1980: the beginning of the Polish Crisis. Brought up in a small village, country-girl Ania arrives in the university city of Wroclaw to pursue her career as a sculptor. Here she falls in love with Dominik, an enigmatic writer at the centre of a group of bohemians and avant-garde artists who throw wild parties. When martial law is declared, their lives change overnight: military tanks appear on the street, curfews are introduced and the artists are driven underground. Together, Ania and Dominik fight back, pushing against the boundaries imposed by the authoritarian communist government. But at what cost? ‘Home Is Nearby’ is a vivid and intimate exploration of the struggle to find your place in the world no matter where you are.
- What book first ignited your love of reading?
I’ve loved reading for so long that it’s hard to remember the first book. As an older child, I fell head over heels in love with Anne of Green Gables. Every time I opened that book it was like visiting my best friend – my bosom buddy, as Anne would put it. Anne loved reading and writing, she was smart and hilarious and way ahead of her time (the scene where she gets her best friend drunk on ‘cordial’ is fantastic). What’s more, though she didn’t use the ‘F’ word, she was clearly a feminist who was determined to make her own way in the world.
- If your current book had a theme song, what would it be and why?
Ooh, interesting question! Given the book’s 1980s setting and its themes around love and loss and change, it would have to be Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division. It’s one of my favourite songs of all time! There’s a Joy Division reference in the book, but it’s not explicit, so some readers might not notice it.
- Which book have you read more than once?
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I recommended it to my husband who read it and complained that nothing much happens, but for me, everything happens in that book. It’s about the end of love, and the end of a whole way of life, which of course is one of the themes that preoccupies Fitzgerald. But the main reason I love it is because the writing is sublime. I still have my old dog-eared copy of the book, which I bought at a second had shop when I was at university, and it’s full of pencil marks where I’ve underlined lovely sentences, like this one, ‘Later she remembered all the hours of the afternoon as happy – one of those uneventful times that seem at the moment only a link between past and future pleasure, but turn out to have been the pleasure itself.’
- Do you plan your writing or go with the flow?
I like to have a vague idea or broad storyline in mind before I start writing, but I don’t like plotting it out as such. When I sit down to write, I want to be surprised by what happens. Those surprises are one of the delights of writing and, I think, bring the work to life.
- Do you enjoy the editing process?
Yup! I love it. I have a friend who is a prolific writer but who hates editing and she jokes about how ‘virtuous’ I am when it comes to editing. But the truth is, first drafts are a killer for me. I feel like I’m on safer ground once the first draft is done and I have something to work with, something to finesse.
- If you could what advice would you give your sixteen year old self?
Have more fun! I was quite a serious child and teenager and while my friends were out misbehaving, I normally had my head in a book. Although, come to think of it, that’s not such a bad thing…
- Do you read your book reviews?
Home Is Nearby is my first book, so I’m not very familiar with the world of reviews. However, my writer friends have, on good authority, told me to stay away from Goodreads once my book is published! It’s too nerve-wracking to see what people are saying. However, I’m looking forward to connecting with readers in other ways.
- What is your opinion on social media and it’s unique gift of connecting writer and reader instantly?
As a reader, I’ve really loved meeting authors in the virtual world. There’ve been a few occasions where I’ve tweeted about books that I’ve enjoyed and the authors have responded, which has been a real buzz. There’s no doubt that social media has made authors more accessible to the public than ever before. Of course, for authors, that comes with a downside too. Engaging with social media can take up a lot of time – time that could be spent writing.
- If you could give one literary villain a happier ending, who would you pick and why?
The Wicked Witch of the West. I think there’s more to her than the ugly crone stereotype would suggest.
- If your book could come with a preemptive message for the reader, what would yours say?
The message would be that ‘art sustains us in difficult times’. The older I get the more I believe this to be true.
- What are you currently reading?
I’m reading The Faraway Nearby by the incredible Rebecca Solnit. It’s about reading and writing and love and family and death. The imaginative leaps she takes are just stunning. I’ve only recently discovered her writing and am blown away by her talent.
- Where did you get the inspiration for your current novel?
The inspiration for the novel really came from my own family heritage. Growing up, I often wondered what my life would’ve been like if we’d stayed put in Poland. What would it have been like to grow up in communist Poland, to live through the momentous decade of the 1980s when the country was on the cusp of radical change?
While the novel started out as an attempt to explore my family history, it only really came to life when I departed from that history. When I let the story unfold on its own terms. That was really exciting for me: the discovery that this story could take on a life of its own.
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