Monday, January 28, 2013

Love of Shadows

Today's special guest is Zoe Brooks, 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. She 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). Girl In The Glass - the first novel in a trilogy about the woman and healer Anya was published on Amazon in March 2012, followed by Mother of Wolves and Love of Shadows. In May 2012 she published her long poem for voices Fool's Paradise as an ebook on Amazon.


Did any real life situations inspire or influence the plot of Love of Shadows?

In terms of my own life the first book in the trilogy was written as a close friend and a personal mentor was dying of cancer, so Judith's grief at the opening of the book for her dead mistress was very much drawn from my own experience of how raw one can be and how angry. I worked for many years with people who have been disadvantaged and experiencing prejudice: people with mental health problems, refugees, the homeless, abused women. Fighting prejudice is at the heart of the book. Judith says somewhere that she doesn't believe in altruism, that we do this work because we need to. The same is true for me. Would I have the same courage as Judith? I very much doubt it.

The story of the suppression of women healers is inspired by history. Between the 14th and 17th centuries in Europe thousands of women were killed as witches. Anti-witch books even suggested that the worst witches were those who worked for good - perversely curing someone was proof that you were in league with the devil. We do not know how many women died in this period nor do we know how much wisdom of cures was lost. Knowledge of healing plants is still being lost all over the world as habitats and indigenous cultures are destroyed.

How did you become interested in this particular genre?

About a year ago I went to a fantasy conference and was describing what I wrote to a fellow author. "Oh, you write magic realism," he said. I had never heard of it, so when I got home I looked it up on Wikipedia and discovered that not only did I write it but I read it too. In fact I had been enjoying it for years. One Hundred Years Of Solitude  and The Master and Margarita had a huge impact on me when I was younger.

Magic realism has a basically realistic world, but with an element of magic or fantasy, which is treated as normal and isn't explained. I am still exploring magic realism. I have set myself the challenge of reading and reviewing fifty books a year; you can follow my progress on I'm loving it. You can find magic realism in books of different genres. It doesn't have to be conventional fantasy books - Alice Hoffman uses it to tackle serious issues in a contemporary setting, as in The Story Sisters. There's quite a tradition of writers using magic realism to explore women's stories and that really appeals to me. Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus is a favourite of mine. My books are set in an unspecified world and time, which I hope gives them a universality. The world is very realistic (I've used my training as a historian) but then there are the Shadows.

How do you develop the characters in your books?

I have been making up stories ever since I was a very little girl; they have been as much a way of understanding the world and people around me as a way of escape. I can trace Judith's roots back to a comic I read when I was about five years old. I used to make up what would happen in the next episode. After I stopped reading the comic I carried on making up stories about this girl and as I matured so did she.

Judith is drawn from all sorts of women I have met over the years, including some very dear to me. She is partly inspired by the women I met in my work. I was humbled to hear stories of their suffering, endurance and bravery. I wanted to understand what they had been through, so I made up stories in my head and out of these came Judith. I have always said that Judith is not me, and she isn't.

All my novels to-date have had a strong complex heroine, which I suppose is inevitable seeing that I am a woman. In Mother of Wolves, the central character, Lupa, is in many ways very unlike Judith. The thing they have in common is that they are survivors and outsiders.

I really enjoyed creating Sarah. As a Shadow she was born without emotions, one might say she is autistic, but in this book we see how she has learned to understand people. She was partly influenced by a family member and also by people I had met through my work. I was very keen to show that the prejudice against people like Sarah underestimates what they have to offer. Ironically I have had a few people say that Sarah reminds them of me, although I'm not quite sure what to make of that.

What are you working on next?

I am already half way through writing the first draft of the final book in The Healer's Shadow Trilogy. Once more we will follow the healer Judith. At the same time I am playing with the idea for a paranormal mystery set somewhere in Central Europe in the present day.

Is there anything you'd like readers to know about you?

I'm a pretty boring person really. One interesting thing about me is that I spend approximately half my year in a semi-restored farmhouse in the Czech Republic, where I write all my books. I fell in love with the Czech Republic twenty years ago. It's the country of fairytales: old castles, deep forests and old wooden cottages. I loved fairytales as a child and I still do. In a way Judith's story is an adult fairytale, so it's not surprising that I wrote the book there.


"I had always felt most alive, when I was healing. Without healing I was a tin top spinning out of kilter soon to catch the ground. It took all my energy to hold myself from skidding into chaos."

But in the city of Pharsis traditional women healers are banned from practising and the penalty for breaking the law is death by hanging. After being arrested and interrogated twice Judith is careful to avoid suspicion, but then scarlet fever breaks over the city like a poisonous wave, leaving in its wake the small corpses of children. What will the young healer do?

Love of Shadows is the second novel in The Healer's Shadow trilogy, which began with Girl in the Glass, and follows the lives of Judith and her Shadow, Sarah. It is a study in grief, love and defiance.


“Peter,” I say. “I don’t think I’ve changed that dressing for a while.”

The rumble is growing to thunder and there are voices.

I pick up a clean dressing and a pot of ointment from the shelves and walk across the room.

As I bend over the bed, I try not to think of the light of flames moving along the house walls of the square. I try not to see the look of hatred on the faces of the torchbearers. I try not to listen. I try to focus only on Peter and my hand as it peels back the dressing. I try not to listen to the clamour.

Under my breath I say a prayer: “Angels who are blessed, take this darkness from me.”

And the darkness does clear, for a while. The wound is healing, so I apply some ointment to keep it clean and pick up the new dressing.

They are overhead now. There is no escaping the words, the room almost shakes with them: “Burn the witch! Death to the witch!”

My legs fail me and I slip to my knees. I am in the darkest of my nightmares, darkness shot through with flames. “Sarah, they are coming.”


Zoe will be awarding a $25 Amazon gift card to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour.

Follow the tour and comment; the more you comment, the better your chances of winning. The tour dates can be found here:

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