International bestselling author Paullina Simons talks about A Beggar’s Kingdom
Beautiful, warm and vivacious, Paullina Simons graciously made time on her recent tour of New Zealand to talk to Karen McMillan from NZ Booklovers about the second in her new ‘End of Forever’ trilogy, A Beggars Kingdom. This is a page-turning, emotionally compelling novel that follows the epic love story between Julian and Josephine. It is an incredible adventure across time and space as Julian tries to save the woman he loves.
The idea for the ‘End of Forever’ trilogy came to Paullina as an oak, not an acorn, in a two-hour period one June night in 2014.
‘That has never happened to me before,’ says Paullina. ‘Before I would get a snippet of this or an image of that, but I never got the shape of a whole story. I literally got the story from beginning to end. Of course, I didn’t know the detail, but I knew what was going to happen. Five years later and after all the anguish, what is amazing is how close the final three books are to the original story that I imagined in that two-hour period.’
There is a mystical nature to the new books, a style that is new for Paullina, but it came naturally with the storyline. But Paullina has also grounded the book in science, so the study of time and gravity is a component of the book.
‘I wanted the science and mystery to meld together,’ says Paullina. ‘There is a cave that Julian journeys through, a feat almost impossible, but the combination of science and the mystical is an amazing way to open up this new world of infinity.’
The reader will get very nervous for Julian in the cave. His second chance of going back to find Josephine seems impossibly fraught with danger as he travels from the modern-day back in time to connect again with the love of his life. He doesn’t know how to fix things, but he is willing to take this second chance.
LA and London are important places in A Beggar’s Kingdom. Paullina says LA is a city of dreams, built on the currency of fantasy and fairy tale, and the perfect place for Julian and Josephine’s story to begin. Whereas London is the city that built western civilisation, but there is also a mythical element to this city. Both wonderful cities, and also a great counterpoint to each other.
The time travel to historical London is one of the many impressive parts of A Beggars Kingdom, and Paullina says the time periods are an important part of Josephine’s story.
‘Josephine has her own arc as a woman and her soul has its own arc, so as a woman in each time period she must deal with different things. Julian in some ways comes along for the ride; he just doesn’t know what the ride is.
‘The research was the most difficult part of these books, as you only realise the depth of ignorance when you go to write something. I lived and worked in London, and maybe I knew the bare bones of London, but what I didn’t know was enough to write about each time period. I didn’t know enough about the history, the language, the politics, the clothes and everyday things. Researching was complicated and intensive, and then I had to throw away ninety percent of my research to write my story. But I wanted to show the evolution of London from the swamp to the city it becomes later in the book and in history.’
As well as London and LA, the story also goes to Invercargill in New Zealand, where Julian encounters a place at the bottom of the world that he doesn’t understand. Paullina has yet to visit Invercargill, though she has been to New Zealand many times, so this section of the novel is written from her imagination, but she hopes to visit in the future.
The book is told from Julian’s point of view, and Paullina found it very natural to write from a male perspective, although she admits that some of her readers have found this challenging.
‘I grew up reading male protagonist stories. I don’t think I had read a female protagonist story until I read Jane Eyre, so it was very easy to imagine Julian from his point of view. The whole story is from his point of view, it’s their love story, but it’s really his quest for her, his odyssey, and their odyssey together is told from his perspective. But some readers are not used to that, and many of them are used to a female protagonist, so when they only see Josephine from Julian’s point of view, they don’t know what to make of her.’
Josephine’s various incarnations through the ages are intriguing. She looks different and is born into different circumstances, but so much of her essence is the same. Paullina admits that it was tremendously challenging creating a character who is the same but different each time the reader encounters her.
‘Josephine is also different with Julian each time,’ says Paullina. ‘So with each story, he approaches her differently, she reacts to him differently, and she falls in love with him differently. But it is not linear. You might think that with each new story and time period Josephine will be a better person, but that doesn’t happen. But I wanted to explore what is like to love another person, even when the other person is a complicated, difficult person. Sometimes she is an angel, and sometimes she is not. Yet his love for her remains. What does it all mean? Believe me, I’m going somewhere with this!
‘In the middle of tragedy there is still love, and love is almost like a high wire that Julian walks on. There is his steadfast devotion to her, but each time he meets her with all these feelings she initially pushes him away, so he must win her over. Just like my mom and dad. My dad says he fell in love with my mom instantly, but it took my mom a little longer. My mom says it took her about a week.’
A constant with Josephine is her passion for the theatre, and each time the reader meets her she is a different kind of actor.
‘I very much have a love of theatre, but also theatre is a strong metaphor for life,’ says Paullina. ‘London gave us the stage, and the masses came to the stage and saw life. I like the idea that through all epochs Josephine’s soul is the same, that the love of theatre, her love of theatrical, the love of the dramatic, is something she carries with her.’
Paullina puts her lovers through an emotional wringer, but she says she wanted her new trilogy to be an adventure, but also a real look at a man’s soul. A man’s soul in crisis, and a man’s soul in love, and a man’s heart when little by little the layers of his life are stripped away. And also, what it is like when that man loses everything? What happens? How does he recover?
‘Julian, from my point of view, is one of my best, strongest, dearest creations,’ says Paullina.
Julian has an unconditional devotion to Josephine and will do anything to be reunited with the love of his life. By contrast, Ashton, Julian’s best friend in the modern day, enjoys the women in his life, but never commits.
‘Imagine Ashton as actor Chris Evans, that’s how I imagine him. Julian is broody and soulful and tormented, while Ashton is a happy go lucky guy, he’s funny and casual, and he’s always been like that. He’s risen above his upbringing and childhood to make himself into the man he wants to be, but unfortunately, that happy go lucky nature is also what leads Ashton to make all the wrong choices.’
It’s not surprising to discover that Paullina is a romantic in real life.
‘I see people for what they are, yet I imagine the best in them anyway. That is the romantic in me. I don’t see people for what they are and want them to be better or different.’
Paullina admits to basing some characters on real people, and A Beggar’s Kingdom is no exception. Zakiyyah in the book is named after a young woman who somehow found where Paullina lived, and drove to her house, so overcome with emotion at meeting Paullina that she wept in her driveway.
‘She was this beautiful African-American girl and she said, “I can’t tell you how I feel about your Bronze Horseman books.” She was such a beautiful smart young woman, and I loved her name, so I asked would it be okay if I used her name, and she said that would be one of the greatest things in her life.’
The process of writing this trilogy was admittedly a much longer process than Paullina had first anticipated.
‘These books were so difficult to write as I couldn’t corral them,’ says Paulina. ‘It was one story but three books, and it really took a while to get my head around that as originally I thought it was going to be one book. But I quickly saw that was impossible, that I could not tell the story properly, the breadth of it, in one book. The research took a long time also. I basically had no life for five years. I didn’t cook dinner for my family, I didn’t go out, I didn’t do any of the things that I love to do. I was trying to finish these books. I’m hoping in the end it is worth it, however. I hope the readers will feel about them the way I feel about them.’
When asked about the favourite part of being a writer, Paullina becomes very enthusiastic, her face lit by a beautiful smile.
‘The thing I enjoy the most is meeting you and my other readers. That is one hundred percent the best part of my work. Then I know I’m not a tree falling silently in the forest. When I see the faces, when I speak to the people who come up to me, they are just everything to me. I feel real love for the people who read my books. And they feel love for me too, and it’s so special.
‘The part that I hate about being a writer is sitting in a room by myself day in and day out. I feel like my life has gone by me. I get old and my kids grow up, and I just sit in my room and try to get the books done.
‘One of my dream jobs would be to go around the world and do speaking engagements. I really enjoy getting in front of the readers, and I have a story to tell. I would love to be able to say I came from Russia, talk about my immigrant experience, and how I wanted to be a writer, and then I became one. Then there’s a whole thing about my books and what they mean to me.’
Surprisingly, given Paullina’s astonishing international success, she reveals there was never one breakthrough moment, but rather her success has come gradually. Although her first fan letter in 2000 might have hinted at what was to come.
‘It was an actual handwritten letter, and it said, I don’t know what is wrong with me, but after I finished your book, I went into the closet and cried and then I felt I needed therapy. What is wrong with me that I cannot put your book away, that I need therapy to go on with my life? I can’t stop thinking about your book and your characters. I then thought, if more people feel like her, then maybe we will be okay, and eventually we were okay.’
A beloved author with a huge following worldwide, Paullina Simons is clearly doing more than ‘okay’ despite her humble words, and her stunning ‘End of Forever’ saga could possibly surpass the success of her previous much-loved books. NZ Booklovers can’t wait to read the third in the trilogy, Inexpressible Island, out later in 2019, and find out how Julian and Josephine’s epic love story will end.
A Beggar’s Kingdom is available now, and more information about Paullina Simons can be found at paullinasimons.com