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October 22, 2012

Meet the Author: Zoe Brooks

I suppose the most interesting thing about me is my connection with the Czech Republic, where I now have a house and where I do most of my writing.

My second paid job (there were lots of unpaid jobs before, but we won't mention them) was running the Puppet Centre in London. It was a brilliant job: organizing training, performances, national and international festivals and exhibitions and working with puppeteers across the UK. Anyone who has visited Prague will have seen the many shops selling hand-carved puppets and the puppet theatres. In 1968 with the Soviet repression of the Prague Spring a number of the Czech puppeteers fled their country and made their way to swinging London and fifteen years later were still there.

Although I gave up my job when my son was born, work wouldn't give up on me. I kept being offered freelance work, including the opportunity to organise an exhibition of television and film puppets for the Liverpool Festival of Comedy. I wrote to all my contacts (this was the 1980's when you still wrote letters) and asked if they would loan a puppet or two. One day the phone rang and a soft low woman's voice with a Czech accent said she had a puppet from a children's series of Czech folktales, which she had made, but she wasn't sure if I would want it. It turned out she lived very near me, so I went over to have a look.

Little did I know as I climbed the rusty cast-iron staircase to the top of a large old house overlooking Blackheath that my life was about to change. The door opened and I was invited in. I sat in the sitting room waiting. On the table near me a tree branch was hung with painted eggs, in the bookcase was an eclectic collection of fairytales, Jungian psychology, film and Czech and English literature, a music score sat open on a grand piano. The puppeteer returned with a large grandpa fox puppet. Not sure if I'd want it - of course I did. The puppeteer grinned and offered me some tea. Soon we were drinking and talking. It was the first of hundreds of mugs of tea we have shared.

Krumlov in autumn
When the Berlin Wall fell, I went with my friend to Prague. It was one of the most incredible experiences I have had in my life. I was left alone to wander the still wintry streets for five days, as my friend renewed acquaintances and visited long unseen relatives. The joy of freedom hung in the air like the incense, but it was mixed with a grief for those who had not survived to share it. I wandered without a map, soaking it all in, loving the architecture and the history, loving the smiles on people's faces. When I got back, much to my friend's delight I wrote a long poem for voices called Fool's Paradise.

After a year or so my friend moved back and I continued to visit her. I can't explain why, but I felt at home in the Czech Republic and still do. I have always loved fairytales and the Czechs do too. Not Disney twee, but tales rooted in the dark places of the forest. When my friend moved to Cesky Krumlov in South Bohemia, I followed and discovered the forests and mountains of the books I had loved as a child. Back in the United Kingdom I was now working in community regeneration. helping the most disadvantaged in society. It was emotionally and spiritually demanding work and I needed the trips to central Europe to renew my strength. My friend urged me to start writing again, but I could not. As I was visiting three times a year, I decided I would buy somewhere in the hope that it could be a writer's retreat and my lovely husband agreed.

Olsina Lake
I bought an old run-down farmhouse on the edge of a small village near the border of the Sumava National Park. It's only seven miles to Cesky Krumlov and only fifteen minutes walk to the nearest forest. At first I didn't write anything more than a few short poems. I was focusing on restoring the house and making it habitable, meanwhile my job in England was getting more and more demanding. Then came a crisis: suddenly all my layers of thick skin had been peeled off by the emotional pressure of my work and I was left with no protection. My employers decided that they would wind-up the company. That stage of my life was over.

Encouraged by my husband and friend I decided I would try my hand at writing a novel. This time after two months the house delivered on its promise. Four books have followed, all of them written in my Czech hideaway. The house still isn't fully restored and is pretty basic, but I love it. The furniture may be second-hand, but there are books everywhere and the walls are covered by folk art and my Czech friend's prints. People ask "Aren't you homesick?" and the answer is "I have two homes." In three weeks time I will be going home to the Czech Republic to write the last book in The Healer's Shadow trilogy.

* My note: I spend a week in the Czech Republic in 2010. It is such a picturesque place. I can definitely understand Zoe's love for the place.

About the Author:

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 Gaiman), Jane Eyre, Bull From The Sea (Renault), and Woman Who Waited (Makine).

Connect with Zoe:
Amazon author page

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