ABNA entry. (And thanks to Charles Ray and Laurie Boris for the swell preview idea.)
2. The Goodreads giveaway is ongoing through Saturday. Click in the box to the left if you'd like to enter to win a signed copy. Good luck!
These moments of bloggy magic have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.