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Interview: Belinda Aycrigg talks about Ocean of Milk


Belinda Aycrigg was born in the UK and has a degree in Social Anthropology from the University of Cambridge and a Masters in Creative Writing from Auckland University of Technology. At 23, she went to live in a Hare Krishna temple and has subscribed to the Vaisnava philosophy since then.


"People often associate Hare Krishnas with tambourines and robes and struggle to get past that image to the deeper philosophy behind it, which is so totally opposed to the current prevailing paradigm of materialistic acquisition" says Belinda. "I suppose that's what I'm trying to portray with this book in a small way."


Belinda has taught at primary school level for many years and is now involved at the Auckland Hare Krishna school at a leadership level - trying to implement a new more child centered pedagogy (another passion). Belinda has a grown-up daughter and two grandsons and lives in Auckland with her husband. Ocean of Milk is her first novel. Belinda talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Ocean of Milk.

Ocean of Milk is the story of a woman, Amalia, who forgets her whole life and then finds that she is not who everyone thought she was when she starts remembering again. It deals with her family relationships, parenting, schooling, issues such as alternative medicine, animal rights etc. It becomes more magical as the story develops. Some people take the fantastical elements to be simply Amalia's imagination, others take them to be parts of an alternative reality. Depends on the reader's worldview.


What inspired you to write this book?

I wanted to introduce the concept of an alternative worldview to the prevailing scientific rationalist view. Other belief systems accept life on other planets and metaphysical realities beyond what we can experience with our senses, or measure with scientific equipment. I find this a fascinating area to explore.


What research was involved?

I had very helpful input from a social worker who'd worked closely with CYFS and a psychiatric nurse. I visited Massey Early Childhood Centre, Auckland Police Station, Waitakere Hospital, Waimarino Mental Health facility. I did a lot of research on line. I spent some time in Katikati - the setting of parts of the book although I have placed it just outside Auckland in the story. I used several parenting books, notably Laura Markham's 'Peaceful Parent Happy Kid'.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

I wrote most of the book in Massey Library. I'd go to the library between 9 and 10am and write for much of the day, probably about 3 days a week. After I'd finished the first draft, I then had to do a massive revision for the second draft, which I wrote in the summer holidays. For that I pretty much spent 10 to 12 hours a day, every day at the computer. I wouldn't recommend it! But I had a deadline to meet and I knew if I didn't really focus I wouldn't make it.


My process was mainly to just sit down and write. Trusting in the 'shitty first draft' concept. I did do some planning, both before I started, to get the overall trajectory of the plot and during to make sure the scenes were in the right order.


If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

I'd use a Vangelis or a Rachel Portman score. But as far as individual songs that's a hard one to limit it to 2! Anywhere Is or Only If You Want To by Enya, Alegria by Cirque du Soleil.


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

hat's easy for Husband as he was based on Russell Brand so …. Russell Brand. For Amalia someone like Meghan Markle but she can't do it now…. so Archie Panjabi or Keira Knightley. Prof - Om Puri. Nani - Helen Mirren.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Entering into another world and living in it. It was almost as though it created itself. It was exciting to see what would happen next. Also getting to know the characters - I became very attached to them.


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

Had a get together with my mentors, Mike Johnson and Siobhan Harvey, special writing friends and family.


What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

Favourite book this year is Jane Austin Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler. I went to see her at Auckland Writers Festival - we had a bit of a chat in the book signing line, she took my book to read and we exchanged emails. I felt like I got to know her and her writing process and it was so interesting reading the book after that, seeing all the autobiographical bits and parts where Karen had spoken her own thoughts through a character. It made the book special and personal. Besides which she is just such a clever writer, so articulate, authentic and funny.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

I'm working on my next novel. About hundred pages in. Although it's still very much at the messy almost pre first draft stage. I've planned where I'd like it to go but not sure how or if I’m going to get there. Also working on a children's story in instalments for a school magazine, which is great because it will oblige me to write!

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