Zoe Brooks is a British writer and poet, who spends half her life in a partly restored old farmhouse in the Czech Republic, where she writes all her novels and poetry. Zoe aims to write popular books, which have complex characters and themes that get under the reader’s skin.
Zoe was a successful published poet in her teens and twenties, (featuring in the Grandchildren of Albion anthology). In May 2012 she published her long poem for voices Fool’s Paradise as an ebook on Amazon. Girl In The Glass – the first novel in a trilogy about the woman and healer Anya was published on Amazon in March 2012. Mother of Wolves is her second novel.
She has a liking for books in which reality and fantasy meet. Her favourite books include Master and Margarita (Bulgakov), One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Marquez), Good Omens (Pratchett and Gaimon), Jane Eyre, Bull From The Sea (Renault), and Woman Who Waited (Makine).
MF: Are there any specific messages in your novels that you want readers to grasp?
ZB: My novels so far have had central characters who are women at the margins of society, who have to overcome other people’s prejudices and indeed persecution to achieve their potential. I worked for twenty years with disadvantaged communities and individuals and I’ve been honoured to meet some amazing people with tales of great courage in the face of overwhelming odds. I do want my readers to feel what it is be in the shoes of these others. But if I do help people think about forced marriages, abuse, or the persecution of minorities such as the gypsies, it can only be because the story is compelling and the characters appealing, it won’t work otherwise.
MF: How does a student of history become a writer of fantasy and action/adventure novels?
ZB: I suppose you are really asking me why I don’t write historical fiction. I very much doubt I could ever do that – the academic in me would always be wanting to check everything and would never be able to let go enough to write anything. Instead I use my knowledge of history to create realistic worlds and to give me themes for my fiction. In Mother of Wolves two gypsy children are hunted as if they were vermin – that actually happened across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. In Lupa, the central character in Mother of Wolves, I had great fun exploring what it takes for a woman leader to rise and rule in a man’s world. She is an amalgamation of different aspects of various famous women leaders – Boudica, Joan of Arc, and particularly Elizabeth I.
MF: As a historian do you base your novels on historical elements in which you are knowledgeable or do you stretch into parts of history you are less familiar?
ZB: I studied history at Oxford University for three years. When you do that you can only learn about limited number of periods (I specialised in history up to 1603, but there were big gaps even in that) but you are taught to be able to read and understand history generally. So the answer is I didn’t limit myself, I enjoyed researching the history of perfume-making and healing (for Girl in the Glass) and the gypsies and the people who lived along the River Severn (for Mother of Wolves). Through that research I found out all sorts of interesting facts which impacted on the story in ways I didn’t expect.
MF: You call Girl in the Glass a Cinderella story for adults. Did anyone in particular inspire the character of Anya?
ZB: She isn’t one person in particular. She has aspects of many people, including women I worked with (see answer to question 1). Ever since I was a child I have used my stories as a way to improve my understanding of people I know. When you are working with people whose lives are so different from yours (refugees, abused women, homeless) you have to find a way of processing their stories. There are two women who are very dear to me who also inspired Anya, but as one is still alive I think I won’t say who they are.
MF: Your latest release, Mother of Wolves, is “A gripping story of a woman’s struggle for justice in a man’s world.” How did the story come to you?
ZB: The central character Lupa had appeared as a minor character in a children’s novel I wrote and abandoned a few years ago. Although that novel is in a drawer never to see the light of day, the character had made an impression and my beta readers had all wanted to know more about her. In that book she was a gypsy queen, so that aspect of her was set. I have always been fascinated by the gypsies. I was nicknamed “gypo” at school and I have reason to think that my grandmother may have been half-gypsy. Then about three years ago I was on a rather boring tour of a Czech castle, when I noticed some crude paintings on the wall. Looking closer I realised they were images of the persecution of the gypsies – I was particularly struck by one which showed a woman with baby in her arms bleeding from where her ear had been cut off; this I later discovered was the standard punishment for being a gypsy woman. Her husband hangs from a gallows. The Roma have never united behind a leader to resist their persecutors, but what if they had, and what if that leader had been a woman?
MF: Multi-award-winning poet Carolyn Howard-Johnson says your long poem, Fool’s Paradise is “Very experimental.” and “Wholly original” Do you plan to write and publish more such works?
ZB: I was honoured by what Carolyn wrote in her review and a little surprised as I don’t feel very experimental. I have been writing and publishing poetry since I was a child. I have two major works sitting ready to be converted into ebooks, as well as lots of shorter poems. There is an issue with formatting poetry for ebooks, but then the new medium of ebooks offers some really exciting opportunities for the development of new poetry forms.
MF: What’s next for Zoe Brooks?
ZB: Girl in the Glass is the first book in a trilogy and so I’ve been working on the second, which is very close to being ready. It is called Love of Shadows and should be out this autumn. I am already beginning to think about book three, which I plan to start actually writing in October/November. I also plan to have a paperback edition of Girl in the Glass out in time for Christmas. And then there’s the poetry. So Zoe Brooks is going to be very busy.
MF: What do you read? What do you re-read?
ZB: I have pretty catholic tastes, but I tend to like realistic books with an element of fantasy in them. You will find detective stories, historical fiction, fantasy and general fiction on my bookshelves. Having been told that I am a writer of magic realism, I have just set myself the task of reading one magic realism book a week for a year. You can follow me in this challenge on http://www.magic-realism.net.
As for rereading: Jane Eyre, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Master and Margarita, Too Loud A Solitude, The Woman Who Waited, and The Earthsea books.
MF: What is your favourite writing tip or quote?
ZB: “It’s like this: in me there’s a story that wants to be told. It is my end; I am its means. If I can keep myself, my ego, my opinions, my mental junk, out of the way, and find the focus of the story, and follow the movement of the story, the story tells itself.” ~ Ursula K. Le Guin
MF: Do you have any advice for unpublished writers?
ZB: Be self-critical but only after you’ve written the first draft.
Through the marshes and rich farmland of the great river, Lupa hunts and is hunted by her husband’s murderers. On the estuary islands her sons and their protector are just one step ahead of the killers. Everyone underestimates Lupa, if they consider her at all. They are making a mistake. The odds may be against her, but Lupa is the daughter of a fox and the mother of wolves.
Format: eBook | Length: 167 pages | Price: Amazon U.S. $3.99 | Price: Amazon U.K. £3.27