What and Why Do I Write:
a guest post by Branka Čubrilo
On June 17, 2023, in a spacious and architecturally appealing rooftop ambience of Mosman’s Fernery function room (Sydney, Australia), I had for the third time (over a period of 23 years) a book launch for my novel, Requiem for Barbara, published in May 2023 by my American publisher, Speaking Volumes. The event was well attended by about 60-70 people, just the right number to completely fill the space. The special honor this time was to be introduced to the crowd full of anticipation by my one and only daughter Althea. It was a three-hour event, and in her speech, Althea explained her experiences of living and understanding a mother who is an author. She detailed the differences of comprehension from a child, to her adolescence and finally adulthood. For me, I believe for all present alike, it was a revealing, touching, and humorous account. After her speech, she read the poem “Barbara” by Jacques Prévert, accompanied by classical guitar, “Preludio de Adios” by Alfonso Montes. This piece of music was chosen by the performing guitarist Su Keong, because he said, “It is a sad and nostalgic composition by Montes written at the time he defected from Venezuela to Germany”. The guitarist, Su Keong, found it “to be the appropriate piece for the ‘Requiem’ title theme of the book”. For the occasion, I wrote a speech, my address to the audience to make them understand what I write, why I write, and what writing means to me or to a writer in general. I’d like to share this speech with a wider audience because I received many congratulations for it, learning from the audience that this speech might interest and enlighten many...
Very often, in interviews or privately, I get asked - what do I write about? Or what is my genre? I don’t have a genre. I write about life. How do you deal with what you’ve been dealt by life? Especially, if you have been dealt a mess. Mess varies from person to person, from culture to culture, from family to family. So, the question is - what do we do about it, if the only freedom we have is what we do with the life and the mess we were born into?
I develop well-structured, many-layered characters who grapple with the big and small questions of life. They are always in search of meaning, of reason, love, beauty, in search of home and ultimately of God. I write about love, but I don’t write love stories. I write about human suffering, about wars, migrations, broken homes, broken hearts, and broken countries. About broken souls and broken promises. I am concerned with the big questions of human existence - the meaning of suffering; about pride, overzealous and unnecessary national pride that often leads people astray; about freedom, the shadow self and all of the shades in between two extreme emotions.
My characters are lost, often in moral dilemmas during various life crises, searching for truth.
I was, and I am a person, a writer who has always been in search of that elusive bird, the Truth - it can show us how insufficient our knowledge is, be it academic knowledge, intuitive or spiritual. We are always floating on the surface of the truth, a partial truth learned in our family, educational institutions, or through mainstream media. Truth is elsewhere - that is the reason why we can’t grasp the meaning of complex but simple questions as well. My interests are psychology, though not popular psychology of the New Age, but rather my amazement with what lies deep down in the human psyche that governs our behavior, our choices, and ultimately our deeds that we are not proud of; then my interest lies in philosophy, not particularly of any philosophical school, but rather the personal philosophy of characters that they develop over the course of their lives; and my personal interest lies in exploring religion, Christianity, and often my characters grapple with never reaching the truth about the existence of a benevolent being that runs the universe or their small lives.
I write how much we need love, yet how elusive this notion is, how it is hiding from us, how it is leading us through mud and thorns – per aspera ad astra - in the simple human need and wish for always more -- love. Love, such a desirable companion, shows its face and then it hides, dragging you through tremendous experiences and the sharpest pains to show you that it needs a life-long dedication to master the art of loving. How can we find and keep love when we are unable to participate honestly and without fear? How?
If I talk about suffering, how many people would lift their hand up if I asked them - have they suffered in their lives any kind of heartache, hardship, loss, depression, et cetera?
Unfortunately, life is about suffering, about search, about growth. Look, I don’t want to scare you, to put you off, believing that I am a depressing writer who like a vivisector with a sharp razor cuts through life’s miseries.
I show life in all its glory: the bad and the beautiful.
Therefore, I write about kindness, where it can take you if you are committed to doing noble deeds; I write about lost but found happiness, even when the tunnel looks like a never-ending black hole. I write about random, destiny orchestrated, encounters which change one’s life. I write about injustice and justice.
I write about beauty, governed from my inner need for beautiful art, beautiful scenery, or the beauty of someone’s soul or character. I don’t paint black and white pictures, I always look for balance in my life and in my writing. I aim to be an objective observer.
I observe people, listen attentively to conversations. I soak the atmosphere of a place, of a mentality, observing everything around me, thirsty to know and to use all of my feelings to enrich my mind, hence, to enrich minds and souls of my characters when I sit at my laptop for a new story.
I write about you. My readers find themselves in my characters, in certain situations. In difficult times, they get hope, they laugh and cry with my characters, and I write for me, too, in order to understand my inner world better.
I write about human goodness, advancement, courage, hope and redemption. I impart hope and faith. I stir emotions, so you cry and you fear my characters, you pray and laugh with me.
I like my brutes, the horrible characters, the ones that you dislike (perhaps just because they have some hidden traits of your own character, so they irritate you). They commit unimaginable deeds, war crimes, their lessons bitter and hard, but eventually justice comes and you sigh the sigh of relief, promising yourself that you won’t ever again have a certain thought, deed or, shall I say, a misdeed.
Usually, my leading female characters are physically beautiful women; I show the price of female beauty, the suffering of beauty, not the shallowness of it. My female characters are as well in constant search - with the need to better themselves, they study life through different lessons, through shallow clichés of the fashion world, through the New Age movement, through too many lovers, through art, or again, simply through personal suffering. Many of my female characters are sharp and self-sufficient women, while those that are not yet, are subconsciously yearning to be ‘elsewhere’ or someone better to achieve what they ultimately will become.
In my short stories, I introduce humorous, spontaneous larrikins, naïve or care-free people who visit my vignettes just to make you laugh, or open your mouth wide with astonishment with how direct, rude, or quirky the human mind and behavior can be.
Therefore, I cover a variety of characters, in different lands, of different nationalities, showing that nationality or culture doesn’t necessarily form the character, the good and the evil, kindness or rudeness, that all human characteristics and deeds belong to all of us, that our creator mixed and spread us equally on this earth in His need to encourage humans for the betterment of oneself and of society as such.
And let me finish now with a few more words about the book we are launching, as it has a long life and history.
I published Requiem for Barbara a long time ago. Precisely 23 years ago, in 2000 in my native country of Croatia. The book received good reviews and an interested readership; the Ministry of Education purchased it and placed the book in all libraries across the country.
The more people that read it, the more often I was asked if there were hidden parts of my own life embedded within the story. People who know me well - my family and close friends - were all convinced that it was a loose memoir about my life. A life that I was in fact living on another continent and feeling all the struggles as a foreigner and young, unknown writer, building their life from scratch. It is an elegy, a sad story about a young female writer who struggles as a single mother in Sydney, without having any kind of help or any family. And after the heavy burden of trying and unfavorable circumstances, she breaks down and ultimately falls terminally ill. When I was writing the story, I was absolutely unaware that a similar destiny was going to befall me. Barbara was a neurotic, artistic woman who utterly adored her daughter; she led a very hermetic life where she never let other people participate. When people used to tell me that I was Barbara, that they could recognize me in her every word, or every deed or emotion, I would just shrug my shoulders, saying, “No, I am not Barbara, she is just a character who happens to be a sensitive writer locked in her own world.”
I think a writer writes about experiences they have lived through and people they have encountered, as this is the ground where they feel the most familiar, hence the most competent. Even when the story is set elsewhere, or in a different historical period, the characters will still have traits of the writer or some of their experiences – real experiences or psychological structures in their mind.
The majority of readers had believed that it was my own story, many even calling me Barbara, but with the passage of time the book slowly went into history, and I was called by the various names of my other female characters. In 2020, exactly 20 years after the first publication of Requiem for Barbara, I got asked to publish it again in a different language, in a different country, so, the book was published in Belgrade, Serbia. My friends and acquaintances who read Requiem for Barbara 20 years ago, re-read the book, and I received emails or messages from people asking the same question: “When are you going to translate this book into English?”
I was never sure if I wanted to translate it, as this story somehow always brought me a profound sadness, for it reflected a time of my life when I was living under lots of emotional stress and adversity. Besides, I had the feeling that I had finished all my dealings with this story and with Barbara herself. But she was a part of me, part of my psyche for many years, and I understood that she needed to live again through new readership. I understood that she was destined to be published and re-published over and over and get a new audience, as if she would gain a new life, a prolonged one, or that she yearned to live forever accessible to many people, in many languages.
In this elegy of mine, each chapter starts with a stanza from the poem ‘Barbara’ by Jacques Prévert, setting the atmosphere where Barbara shows parts of her personality to the reader - being a writer herself, she is a poetic, other-worldly soul who struggles with everyday living in a common world, among the people who don’t have the time to listen to the song of her soul nor hear verses of her poetry.
The rest you will find in the book that has been published for the third time, and hopefully many more times in many more languages.
Guest Blogger Bio
Branka Čubrilo is an international author of eight novels and two short story collections. Branka has lived in Australia, Spain, and Croatia, and has also worked as a radio producer and presenter on SBS Australia, as well as working as an interpreter and translator of several languages. Branka's latest book, Requiem for Barbara, was published in May 2023. Branka's articles and essays and short stories have been published in many online and print magazines. Two years ago, Branka was named one of the top ten writers of literary fiction by her American colleagues in a literary magazine run by the author Caleb Pirtle. All of Branka Čubrilo's work is available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, both in ebook and print editions. Branka's novels published in English include: The Mosaic of the Broken Soul, Flume - The Lost River, Dethroned, Three to Tango & Other Stories, and Requiem for Barbara.
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