Creative Writing / Magic Realism

Release Your Inner Writer

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:

Magic RealismZOE BROOKS BIO

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.

Magic RealismIn 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.”

In addition to her magic realism blogwhere Zoe reviews a magic realism book a week, she also administers the Magic Realism Books Facebook group.

More about Zoe and her books can be found on:

-  her Author Page at Amazon
-  her Author Blog
-  Twitter

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36 thoughts on “Release Your Inner Writer

  1. Thanks for letting us share this, Belinda. Zoe is definitely an author I will look out for and whose books I shall read. She sounds both fascinating and my sort of person – a real human, in touch with her whole self.

    • Hi Ian, so great to have some words flowing between us again. I was just saying to someone I thought I’d ‘take control’ of this year, but it’s already smirking at me :) Glad to know your own book – Sorcerers and Orange Peel – has now been released, and now it’s on my reading list.

      Yes, Zoe has done a marvelous job keeping magic realism as a genre firmly ‘on the map.’ To my delight, as my own w.i.p. novel is patiently awaiting my attention, so I intend learning a lot from her research and insights.

      Take care, and stay in touch :)

      • In case you want it electronically instead of in print, SaOP is now also available as a Kindle book.

        Good luck with your own writing.

        • That’s good to know, but I really wanted to hold it in my hands. I would’ve preferred a signed copy, but didn’t know how to go about the distance. I will be swinging by Ireland later this year, so could forward you the book and you can sign and mail back to my daughter’s address?

  2. I was so touched by this story of a writer’s coming to own her gift! As a poet, I wonder sometimes if I put too much of my heart on the page, but have gained confidence by reading her story. I will definitely be looking for her books! Thank you for sharing her story with us!

  3. Belinda, thanks for sharing Zoe’s story. I’m joining Ian in looking for her books. I’m especially intrigued to hear of her experience, because my current project is exploring ways for people to tap into emotion in their writing. What serendipity! BTW, I will be posting a review of Ian’s latest book, Sorcerers and Orange Peels, today or tomorrow. I know you’ll love the book as much as I did.

    • Hey Sharon, it’s so nice to connect again. Let me have details of your project as it develops; I also find the emotional aspect of writing interesting :) I look forward to your review of Ian’s book, and to reading it. My writing life has taken some unexpected turns … I’ll share some details in time to come.

    • Poltergeists, gremlins and tokoloshis and all sorts of angry spirits love doing things lie this and messing with your settings. Which spirit did you upset to let this happen? Maybe you should consult a good witch-doctor and get a suitable charm to protect against future incursions!

  4. Thank you for featuring me on your blog, Belinda. I think magic realism appeals to people interested in portraying and understanding the psychology of characters and so I have met with some fascinating people through my blog and the facebook group, people such as yourself.

  5. Being British doesn’t help when it comes to embracing and revealing my emotions: stiff upper lip and all that repression. I sometimes think it only became possible because I physically and psychologically leave Britain and go to the Czech Republic to write.

    • It’s amazing how people, times, and locations impact our psyches to the extent of distorting our creative expressions. Having said that, I’m exploring a troubled protagonist who will be shifting into a really dark place, and I’m enjoying every minute of his antics. Guess that’s become a channel for all my repressed ideas :)

    • I don’t think being a particular nationality has anything to do with holding back o your emotions, Zoe. The legendary stiff upper lip is merely an illusion created to bolster wavering determination. Put most Brits in a really tight situation and, believe me, they show it! Courage an resolve are individual attributes unrelated to nationality.
      You’ve no doubt studies the nature – nurture debate. Look there for the foundations to emotional stiffness. People who have been trained from infancy, like the traditional Chinese, show little or no emotion, and yet they suffer and employ the same fears and urges as the rest of us. Bring up their children among more expressive people ad they are as demonstrative as everyone else.
      Your feeling freer to write when you go to the Czech Republic merely shows that you have found and environment where all the normal day to day cares are absent or less onerous. This frees your mid and so you’re able to give more of yourself t your writing. Every writer needs such a place. Some achieve it, as you have, by going somewhere that’s special to them, others turn in , closing out the world and concentrating solely on whats going on within. Each finds their own way.
      Sadly some writers never touch their emotional core, and this can leave their writing somewhat stilted and laclustre. You’ve obviously reached deep into your core. Well done.

      • “Writer in the Closet’ – now there’s a great title for a blog or even a book :) So, what about those horrendous reality shows where people ‘let it all hang out,’ including their bad breath. Yuck, for such lack of discretion! What do you think about the Dr. Phil show, Ian – about sensationalizing personal issues and emotions in such a public way?

        • I can’t say I’ve ever watched more than a few minutes of those reality revelation shows. I came rapidly to the conclusion that the participants only did it for a fee and to get their few moments of public fame or glory. They are invariably exhibitionists and most, I suspect, fabricate at least half of the gruesome details they reveal. The shows are a sad reflection on the malaise that exists in a society where people have lost their sense of purpose and see notoriety as something desirable. Few people with genuine and deeply felt problems would expose themselves to that degree of public degredation.

      • Hannah would disagree with you, Ian, about the British. And she observed us for 20 years. She always said how amazed she was by how instinctive not only was the British stiff upper lip, but also the instinct to not get emotional and stick to the rational. For a long time I thought the Czechs were arguing, when all they were doing was having a conversation. But then they too can be reserved – you don’t get invited into their homes until they really know you. Of course that is a consequence of years of totalitarian rule.

        • All the twenty or so Czechs I’ve met have been delightfully warm people. I agree that years of totalitarian rule have left their scars, but they strive so energetically to break through those barriers and seem far more willing to share than most Brits.
          I think the stiff upper lip is really a defensive mechanism used to avoid having to get involved and to share. It’s basically selfishness. Having lived for years among tribal people I notice this at every encounter i UK. I’ve been in this village for 22 years and still never been invited into most of the older villagers’ houses. The’immigrants’ – people like me – are far more welcoming.

  6. I’m the same. I worked through a lot of issues in my books, especially through the protagonist of The Healer’s Shadow. It was a way of understanding a number of women I loved but found difficult at times. There were a load of things unsaid and unsayable, and I knew they wouldn’t talk to me about them, so I ended up creating a character which was drawn from them and then I climbed inside her head.

  7. Belinda, thanks for hosting Zoe and her genre. You’ve both opened my eyes to something new to read. I’ve already subscribed to Zoe’s magical realism book review blog, and will follow her via FB as well.

    Zoe, you have so much in your background that speaks to my desire when leaving home for college. I had my sights set on being a social worker, hopefully in the psychiatric field. However, an internship in my sophomore year opened my eyes to my ability to shed the people I would serve and their issues/problems at the end of the day. It quickly became apparent that I would never have a relational lifestyle if I continued in this field of work. I chose to give up my efforts at social work and instead find ways to volunteer in my community at large. That you had such a wise friend is good fortunate — someone to point you in the right direction. My thanks to Hannah and to you for the magical books you’re writing. I’ve already decided I’m going to be busy reviewing them on my book blog soon!

    • Hey Sherrey, thanks for stopping by. I hope all’s well in your neck of the woods? Have you ever read any of Isabel Allende’s books? I love her writing. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is, of course, the golden standard. I intend studying it in great detail as soon as I’m ready to focus my attention on my novel. We’ve got to chat soon. Have a wonderful weekend.

    • Thank you Sherrey. I am so glad to have introduced you to magic realism – there are some wonderful magic realism books for you to enjoy. As for my own, I hope you enjoy them.

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