I invite you to my Salon, a cyberworld version of European and Asian gatherings in centuries past, where artists and intellectuals met in the home of an encouraging and inspiring host. It is my good fortune to be acquainted with many fascinating people, whom I will be pleased to introduce to the reader for your education and entertainment.
Another nod to the wonders of cyberspace and social media, for it was here that I met the author and screenwriter Sylvia Massara, who in turn introduced me to author Branka Cubrilo. This lady is such a prolific writer that one interview here is just a brief glimpse of her work. Of course, I'll provide many links for you to explore. So, let us meet Branka.
Madame Perry: Welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon, Branka. We want to talk about your newest book, The Mosaic Of The BrokenSoul, but first a bit of background on your fascinating life.
Author Branka Cubrilo
Branka Cubrilo: Firstly, thank you for your invitation and a warm welcome to Madame Perry’s Salon.
I don’t know how fascinating my life was, but surely it wasn’t a boring one, it was a life of a modern nomad, a bit of restless soul carried from one destination to another. I was born in Croatia and started to write at a very early age. My ‘little quirky stories and poems’ were published in school magazines and in a local youth press.
I always felt as if I had lived in parallel worlds, my daily life was so different to my inner world, and I was mixing them often with ease (for me) and sometimes with astonishment to my family and the environment, hence I started to write a novel to, somehow, separate those two parallel stories.I Knew Jane Eyre was born, based on my, at the time, need to ‘figure out how it would be if…’ I was inclined to know about or figure out, life’s ‘ifs’. While I was finishing the novel, I saw in the papers an advertisement – Young Writer’s Award Competition and hurried to finish my novel to send it off. There were three winners announced and I was, to my astonishment, one of them, the youngest one, with little experience in professional writing and publishing.
Writing is in my blood, it has never left me: subtle conversations I hear in the rain, the rustling of the leaves, the wind… those subtle whispers took me to the various trips around Europe and led me to various interesting people. The knowledge of languages, my curiosity and adaptability helped to easily penetrate into the cultural settings of Italy, Spain, England and Australia.
MP: Born in Croatia, you were eighteen when your first novel, I Knew Jane Eyre, was published. When it won the Yugoslavian Young Writer’s Award in 1982 it must have been quite a thrill. Tell us about it please.
BC: I’ve got to correct you here. My novel won the Award and, the three of us (the Award winners) were promised that our novels would be published in the following year. But we were faced with difficulties of a different kind: there were not sufficient funds, there were cultural differences in former Yugoslavia, some political issues et cetera. I was too young to get involved in such games and too preoccupied with writing a sequel that I didn’t know how to respond to such a situation. I already understood that the publishing business wasn’t the easy.
MP: When was the sequel written and published?
BC: When I write my novels everything else is on hold. Outer life ceases and I am faced with myself, the narrator, and my characters. I am ‘there’ all the time and to write a novel takes quite a short period of time for me. So, while I was waiting 4 months for the official announcement of the Award winners I had to shorten my waiting time and my anxiety. I felt, anyway, that Jane Eyre, my Jane Eyre, hadn’t been found, so I embarked upon the adventure of Looking For Jane Eyre.
Those two novels were written in Croatian and there were only parts of those novels published in different papers. I had never found the right publisher to publish them. I was always told to ‘simplify my plot’, to ‘shorten my sentences’, to ‘introduce one character at a time’ or not to use ‘too many flashbacks’. But I never wanted to follow the clichés hence those novels really never saw the dawn but stayed in the dusty drawer of my room, back in my hometown of Rijeka.
As I said, some parts were published ‘here and there’, but I had continued to write and to travel.
MP: At such young age - and I’d like to remind our readers that it was before the internet existed to provide information and near instant global fame just by having a youtube video go viral – how were you able to accomplish all of this?
BC: Look, I never did anything for the sake of ‘accomplishment’. Writing was what I loved the best and I thought that was what I was the best at. All I wanted was to write, whether it be magazine or newspaper articles, short stories, poems, but surely, my biggest challenge are novels, that is where my heart is.
MP: You’ve written books while living in Croatia, Spain, and Australia. How much does your location influence your work in terms of plot, character development, themes and perspectives?
BC: Location influences my work absolutely. That’s why writers travel – in search of original characters or plots. In all of my novels (I have written 8 novels, and have published 5 so far) I travel throughout the world. I start my story in a certain location with its cultural and historical settings and I take my characters across Europe, the UK, the USA and Australia. My characters are well-travelled people, always in search of a ‘greener grass’, ‘better opportunity’, ‘bigger love’, or purely more extravagant adventure…
I can’t escape (and why would I?) those locations: I was born in Croatia, I still carry the salty air of the Adriatic in my soul, Italy was a weekly experience and Italian’s my second language, sometimes I miss Italy more than any other location. I lived in Andalucia with my daughter and the sounds, the wind – the levante, the flamenco, the warmth of Andalusian people lives in me… of course those locations influence my novels. I have written a trilogy called Spanish Stories and the trilogy was situated, with a good part, in Spain, but then, while writing, I heard someone from my hometown calling my name, calling my attention, so I got to chuck him in, to silence his cries, to add colour to the Andalucian grey land. I have lived in Sydney since 1992, it is only natural that this city influences my writings, the city where my daughter was born, made her first steps. It is such a multicultural place that it is a great source of constant inspiration when it comes to experimenting with different cultures and customs.
My novels As a River, Requiem for Barbara, Little Lies, Big Lies and Visconti’s Stories are all set in three or four different countries on two different continents. My characters are often displaced, sometimes confused, often in search of themselves, surely preoccupied with many questions.
MP: The development of serious health issues and the disintegration of your marriage obviously marked great changes in your life. These are the types of changes that produce questions, many for which we must look within. Your experiences, and recovery, are explored in your newest, TheMosaic of the Broken Soul.
BC: Great changes indeed!
As the title says it is a book of one soul’s ache, to simplify it.
I don’t know if it is true the statement that ‘life is not meant to be easy’, but I surely know that I had a very difficult period in my life and it forced me to look honestly into myself. Who am I and why am I that person? Do I, and to what extent, respect and love that person?
I had published several books in my hometown of Rijeka and the publisher simply decided not to pay any royalties. Easy as that. Even today, 15 years later, he is selling my books and keeping my royalties for himself. That wasn’t a healthy situation at all. I had all those beautiful reviews, acknowledgments and recognition as a writer but I knew that I came across very dishonest people and wasn’t able to do much. I used to (and still do) get fantastic e-mails from readers telling me how much they enjoyed reading my books, or how my book(s) influenced or changed their outlook on life, and it made me feel really good, made me feel that I had really given something to others worthy of all my efforts. But, as a writer, as a human being, I felt taken advantage of from that publisher who never paid my share. It really had stiffened my soul and I was profoundly disappointed with the publishing industry. I decided to write but never to publish again. One could go on Google and find all this information about my ‘worthy books’ and the great reviews but I knew that someone else was reaping the fruits of my labour. I kept on working as a journalist and kept my creative work for myself.
Some sort of sadness, deep sadness took refuge in my soul. I travelled back to Andalucia and all I did there was ‘a deep thinking’. I had a restless soul, a dishonest, greedy publisher and a restless husband! What a fertile soil for an illness.
While I was doing ‘deep thinking’ back there in Andalucia I was actually writing my novel in my head.
Upon my diagnosis of breast cancer my husband left our marital home and all those ‘Andalucian questions’ started to haunt me.
What? What? What? What? And – Why?
That was the working fabric of my novel. As I was writing it the characters from my life appeared on the stage and asked me to integrate them into the tale. The characters from the shores of the Adriatic Sea, the characters from Italian Alps, the characters from Isle of Man, London and Dublin… Sydney… and my life story started to take shape and to be woven onto that fabric.
MP: Broken things, we know, can become beautiful art in a mosaic. Tell us about the imagery of ‘the black pearl.’
BC: ‘The black pearl’ was my pain. Women, we are trained from a very early age to: do the right thing, be a good girl, be obedient, be a good friend, a good girlfriend, a good society member and a good wife ultimately. And we are trying our best, I’d say. So, what is ‘the best?’, is my question. Does ‘the best’ go right down to denial? Denial of one’s own needs: needs for self-expression on different levels?
‘The black pearl’ could be a consequence of a stiff upper lip. It is pain that is denied, that is buried and it waits its moment, to harden and to grow.
‘The black pearl’ represents the white tears that never rolled down the cheek but went hiding into the chest. ‘The black pearl’ is a synonym of betrayal or of uncertainty.
Many things were broken and all those little broken parts were my little pieces of the puzzle of my own life. Of a big rebus of human existence and its meaning. I felt that my duty at that time was to find the questions to which answers did not exist.
Even though I thought that I had had enough of the publishing industry, even though I thought that I should write this novel only to serve the purpose of my own healing, or shall I say ‘writing therapy’, I thought that it was the right time for me to write my novel in English. So I did.
It didn’t take a long time that the excerpt from my novel caught the eye of ‘Speaking Volumes’ publisher who wrote to me “Branka, I love your writing style…” and we took it from there.
MP: Many books are published yearly that deal with illness, life’s severe challenges, and various types of recovery or resolution. What have readers told you that The Mosaic of the Broken Soul has brought to them?
BC: This is an interesting question and I have an interesting and short answer to it: as a rule the readers tell me that, somehow, my book has a healing effect on them. I think that this is really fantastic, because, I have changed my life a lot since I have been ill, and changed it to a better, more meaningful kind of life, more loving and freer one. It is now 9 years since I was diagnosed and I am as healthy as one can be, I write again and I publish again. I have translated all my novels into English, I have a number of short stories which are waiting to be selected and put into a collection of short stories… and I see that the people who read the book tell the same story. They tell me that the book was a great inspiration and guide to them and that, in some way, a positive way, the book has changed their lives. What fantastic feedback, what fantastic motivation for me!
MP: What do you want the reader to take away and treasure from this book?
BC: The courage when one is faced with adversity. Understanding that life presents us with lots of challenges but we are always in position to chose. We always make choices weather we are aware of it or not, but choices are ours. This is liberating because one doesn’t feel as a victim of circumstances or ‘fate’.
Then, honesty towards oneself. It is inevitable to ask questions at certain points in your life, so ask them, don’t run away because unanswered questions come back, sometimes with more difficulties to find an answer.
MP: Whatis in the near future for you, Branka?
BC: If I only knew? Well, as I said before we always have the freedom to choose. I choose to write and there are quite a number of written books that are waiting to be published. I am still working on some translations of my own books, some polishing of the language, working on my syntax and grammar, English is such a beautiful and challenging language. I have plans to publish a collection of short stories, maybe a collection of poems. I am writing (at the moment lots of it is happening in my head) a new novel about Nicholas O’B and Pia the Poetess.
I am a mother to a young girl who just enrolled in university and this is a big part of my future.
I have itchy feet again, so I long to pack my bags and travel down to Andalucia, or to occupy the small table on the main cobbled piazza of my hometown, I am dying to see the ‘Big Apple’ and to visit friends in London. I hope this year is going to be generous and bring me some of it. MP: Be sure to call me first, Branka, I keep a wallet of Euros with my passport always!