Monday, March 23, 2015

Ten Questions from Tara: Interview with Margo Gorman

Tara: Welcome. You’re here to promote Bone and Blood, your novel. Tell me, please, what was the inspiration behind this story? How did it come to you?

Readers, here's a blurb:
Bone and Blood: A Berlin NovelBone and Blood opens in Berlin August 2005 as the death of Brigitte's daughter, Katharina brings back memories of her conception in 1945 when Brigitte was imprisoned in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Brigitte has never told her story of the war years but is challenged by Aisling, her great-niece and a student from Dublin, who arrives for the funeral. Aisling takes possession of a collection of unposted letters, written by Brigitte during war, and commandeers a laptop she finds in Katharina's room. She gradually becomes hooked on images conjured up by the letters. They forge a relationship bonded by Brigitte's memories and Aisling's future, and Aisling learns as much about herself as about the past. Bone and Blood is the compelling story of two strong women, their difficult memories and the bonds of love and fear.

Margo: The main character, Brigitte, who arrived in Berlin in 1933 as a young nanny from rural Ireland, started to take shape on a visit to Ravensbrueck, a concentration camp for women near Berlin. I wanted to write a story that made connections between the many nationalities of women imprisoned there including some Irish women. Bone and Blood centers on the death of Brigitte’s daughter. The story links her experience in the Second World War in Germany and Aisling’s experience of modern Ireland.

Tara: We focus a lot on heroines here on Book Babe. Tell me what makes your heroines strong. 

Margo: With or without a sword, we all have the potential to be heroines of our own story but sometimes we need external impetus from something or someone. When the novel opens, we meet Brigitte as a stubborn old woman. As her story unfolds we realize she has been made strong by her life experience during the Second World War and by the experience of being a single parent in post-war Berlin. Aisling, the young woman who arrives from Dublin for the funeral of Brigitte’s daughter is not at first interested in finding out about Brigitte but she gradually gets hooked on Brigitte’s story and wants to find out more. In the unusual friendship that develops between the two women, Aisling learns as much about herself as she does about Brigitte. The solidarity between them gives Aisling the strength to make radical changes in her life choices.

Tara: Do you see any of yourself in her?

Margo: I see something of myself in both Brigitte and Aisling – an older version of me and a contemporary younger version of me but both of them also developed independently of me. I find that one of the strangest experiences of writing fiction. It starts out as the characters feel like your puppets but, as the story takes over, they become rounded characters with a whole life, they started to pull my strings and teach me more about myself.

Tara: Was there any particular part of this story that was the hardest for you to write? Tell me why.

Margo: I found the experience of Aisling’s life in Dublin the most difficult to write. In Berlin social life, there is more of a mix of ages than there is in Dublin in my experience. So I could observe young people at the live Patrice concerts I went to and could identify with them. Writing about night life for young people in Dublin demanded more imagination. Aisling’s rather sordid affair with an older man was also tricky. There’s a lot of mixed opinion about whether the explicit version of that or the final version which is more implicit is the best representation.

Tara: What kind of research did you do when you penned this novel? Did anything surprising come up in your search? (Perhaps something you had no need to put in the book but stayed in your mind nevertheless?)

Margo: When I was researching Ravensbrueck, I visited the camp but I also listened to tapes and read accounts of the direct experience of survivors. One story made a very deep impression. A Polish survivor described how a Gypsy woman tried to escape, and the other women in her block were deprived of food and sleep for days until she was caught. The guards handed her over to the angry women who torn her to pieces. We hear so much of the atrocities committed by the Nazis but we are all capable of atrocity.

Tara: What would you like readers to gain from reading your book? Is there a strong moral? Do you hope they will laugh, learn something about a particular subject/person, ponder a point?

Margo: Some readers have found it difficult to begin to read Bone and Blood because they are worried the subject matter will upset them but the closer you get to authentic experience of concentration camps, the more you realize how mixed the experience could be at certain times. Readers of Bone and Blood are surprised that there is even humor in such a harsh story.  One of the reassuring and comforting things I learnt was the importance of sharing and solidarity in the moment, supported by past memory are key to survival. These become a weapon against degradation and dehumanisation. Even when the women were really hungry and physically worn out; they shared stories, laughed, drew pictures and swapped recipes. Some readers have said they appreciated the insight into life in Ravensbrueck and in pre and post-war Berlin and like the core message, which is - we are all capable of the worst but when we face reality honestly, we are better equipped to find hope for the future.

Tara: Your book takes place in Berlin. If I were a tourist, what would you recommend I see in this city? 

Margo: I have used some of my own favorite places in Berlin in the novel to help ground me in Aisling’s experience. My partner has lived in Berlin for over 30 years so I have exploited his knowledge of the city and he has even compiled a guide for any tourists who want to visit the Berlin in Bone and Blood. Coffee and cake are an important part of the story so I suggest a traditional, German coffee and cake place, Café Buchwald at Moabit Bruecke. You can reach it by walking along the river Spree and it is very close to the President’s palace. Brigitte used to go there with her daughter Katharina. Contact me if you want the full guide!

Tara: Moving on to personal things...if you could time travel to absolutely any time and place in history, where and when would you go and what is it that draws you to this time period? What would you do whilst there?

Margo: I would go to Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s home in Lewes in August 1922 and I would sit in their garden with them taking afternoon tea. I am drawn there because Virginia has just finished her third novel, the first really experimental novel, Jacob’s Room. We talk about her ‘finding her voice’ as a writer in this novel. This is also the year James Joyce published Ulysses so a turning point in the history of the novel. We would talk about what makes Jacob’s Room an anti-war novel and about the problems of writing suggestively. We would complain about how misunderstood Jacob’s Room was and is.

Tara: What’s the one thing you hope to accomplish before you die? Your main goal?

Margo: To use my voice and writing to connect to people.

Tara: I’m a dog mom, so I always ask this. Do you have pets? If so, tell me about them and do provide pictures.

Margo: I’m more of an auntie than a mother. I move around too much to have a pet but my two sisters both have dogs and I relate to them as part of the family. I love the way dogs communicate. I’ve got something about dog’s capacity for communication in the novel I am editing at the moment.

Tara: Thanks for joining us and good luck with your novel!

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