Each week we’ll be inviting an author to share a peek at their writing space. This week it’s Zoe Brooks, author of Mother of Wolves.
I spend half my life in the UK and half in the Czech Republic. It is in the latter that most of my writing takes place away from the demands of my normal life.
I first visited the country (it was Czechoslovakia then) during Easter only a few months after the Velvet Revolution. The excitement at having thrown off communism was everywhere like a static in the air. This was an exciting new world, one unlike any other – there was a poet for president who rode around the palace on a bicycle. This was a world which was being created by writers, poets and artists and it was going to be wonderful. Alas big business moved in, realpolitik reared its head and the dream faded. Nevertheless the Czech Republic is still a magical place and I have found it somewhere I can escape reality and write.
I had been visiting my friend Hannah Kodicek for several years, when eventually I decided that I would join her and buy a property in the country. My idea from the beginning was that it would be somewhere to write, since writing had dried up for me at home. My first idea was that I would buy a little wooden cottage somewhere in nature, nothing too expensive, nothing too demanding. But the local carpenter, known as Frantisek Jesus on account of the fact that he played the main role in the local passion play, took me to see a place he’d heard about. When I saw it I couldn’t believe that he meant the five-bedroomed farmhouse, instead I was convinced it was the small cottage next door. I was wrong.
The old house has granite walls several feet thick. The main part is the living quarters, the other a two-storey barn, both are built into the hillside. It had been owned by an old lady who had died and for seven years it had been left empty. Goodness knows when any money had been spent on it. But the old house was calling me and I couldn’t help but listen. It was at the top end of my budget and would need a new roof, new plumbing, new wiring… But these works I hoped would wait several years while I saved the money. Unfortunately the following winter was the worst in decades. I came over to stay only to be told that the toilet had exploded with the freeze; I couldn’t possibly stay there said Hannah. But I insisted – the snow was at least four-feet deep in the yard, the roof beams were breaking under the weight of snow, the only toilet was a bucket, my bedclothes froze to the wall and my absences from the house were limited by how long it took for wood in the stove to burn down. Despite these inconveniences I loved it. I loved the flowers of snow like desert roses, the complete silence, the winter sunshine and the brilliance of the blue sky. I loved the way one’s life slowed to nature’s rhythm. I knew I would indeed write there. I started with my blog Adventures in the Czech Republic. Three years later, having supervised the building work until my money ran out, I found the house delivering on its promise in full. I wrote my first novel.
I live on the first floor of the house, the ground floor having been devastated by an outbreak of dry-rot, and I have my writing area in the corner of the main room. From the window next to my desk I can look across the narrow valley to another farmhouse like mine. On the wires next to my window each summer the swallows line up like black pearls. From the window to my left I can survey my orchard and the comings and goings of the farm cats, the nesting redcaps and on occasion a trespassing deer.
If I want company half an hour’s walk takes me to our nearest small town, Horice na Sumave, and the bus stop and train station whence I am whisked off to Cesky Krumlov and the small ex-pat community that gathered around Hannah. But I find I don’t need company very much, less now since Hannah’s death. Ironically it is the absence of the English language that is so releasing, I can sit on the bus and be in my own world. When I am writing I focus almost to the point of delirium on my work. I work all hours, sometimes into the night. Even in sleep I find myself in a different consciousness. I find that I have vivid dreams here, ones in which I am a spectator or even the writer. When the words refuse to flow I go up into the woods to gather mushrooms, a very Czech pastime, and find that the complete focus that foraging needs is perfect for allowing the release of words. Even as I am cooking my hoard of ceps and chanterelles the story starts urging me to sit down at the laptop once more.
I sitting in my Czech home now. It is perfectly silent apart from the occasional creak as the wood stove cools down. All the lights in the houses in the hamlet are out, the autumn sky is full of stars. In a few days time I will be driving back to the UK, back to my other home. When I return in November I will be coming here to write a new book.
A gripping story of a woman’s struggle for justice in a man’s world.
Through the marshes and rich farmland of the great river, Lupa hunts and is hunted by her husband’s murderers. On the estuary islands her sons and their protector are just one step ahead of the killers. Everyone underestimates Lupa, if they consider her at all. They are making a mistake. The odds may be against her, but Lupa is the daughter of a fox and the mother of wolves.
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