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!  


A 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 me.

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 that evening.

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 again.

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

Author Links:


Website: http://brankacubriloauthor.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/branka.cubrilo


Twitter: https://twitter.com/BrankaCubrilo

Amazon Author Page: Author.to/BrankaCubrilo

Google+: https://plus.google.com/102080984717577751523/posts


Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiTNwt6vNaXaYNGUtdzawLw



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