Oh to have a writing retreat such as this, to inspire and nurture the imagination – am I allowed to turn a gentle shade of green?
On the Red Carpet today we have a guest post from Zoe Brooks, author of among others The Healer’s Shadow (See yesterday’s post)
IN A CZECH FOREST
I am sitting at a garden table come desk in the corner of the upstairs living room and I am, as you can see, writing. This is where I write all my books.
On the wall in front of me are two Javanese puppets and on the wall to my right is a notice board covered with photos and prints: inspiration. There are two images of foxes, my spirit animal, something I share with Bessie a character in my book The Company of Shadows. I regularly see my fox walking the fields and lanes around here or hear him at night barking in the orchards and forest above the house. Also on the board are photographs of my son and husband of course. In the centre is a picture of my friend and mentor, Hannah. She is standing with a large bag over her shoulder, a fox brown scarf around her neck to match her hair. She has stopped, turned slightly and is saying something to me. We have just come from a walk in the forest, where crowds of purple buttercups stood just proud of last year’s fallen leaves.
Hannah is the reason I am here in this old farmhouse in South Bohemia. After over twenty years exile in London, Hannah returned to her native Prague and then a few years later left the bustle of the Czech Republic’s capital for a gentler life in the beautiful historic town of Cesky Krumlov. I visited regularly from the UK. I recall the excitement of my first visit – I was intoxicated by the atmosphere of Prague just after the Velvet Revolution, by the sudden burst of energy and joy that filled the air as the Czechs took their first breaths of freedom. I was inspired to pick up my pen and write Fool’s Paradise, the long poem for voices which won the EPIC award for best poetry book last year. Hannah was delighted that Prague should have such an immediate impact on my creativity.
Cesky Krumlov had a softer impact but no less powerful. Local people say that it worms its way into you, that once it has hold of you it demands a toll. Some say that it stands on powerful leylines – many Czechs are great believers in such things. But for me the real draw is not the town with its fairytale castle but the countryside, in particular the Czech forests.
If you take the path out of my village and walk uphill, you will soon find yourself surrounded by trees. Once the forest contained a quarry, carving out the granite that was used to fashion my house and the other houses in the area. Now there are just fallen rocks, some carved ready to be piled onto carts and taken away. It is as if the workers just downed tools one day and never returned. As you walk you may start a deer from its hiding place or hear a boar shovelling the ground in the undergrowth. In the summer you will find wild fruit – raspberries, strawberries, bilberries – tiny explosions of flavour. In the autumn you will find mushrooms pushing up through the loam. My favourites are chanterelles with their scent of apricots – the Czech name for them is foxes.
My village stands on the edge of the Sumava. The mundane English name for the Sumava is a translation of the German – the Bohemian Forest. The Czech name is so much better – Sumava can be translated as the Rustling. This forest, which extends over the border into Germany, is sometimes called the Green Lung of Europe. For over forty years the Iron Curtain ran through its centre, ironically protecting the animals and plants there from man’s intrusion. This forest is the forest of the Brothers Grimm and it is easy to see witches and dragons in its undergrowth. In such a forest how is it possible not to be inspired, not to have your imagination buzzing, just like the bumblebees in the forest glades?
Encouraged by Hannah, I bought my farmhouse. It is built into the hillside, like a fox’s lair. Indeed the hill is called just that – Fox’s Lair. It was a shell of a building, but had been much loved. I saw it and I too fell in love. The house had a broken roof and rising damp. The previous owners used to open the cellar door and throw in unwanted bottles, broken plates and other such detritus. When the rubbish had been removed we came across a cement floor, and when the cement floor was removed to reveal granite cobbles a spring began to flow. “It’s symbolic,” said Hannah. “It’s just like you. You’ve been repressing your writing, now it will flow.” She was right.
I have written six books here, four of which I’ve published. The Forest features in some way in all four. This house is the only place I can write. I arrived here from England a week ago to write book seven and I felt like Judith (the central character in The Healer’s Shadow trilogy): “I took a deep breath and smelled the Forest and baking bread. I was home.”
Alberta: Thank you, Zoe, for visiting today – I envy you your retreat, it sounds wonderful – I too fell for Czechoslovakia (as it was called) way back in the distant past
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.
More about Zoe can be found on
· her Author Page: http://amazon.com/author/zoebrooks
· her blog: http://zoebrooks.blogspot.com
· Twitter http://twitter.com/ZoeBrooks2
· Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ZoeBrooksAuthor