In 1992 I left my country as violence, crime, injustice and madness of all sorts took place as a consequence of the fall of Yugoslavia, and in the past 20 years Croatia has been a country where social unrest, social injustice and crime have been monumental. Many intellectuals and freethinkers found shelter in foreign lands.
In Sydney, I have written a novel Fiume – The Lost River which talks about separations, wars, love and hate, and life in exile. It was first published in my hometown of Rijeka, in 1999. As the country was led by shady characters, the publisher I encountered was the one who reflected the times in which he lived, hence I had never seen any royalties regardless of the fact that the book was on the weekly bestseller list for weeks and months. Several other books of mine have had the same destiny with the same publisher, as writers in exile are often written off, forgotten or simply not considered when royalty cheques have to be written.
Well, the story went: a year later I had published another novel Requiem for Barbara, then a year after Little Lies – Big Lies and Visconti’s Stories all with the same publisher.
Yes, I was young and quite inexperienced in the industry, plus eager to get my work published as I considered it to be a work of significance for people who lived in that region and for the migrants wherever they would find themselves in any part of the world.
The books got great reviews; they were selling well and were very popular literature among my contemporaries.
But the problem has always been quite common and simple – no one guarantees, not just the number of book sales, but most importantly, no one guarantees good, steady, honest qualities of a publisher’s character.
I hear, often, from fellow writers that they had bad experiences with not so well known publishers, they seldom get their royalty cheques, and often publishers don’t even bother to reply to e-mails, hence a number of new emerging writers opt to self-publish. Self-publishing has its pitfalls surely and it has never been regarded as a serious piece of work as compared to the book that had been published by a respectable publisher.
My several books written in Croatian language and published in Croatia are still selling all over the country but the publisher, an extravagant and dishonest man, had decided not to share my well deserved royalties. When I tried in the most civilized manner to ask about book sales and royalties, he dismissed me. Move over, he even said that my books were not selling at all. On a weekly basis, still after all those years I have people who e-mail me telling of their experience with one of my books (yes, written and published in Croatian).
So, one may ask – What one can do in such circumstances? How easy/difficult it would be to win the case where more than one person is corrupted?
Is the reward plainly the publication itself or grateful readership?
Well, I’d say in every evil deed there surely is something good and positive as well. What happened in my situation was that I resolved to learn English to the extent that I can write and express myself as if I would in my native language.
In the end, somehow I would have to say ‘Thank you Franjo’ as he has made my books and my name known to the wide audience (though unwillingly and unintentionally). From a small country, almost a provincial writer, I became known in many English-speaking countries. If it wasn’t for his lies and dishonesty, probably I would still be writing in my native language, publishing smaller editions and reaching a much smaller audience.
Every evil has a crack: that in its blackness a ray of light can enter.
My first book written in English was ‘The Mosaic of the Broken Soul’, a memoir of a writer.
A memoir is an account of the personal experiences of an author. Memoir is not biography nor is it autobiography or a recount of the writer’s entire life.
A memoir portrays the author’s life experiences where the author shows personal knowledge through those experiences. A memoir isn’t a recount of the author’s entire life but it has to have a particular theme, hence the events are selected and exposed, discussed in depth as they are relative to the purpose of that particular story. An author is an observer and interpreter of the chosen events, questioning and answering what has happened; hence he/she comes to a different understanding of such events. There is a lesson in such events, the lesson that has profoundly affected or changed his/her life or the way he/she sees the world. While the author’s world has been changed, the reader is affected in a similar fashion and his/her mind is altered too.
As Anne Lamott pointed out:
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
My US publisher Speaking Volumes will publish Fiume – The Lost River in English, in April 2014.
Guest Blogger Bio
Branka Cubrilo is a novelist. She is the author of seven written novels. Six of them were published by three different publishers (as Branka writes in two languages). Apart from writing novels Branka writes short stories, poems and articles and she works as a radio producer and a linguist, fluent in four languages. Branka's latest novel Fiume - the Lost River has just been published whilst currently Branka is editing her just written novel Thirty Years of Pia.
What people are saying about Branka's books:
For The Mosaic of the Broken Soul:
"I was stunned when I read Branka Cubrilo's The Mosaic of the Broken Soul. I had read her short stories and was quite impressed with her literary talents. However, I thought that Mosaic was probably a woman's book, which would not interest me in the least. I was wrong. The novel is an ode to humanity and those problems both large and small that do indeed become the mosaic of our lives. I felt as though I was reading about someone I truly cared about, and maybe it was because I really did care about a woman facing the toughest tests that can ever confront anyone: the lump in her breast, the black pearl that may take her life, the lost loves she has experienced, the hope that springs eternal, the determination to fight to the end no matter what the end may be. No one captures the passion, the spirit, and the resilience of the human soul like Branka Cubrilo. Some novelists write prose. Branka writes literature. Her story sings. It makes you cry. It makes you worry. You understand what fear is all about when it grips your heart during the darkest of hours. It gives you hope even when hope seems like an impossible place to find. With The Mosaic of the Broken Soul, Branka Cubrilo has established herself as one of the most important writers of her generation, a generation that is indeed fortunate to have her."
- Caleb Pirtle, Author, Film-maker
For Fiume - the Lost River:
"Branka is a writer of exceptional talent who traverses cultural, historical and linguistic barriers in her writing with a passionate fluidity.
I have read Branka’s translated work ‘Fiume - The Lost River’ which tells the story of migration and place; of Australia and Europe through the mysterious journey of a handful of characters. Branka’s work has the great virtue of capturing the essence of place and nation with a seamlessness found only in the works of great writers who themselves have known displacement and separation. Her writing is beautifully evocative and captures the sense of place and atmosphere in a way which is transporting for the reader.
Branka is both an exceptional writer and exceptional person. She has an acutely intelligent and engaging mind.
She has always demonstrated an integrity in her life and writing which drives her toward a psychological truth. She is an observer and translator of human complexities and this is nowhere more evident than in her writing. Despite many of the psychologically disturbing themes in her writing, Branka has a wonderful sense of playfulness and spirit for life."
- Prof Penny Green