Interview: Julie Glamuzina talks about Spies and Lies
Julie Glamuzina talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about your book.
It focuses on the story of Hjilmar Dannevill – who traveled the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, supposedly doing research on venereal disease for an Austrian millionaire. Using an alias, she came to New Zaland in 1911 and helped set up a Health Home with other women. She was incarcerated as a German spy on Somes Island in 1917. I look into her background as well as the local and international context and circumstances influencing her life and what happened to her after the War ended.
What inspired you to write this book? What were your main influences?
I wanted to find out more about Hjilmar. Who was she? What was this all about?!! My initial main influence is my father (who was lucky to escape the WWII invasion of (the former) Yugoslavija by the facist armies of Italy and the Nazi regime. He showed us how important an understanding of history was. My next main influences come from feminist, lesbian and gay theoreticians and scholars since the 1970s 1980s who have opened up new ways of thinking and uncovered a lot about our past – previously hidden, ignored, suppressed, or not recognised.
What research was involved?
New Zealand history and domestic politics, European spy agencies, lesbian and gay cultures and experiences in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in New Zealand, Europe, England, etc., the eugenics movement; “quack” doctors, female explorers, shipping movements, policing …. It involved looking at secondary sources (such as books, articles) and primary sources ( records of Hjilmar’s interrogation by police and military authorities).
What was your routine or process when writing this book? Do you have a typical writing day?
I am pretty erratic because I have written the book largely around my jobs. When I have a chunk of time, I like to get organised the day before; then the next day I do some exercise in the morning – usually a bike ride (to make me sit still at my desk!!) and start in the morning. If I get tired, I like to have a nap in the afternoon, and then get going again in the evening after dinner. I have to bribe myself with food, or an event (eg I have to finish a piece I am working on, in time to watch a programme on TV). When I am doing the research I can stay at my desk for hours on end, and late into the night, only stopping when I can’t stay awake any longer.!!
What do you think is the key to writing about individuals from history?
Firstly, try to understand the person, try to get into their minds; Secondly, understand the historical context in which they operated – I think this is essential in a historical work.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to play Hjilmar Dannevill?
Dame Judi Dench. I am looking for a scriptwriter!
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Doing all the research and then organising the material to make the story compelling, like a detective story.
What was most challenging aspect?
How to decide which aspects of Hjilmar’s story were true and then weaving a complicated account of events into an understandable story.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why? \
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. I loved the language and the depth of the sentences. I also liked the story – it was gripping.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Another social history topic- perhaps more focused on a history of lesbians in New Zealand. I’d also like to do more courses in Ancient History. I did a HarvardEx online course about the Pyramids of Egypt - it was brilliant, lots of online resources including virtual reality tours of the pyramids constructed from many sources (images of artefacts, documentation from the early explorers, interpretations of the hieroglyphs, etc.).
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
I like cycling, doing work outdoors, being with my cats.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about your experience writing this book?
It was great to see how the people who helped me made the story better - my book designer, editors, and my cover designer. It was also great to get feedback on the story from audiences, friends, family, my partner - so many ways to think about it all. People have such interesting thoughts!