The Song of the Stork, Stephan Collishaw - Blog Tour and Interview
Hello everyone :D
Today is an exciting day where I bring you an author interview with Stephan Collishaw, author of The Song of the Stork!
Here is the book’s summary:
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.
I’ve had the chance to read it this book and found it incredibly haunting and well-written. You can read my full review by clicking here.
The book is now available SO GO BUY IT AND READ IT AND SHARE THE LOVE!
Without further ado, here’s the interview with the author :)
1) Did something in particular inspire you to write The Song of the Stork? If so, can you tell us more about it?
We are now losing the generation that survived the holocaust. Their stories are disappearing from our world. Fortunately many of them have been written down, but it is a critical time in terms of retaining our understanding of what happened during the war. And never has that felt more so than this last year. The Song of the Stork is a love story; it’s also a story of courage and of a young woman growing into a woman. But more, it is about the need to keep stories alive. Yael at one point wonders how her whole world can just be wiped off the face of the earth, how her whole community can be taken out into the forest and shot. It becomes crucial for her to survive, to tell her story – to tell the story of her community - so that in some way that community would continue to exist. We seem to be living in an increasingly intolerant world, a world where whole communities are demonised and looked at with fear and hatred. We have seen this in Europe before and we said never again. We must keep saying that. We need to keep retelling these stories to remind ourselves why it is so important that we do not look at people and think of them as ‘Jews’ or ‘muslims’ or ‘gypsies’ but as people. Our neighbours.
2) It feels like you have a way with words, and I found your novel to be extremely respectful on that matter. How do you approach writing as an art? And did you do something differently for this particular book?
The Song of the Stork found its own particular style as I was writing it. At the heart of the novel is the love story between Aleksei and Yael and the gentleness of that relationship set a kind of tone for the novel. Only once I had finished writing the novel did I come across the memoir ‘A Partisan from Vilna’ by Rachel Margolis. In her book, Margolis writes about what it was like to be a young woman who joins a Jewish partisan group surviving in the woods on the border with Belorussia. My first emotion on reading the memoir was that I wished I had read it before writing my own novel, but now I’m glad that I didn’t, as it would inevitably have coloured my own writing.
3) Do you have a typical day when you’re writing? If so, what is it?
I don’t have a typical writing day. The majority of my writing happens around other things that I have to do in life. This means that I often write late in the evenings. This often means that I sit down to do my writing after a long day with lots of children (I’m a teacher). I find that a glass of whiskey can help get me into the mood. At one point in my life I gave up teaching to write full time – and that was a real problem for me. I know it might fit the image of a writer, but I don’t generally think its good practice to start the day off with a stiff whiskey, so I had to change my habits. I often do the planning for my writing in cafes. Occasionally I write in cafes too; I like the buzz of activity around me as I’m typing. I always write with earphones stuck in my ears with some kind of music on locking me away in my own little fantasy world. In fact I think I would find it impossible to write now without earphones in – there doesn’t even need to be music on, it’s just having them in my ears.
4) The Song of the Stork is a historical novel, and you obviously had a lot of research to do. How did you organise yourself?
As a historical novelist, research is important to me; it’s part of makes writing novels interesting. I read English and History at university and they have always excited me equally. Having said that, the history really has to take the back-seat in a novel in my opinion. Only about 5% of my research will actually end up in the novel. I need to understand as much as I can about what was happening at the time the novel was set. I have to understand what the weather would have been like at particular times of the year, what people would have worn, what they would have eaten. What newspapers would they have been reading? Often I will read history books to ensure that my facts are correct, but more interesting, often, are oral histories or diaries from the time. And photographs; there is such a lot that you can learn from examining photographs carefully. I would hate, however, for my readers to feel that they were reading a history book, or to find a chunk of explication chunkily shoe-horned into the story. It’s about trying to find a way to weave the detail in naturally.
5) Once you have an idea for a novel, are you a plotter or a pantser?
Half and half. I do have an outline of the general plot before I begin but a lot of the novel develops organically. When I began writing The Song of the Stork, I hadn’t really considered how difficult it would be to develop a relationship between two people who could not hold a conversation with each other. Aleksei is mute and Yael is locked into his small little world in the cottage as the winter snow cuts them off from the world. That little surprise that I had to work through was wonderful. I felt the characters come alive as I worked on it. Like Yael, I didn’t want the winter to end.
6) Do you have writing rituals?
Procrastination. Tea. More procrastination. More tea. Alcohol. Procrastination. That about sums it up.
7) What is on your agenda now that this book is published?
Writing the book, I found to me delight and dismay when my first novel came out, is only half of the business. So I shall be spending a lot of time over the next six months doing publicity for The Song of the Stork. Having written the novel, and believing in it, I would really like for others to read it, and to that end, I need to ensure that as many people hear about it as possible. I love doing readings, and reading group events just to discuss the issues around it. I once went to a reading at a library and after it finished I listened as two women argued about the central character in my novel: was he flawed or just wrong? I went over to offer my take on it and they were not in the slightest bit interested in my opinion on the character. That is wonderful for a writer – to see your character existing independently of you. I have a couple more novels that I am working on at the moment and hopefully they too will make their way out into the world.
8) Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. This is possibly the easiest one to answer. There are three things that I would say to any aspiring writer. The first one is this: read. Read as much and as widely as you can. I tried to write my first novel at the age of sixteen. Obviously it was no good, but it sent me off to read as much as I could so that I could learn what a good book looked like. And there was no better thing that I could have done. The second thing I would say to the aspiring writer is develop stamina. There is only one difference between a successful writer and an unsuccessful one, and it’s this – an unsuccessful writer will write the first 25,000 words of their novel, read it, think ‘that is terrible’ and throw it in the bin. A successful writer will write the first 25,000 words of their novel, read it, think ‘that is terrible’ and then get back down to it and write the rest. A novel can be anywhere between 50,000 and 120,000 words. That is a lot of words. And to a great extent it’s about just plugging away at it, night after night, week after week, month after month – and – sometimes – year after year. Don’t worry if your first draft is appalling – it’s a first draft. You’re going to come back to it and improve it, rework it. In fact, if you want to be successful, you’re going to have to keep coming back to it until you are heartily sick of the thing. That’s fine. When you think you’re going to vomit over your manuscript, put it away for a few weeks and work on something else, then come back to it again. And finally, develop a thick skin. Believe in your writing and send it out there, and just because the first agent rejects it, don’t give up, send it out to the second, and then again and again. Obviously, there may come a point when it is clear that nobody is going to pick it up. And that is fine. Just get on with the next novel, because I don’t think anybody has disproved the rule that the second time you do something you’re normally better at it than you were the first time you did it. Believe in yourself and work hard at it.
9) Who is your favourite character in The Song of the Storks?
I loved writing Yael’s character. The novel is about a young girl growing up and finding her voice. At the start of the novel, she is young, afraid and a victim, but by the end of the novel she has grown and is able to behave in a quite heroic manner. Though she’s quiet, she’s very determined and can be quite feisty when she wants to be; I really like that about her. I also enjoyed her relationship with Eva, her glamorous school friend.
10) Who is your favourite author? Book?
That, of course, is probably one of the hardest questions that you could ask. Possibly it would be better to answer with some writers that have influenced me as I have grown up. The first writer to make an impact on me was Guy de Maupassant. I read him at school and he was probably the only positive thing I took from those years. It was after reading his stories that I began to write myself. In my late teens I got into a series of Russian writers. I particularly loved Turgenev. However my real favourite ‘Russian’ book from this period wasn’t a high-brow Tolstoy or Pasternak (which were great) but rather Martin Cruz Smith’s ‘Gorky Park’. Renko is one of my favourite literary detectives. Another novelist I really love is Amos Oz from Israel. I’ve read most of what he has written. I would love to write like him, but you don’t – you write in your own way, and my style is nothing like as beautifully poetic as his.
I want to thank Stephan Collishaw for taking the time to answer my questions, and Lucy from Legend Press for making the interview possible! This was a great opportunity, and I’m very thankful for it.