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A Mysterious Journey by Branka Čubrilo
On April 24th, we
were visited by Branka Čubrilo when
she gave us a glimpse into the psychology of writing a novel with her article, “When
Does the End Really End?” Today, she’s stopping by Writing in the Modern
Age again to provide us with Part II. Take it away, Branka!
Mysterious Journey by Branka Čubrilo
Some characters can torture an
author to the extent that they drive them almost crazy. That was my
relationship with Pia, for on some days, on some occasions or with certain thoughts
I couldn’t distinguish who was who: is it Pia who is talking in my head, am I
her creator or do I do exactly as she wishes? She became my obsession; I
started to dress like Pia, and Pia dressed like me in my youth, she used my
sentences and my family ties.
This story wasn’t meant to be my
story, hence it isn’t my autobiography or memoir, for it is a fictional story
and a fictional character. There are only similarities between us but we do not
share the same story, to what I will return a bit later.
When I had found myself unwillingly
involved in constructing this particular novel, or as I prefer to say – getting
myself involved in finishing the commenced story on Pia’s insistence, I
followed her narration. I could see her and feel her emotions, therefore I
would be exhausted by the early evening hours, for she drew me into the mud and
the madness of wars of different sorts: wars between the two families, the war
between her emotions and will, the Second World War, and the civil war in the
nineties in the Balkan region. She dragged me to London, placing me in the
company of a moody gay musical genius - to befriend him and to be his rock; she
dragged me all the way to Sydney with the psychopath Nicholas O’B, who made her
life miserable and unbearable in the end. Pia had the tendency to self-harm, to
be depressed, and she tortured herself and myself with obscure poetry and
melancholy. For me, it was a year of horrors and catastrophes one after
another, the whole situation worsening when my dearest father passed away in
the middle of my writing.
As my father’s family is related, according to
history, to the family of the great Nikola Tesla, I started to dream about him.
He would come to my dreams and tell me parts of the story that I couldn’t have
heard from anyone else, some glimpses into that kind of life, the life of my
late paternal grandmother, on whose character I constructed Pia’s Granny Sava.
I felt a strange presence of her, of my late father and Nikola Tesla around me whilst
finishing the story. They all wanted me to tell it ‘the way it happened’ and I
felt obliged to stay honest to their story and mine.
When I finished the novel I was
exhausted. I let it rest. I didn’t want to re-read it and start editing
straight after finishing it. It took me a long time to ‘digest’ it, to distance
myself from Pia and the other, equally complex characters.
That Australian summer I received a
guest who expressed an interest in reading my unpublished manuscript, which was
printed, as I prefer reading printed papers. It was a rather young person,
gifted yet disturbed, in some way. I have written about that episode in the
short story “The Brontë Sisters”, where I have explained what happens when you
receive a guest that you really never knew well. She read the story whilst
staying at my place but on the day she was about to leave, the manuscript had
simply disappeared. And everyone could imagine: I almost had a nervous
breakdown, a total collapse! Now, for the readers who wish to read how that
story played out, you can read this story in my latest short-story collection, The Lonely Poet and Other Stories.
It took some time to get over that
misfortunate and extravagant episode, which didn’t have the worst outcome, but
emotionally, it played havoc on me, for the horror of an unthinkable disaster
which could have happened if the manuscript had been stolen and taken, left a
deep scar on me. I left it to rest again for several months as I needed time to
recover and to gather strength to get back to the story full of mysteries,
lies, deceits, deaths, killings and rape…
The following European summer, I
went to Europe where I spent a good seven months working on editing the
manuscript. I found myself in the most pleasant, beautiful setting, right on
the Adriatic coast, where days are always longer and absolutely carefree for
When I finished editing about three-quarters of the book - making corrections and remarks - there was yet another
disaster waiting for Pia and me. I pressed the ‘Save’ button, but instead of
saving the script, a pop-up window said ‘the document you are trying to save is
corrupt’! Initially, I didn’t know what it meant exactly but I learned soon
that there was nothing to be done about it. I contacted several experts in the
field, even an expert from Switzerland, but alas, nothing could be done to
retrieve the manuscript.
Guess what? It was the only file
that I had with me, no other copy at all. I had another file in Sydney, which
was the first draft to which a lot was changed and edited. The latest, edited
version was lost.
As usual, I had a foretelling dream:
my late father came with a book that was written in a language completely
unknown to me. Whatever I asked, he just smiled and stroked my head. There! Go
and figure it out! I’d had a dream about Nikola Tesla a few nights before,
where he’d given me a wristwatch pointing to seven o’clock. Would it be silly
if I say that the manuscript had ‘disappeared’ at the same time? Seven o’clock
Another near nervous-breakdown experience!
I was shaking and crying. Those who were around me tried to reason and offer a
‘logical’ explanation and help but, as I said before, there was nothing that
could be done. The only manuscript that I had was back in Sydney on my desktop
and it was the first draft.
My daughter, growing up with me,
learned all sorts of security measures and precautions when it comes to my
work. She was always mature beyond her age and very responsible. I would create
and she would calmly look after the loose ends. When she was told what had
happened, she came with a calming smile on her face. She had brought with her,
without telling me, the same manuscript which was almost stolen six months
earlier in Sydney. She took that manuscript and put it in her suitcase (‘to be
on the safe side’).
That summer, instead of having days
full of leisure and sunbathing, we spent them retyping my manuscript. My
daughter read and I would type, then we would swap duties. It is a big novel,
long, with long sentences, complex plots, twists and turns, and I worried
that had we written it all exactly as it was in the manuscript, for the summer was
hot, and we wouldn't have enough time left, as my dear girl had to go back to
Lugano where she had been studying that academic year. And we didn’t have
quite enough time to finish re-typing it all. I was again, so anxious that I might
have left something out or mixed the pages, or anything along those
lines. Once again, she said in her calm and sober way, “Why don’t you rest
for a month? Leave it and have a good time with family and friends. Swim, go
out to the theater, concerts and dinners, have some downtime and fun. After a
month come to Lugano, and I will help you finish retyping.”
That’s what I did. There were some
170 pages remaining and I left those pages locked in my desk, being assured that no
one had access to it (such was the intensity of my fear of what could happen to the book, if it were not locked away). I feared everyone, like neighbours, little
kids or my friend’s dog, or even some imaginary thief…
I spent two beautiful weeks in
Lugano, in that fantastic atmosphere of one of Switzerland’s most beautiful
lakes and towns, in the company of the calmest and most trusted person – my
daughter. We finished retyping the manuscript and toasted it with some friends!
That year, 2016, when I came back to
Sydney, I left the manuscript to rest, once again. Instead of publishing it in
2016 as I discussed with my publisher, I decided to publish a collection of
short stories first. I explained to my publisher, who asked if I’d prefer to go
with Dethroned, for it was agreed long ago it was coming out, that it wasn’t
yet time to be published.
I had a dream in which I was ‘told’
to wait. And I waited. In the short-story collection, there are two stories
associated with the novel: “Pia’s Poem” and the “The Brontë Sisters.”
In the beginning of 2017, once again
I went thoroughly through Dethroned, a trusted friend went over it after
me, and now it is high time for it to see the light of day.
Did I let go of Pia?
Well, there is a little story to it
I was sitting in a beautiful café at
Balmoral Beach in Sydney, sipping my chai tea with my daughter, holding some
casual conversation about her music, when I stopped listening to her and my
attention was elsewhere.
“Where are you now, mum?”
I saw Pia at the pier. She looked at
me; she smiled, waved holding the hand of Nikola Tesla as she disappeared into
the misty distance.
I am not sure if she has disappeared
for good - this is something yet to be seen - but deep down I am convinced that
she led me, kept me waiting, and knew what she wanted from me, and in the end
she got her story told.
Dethroned will be published with
my long-standing publisher, Speaking Volumes (USA), in June 2017.
A complicated journey, indeed! Dealing with certain characters and their stories can be quite an ordeal. Thanks again for shedding some light on the writing process, Branka!
I'm so glad you were able to recover your manuscript. I was there once too, devastated at such a loss. Mine was a long novel as well...like you, however, I managed to finally recover enough to salvage it.
Well, we look forward to reading your new book! Readers, feel free to check out Branka's YouTube channel, and listen in to some of her stories!
A pleasure to have you on Writing in the Modern Age again, Branka!
Guest Blogger Bio
At the age of eighteen Branka Cubrilo wrote her first novel, I Knew Jane
Eyre, which won the Yugoslavian Young Writers Award in 1982. Soon after
she wrote a sequel called Looking for Jane Eyre. In 1999 Branka
published the book Fiume Corre – Rijeka Tece, a year later Requiem for
Barbara, and in 2001 Little Lies – Big Lies (as a part of a trilogy
called Spanish Stories for which she obtained a scholarship from the
Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to research the cultural
and historical settings of Cadiz in Andalusia). The Lonely Poet and
Other Stories is Branka’s third book published in English by Speaking
Volumes, following her earlier novels The Mosaic of the Broken Soul
(2011) and Fiume – The Lost River (2014). Branka’s latest novel,
Dethroned, will be published with the same publisher in 2017. Branka has
been living in Sydney with her daughter Althea since 1992. Now she
predominantly writes in English and translates her earlier works in
English. Praise for Branka Cubrilo via 5-Star Reviews on Amazon.com.