Sunt o scriitoare britanică și în 2010 m-am mutat de la Liverpool în satul Măgura, lângă Bran. Sunt născută și crescută în West Sussex, Anglia; la 19 ani am plecat la Londra, unde am locuit 11 ani, iar apoi am ajuns la Liverpool, unde am trăit următorii 20 de ani.
Cam zece ani am făcut jurnalism de business, dar la sfârșitul anului 2000 mi-am părăsit postul de editor de revistă și în mai puțin de un an am publicat prima carte, Liverpool: the First 1,000 Years. În 2003 mi-a apărut prima carte pentru copii – cu ilustrații făcute de 30 de puști. 20.000 de exemplare au fost împărțite gratuit copiilor. Cu totul și cu totul am scris 9 cărți și am fost editor pentru aproape jumătate raft de bibliotecă.
În anul 2005 a trebuit să fac față mai multor decese în familie – într-un interval de 14 luni, începând cu sora mea și terminând cu mama. Toate astea mi-au făcut nefuncțională. Incapabilă să muncesc sau să iau vreo decizie, singurul lucru de care am fost în stare a fost să vând totul și să mă mut în Transilvania.
I’m a British writer who moved from Liverpool to Magura (near Bran in Romania) in 2010. Born and bred in West Sussex, I moved to London when I was 19 and lived there for 11 years, then in Liverpool for the following 20.
There was a decade of business journalism, but I quit my role as magazine editor at the end of 2000, and not quite a year later published my first book Liverpool: the first 1,000 years. In 2003 came my first children’s book – illustrated by 30 local kids, with a free copy given to 20,000 children. In all I’ve written eleven books and published others.
In 2005 I’d had several family funerals in 14 months, beginning with my sister and ending with my mother, and the effect was to turn my brain to cotton wool. Unable to work or make a decision, the only thing to do was sell everything and move to Transylvania.
Where do you write? I have a study with two windows facing south and west. So from one I see the Bucegi mountains, and from the other, Piatra Craiului. The views are very distracting, especially when the sky is full of fascinating clouds. I am a member of the Cloud Appreciation Society and here, with the mountains, I see some corkers. You can see some of the best here. Other distractions include neighbours’ animals yelling their heads off, sheep occasionally getting into the garden (emergency demanding chasing them out with a pitchfork), and of course, the cats. They want something, from lunch to a cuddle, and won’t be denied. I have a long sofa in the study so if I need 40 winks, or need to contemplate my next chapter, I can put my feet up and watch the sky for a while. It’s also the warmest room in the house, with a brilliant wood stove which keeps me warm even when the winter temperature drops to -25C.
How do you write? I have a computer on my desk which has a big screen, so I can have my manuscript open on one side, and Google or a page of notes on the other side. It’s also great for editing photos and looking at maps in detail. I find it much harder to work on a laptop. I used to scribble notes on a pad, but these days I put things straight on to the computer. Saves me retyping everything.
Are you disciplined about work? I’m very ill-disciplined about writing time (and everything else). I always mean to get straight to work, but somehow by the time I’ve got up and fed the cats, made coffee, done last night’s washing up, contemplated the day, checked Facebook and dealt with emails, it’s about eleven o’clock. Then it’s time for breakfast – and then I can get down to work. If I’m in the writing groove, or have a pressing deadline, I’ll work till midnight or later. I like to get up early in the summer and wake with the sun, usually. So sometimes there’s a little spot in the afternoon, around half past three, when an hour is required to close my eyes and, er, meditate, often with a cat snuggled in to me on the sofa. Then a cup of tea, and I’m back at my desk.
How do you start a new book? I’ve got so many ideas lurking around – some for years and years – that I’m not short of projects. But there’s always something new, too! Din Liverpool in Carpati was an obvious book to write, really, and I have lots of scribbled notes in little sketch pads and diaries and bits of old table napkin and backs of electricity bills… notes about things I knew I’d forget. Details, scraps of conversation, silly moments, odds and sods. The thing with this book was trying to find a structure and some means of pulling things together into chapters. My editor at ALL helped with that, and somehow it all came together. Luckily, readers seem to like the way it’s been done.
What about fiction? How did you come up with ideas for Dragons over London, for instance? The thing I love most about fiction is finding new characters and especially finding the right names for them. I spend ages on names, because they give me so much more – clues to the appearance and personality of the character, and their backgrounds and stories. Sometimes I find photos that inspire me, or a half-remembered picture from childhood, or a story in the newspapers – anything can inspire a character. Sometimes they just leap from my head fully formed, like Athene from the head of Zeus. They’re often the best characters and the hardest to control.
What about the story itself? I usually have a germ of an idea, sparked by who-knows-what, and I soon need to start research. Sometimes the place inspires me. I went to the Tower of London at New Year and that gave me so many ideas, like the White Tower Well which was there in the basement, dating back almost 1,000 years. My dragon’s perfect home! London (especially the Tower) is an amazing place to set stories, of course, because it’s ancient and complicated, and almost anything is possible. But there’s so much information! I can wander around the internet for days on end, finding amazing stuff, and some of it just leaps straight into my story. I like writing stories where the geography is real, and the background events are solid facts. So look up the dates and events of the story and you’ll be surprised what you find…
What’s your next book? The very next book is about an abandoned puppy, and the story is 100% true. I don’t need to change a thing about the dog and his adventure, because it happened right here, in my house. But I’ve turned myelf into a Romanian family, and my neighbours are made up, too. The heroine is called Thea Thimble (a deliberately difficult name for Romanian kids to practice) and the working title is Floss the lost puppy. The book should be out in October this year, again published by Booklet Fiction.
When did you start writing? Ah… that’s a good question. I wrote silly stories when I was at school, like so many kids, but they were just for me. I didn’t have the confidence to show them to anyone, not even my English teachers, who were very encouraging. I even won the school’s English Prize in my last year, but still I didn’t write anything much as a young adult, or even an old adult – again, lacking the confidence, like so many people (particularly girls). I became a journalist by accident in my thirties, and won a couple of awards, which boosted my confidence a bit. But I was 45, yes, forty-five, before I published my first book. After that, because people liked it, I had more belief in my abilities, and wrote more. So now I’m getting old, I’m writing furiously to try and catch up with all the years (decades) I should have been writing…
Every writer must be a reader too. What books do you like? Gosh – a huge question. I’ve got about 1,000 books in the house, and now I’m getting more disciplined about giving away books before I get new ones. Otherwise every room would be a library (not a bad fantasy, actually!). I’m not a fan of ebooks, partly because I love books as objects, and find them as fascinating for their design, feel, smell and sound as for their contents. Nearly half the books are fiction, some poetry and plays, mostly for adults but some favourite children’s books, too. More than half, though, are non-fiction, from books I’ve used for research, from family heirlooms, huge coffee-table books, philosophy and psychology, flora, fauna and the natural world, popular science, books about where I used to live, a small collection of Ronald Searle cartoon books, all of my brother-in-law’s books, alternative health and remedies, books about massage (I qualified nearly 20 years ago)… all sorts.
But you must have favourites? Argh! That word favourite… I don’t do favourites in anything. There are books, films, foods, clothes, colours, etc that I can enjoy time and time again, but there are dozens, not just one. And it depends on the day of the week, or the time of day. Ask me tomorrow and you’ll get a different answer… When I get time I’ll post a page about best-loved books and authors I can recommend.
About me, at home
Do you really live on your own? Usually, yes. At least I’m the only human living here. There are four cats who share the place and keep me entertained. You can see pictures of them here. They are village cats, but a complete family of mum (now seven years old) and three kittens (now six) who are as much at home here as I am. Sometimes I have volunteers staying, who help me in the garden or around the house on projects such as painting a room, or building a wall. They are travellers from all over the world – I’ve had people here from South Korea, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Siberia and all over Europe and the USA. It’s an amazing way to meet new people and learn things about the world. They are always delighted by Romania and especially by Magura.
Do you like getting visitors to your house? I’m a very private person, and love solitude, so unlike my welcoming and hospitable neighbours, I’m not very keen on people turning up without warning. If I know someone is coming in plenty of time, I can be ready for the visit and enjoy it. But bear in mind that I work from home – thanks to the wonders of the internet – so it’s not as if I’m sitting around, bored and lonely, longing for someone to arrive and brighten up my day. I have lots of work to do and often work late at night. Not only is the next book always nagging, but I have freelance work to do as an editor, a journalist, and a tutor. So if someone turns up unexpectedly, I will probably be in the middle of writing an article, being interviewed myself over the phone, or trying to meet an urgent deadline for a client.
You love gardening. What plants do you grow? It’s going to be quite an English garden, although it’s in the middle of wildflower meadows in the Carpathians. I’ve fenced off the area around the house so that I can have flowers and shrubs without the sheep eating them all. Outside the fence, I still have an area of wildflowers so I can enjoy the exquisite beauty of native species from early violets to orchids, three colours of scabious, lady’s mantle, St John’s Wort and many, many more. There are hundreds of species right here on my land – further afield in the village I find a whole other spectrum of plants, and on the road down to Zarnesti there are all the plants which grow at a slightly lower altitude. In my garden I also grow some vegetables – things I can’t find in the local markets, like mange touts and sugar peas, French beans and courgettes, pak choi, rainbow chard, mustard greens and mizuna. And I encourage wild salads like chickweed, Fat Hen and ribwort plantain, all delicious in salads or steamed gently for a few minutes. There’s nothing better than picking and eating fresh veg grown in your own garden…
What did you know about Romania before you first came here? Not much, if I’m honest. The news of the Ceausescus’ overthrow at Christmas 1989 was front page news in Britain. But before that Romania was a hidden country, not exactly behind the so-called Iron Curtain, but not part of mainstream Europe. Not somewhere that many people visited when I was young. Even now when friends visit me they are always surprised by what they find here. Perceptions are slow to change.
What do you find so exciting about Magura? Exciting? Just the opposite. I have found profound peace and a refuge from the ‘real’ world of concrete and consumerism. It’s like stepping back through time to my own childhood in rural England, with higher mountains and extra wildlife.
Do you have a favourite place in Romania? I have found my Ithaca in Magura. But if I’m forced to choose a city, then I like Sighisoara’s beautiful citadel, if I manage to be there without huge crowds and loud music. The fortified churches are fascinating, but I prefer the lesser-known ones such as Homorod and Vulcan, where I can look around in peace, and enjoy the solace of silence. I confess that I haven’t explored Romania very much because I have almost everything I want in Magura and don’t need to search any longer. There are lots of places I want to see if I can bear to leave the village, especially in rural areas.
What do you find most attractive about Romania? Apart from the natural beauty, the friendly and welcoming people, the traditions and the peace? One aspect of life here that appeals to me so much is the concept of being neighbours, vecini. The idea that you have an obligation to make sure your neighbours are okay, to help them with problems, to be concerned about their welfare. Of course it’s logical common sense – when you have a problem you know that your neighbours will help you, in their turn. But it’s a very good feeling to know that I can turn to my neighbours when things go wrong, and find a helping hand when I need it.