Having grown up in Africa, it’s no surprise that magic realism is by far my favorite literary genre. I am always exploring books, blogs, and writers who share my fascination with the ‘mysterious’ stuff of life. To my delight, I’ve come across a magic realism writer whose love of the concept has lead to an amazing project: In July 2012, Zoe Brooks set herself the target of reading and reviewing at least 50 magic realism books that year—to date, there are 195 books in her reading list and rising. More about this author who now also has a number of magic realism publications under her belt:
When Zoe was a little girl her inventor father taught her to “look at things another way,” while her mother taught her to see dragons in the shapes of natural things. Zoe is still putting into practice what she was taught.
Zoe aims to write popular books that have complex characters and themes that get under the reader’s skin. She finds her experience of working with people on the edge of society an inspiration for her fiction.
In 2012 Zoe published her first novel, Girl in the Glass (the first book in The Healer’s Shadow trilogy). Four books have followed, including the rest of the trilogy and the award-winning poetry book Fool’s Paradise.
Zoe says, “For over twenty years I worked with disadvantaged communities and individuals in some of the most deprived areas of London and Oxford. Through my work I was honoured to hear the stories of some inspirational women, who had had to leave countries torn by civil war, or had experienced the threat of forced marriage, abusive husbands and fathers, who had endured the unendurable and survived.
I found my work extremely rewarding but emotionally demanding. In order to cope I bought a semi-derelict farmhouse in the Czech Republic. I would retreat there, walk in the surrounding forest and collect wild mushrooms. I told myself when I bought it that it would be a place where I would write. I had been a successful poet in my youth, but under pressure from my work the poetry had stopped flowing. One reason I bought the house was that a friend lived nearby. Hannah was a Jungian and a story editor for the film industry. She worried that I was not allowing my inner poet to come out, that I was suppressing my sub-conscious and that my job, while good for those I worked with, was damaging me.
She was right on all counts. One day I started to cry. I could no longer do the work. I had to give up my job and my career. Encouraged by Hannah and my husband I went to the farmhouse and sat down to write. Instead of writing poetry I wrote a novel. It wasn’t very good. “You’re holding back on emotions,” said Hannah. “Let go. Stop being so controlled. Be Czech, not British.”
On the third attempt I actually managed to write a novel that worked. “Are you going to publish it?” said Hannah. I mumbled excuses, said that if I did publish it I would use a pseudonym, but I did nothing more about publishing the book. I could tell Hannah was disappointed. In late January 2011 Hannah picked me up from the coach station to drive me to my farmhouse. My plan was to write the next novel as the snow fell outside. As she drove, Hannah told me that she had been unwell and I told her to go to the doctor. She had pancreatic cancer and two months to live. She told me “I hope you aren’t holding back on the book because of me.” I wasn’t and I didn’t. I finished the first draft not long before she died and I promised her that this time I would publish. It was a promise I could not break.
Magical Realism is a literary genre that incorporates
fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction.
I published Girl in the Glass, the first in The Healer’s Shadow trilogy, a year after Hannah died and what is more I let go of my fear of showing myself up and published it under my own name. One reason I had failed to write in the past was that I valued my work with others more than my writing, which a voice inside my head said was self-indulgent. I realize now that I was wrong. Girl in the Glass and indeed all my books since have explored the lives of people on the margins of society, the persecuted and oppressed. I must include emotions, as I want my readers to understand what others experience. I do explore how people suppress emotions as a way of coping – my heroine Judith is unable to cry because of childhood trauma and over the course of the trilogy we watch as she learns to love, to trust and eventually to cry and in so doing let go of her past.
I have learned a great deal about writing, but I won’t pretend that letting full-on emotions flow in my writing comes easily. I am too much a buttoned-up Brit for that. But I now know when reviewing my first draft to look for what I leave out. It’s something Hannah taught me – because I almost always leave out the emotional crux of the story.
As for myself, I know that releasing the inner writer has restored a mental and spiritual balance. And the fact that I write magic realism, is a sign that I am now valuing both.”
More about Zoe and her books can be found on: