Interview with Author Branka Cubrilo

My guest today is Branka Cubrilo.  Hello, Branka!  Welcome to Writing in the Modern Age!  It’s such a pleasure to have you.

Can you tell us a little bit about your latest book? When did it come out? Where can we get it?

The Mosaic of the Broken Soul talks about love, betrayal, displacement and longing for the meaning in modern society, surviving a variety of adversity in human existence and ultimately – forgiveness as a tool of healing and embracing life.  As the title says it is a book of one soul’s ache, to simplify it.

I don’t know if the statement that ‘life is not meant to be easy’ is true, but I surely know that I had a very difficult period in my life and it forced me to look honestly into myself. Who am I and why am I that person? Do I, and to what extent, respect and love that person? The working fabric of my novel consisted of questions asking for answers, the questions each of us asks in time of crises or adversity, questions of life’s meaning and worthiness of it. As I was writing it, the characters from my life appeared on the stage and asked me to integrate them into the tale. The characters from the shores of the Adriatic Sea, the characters from the Italian Alps, the characters from the Isle of Man, London and Dublin…Sydney…and my life story started to take shape and to be woven into that fabric.

The book was published in the USA in 2011 (Speaking Volumes) and it attracted very positive reviews.

It was voted as a book of the month (September 2012) in Angie’s Diary, the largest online literary publication.

The book can be purchased at Amazon and all online booksellers, as well as my publisher advertizes ‘everywhere where books are sold’

I’d like to add that the forthcoming novel is titled Fiume – The Lost River and is going to be published towards the end of the year.

Is there anything that prompted your latest book? Something that inspired you?

Oh, yes! Both – prompted and inspired! It was a sudden, out of the blue illness that made me think about my life, my place in this world as a woman, as a mother, a friend and as a writer. I felt a strong need, almost to be obliged to tell the story of survival, courage, friendship, motherhood and in particular – love, as the ultimate healer and the most important ingredient in sustaining health, or in facing adversity. The inspiration for my book was my own insight into the mind’s formulations of reality, how easily depression can take over and how to respond to difficult situations, thoughts, emotions. I’ve never said that I have found the ultimate tools in healing oneself be it body or soul, but I have found my way out through cultivating thoughts that open heart and mind to new ways of perceiving life, thus allowing new possibilities. I wanted to share those experiences and insights with many people faced with life’s crossroads.

So, when did you know you wanted to write? Or has it always been a pastime of yours?

I would never call my writings a ‘pastime’ because there are much easier ways to choose as a pastime. I am a deep thinker, so my writings come with a ‘sweat and tears’ rather than some light entertainment for me and for my readers. Well, I knew I wanted to write really early in my life as I was always awarded for my work as a young student, right from primary school onwards.  My ‘little quirky stories and poems’ were published in school magazines and in a local youth press.

I always felt as if I had lived in parallel worlds, my daily life was so different from my inner world, and I was mixing them often with ease (for me) and sometimes with astonishment to my family and the environment, hence I started to write a novel to, somehow, separate those two parallel stories. I Knew Jane Eyre was born, based on my, at the time, need to ‘figure out how it would be if…' I was inclined to know about or figure out life’s ‘ifs’. While I was finishing the novel, I saw in the papers an advertisement – Young Writer’s Award Competition and hurried to finish my novel to send it off. There were three winners announced and I was, to my astonishment, one of them - the youngest one, with little experience in professional writing and publishing.

Writing is in my blood, it has never left me: subtle conversations I hear in the rain, the rustling of the leaves, the wind…those subtle whispers took me to the various trips around Europe and led me to various interesting people. The knowledge of languages, my curiosity and adaptability helped to easily penetrate into the cultural settings of Italy, Spain, England and Australia. Since then I have written eight novels, published six in two languages. I write in English and Croatian language. I write short stories too, that is, what I would call a ‘pastime’:  Short stories, little poems…sometimes in between writing a novel I am having a ‘little bit of fun’ with shorter expressions. My work has been published in various literary journals, in print and online, in various countries in Europe, then in the USA and Australia.
Do you have any favorite authors?

Sure! And the list is quite longish. I grew up on and was fed by classic literature so my heart is still there. I like very much Postmodernism and the writers I love to read are certainly the great example of postmodernism, like Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino (when talking about Italo, I love Italo Svevo too), Umberto Ecco, to name just a few. As I said, classic literature is where I go back to over and over again. I can’t say that those writers influenced my own work but I read and re-read Charles Dickens, Daniel Defoe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Alexander Dumas, Leo Tolstoy, Honore de Balzac. I can’t miss Marcel Proust and Jean Paul Sartre and name them as my favourite authors. Just recently I have discovered a great contemporary writer Michael Arditti. Whether those writers inspired and influenced my work is hard to say, but it is enough to say that I’ve spent hours, days and years in reading and often go back to the same source for nourishment.

Do you write in a specific place?  Time of day?

Location influences my work absolutely. That’s why writers travel – in search of original characters or plots. In all of my novels I travel throughout the world. I start my story in a certain location with its cultural and historical settings and I take my characters across Europe, the UK, the USA and Australia. My characters are well-traveled people, always in search of a ‘greener grass’, ‘better opportunity’, ‘bigger love’, or purely more extravagant adventure…

I can’t escape (and why would I?) those locations: I was born in Croatia, I still carry the salty air of the Adriatic in my soul, Italy was a weekly experience and Italian’s my second language, sometimes I miss Italy more than any other location. I lived in Andalucia with my daughter and the sounds, the wind – the levante, the flamenco, the warmth of Andalusian people lives in me…of course those locations influence my novels. I have written a trilogy called Spanish Stories and the trilogy was situated, with a good part, in Spain, but then, while writing, I heard someone from my hometown calling my name, calling my attention, so I got to chuck him in, to silence his cries, to add colour to the Andalucian grey land. I have lived in Sydney since 1992; it is only natural that this city influences my writings, the city where my daughter was born, made her first steps. It is such a multicultural place that it is a great source of constant inspiration when it comes to experimenting with different cultures and customs.

My novels Fiume – The Lost River, Requiem for Barbara, Little Lies, Big Lies and Visconti’s Stories are all set in three or four different countries on two different continents. My characters are often displaced, sometimes confused, often in search of themselves, surely preoccupied with many questions.

What I want to say is that traveling is essential for my writings. I can’t lock myself in my Sydney house and look at the ocean. Some authors need solitude to write. I need life to be presented to me in all its variations and imperfections, with the range of emotions and experiences, as I like to experience things first hand.

I used to write at night for many years, but as the time passes I need more night rest, good sound sleep, but then, early in the morning, I hear that whisper in my ear – time to get up and sit at my desk. Early mornings are quiet and my mind is very alert in the morning.
Are there any words you'd like to impart to fellow writers. Any advice?

The publishing industry isn’t the easiest one; a writer needs sound knowledge of the topic he is writing about, hence good research is needed, a talent, a daily practice of his art and lots of discipline. If you put all those ingredients together, still you need a good portion of luck. Well-established writers follow their own pattern and associations, while new, aspiring writers, probably need some advice. It isn’t easy to give advice to anyone - as there are so many aspiring writers that believe writing to be an easy task, but it isn’t, indeed. Especially when it comes to something ‘deep and meaningful’, one has to be in tune with one’s own being, well read, well informed and equipped with all sorts of worldly experiences not to mention to possess a great imagination.

If someone really aches to be a writer, then one has to count on many rejections, which means to develop a strong, steady character, not to take everything too personally; to understand that their own friends will fall in number and whose comments might be hurtful purposely.  With the wonders of the internet anyone can write anything about your book – hate reviews or even hate mail. On the other, positive side, there are a number of rewards: when good reviews from literary critiques or competent colleagues come your way, when a reader, a person you’ve never met and never will meet, sends you an e-mail telling you that your book has made a lasting impression on them, when you receive an award or just a card from a random person encouraging you to ‘continue to deliver great work.’

For the novice: weigh it, then put your heart where you think it yearns to be and sharpen your tools; we are always delighted when a new, well written story or writer dawns.

Here is the blurb for The Mosaic of the Broken Soul.

She called the lump in Her breast ‘a black pearl’, She called her Mother to nurse Her in the darkest hours, She called memories of the three men She loved at different times of Her life to draw the parallels between seemingly similar situations of betrayal. Who is going to betray Her, who is going to stay...?

She struggles with the meaning of life trying to find it through themes of motherhood, friendship, betrayal, displacement, illness, pain, grief and loss.

She traveled to Andalucia, London, The Isle of Man, where She met colourful characters believing that the unknown can reverse the fragmentation and change reality, believing that all the little broken selves can once again bring the broken pieces into a cohesive mosaic.

Here is an excerpt from The Mosaic of the Broken Soul.

Listen to this now:

Some might say it was early in the morning but as I got up with the song of the first birds, ten o’ clock was almost midday for me.

We were sitting on the sun-lit veranda sipping our second cup of coffee.

The day started lazily as all days do on this Earthly quota. I decided to stroll down to the main, cobbled piazza where I was familiar with the sounds of my heels and my heart, and start my search for inspiration in the quick and changing slides produced by casual protagonists.

The doorbell rang.

My Mother asked: “Can you get the door?”

She always gets up first. She always gets the door.

I looked at her again, as if I needed to confirm what I heard, and the doorbell rang again, and again she said in her calm tone: “Get the door, please,” with the clear intention of staying right where she was.  Knowing her ever-accommodating attitude I hesitated a while, then she said: “Hurry up.”

She had a strange expression on her calm face, the one of secret conspiracy - that was what I thought while I was going to answer the door.

I opened the door and a tall man, with dark but mellow eyes, was standing in front of me.

When I recognized his face, or shall I say, his mellow eyes, I thought it was a mirage, for the day was bright and hot already and the air was tremulous and I thought of his tremulous fingers that would gently put away
a strand of my untamed hair.

All my words deserted me at once, especially those that would best accompany my feelings, so he was the one who said: “Will you let me in, or….”

“Of course, of course,” I said, and he walked in.

I took the lead and walked him to the sun-lit veranda where I was sipping the second cup of coffee with my Mother, but as if it was just a dream, the veranda was empty, the table was bare and all I said was:  “Shall we sit?” 

He sat down and crossed his legs.

He crossed his fingers and I crossed my heart.

He smiled.

I asked: “Is this a mirage?”

He said: “I told you, you were my dream.”

I said: “So, we woke in the same dream this morning.”

All he said was: “We did.”

We did not need a lot of words. He looked at the calm surface of the sea and said “So peaceful,” and I repeated “So peaceful.”...

Author Bio

Branka Cubrilo was born in 1961 in Croatia. At the age of eighteen, she wrote her first novel, I Knew Jane Eyre, and in 1982 it won the Young Writers Award. Soon after, she wrote a sequel to this story called Looking for Jane Eyre. In 1992, Cubrilo moved to Sydney and continued to write short stories and novels. In 1999 the novel As a River (Fiume Corre–Rijeka Tece) was published by Croatian publisher Adamic in her native town of Rijeka. The book received good critiques in Croatian and Italian press. After the Croatian book launch, an Australian one followed. In 2000, the next novel was published, Requiem for Barbara. The book was launched in both Croatia and Sydney. In 2001, a new novel, Little Lies, Big Lies, was published by the same publisher. This was the first volume of a trilogy called Spanish Stories. Cubrilo had obtained a scholarship from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to travel to Andalucia to research the cultural and historical settings of Cadiz. 

Cubrilo has written two more novels but she stopped writing and publishing when she encountered serious health issues and the disintegration of her marriage. When she recovered she was able to translate her experiences into a new novel, The Mosaic of the Broken Soul. Over the last 20 years, Cubrilo has worked as a journalist for various local newspapers in Sydney, writing articles and short stories and conducting interviews. One of her novels was serialized in the magazine Women 21. Cubrilo also worked as a radio producer in Eastside Radios Sydney and Special Broadcasting Services—SBS Sydney, where she has produced a number of programs and series, conducted many interviews and written short stories. Cubrilo now writes in English and is also translating her earlier novels into English. She lives in Sydney with her daughter Althea.

The Mosaic of the Broken Soul was awarded with "The Book of the Week" and Branka Cubrilo "The Author of the Month" award by Angie's Dairy 2012.


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