Ann Glamuzina’s Rich Man Road is an unforgettable read that reminds us of the journeys that have been made to New Zealand, riding on the hope of a new life. NZ Booklovers recently caught up with her about her debut novel, her ancestors, writing and publishing.
Rich Man Road is your first novel – how did you get the idea for the characters of Olga and Pualele, and what were the main aspects of Olga and Pualele’s lives and experiences that made you think of juxtaposing them with each other?
When I was about 8 or 9 years old, my father showed me a picture in the National Geographic magazine. It was a black and white photograph of my grandmother walking into a desert camp holding the hand of my Uncle. My father explained it was a place called El Shatt and that my grandmother, uncle and two aunts had gone there during WWII. When I started writing Rich Man Road, that image of El Shatt was at the forefront of my mind. I guess I was exploring my own family history and out of that the character of a young girl ‘Olga’ appeared. Pualele announced herself as I wrote through Olga’s story. At the time of writing, I had also become interested in the Dawn Raids period. Out of that reading, Pualele materialised and I started wondering what it would be like for a young Samoan girl in those times. I could see the similarities between the immigrant experience of Dalmatians and Pacific Islanders, and I played with the form of the book until it felt natural and right that their stories were juxtaposed.
Your own family history is based on the escape of your grandmother, aunts and uncle from the German occupation of Croatia – how much of Olga’s story is also the story of your own ancestors?
I think Olga’s story is very much rooted in my own family history. The detail of how they lived, the circumstances around WWII, fleeing to El Shatt, a son and father in New Zealand and even a fish shop in Auckland are all things that are a part of my family history.
Does writing about a traumatic history free the trauma in some way, either for yourself as the author, or for your family in general?
I think writing about traumatic events can legitimise the trauma. Through the research I undertook it helped me understand what had shaped the people I knew and the many other Dalmatians that had been in the camp. I think people of a certain generation haven’t really wanted to talk about El Shatt or even what it was like arriving in New Zealand and trying to settle here. My family were very stoic but loving people who looked toward to the future and did not spend a lot of time speaking about the past unless with nostalgia for their villages.
Both Olga and Pualele live through some very traumatic experiences at an early age – is their turning to the Catholic Church a way of dealing with those experiences within the context of a society where (as immigrants) they are not welcome, and where even their own families are unable to help them deal with their loss?
Yes. I think religion can be something that is stabilising and comforting for immigrants – whatever their religion. Certainly for Olga and Pualele it was a refuge from a world that was unsympathetic and at times cruel. In fact, I think it is common for immigrants to be even more religious than they were in their homeland as a way of feeling anchored in the new place.
There are some strong themes in regards to motherhood within the novel – both Pualele and Olga have “absent” mothers, and then Olga is denied the chance to become a mother in her own right – what were you trying to say with these depictions of motherhood?
I wasn’t trying to say anything in particular other than wanting to explore the ways in which mothers can affect who we are. She is such a powerful force in a child’s life that this made me wonder what would happen if she were physically or emotionally absent. And what if that mother was an adoptive mother desperate for a child of her own? The character development of both Olga and Pualele was in direct response to that ‘absence’, and in Puelele’s case, her adoptive mother’s overbearing parenting.
The novel ends with some ambiguity as to whether Pualele will go back home to Samoa or not – for someone like Pualele (and Olga for that matter), where do you think “home” is?
This is a central theme in the book – where is home, where do we belong? I think for both women, ‘home’ is where they feel safe and loved, and it is the convent that eventually becomes ‘home’. But for Pualele the search for ‘home’ is more complex when she discovers she does not know all there is to know about her family. I use a Maori proverb at the beginning of the book that can be loosely translated as ‘if you know who you are and where you are from, you will know where you are going’. I think this is true of all of us – we need to know ourselves before we can know where it is that we belong and where our home is.
In your former life you were a lawyer – what made you want to shift from that profession to becoming a storyteller, and what are your insider tips to completing your first novel?
Big confession – I never intended on becoming a lawyer! Well, I did voluntarily enrol in Law Intermediate at Auckland University and when I succeeded in gaining entry into Law School, I felt obliged to give it a go. What I really wanted to do, but didn’t have the confidence to do, was to study languages and become a writer and journalist. There was certainly a lot of societal pressure to follow through and become a lawyer, so it took me a good twenty years to extricate myself from the Law and corporate world. Over the years, I continued to write vignettes, character and plot ideas and short stories and locked them in my bottom drawer. It wasn’t until I finally enrolled in a Master of Creative Writing at AUT University that I finally began writing full-time. My advice to anyone considering starting their first novel – get a routine and write as often as you can (everyday preferably). And read – lots and widely.
You are also one of the directors of Eunioa Publishing – an independent publishing company that aims to “bridge the gap between a traditional publisher and a literary agent” – can you tell us a little bit about the publishing company and how you got to be involved?
The company was set up in 2010 around a friend’s kitchen table in suburban Auckland. We are a group of friends and writers and at that time, we were bemoaning the lack of publishing options in New Zealand. We believed that our writing was worthy of being published and we saw that we could publish work that rivalled the quality of other publishers by tapping into the very best editors, book designers, printers and publicists in New Zealand. We wanted be in control of our work, maintain copyright and publish beautiful books in every sense of the word. I think the time of the Independent publisher is now and we are all excited about the future for Eunoia and other Indie publishers. Watch this space!
Lastly, what are your plans for the future – are you working on another novel?
Yes I am working on a new novel. The working title is ‘Paul Sweet’ – the story of a Dalmatian man who comes to New Zealand in the early 1900’s via Perth, Western Australia. When he disappears, his brother is sent to find him. I can’t really say any more than that, but I hope to have it ready to publish by the end of 2016.