#86 Interview with Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

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In the first of my series of chats with fellow authors, I’m finding out all about Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger,  the author of the historical fiction series Reschen Valley.

Chrystyna is an American ex-pat living in Austria. She grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and was studying to become a veterinarian before an English professor rescued her. The rest is history, or historical fiction, if you like. She also runs a business providing communication and coaching programs to local businesses, and takes great interest in cross-cultural impacts, a common theme throughout her writing.

The series takes place in South Tyrol, just located south of the Austrian border. It is a story about a Tyrolean woman who is fighting for her land after WW1, when her province is cut in two, one half remaining in Austria, and her half being annexed to Italy. When she discovers an Italian engineer, who has been attacked and left to die on her mountain, rescuing him thrusts both of them into a labyrinth of corruption, prejudice and greed. The series spans three generations between 1920 and 1961, and she has the last two to write yet.

When I asked her what it was about that time that intrigued her and motivated her, she asked me to imagine driving south from Austria over the Reschen Pass in the Alps and then crossing the border into Italy. The first thing you expect, she told me, are pizza and pasta stations, Italian signs, and Italian architecture. But that’s not what happens. It still looks like Tyrol with a few Italian names. In fact, everything is still in German and in Italian and everyone speaks German.

“Then it comes,” she says. “Spreading out before you, an unbelievably beautiful lake some four miles long and nestled in the Alps. The sight takes your breath away. You pass the first town and quickly come upon the next one called Graun / Curon Venosta. And then there it is. Off to the right, some 100 meters from the lakeshore, is a fully intact medieval church tower, sticking straight out of the water. My first reaction was, “What in the world happened here?” It took me ten years, and loads of building up my German language skills to find out. When I did, I was horrified that we never learned about this part of history. The Tyrolean-Italian conflict was a huge deal! And the pain of that history is still there, just under the skin, hot as embers and as volatile as gunpowder.

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Chrystyna not only loves reading but writing the scenes between Angelo Grimani and the Colonel, his father. She says she taps into her dark side in those scenes, something she keeps very well under control and she hoped she only utilises to write her villains.

“I consciously set out to make each of my characters complex and three-dimensional,” she says. “I honestly believe that every person is simply trying to do their best. The world is paved with good intentions, they say, but it’s where you lay the pavement that determines whether you’re going to be remembered as a good person or a bad one.”

One of her other favorite parts to write was Chapter 10, which she calls the baby of the published book. When she sent the script to an editor last summer, she came back and said, “I just don’t think we’re invested in Katharina enough. What does she really want? Make us root for her.”

Chrystyna did not despair. On the contrary, she was really glad the editor had said something, because in all these years of writing Katharina,  Chrystyna was frustrated and disappointed with her development.

“I’ve got a female character trapped in a day and age where she just cannot be emancipated,” she says. “On the contrary, her choices make her want to blend in as much as possible and it was irritating me that she was fading into the background. After I hung up with the editor and as I was driving to my other job, it hit me like lightening. I realized the answer was there all along. I just had to make it explicit. I knew what Katharina wanted and all I had to do was pull the threads forward and weave them. The new Chapter 10 managed to solidify that for me and I was able to pull her back in with great strength.”

Chrystyna is on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Bookbub and Goodreads. She says that’s all she can manage for social platforms. All information about her books can be found on www.inktreks.com.

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#85 What happened to those left behind at Dunkirk

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The incredible story of how almost 340,000 troops were evacuated from the beaches of Dunkirk in northern France during the summer of 1940 is very well known and is symbolic of the spirit which Winston Churchill was attempting to engender among the British public during that period of the war.

However, much less known is the story of the 40,000 troops who were left behind in France to be captured by the Germans. A recent Channel Four documentary featured first-hand accounts of those who had been involved but barely touched on the fact that these thousands of soldiers were marched through France, Belgium and Holland where they were transported to POW camps in Germany and Poland.

Many of the soldiers captured in the weeks following Dunkirk were either part of or attached to the 51st Highland Division. The division had been defending a section of the Maginot Line in France but the speed of the German invasion cut them off from the rest of the British Expeditionary Forces (BEF) in the north.

The division and battalions from many other regiments including my grandfather’s battalion, the 7th Battalion Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, who were attached to the division to offer support, in my grandfather’s case as a machine gun unit, retreated across France and could have been evacuated from ports further west such as Le Havre were it not for the fact that Winston Churchill insisted that the division continue to support the French. The British had trucks but some of the French were on horseback which made the retreat painfully slow along roads blocked by refugees.

Cut off from Le Havre by the rapidly advancing German panzer divisions, the 51st found themselves at the small port of St Valery en Caux but thick fog made evacuation impossible and on 12th June 1940, ammunition spent, the command was given to surrender.

Those captured were then marched back along the route of the German advance all the way to Holland where they were loaded onto coal barges and ferried along the canals to Germany where they were packed into railway wagons whose destinations were the POW camps of Germany and Poland.

My next novel, Fred and Leah, tells the story of these soldiers and also of the families left behind. The novel will be published in January but if you can’t wait that long, you can download a free sample here.

 

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#84 Why I am doing Nanowrimo this year

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Back in 2015 when I finally decided that the days of procrastination had to end I decided that I would take part in the National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo) in which participants attempt to write a 50k novel in 30 days.

I had attempted Nanowrimo before, a year or so earlier, and had failed abysmally but in 2015 I decided that even if I didn’t reach the 50k target by November 30th, I would keep on writing until I had and half-way into 2016 I had written the first draft of my first novel, LIVING WITH SACI.

I’m currently about 35k into my fifth novel and another 50k would put me past my minimum 80k target. The deadline I have set myself for the completion of the first draft is the end of December so if I succeed with Nanowrimo I will finish a month ahead of schedule.  Even if I don’t succeed, at least I’ll be closer to the finishing post.

Hopefully you can keep track of my word count via this image:

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#83 Who the hell is SACI anyway?

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My first novel, LIVING WITH SACI, suggested that one of the characters might actually be the mischievous character from Brazilian folklore, Saci.  But who is Saci?

Just like the character in my book, Saci has one leg and is black. Unlike the character in my book, Saci smokes a pipe and wears a magical red hat which enables him to appear and disappear at will.

At best, Saci is an annoying prankster, at worse, like the character in LIVING WITH SACI, he is outright dangerous.

Sack is able to grant wishes to those who are able to trap him or steal his cap, although his cap is said to be so smelly that those who touch it are never able to wash the smell away.

Anything that went wrong around the house, too much salt in the soup for example, would usually be blamed on Saci.

Saci can also transform himself into a bird and the protagonist of LIVING WITH SACI is often seeing stripes cuckoos which her Grandmother told her were always a sign of Saci.

The only way to get away from Saci is to cross water which Saci cannot cross without losing his powers. Other ways to confound him are to leave ropes full of knots which he feels compelled to undo. Alternatively,  leaving the Brazilian spirit cachaça or tobacco for his pipe might appease him.

I am currently writing the sequel to Living With Saci based on the Brazilian legend of the mule without a head. It will probably be titled Living With the Headless Mule.

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#82 Watching the Brazilian Presidential election

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As I write, the far right candidate for the Brazilian presidency, Jair Bolsonaro, came knicker grippingly close to winning the presidency in the first round.

The way the system works in Brazil, if a candidate does not achieve 50% plus one vote in the first round then there is a second round contested by the two candidates who received the most votes.

At this moment, Bolsonaro has roughly 46% of the vote and is therefore likely to need to contest a second round against the second place candidate, Fernando Haddad of the PT party.

Four years ago, Dilma Rousseff of PT narrowly won the second round vote against Aecio Neves of PSDB. The country was divided by the result into left and right with the right succeeding in impeaching Rousseff and sending her PT predecessor President Lula to prison on corruption charges.

The desire of the right to rid themself of a PT has been so strong that it has led to the meteoric rise in populularity of the extreme right wing candidate, Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has been heavily criticised by the left for his allegedly homophobic and misogynist comments. These views were clear in an interview he once conducted with Stephen Fry.

When Rousseff was impeached she was replaced by her Vice President, Michel Temer from PMDB. At the time, the left wing used the hashtag #foratemer meaning ‘Temer Out!’ to express their disgust at what they saw as effectively a coup by the right wing.

Now, the left wing are so disappointed with how close Bolsonaro has come to winning in the first round that they have started to use the hashtag #ficatemer,  or ‘Temer Stay!’ as an ironic expression to say that no matter how bad they thought things were under Temer, the situation under Bolsonaro is undoubtedly going to be worse.

The concern among some is that if Haddad narrowly wins the second round which is expected to be tight,  that the right wing will refuse to recognise the result and may ask the military to intervene.

Recent research found that three quarters of Brazilians think democracy is the best form of government,  the highest approval since the end of the dictatorship but that still leaves a quarter who don’t support democracy.

The last election caused a great deal of animosity between Brazilians. If animosity is the worse the country suffers this time it will be considered a relief.

 

 

 

 

 

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#81 Nature or Nurture

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My second novel, The Astonishing Anniversaries of James and David: Part One, is all about twins growing up in East Yorkshire whose futures take very different paths.

The Story was partly inspired by Willy Russell’s Blood Brothers. In Russell’s musical, twins are separated at birth. One is raised by their mother in a poor area of Liverpool but she gives the other boy to her rich, childless employer.

Russell wrote the play in Thatcherite Britain, he was trying to show that nuture, the environment in which a child is raised, can have a significant effect on the opportunities the child is presented with and therefore how successful that child will ultimately become.

My own novel looks at the issue of nature. My premise was that, as a result of chemicals in the brain, people are born either predominantly happy and satisfied with their lot in life or their default setting is unhappy dissatisfaction with their experience.

I based this hypothesis on observations that people whose equilibrium is happy might suffer setbacks like the death of a loved one, illness or loss of limb but they make the best of it and sooner or later they will rediscover their default happy mood.

People born with their glass half empty will return to this pessimistic position no matter what happens to them. They could even win the lottery but sooner or later they will find themselves back at their default position where they are dissatisfied with life.

I do believe it is possible to change this default position and I think a child’s environment, especially during the formative years can have a significant effect at determining whether a child grows up to be a satisfied or dissatisfied adult.

Later in life I think it is much more difficult to shift this default position to more happy, I’m not sure why anyone would want to shift it the other way. However, I do think it is possible and techniques like meditation have a very important role in retraining the brain.

What do you think? Do you agree with my hypothesis?  Do you know of any research which has attempted to investigate this issue? If so, let me know by posting a comment below.

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#80 Celebrating Brazil’s Independence

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On September 7th every year, the people of Brazil get a day off. Well, most of them. The buses and metro in Sao Paulo keep running and most of the restaurants and shops seem to be open but I get a holiday so that’s the main thing.

This year we thought we would actually celebrate Independence Day and went down to Parque Independência where the University of São Paulo and SESC, a network of arts and leisure centres, had organised a day of events which culminated in a performance from the excellent USP Orchestra and Choir.

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The Museum itself is currently closed due to the fact that it requires structural work to make it safe. It is due to re-open in 2022 if no-one burns it down before then. The Museum in Rio was recently burned down as was the Museum of the Portuguese language in Sao Paulo.

With the presidential election coming up in October there were plenty of people around handing out flyers and waving banners for their preferred candidates.

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The day before, one of the most controversial of the presidential candidates, Jair Bolsonaro, was stabbed. He is known for his far right views, including sympathy for military dictatorship (he was an army captain), and was filmed being abusive to female journalists. Ironically, the stabbing by a supporter of the left-wing, might actually have boosted Bolsonaro’s chances, at least in the first round. With two other presidential candidates having recently faced new accusations of corruption and the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) trying to run a campaign for ex-President Lula despite the fact he has been ruled ineligible on the grounds that he is serving a prison sentence for corruption, many Brazilians feel they are not exactly spoilt for choice.

Perhaps the left-wing supporter who stabbed Bolsonaro took Dom Pedro’s shout on 7th September 1822 of “Independence or Death!” a little too literally but let’s hope the rest of the campaign of fought more peacefully.

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