I am delighted to be today’s stop on Stephan Collishaw’s The Song Of The Stork blog tour.
Unfortunately, due to other review/blog tour commitments this month, I have been unable to read the book as yet, but it is most definitely on my list. For now, I have a Q&A with the author himself, to share with you all…..
For those who don’t know already, could you tell us about yourself and your book(s) please?
I’m a writer, a teacher, a reader and frustrated jazz musician. My first novel The Last Girl was chosen by the Independent on Sunday as one of their books of the year and got some lovely press. It was the story of a poet who had to make the choice about whether to save a child or not. You will have to read it to find out how he decided. My new novel is called The Song of the Stork. It is the story of a young girl called Yael who is on the run from the Germans. She hides in the isolated cottage of the village outcast, Aleksei, who is mute and solitary. As the winter cuts the cottage off from the world Aleksei reluctantly takes her in and a delicate relationship develops between them. It’s a story of love and the brutality of war. It’s about survival and about a young woman growing up.
Where did/do you get your ideas from?
I’m a day-dreamer and most ideas come from idle day-dreaming. I like to watch films in languages I don’t understand; I find it a much more creative process as I have to co-create the story. Stories come from books I have read, newspaper articles, poems and conversations.
Are any of your characters based (however loosely) on anyone you know?
Not that I am aware of, though obviously there are probably traits of people I have known in the novels I have written. I often find that characters take on lives of their own so it’s hard to say where they come from. You start off with a story map that says they are going to kill somebody in chapter five, but by the time you get to chapter five your character has made it perfectly clear that there is no way they would behave in that manner – they’re going to do things a different way. Their way. Sometimes you argue with them and try to make them do it your way, but it’s hard to force a fictional character to do what you want, after all, it’s their world you’re living in.
How do you pick your characters names?
I actually spend far too much time agonising over the choice of names for my characters. Sometimes they just come, wholly there, as though they always existed, and sometimes I really struggle to find one that fits the character. Yael, the protagonist of The Song of the Stork, obviously has a name that carries religious and political resonances. Dovid Katz, all round expert on things Yiddish and the world of the novel that I create, has told me that Yael would not have been a usual name to call a girl in Poland at that time unless they had been born into an ardently Zionist family, so I apologise to him for the historical anachronism. Yael is a beautifully poetic name, and she is a lovely character and I didn’t want to change her.
Can you share your writing process with us, in a nutshell?
I have a notebook and I jot ideas down in it. I don’t usually go through the notes with any serious intent, but find that once I have jotted them down there, they begin to swell and grow, sending up shoots. Often the ideas will mutate, often to the point where it will be hard to recognise the original idea in the finished product. Sometimes two different ideas will mate between the pages and fuse together in some new creation. Often the character that was the progenitor of the idea will be relegated to some minor role and another character will step up, demanding to tell the story from their viewpoint.
Who are your top 5 favourite authors?
Martin Cruz Smith
An eclectic list, I hope. It’s always nice to come across new writers and to explore writers from countries that you are not too familiar with. Partly because of that, I have established a small press specialising in translating fiction by contemporary Lithuanian writers (www.noirpress.co.uk).
If you could meet any author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Christopher Marlowe. Why didn’t you just pay the bill without arguing?
Were you a big reader as a child?
For various reasons we didn’t have a TV at home when I was a child and so yes, this probably, did lead to me reading more than I would have otherwise. I can’t claim that I was a particularly prodigious reader though, and like most boys there was a dip between the age of ten when I read all the Hardy Boys and Three Investigator books to around the age of fifteen when I started reading again. I failed all my O’ Levels at school and then failed them a second time around at sixth form college. I was actually, though, at this point discovering the world of books as I was failing my qualifications. From the age of sixteen to the age of twenty-one, when I finally got into university, I read anything that I could get my hands on. Fortunately I was not educated enough to make ‘discerning’ choices, so one day I was reading Kafka and the next Nevil Shute. I read Middlemarch three times in those years – I absolutely loved it. I discovered Christopher Marlowe and was on the edge of my seat as I read as I read Dr Faustus. It was the best education that I could have got. I also read a lot of poetry. A particular favourite was Louis MacNeice. I also loved the odd-ball South African poet Roy Campbell whose life was as extraordinary as any character from a novel – at least, according to the way he told it.
When did you start to write?
I began writing at school after reading the short stories of Guy de Maupassant. I would truant from school and sit on the park writing short stories – that was the nature of my rebellion as a teenager. I tried writing a novel when I was sixteen and realised that I was not ready. I began writing again seriously when I left university and became a teacher. I was a hopeless teacher, and it was a means of escape. Finally I plucked up the courage and gave up the job and went to live in Lithuania with a half-written novel in my back-pack about a first-century gladiator. I planned to spend a few months living cheaply in Vilnius, finishing it off. I didn’t write a word of it. Vilnius was a beautiful and dark city and I spent my days wandering the old streets of the ghetto district. Many of the buildings had been left to fall into ruins. You could step over the rubble and into the heart of what had once been a Jewish school, the Hebrew lettering still visible on the walls. The ghost of a city that had been wiped off the face of the earth by the Nazis and their local collaborators. I fell in love with the city and its stories and that was the genesis of my first novel, The Last Girl.
If you could re-write the ending to any book what would it be and what would you change?
I know that I’m about to commit literary heresy, but it would be the ending of The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I think if we are going to throw our lot in with a story, we want it to be tied up properly. Shakespeare played with form, but he always gave us our ending. It allowed us to argue all the more about it. Just look at The Tempest. Nice neat ending that immediately makes us question it.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
There are so many books that I wish that I had the talent to write. I love the passion of Christopher Marlowe’s writing, there are lines and images from his writing that imprint themselves indelibly on your soul. I love the heart of Tolstoy’s fiction and the combination of intimate domestic world with epic story. I love the poetry of Amos Oz’s writing. First and foremost I’m a reader, and I’m happier as a reader than I am as a writer.
If you could invite any fictional character for coffee who would it be and where would you take them?
Anna Karenina. I would run away to Tangiers with her. I’m sure it would all go badly wrong and she would throw herself in front of the train to Casablanca and I would end up in a hovel in the beautiful medina writing and smoking and drinking coffee.
What are you working on right now?
I have a number of different projects that I’m working on at the moment. Writing is a disease and once you’re infected it’s hard to recover. Nothing can beat the joy of creating a world and peopling it.
How can readers keep in touch with you?
They can follow me on Twitter @scollishaw
Thank you so much for answering my questions, Stephan. It has been a pleasure having you on my blog.
Thanks also to Lucy at Legend Press for inviting me to be a part of this wonderful blog tour.
Publisher: Legend Press (1st March 2017)
Fifteen-year-old Yael is on the run. The Jewish girl seeks shelter from the Germans on the farm of the village outcast. Aleksei is mute and solitary, but as the brutal winter advances, he reluctantly takes her in and a delicate relationship develops.
As her feelings towards Aleksei change, the war intrudes and Yael is forced to join a Jewish partisan group fighting in the woods.
Torn apart and fighting for her life, The Song of the Stork is Yael’s story of love, hope and survival. It is the story of one woman finding a voice as the voices around her are extinguished.
Buy your copy HERE
‘At once tightly written and suspenseful, Collishaw’s historical novel is a darkly compassionate fable of human endurance in absolute extremity.’ —Stevie Davies
‘An elegantly crafted, beautifully written novel about love, survival and hope against all the odds – The Song of the Stork is a reading experience to savour.’ —William Ryan
‘The subtle melody of The Song of the Stork caught my soul with its first notes and didn’t leave me until the very last ones. Stephan Collishaw takes your hand and leads you into a world of tragic beauty, inspiring strength and delicate kindness in the midst of horror and through this journey he reminds you of the sound of hope.’ —Aiste Dirziute
‘The Song of The Stork is a harrowing novel about a Jewish girl abandoned in World War 2 and forced to fend for herself in a landscape crawling with sexual ambiguity and brutal violence. It’s a dark jewel that holds up for examination the proximity of terror and savagery to innocence and love. Yet The Song of The Stork is as much about the future as the past. Stephan Collishaw warns us how the times we live in might end up: with an oafish peasantry drunk on Brexit chasing children through the woods, just because their parents voted Remain.’ —Guy Kennaway
‘…a masterly work of condensed fiction that synthesises the art of a great writer with the knowledge of a keen researcher who has become immersed in the first-hand sources of the period… A beautiful book that will go down as one of the classics of the literature of the anti-Nazi partisans in the forests around Vilna during the Holocaust.’ —Dovid Katz
Make sure you catch up with, and follow, the rest of the blog tour…..