Interview: Suzanne Brooks-Pincevic talks about Dubrovnik My Love
Suzanne Brooks-Pinčević, was born in Sydney to French and English parents and spent her youth in Hong Kong before immigrating to New Zealand with her parents. Together with her husband, she operated an art studio and framing workshop, “Galerie du Lion d’Or”, in Auckland for twenty years. Suzanne has been in numerous exhibitions and has received a number of awards. She tutored adult classes in all mediums. Her large painting “The Croatian Gumdigger” is on permanent display at the Auckland City library in Henderson.
Compelled by the aggression against Croatia in the 1990s when her husband’s hometown of Dubrovnik was under siege, Suzanne published a book in 1998 about the war in Croatia (based on illustrations of her own paintings). These (now historical) paintings were donated in 1997 by the Croatian community of Auckland to their new Embassy in Canberra.
A second, Croatian edition, of her book Britain and the Bleiburg Tragedy was published jointly by three well-known Croatian organizations. This book was presented in 2009 in Zagreb by Dr Miroslav Tudjman, son of Croatia’s first President, and has received substantial coverage in Croatia. Since 1992 Suzanne has been a frequent writer in the Croatian-Australian newspapers.
Suzanne talks to NZ Booklovers about Dubrovnik My Love.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT DUBROVNIK MY LOVE.
Dubrovnik is a well-known 16th Century Renaissance city on the Adriatic Sea in southern Croatia. Its massive encircling walls and architecture are well-preserved and though termed a city, it is actually a large town of about 40,000 – in summer it swells to over 200,000. Called the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik has a romantic ambiance and is to Croatia as Paris is to France.
It is from here that my protagonist, Gaspar, is compelled to flee Croatia with a heavy heart. Dubrovnik My Love is the true story of how he escaped communist Yugoslavia, wherein Croatia had become one of its ‘enforced’ Republics, and against great odds he gets to Italy. His journey from there to New Zealand is beset with all kinds of drama, from Yugoslav secret agents to romantic encounters. But having finally achieved success, his peace is shattered when Yugoslavia explodes into war and his beloved Dubrovnik is bombed.
WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO WRITE THIS BOOK?
For many years, virtually since I’d met Gaspar I’d wanted to record his unique story, and though keen on writing, and good at it, I was immersed in the art world which I loved, and as time went by I had many other, more important challenges to meet, all of which involved my developing art skills. However it was an art challenge, recording the aggression against Croatia in the 90s that brought me into writing – it was a new challenge to elaborate on the paintings I’d done. That was when I was compelled to write my non-fiction, as well as many politically oriented publicist articles published in the Australian-Croatian media. Over the following years I found myself continually meeting new art or writing challenges. Then I reached a point, when the art challenges had been met and I nearly lost my Gaspar in a freak accident. It was then I knew that ‘now’ was the time that I’d waited for.
Besides all that there is another reason. While Gaspar was convalescing a friend gave him a book to read - Roots, based on the true story of the American slave trade. It had been translated from English into Croatian. Well he’d never read fiction before – and he found this story totally absorbing. It was the ‘feelings’ recorded in the story that captivated him. I realized he would never have picked up a non-fiction to find out about the slave trade from Africa, but through the fiction Roots he learnt a lot. So then I realized I had two reasons to write Dubrovnik My Love – in the background I wove the tragic events of Croatia’s past century – as told in my non-fiction. So it became an historical fiction.
WHAT RESEARCH WAS INVOLVED?
There was very little I needed to research for the background of the novel, which was Croatia during the Second World War and the recent war in the 1990s – this I had already done extensively for my non-fiction book Britain and the Bleiburg Tragedy, published in 1998. However I still needed to do quite a lot of research about the persecution of Croats in Australia by Yugoslav secret agents. I was fortunate to find, and have, good material.
The rest was mostly around Gaspar himself. After 70 odd years, he had forgotten so much and his memory needed jogging. We had some hilarious moments exploring this! Google is a fabulous tool for discovering the undiscoverable! And for Suzette there were my own many diaries of events.
WHAT WAS YOUR ROUTINE OR PROCESS WHEN WRITING THIS BOOK?
Besides majoring in art at High-School I’d also done a commercial course with typewriting. Those two skills were to become essential.
Basically I’d be sitting at my computer from morning to night, hour upon hour, writing and re-writing. Thank God for the high-tech we have today where things can so easily be deleted and re-written. I was initiated into the old clanky-clank typewriter keys – with a ribbon and a rubber. We’ve come a long way since then. I found that late evening, after dinner, was the best time to write. It was quiet. I was often awake to one o’clock in the morning when there were no demands of cooking, cleaning and shopping – though that provided, by necessity a compelling reason to leave my chair and desk, to walk around and thus exercise.
IF A SOUNDTRACK WAS MADE TO ACCOMPANY THIS BOOK,
NAME A SONG OR TWO YOU WOULD INCLUDE.
Strangely enough if there was one thing that really drew me to Gaspar it was the music of his country. Like Italian it is a lovely language to sing - and mostly very romantic.
· Moja Dalmacija - by Teresa Kesovija (find it on UTube)
· Splite moj - by Zdenko Runjic - Instrumental )
· Skalinada - by Zdenko Runjic - Instrumental ) You can find these on:
IF YOUR BOOK WAS MADE INTO A MOVIE, WHO WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE PLAYING THE LEAD CHARACTERS?
I can see my novel as being well suited for a movie or TV series produced in Australia as so much of the story takes place there in a variety of places – and the scenery of the places in Croatia and Italy where the story unfolds would be fabulous. For obvious reasons the person acting Gaspar would need to be someone who is Croatian but resident in Australia, or America. Such as –
Goran Višnjić – a Croatian American actor who has appeared in American and British films and television productions. He is best known in the States for his roles as Dr Luka Kovać on the NBC television series ER and Garcia Flynn on Timeless. However, he is now 46 - okay for the last couple of chapters but perhaps a bit old for the younger years in Croatia.
As for his friends - there are several Aussie actors in ‘Packed to the Rafters’ who could be possibilities:
· James Stewart who played Jake Barton
· Hugh Sheridan he played Ben Rafter.
· George Houvardas known for his role as Nick "Carbo"
· Ryan Corr who played Coby Jennings.
· Justin Rosniak he played Stuart ‘Warney’
As for Suzette
I don’t know – preferably an Australian actress with blue eyes. I’ve looked at actresses in some popular Australian TV series – such as A Place to Call Home and Packed to the Rafters – but haven’t seen anyone yet.
WHAT DID YOU ENJOY THE MOST ABOUT WRITING THIS NOVEL?
Time spent reminiscing with my Gaspar.
WHAT DID YOU DO TO CELEBRATE FINISHING THIS BOOK?
It is hard to say when the actually ‘finishing’ was – there were so much ‘proofing’ and ‘amending’ – probably the final finishing was when it was sent to print. But even then there were amendments to do – spelling, punctuation. No matter how hard you check there is still something that is missed!
However these milestones gave us a good excuse to celebrate often with lunch at the Rendezvous Café in Takapuna!
WHAT IS THE FAVOURITE BOOK YOU HAVE READ SO FAR THIS YEAR AND WHY?
To be honest I haven’t – because I was too busy skimming through several similar books to gauge the style of writing to compare with mine. So I would not call them ‘favourite’ books, just ‘homework’ eg:
· The Twentieth Man by Tony Jones
· The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny
· In Order To Live by Yeonmi Park
· Walking Free by Dr Munjed Al Muderis
WHAT’S NEXT ON THE AGENDA FOR YOU?
Very next is selling our home and moving to an apartment – to make it easier to travel. But that will take time as downscaling a lifetime of stuff is a huge job – as many know.
Then we will see. I have another book, or two, in mind. But it is tempting to return to painting. However, after getting this far, I have found that everything worthwhile I’ve done has been to meet a challenge, whatever it may be in writing or art – so until it makes itself known, I’m taking time out.