My story ‘I am most alive‘ has just been longlisted in the annual Fish Publishing competition. This may not sound like much of an achievement, but I’m delighted because the standard is very high. There were 1300 entries, of which 190 were longlisted. 40 of those were shortlisted and the top 10 winners will be announced on 17th March. You can find the listings on the Fish website here.
Writer & blogger Chantelle Atkins posted an interview with me this week on her website ‘The Glorious Outsiders’. Here it is:
Last week I read and reviewed a beautiful and unique YA book, called Tree Magic. I came across this book in a Facebook group I am lucky enough to be part of, and the front cover and title immediately caught my eye. It sounded just my sort of thing. (If you follow me on Instagram you might have an idea of how obsessed with trees I am!) You can read my review of Tree Magic here. Author Harriet Springbett kindly agreed to an interview, which you can enjoy below. Tree Magic comes out in paperback on the 1st of March, and is currently only 99p for the ebook on Amazon. Grab it!
1) Can you tell us what inspired you to write Tree Magic?
I was sitting under a weeping willow tree in my garden, writing the start of a novel about Rainbow, a teenager who didn’t fit…
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When I tell the French people I meet that I’m a writer, they often ask if I write in French.
‘No way,’ I say.
‘Why not?’ they ask. ‘You’re pretty much bilingual.’
That ‘pretty much’ is what has always stopped me. How can I possibly nuance my language, weave a subtext, hook the exact word I’m fishing for from the little pond of French I possess? Come on: it’s difficult enough to do this in my native English.
I have tried. A few years ago a literary friend invited me to her French creative writing workshop. When I eventually summed up my courage and went along, I discovered that it was a surprisingly stimulating experience.
Knowing I couldn’t expect any elegance from the French corner of my mind, I felt more liberated than in English workshops. My creations were basic but the ideas, associations and images flowed easily and naturally. By letting go of my language expectations I was able to focus more fully on the narrative.
Much as I enjoyed the other participants’ poetic prose, though, I was unable to write a satisfactory piece in French.
So I was intrigued to see the title ‘Why Write in a Different Language?’ featuring as one of the discussions at the European Literature festival in Cognac last November. I hurried along to listen to the panel of authors, who all write in non-native languages.
There were two Slovak authors, Jana Benova (has written in Czech) and Irena Brezna (writes in German); a Czech writer, Lenka Hornakova-Civade (French); and the Russian writer Vladimir Vertlib (German). It turned out to be one of the most thought-provoking themes of the festival, and one that remains with me three months later.
Lenka argued that your native language is one of emotion. In your mother tongue, the emotion surges out and grips you as you write. Writing in a different language, however, gives you the distance you need for the surgical precision of the job.
Jana agreed that when writing, you’re searching for the clearest way of communicating, and suggested that this distance can also be achieved in terms of letting time pass or writing in a different location.
Vladimir talked about dogs: when he says his native Russian word for ‘dog’, he can smell and feel the animal. But when he says the word in German, there is a space between the word and the feeling. This made me think how feeble the French swear words sound to me, compared to the strength of English ones. Now I know why.
There’s also a freedom in writing in a different language, according to Irena. She’s sometimes horrified when she reads her German work once it’s translated into her native Slovak: not because of bad translation, but because she’s shocked to think she could have written those things. The distance she felt when writing in German is lacking when she reads her translated words in her native language.
Jana confirmed this and quoted the results of an interesting study. Apparently, when you use your mother tongue you respect your morals, whereas you morally let go of yourself in a foreign language.
You have been warned, Ex-pats. No casting aside of your morals here, please.
The panel also explored the difference between translating into a different language and writing in that language.
At the time of the Cognac festival, Lenka was in the process of translating a French work into her native Czech. She pointed out that when translating you must respect what is written rather than interpreting the author’s intention. The result of her translation, both in terms of sonority and meaning, didn’t resemble what she would have written in Czech.
Vladimir put himself firmly on the writer side of the fence for this very reason, admitting that he would be tempted to rewrite rather than translate.
He brought the discussion back to the freedom of a non-native language, saying that you actually re-invent a language when you adopt it: you create your own nuances that enrich your use of it.
Lenka suggested this is because you don’t have the codes you learn from growing up in a language. And Irena added that German readers have told her that her use of German is more beautiful than native German.
I particularly liked Jana’s reference to Samuel Beckett – an Irish writer who lived in France and wrote in French. He apparently said that he knew English too well to write in this language.
Who knows? Perhaps, one day, I will know English so well that I’ll be able to write in French! Though with over a quarter of a million distinct words in the English language, there’s still a way to go.
And, to be honest, I like writing in English. I like the way it keeps me in touch with my origins.
If you’d like to read more about other writers who write in non-native languages, there’s an article on the Telegraph website here
(Photos courtesy of Littératures Européennes and Lycée Jean Monnet’s photography club)
Temporary Offer: Tree Magic ebook only 99p
I couldn’t resist sharing this publicity picture with you. My publisher Impress Books created it and chose their favourite endorsements. Write a review on Amazon and you may see your name in print too! The paperback version comes out in 3 weeks (1st March).
You could be sad. You were sad until a minute ago: you were staring glumly out of the window and trying to remember the hope of summer.
It’s the same old tree that has always been there. It seems it’s been there forever. You never really looked at it before and you don’t even know its name.
But today you’re looking because – check this out – it’s undressed. Its sleeping branches are silhouetted against the blue sky and you can see every detail of its structure, every woody member of its body. It is stunning! How come you never noticed it before?
Hang on: it’s not alone. There are naked trees everywhere. The countryside is an exhibition of natural statues, each one unique, each individual beauty an open hand stretched towards the sky.
Look at them: go on. Get outside and admire them. Because this mass nudity won’t last forever. In a couple of months they will wake, dress in lime green leaves and hide behind them, like Eve in the garden of Eden.
Once you start looking, you won’t be able to stop. You may pull out your phone and take a couple of photos. You might even push your morning schedule to one side, go out with your camera and start collecting.
Before you know it, you’ll be out there in the early morning fog; in the freshly fallen snow; at midnight under a full moon. You’ll rush indoors for your camera when you’re walking home at night and spot a silver birch, its white bark reflected in the moon.
You’ll be dashing from field to field, from park to park, eager to add to your collection before it’s too late – before green spring arrives and your eyes turn to the flowering ground bursting into pinks, blues and yellows.
January blues? Huh, the only blues you’ll see now are those of the sky.
I’ve been lucky so far. The radio interviews and twitter chat shows featuring Tree Magic have all been positive experiences. As for the personal messages I’ve received – well, they’ve made all the hard work worthwhile.
I’m amazed by the glittering 5-star reviews posted on websites. These reviews make a big difference, even if they’re only one sentence long. So thanks enormously to those of you who have enjoyed Tree Magic and posted a comment. This has also helped with January Blues.
It is no doubt thanks to these lovely comments that I now have some exciting news to announce: *drumroll* my publisher has decided to publish a paperback version of Tree Magic. YIPPEE! My dad will be able to read it!
But don’t worry: I’m not going to witter on about Tree Magic forever. I have lots of plans for blog posts this year that don’t mention writing at all, including interviews with three people who contribute in their own particular ways to our local culture here in Poitou-Charentes.
I hope Tree Magic will continue to inspire readers as much as naked trees inspire me. You can find updates on Tree Magic’s progress by clicking on the Tree Magic News tab at the top of this blog. And if you’ve read it, I’d love to hear what you thought.
Meanwhile, open your eyes and go tree-hunting to chase away those January blues.
“A Subtle and Surprising Novel. This worked for me. The writing is poised and elegant with many unforced moments of lyricism. The central plot device—Rainbow’s magical gift—is so odd, it could’ve been off-putting, but the author makes it work. and the development of a “second” main character—no spoilers—was nicely done and quite an original approach. The sense of place was lush and engrossing, which is a surprising accomplishment for a debut novelist. I received an advance reading copy of this novel, but I will keep my eye on this author in the future.”
And the other said:
“A Highly Accomplished Debut. This is a very well-written and well-constructed book, complex and subtle and much deeper than the central premise (girl endowed with the gift of ‘tree magic’) suggests. It’s the story of a girl growing up and coming to terms with her past, the consequences of her own actions and the place she wants to occupy in the world. There’s a richness of detail and character, along with some plot surprises that make for an engrossing read. I received an advance review copy in exchange for an honest review: well, here is an author who I honestly think has the skill of an accomplished novelist.”
Many thanks to Impress Books for publishing this feature on their blog.
Today is the day of publication for the first book from Impress HQ in 2017!
Tree Magic is the dazzling debut YA novel by Harriet Springbett and is now available to buy as an eBook on all platforms from today. The content of this blog post comes courtesy of the author herself as she talks about the journey to publication.
My Journey to Publication
Getting published is a big deal. At least, it is for me. I’ve been writing seriously since 2005, and for years before that I was either daydreaming about being published or procrastinating that I’d start a regular writing routine. Immediately. Once I’d done the washing-up.
The thing is, I didn’t study English. I didn’t do an MA in Creative Writing. And I didn’t know anyone in the publishing world. I lived in France and spoke French all day long. But I loved writing. Writing in English…
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