My writing journey has been a rocky one. For years, I wrote articles and short stories and kept notebooks. Then in 2000 I had a “brilliant idea” for a novel. The idea was complicated and I believed I didn’t have the skills to attempt it. Life meandered on with the ideas for the novel sloshing around my head until finally, in 2009, I decided I’d never write it if I didn’t give myself permission and learn the craft and skills involved in producing a longer piece of work.
I enrolled at Winchester University to study for an MA in Critical and Creative Writing. Although I benefitted from this, when it came to picking a topic for my dissertation, I realised I still didn’t have the expertise to pen the experimental novel that had popped into my head ten years earlier.
So, I was left with the question – what could I write for my dissertation? What did I feel most passionate about? What did I really know about?
Everybody has a story to tell, right? What we consider an everyday aspect of our lives could be something that’s beyond someone else’s field of knowledge and experience, something intriguing and, dare I say it, “exotic.”
Compared to my English friends’ lives, our Polish existence in Manchester was very different. While many of them had lost loved ones in the war, there was nothing of the sheer scale of the Polish story of my parents. I remember to this day when, back in the 70s, I realised that my teenage English friends had no knowledge, for example, of Auschwitz. It simply wasn’t talked about in the home. They also had no idea why there were so many Polish people in Manchester: to them, these peculiar Poles were just “immigrants.” Nobody knew the horrors our families had undergone just to stay alive.
And so, the topic for my dissertation came to life.
When I observed the individuals in my local community, each of them had travelled a different journey, emotional, physical, geographical. And the characters! Oh, the characters! I can’t think of another situation in which people from such varied socio-economic backgrounds would be thrown together and yet still have the same goal: to pass on their heritage and keep the history alive.
I’m what is known as a pantser – that is, I don’t have a strong outline when I start. The themes of With Blood and Scars developed during the course of writing it, and I spent many an hour in my writing shed, reading memoirs, moved to tears by what the members in my community must have suffered.
With Blood and Scars is a homage to the Poles who were forced to live in exile after World War II, whether in the UK, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Australia, Mexico, South America, Africa, or the Middle East; they all had to build completely new lives for themselves in alien countries.
From your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren – thank you for fighting to survive and make our lives possible.