I couldn’t leave my character, but she left me.
May 9, 2017
I needed time to recover and to gather strength to get back to the story full of mysteries, lies, deceits, deaths, killings and rape…
Some characters can torture an author to the extent that they drive them almost crazy. That was my relationship with Pia, for on some days, on some occasions or certain thoughts I couldn’t distinguish who was who: is it Pia who is talking in my head, am I her creator, or do I do exactly as she wishes? She became my obsession, I started to dress like Pia, and Pia dressed like me in my youth, she used my sentences and my family ties.
This story wasn’t meant to be my story, hence it isn’t my autobiography or memoir, for it is a fictional story and a fictional character. There are only similarities between us but we do not share the same story, to what I will return a little bit later.
When I had found myself unwillingly involved in constructing this particular novel, or as I prefer to say – getting myself involved in finishing the commenced story on Pia’s insistence, I followed her narration. I could see her and feel her emotions, therefore I would be exhausted by the early evening hours, for she drew me into the mud and the madness of wars of different sorts: wars between the two families, the war between her emotions and will, the Second World War, and the civil war in the nineties in the Balkan region.
She dragged me to London, placing me in the company of a moody gay musical genius – to befriend him and to be his rock; she dragged me all the way to Sydney with the psychopath Nicholas O’B, who made her life miserable and unbearable in the end. Pia had the tendency to self-harm, to be depressed, and she tortured herself and myself with obscure poetry and melancholy.
For me, it was a year of horrors and catastrophes one after another, the whole situation worsening when my dearest father passed away in the middle of my writing. As my father’s family is related, according to history, to the family of the great Nikola Tesla, I started to dream about him.
He would come to my dreams and tell me parts of the story that I couldn’t have heard from anyone else, some glimpses into that kind of life, the life of my late paternal grandmother, on whose character I constructed Pia’s Granny Sava. I felt a strange presence of her, of my late father and Nikola Tesla around me whilst finishing the story. They all wanted me to tell it ‘the way it happened’ and I felt obliged to stay honest to their story and mine.
When I finished the novel I was exhausted. I let it rest. I didn’t want to re-read it and start editing straight after finishing it. It took me a long time to ‘digest’ it, to distance myself from Pia and the other, equally complex characters.
That Australian summer I received a guest who expressed an interest in reading my unpublished manuscript, which was printed, as I prefer reading printed papers. It was a rather young person, gifted yet disturbed, in some way. I have written about that episode in the short story “The Brontë Sisters,” where I have explained what happens when you receive a guest that you really never knew well.
She read the story whilst staying at my place but on the day she was about to leave, the manuscript had simply disappeared. And everyone could imagine: I almost had a nervous breakdown, a total collapse! Now, for the readers who wish to read how that story played out, you can read this story in my latest short-story collection The Lonely Poet and Other Stories.
It took some time to get over that misfortunate and extravagant episode, which didn’t have the worst outcome, but emotionally, it played havoc on me, for the horror of an unthinkable disaster which could have happened if the manuscript had been stolen and taken, left a deep scar on me. I left it to rest again for several months as I needed time to recover and to gather strength to get back to the story full of mysteries, lies, deceits, deaths, killings and rape…
The following European summer, I went to Europe where I spent a good seven months working on editing the manuscript. I found myself in the most pleasant, beautiful setting, right on the Adriatic coast, where days are always longer and absolutely carefree for me.
When I finished editing about thee quarters of the book – making corrections and remarks, there was yet another disaster waiting for Pia and me: I pressed the ‘Save’ button, but instead of saving the script, a pop-up window said ‘the document you are trying to save is corrupt’! Initially, I didn’t know what it meant exactly but I learned soon that there was nothing to be done about it. I contacted several experts in the field, even an expert from Switzerland, but alas, nothing could be done to retrieve the manuscript.
Guess what? It was the only file that I had with me, no other copy at all. I had another file in Sydney, which was the first draft to which a lot was changed and edited. The latest, edited version was lost.
As usual, I had a foretelling dream: my late father came with a book that was written in a language completely unknown to me. Whatever I asked, he just smiled and stroked my head. There! Go and figure it out! I’d had a dream about Nikola Tesla a few nights before, where he’d given me a wristwatch pointing to seven o’clock. Would it be silly if I say that the manuscript had ‘disappeared’ at the same time? Seven o’clock that evening.
Another near nervous-breakdown experience! I was shaking and crying. Those who were around me tried to reason and offer a ‘logical’ explanation and help but, as I said before, there was nothing that could be done. The only manuscript that I had was back in Sydney on my desktop and it was the first draft.
My daughter, growing up with me, learned all sorts of security measures and precautions when it comes to my work. She was always mature beyond her age and very responsible. I would create and she would calmly look after loose ends. When she was told what had happened, she came with a calming smile on her face. She had brought with her, without telling me, the same manuscript which was almost stolen six months earlier in Sydney. She took that manuscript and put it in her suitcase (‘to be on the safe side’).
That summer, instead of having days full of leisure and sunbathing, we spent them retyping my manuscript. My daughter read and I would type, then we would swap duties. It is a big novel, long, with long sentences, with complex plots, twists and turns, and I worried had we written it all exactly as it was in the manuscript, for the summer was hot, and we hadn’t had enough time left, for my dear girl had to go back to Lugano where she had been studying that academic year.
And we didn’t have enough time to finish re-typing it all. I was again, so anxious that I might have left out something or that I had mixed the pages, or anything along those lines. Once again, she said in her calm and sober way: “Why don’t you rest for a month. Leave it and have a good time with family and friends. Swim, go out to the theatre, concerts and dinners, have some downtime and fun. After a month come to Lugano, and I will help you finish retyping.”
That’s what I did. There were some 170 pages left and I left those pages locked in my desk, being assured that no one had access to it (such was the intensity of my fear of what could happen to it, if it were not locked away). I feared everyone, like neighbours, little kids or my friend’s dog, or even some imaginary thief…
I spent two beautiful weeks in Lugano, in that fantastic atmosphere of one of Switzerland’s most beautiful lakes and towns, in the company of the calmest and most trusted person – my daughter. We finished retyping the manuscript and toasted it with some friends!
That year, 2016, when I came back to Sydney, I left the manuscript to rest, once again. Instead of publishing it in 2016 as I discussed with my publisher, I decided to publish a collection of short stories first. I explained to my publisher who asked if I’d prefer to go with “Dethroned,” for it was agreed long ago it was coming out, that it wasn’t yet time to be published.
I had a dream in which I was ‘told’ to wait. And I waited. In the short-story collection, there are two stories associated with the novel: “Pia’s Poem” and the “The Brontë Sisters.”
In the beginning of 2017, once again I went thoroughly through “Dethroned”, a trusted friend went through it after me, and now it is high time for it to see the light of day.
It is due to be released in May.
Did I let go of Pia?
Well, there is a little story to it again.
I was sitting in a beautiful café at Balmoral Beach in Sydney, sipping my chai tea with my daughter, holding some casual conversation about her music, when I stopped listening to her and my attention was elsewhere.
“Where are you now, mum?”
I saw Pia at the pier. She looked at me; she smiled, waved holding the hand of Nikola Tesla as she disappeared into the misty distance.
I am not sure if she has disappeared for good, this is something yet to be seen, but deep down I am convinced that she lead me, kept me waiting, and knew what she wanted from me, and in the end she got her story told.
Dethroned will be published with my long-standing publisher “Speaking Volumes” (USA) in late May.