Yet another finalist
A week ago, I introduced you to one of the finalists in this years Historical Novelist Society Indie Award. As some of you know, I was the proud recipient of this award last year, and this year I am just as proud to be one of the final judges.
I thought it might make sense to have the finalists introduce themselves and their books – having read all four, I can warmly recommend them. All of them are worthy winners, all of them are great reads. Not exactly a surprise, as the Historical Novel Society‘s Indie team under Helen Hollick does a great job of sifting through hundreds upon hundreds of indie books to create first a long-list, then a short-list. The short-listed books have been read by three judges, and their scores have chosen the final four. These final four will be judged by two judges, and hopefully James Aitcheson and I will agree on who the winner is. Well; we have to agree 🙂
Anyway: today I’d like to introduce you to Maria Dziedzan. An English teacher and a philosopher, Maria was born in the UK, has lived and worked in the UK, and these days mostly lives there as well. But her father came from Ukraine, and it is his homeland, his people who have inspired When Sorrows Come. Set during WW II, I can assure you sorrows do come – en masse – and at times this is a read that tears your heart out. Populated by a number of unforgettable female characters – because this is a story about the women rather than their men – this is a tale of gritty survival in a Ukraine torn apart by Stalin and, subsequently, the German war-machine.
Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind your finalist book!
The first time I visited my father’s village in Western Ukraine with him, I met an old friend of his who had helped the partisans and paid the price. Nastunia had been betrayed, captured and tortured by the NKVD…and had lived to tell the tale to my father over fifty years later. She was a wizened old lady living in poverty when I met her and I was so struck by her indomitable spirit that when I came to write my first novel, after retiring from teaching, I inevitably remembered her story. So When Sorrows Come came into being.
Did you know already from the beginning how the plot would progress, or did “things happen” as the story trundled along?
Yes and no. To some extent, I was in the iron grip of historical events and I chose to limit the period of the story essentially to 1939-46. I also wove oral histories which I knew into the fabric of the timeline and then I sketched in my fictional tale around my heroine, Anna. But I also found myself exploring new seams of sub-plots along the way as I was guided by some irresistible characters.
For me, it is with the re-write of the first draft that the story goes from black and white to technicolour – i.e. this is my favourite part of the writing process. Which is yours?
It is certainly not the first draft…or not usually. I write the first draft by hand and it is then that I am assailed by thoughts of the unformed nature of what I’m putting on paper. But then I type it up and work and rework the section I’ve just written and I enjoy that more. I like the layering aspect of this stage as the storytelling is embroidered and polished. Apologies for the mixed metaphor!
What was the most difficult scene to write in your novel?
With reference to the above, a perfect example would be the wedding scene. It comes about two thirds of the way into the story and has a great deal of work to do. It must move on a sub-plot but also show changes in the heroine’s relationship with her lover. It must include a myriad of minor characters and pre-figure several disasters. And it must also be a Ukrainian village wedding. If the reader has never attended one, they must feel they’ve had a chance to enjoy one by the end of the chapter. I wrote this chapter at least 9 or 10 times in the first draft and even then came back to add details when I was re-drafting the whole novel.
Describe your protagonist in maximum five words.
Brave, indomitable and loving.
Are you planning a sequel to your book?
I have just completed my second novel which is not a sequel to When Sorrows Come but some of the minor characters re-appear and one in particular plays quite a large role. The two novels stand alone but contribute to each others’ stories. This current novel, though, IS the first of two, possibly three, novels which will have the tighter link of a sequel.
What were your main reasons for going down the indie route with this book?
Having sent off the first three chapters of When Sorrows Come to various agents and receiving the same polite rejection repeatedly, I decided to publish it myself because it was a story I thought should be told and one which I wanted people to read. It seemed pointless to spend a great deal of time and effort on something which would remain dormant.
Going forward, do you see yourself as remaining an indie author? Which are the pros and cons?
There is undoubtedly a lot of satisfaction to be had in seeing something you’ve worked hard on coming to fruition without waiting for chance or fashion to find you. But it would be great to have the support of a publicity department!
What does it mean to be a finalist for the HNS Indie Award 2016?
Being a finalist has given a great boost to my confidence as a writer, of course. I was still working on my second novel when the news came and it energised me to finish it although I was only about half way through. It is also wonderful to have the approbation of people who see a lot of novels, especially as When Sorrows Come is my first. Writing is a solitary activity and feedback from readers is a very precious thing…especially when it’s as positive as this!
Thank you for that, Maria! And for those eager to know more about Maria, why not visit her website? And as to When Sorrows Come, here is the blurb:
Anna is a young woman whose family is torn apart by the brutality of Stalin’s bullies when they enter her village in Western Ukraine in 1939. Her community, like many others, is trampled and desecrated by Bolsheviks and Fascists in turn, while Russia and Germany fight for dominance in the East. But Anna is a resilient survivor who finds her own path, despite the dangers. When her lover joins the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, she decides to help the partisans in their fight against powerful enemies. Her determination only grows as she gradually loses those she loves…but being brave doesn’t guarantee survival.