Zoe, I am in love with the main character in GIRL IN THE GLASS. Tell us about Anya’s story and how you came to write it.
She is very loveable, but also frustrating and complex. This book is the first in a trilogy about Anya’s life and the more I write the more she fascinates me.
The story opens with Anya, locked in a cramped, stifling broom cupboard. In order to be let out she must say the soul-destroying words “I am Anya and I am nothing.” The person responsible for this punishment and humiliation is Anya’s aunt, with whom Anya and Anya’s Shadow Eva have lived since the death of Anya’s parents. As her aunt tries to break her and the punishments become increasingly life-threatening, Anya struggles to find affection and self-esteem. When the inevitable showdown arrives, Anya must find the strength to survive and escape, but from where? Let’s just say it comes from an unexpected source. And if Anya does escape, what then? An arduous walk across an unforgiving desert to a city where an even worse danger lies.
Anya’s story is a Cinderella meets Bluebeard story. It is about all those women who have grown up being told that they have no value and the damage that does to them. But it is also about their bravery and resilience in overcoming their past.
People always ask “Are you Anya?” to which the answer is definitely not, thank goodness I have been blessed with being loved and valued. But she is influenced by women I have met. For over twenty years I worked with disadvantaged communities, with people living on the edge of society – refugees, the homeless, abused women. I met many Anyas during that time, amazing people with incredible tales to tell. I chose not to set the story in one specific place or time, because I wanted it to be universal. It’s too easy to say: oh that happens in Afghanistan or wherever, and in so doing deny the story’s universality.
After twenty years of this work I found myself unable to continue, all my layers of thick skin had been stripped away. I’d made up stories for my personal enjoyment ever since I was a small child and Anya has her roots in some of the female characters I played with then. When I was working I found telling myself stories was a good way of processing what I was hearing. So it was only natural to start writing properly when I stopped work. It matters greatly to me that people read and enjoy the book, and at the same time to fall in love with Anya and maybe understand her and others like her.
Beautiful! When did you first realize you had the gift of writing?
My first poem was published when I was 7 (in our local parish magazine) and by the time I was in my teens I was winning national competitions and being published in anthologies, so I knew I could write poetry at an early age. But I didn’t really discover I could write novels until a few years ago, although I did start a novel when I was 13, which looking back had a central character not unlike Anya.
Not surprising. But I’m curious: Can you tell us a little bit about your working process?
I work on the book in my head without putting anything on paper for months. Then when the book is ready I hide away in a semi-restored farmhouse in the Czech Republic for six to eight weeks working intensively seven days a week until the first draft is written. I leave it for a month or two and only then go back to it, having taken on board feedback from some trusted readers. When I am working on the second draft it is usually a case of elaborating rather than cutting, which I am told is unusual, but that’s how it is for me.
Who influenced you the most? Who are your favourite authors? What are you reading now?
I am lucky to have had two wonderful women mentors in my life. The first was my creative English and music teacher at primary school. I remember sitting reading Under Milk Wood or it might have been Murder In the Cathedral under her piano in a music lesson. The second was a dear friend, who happened to be a professional story editor in the film business. She encouraged and guided me in my early attempts at writing fiction.
Favourite authors? I am proud to say I discovered Hilary Mantel before she became famous and I am a great fan of Andrei Makine. Others that were formative include Mary Renault, Alan Garner, and Anna Akhmatova. In terms of favourite books: Jane Eyre, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Master and Margarita, Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, Too Loud A Solitude, the Simenon novels and Women Who Run With Wolves.
I am currently reading The Golem by Meyrink. I’ve not long finished The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding, which I loved.
There’s so much more I’d like to ask. But here’s a final question for today. I’m interested in how or why you chose to be an independently published author instead of going the more traditional route?
It was quite simple really – traditional book publishers and therefore agents like the two-book deal and as I was very clear that I was writing a trilogy, I was on the fast track to nowhere. So I went down the self-publishing route. Since doing it I have found all sorts of reasons why I enjoy particularly the ebook side of things. I do enjoy the direct relationship with my readers, not mediated by others. That’s not to say I wouldn’t look at the traditional route if it opened up for me, but I would want to know that it would get my books to as wide an audience as possible.
I am a British author and poet. I spend half my time at home in the Cotswolds and half in South Bohemia in the Czech Republic. I studied history at Oxford University, which I find tremendously useful even though I don’t write history books as such. I was a successful published poet in my teens and twenties, (featuring in the Grandchildren of Albion anthology). But then my son arrived and I was juggling motherhood and career and somehow there wasn’t time for the writing. In 2010 I started writing again, only this time I was writing novels. Girl in the Glass was the first to be published, followed shortly by Mother of Wolves, a novel about another remarkable woman, and by Fool’s Paradise a long poem for voices. I am currently finishing off Love of Shadows the second book about Anya.
My facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/ZoeBrooksAuthor
And my twitter handle is @ZoeBrooks2
Link to Zoe’s pages on Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.:
The book is also on Kobo and should be out on Barnes and Noble any day now.
Tomorrow: an excerpt from GIRL IN THE GLASS