- Guest Poet -
Welcome to an interview conducted with an Australian poet and artist. Some of her fine artwork is depicted here today.
Welcome Nikola ...
· TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR POETRY JOURNEY.
I was born in Croatia, raised in Australia and have spent time in Germany and lived in France. I’ve also travelled extensively. I guess I was never truly settled. I started school in Australia without being able to speak English – this impacted and imprinted on me, both the feeling of isolation and the acute awareness of others teasing me. Even though I didn’t understand what they were saying, I understood them and what they thought of me.
As for how my poetry journey started. I think it started with my parents and my nana. My mother won a fine-arts university scholarship & then promptly majored in chemistry while also painting. My father, a brilliant mathematician and industrial engineer also pains (a little), and writes poetry and sonnets (in Croatian) and my nana used to cheer me up by telling me wild stories of evil witches and magical places – stories that, even after I learned to speak English, were foreign to my Australian school friends.
So I was surrounded by maths and science and art and beauty. Dad quoted Homer and Shakespeare. Nana read passages from the bible, and mum showed me pictures in books of wondrous works of art and magnificent places in Europe.
I guess it was only natural I would be as duplicitous as my parents. By that I mean, I have an art-history degree, a double degree in accounting, banking & finance and international trade and a marketing diploma. I have also started a new BA in professional Writing and Publishing.
I wanted a “regular” career but I also wanted to pursue my art.
I have exhibited my paintings in Melbourne and Paris and have collectors in five countries as well as having one of my works featured in a government building.
As for telling stories, my parents tell me I was a very precocious child. I started walking at 9 months and singing complete songs and telling stories before I was two years old. I too thought this somewhat wild tales of proud parents. But we moved to Australia when I was 2.5 years old. In 2009, while living in Paris, I went to visit my Croatian grandmother. She’s now 93. And she started telling me of how cute I was “with all your stories and songs” – I asked her when I was telling them and she said it was before my family left for Australia. So I guess it must be true – and it’s stuck with me!
· WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A POET?
I don’t think you “become” a poet, or any other artist – I think you simply “are” – for me, I knew I could write short stories and poetry other wanted to read (beyond my parents) when, as the age of 13 & 14, one of my poems was published in the local newspaper, one of my short stories (which I wrote for a nationwide competition) made it to the final 3, another of my poems was published in the school newspaper and one of my works of art, that had a short one-hundred-word poem was shown in a school exhibition and later bought by someone for $50
· WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A POET?
The freedom! There are no limits in writing and can be and do and say whatever you want.
And secondly, the speed. I also write short stories and entire manuscripts. Poetry is like cooking, it’s a very quick visual result for your efforts.
· WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT POETRY?
I think Oscar Wilde said it best of one of his editing sessions on a poem of his
“I spent this morning editing a poem, and took out one comma. I put it back this afternoon”
Second guessing yourself; artist insecurities… the list goes on.
· WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A POET?
Oh my gosh… how much time do you have?
I’ve worked in real estate, owned a restaurant, owned and ran a farm, run my own business, worked as an accountant, a practice manager, worked in the finance section for a government department, been an assistant to a hedge funds manager, waited tables, worked as a chef… I often tell people I’m a true snake (I was born under the Chinese sign of the snake) because I shed my skin constantly.
· WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
Making my dad proud. Dad helps me a lot with my editing. He is my harshest critic. One day dad said to me “People tell me, strangers, people I’ve never met and likely never will, that when they read my poems, the imagery and emotion brings them to tears. Well, I’m here to tell you, your writing surpasses mine as a Ferrari surpasses Jaguar, and I couldn’t be prouder!”
· WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I’ve just had published a chapbook of a selection of my poems and three short stories. It also features my own artwork and the profits are going to AnimalsAsia.
I have a short story coming out in an anthology with a USA publisher next year.
I’m currently working on 3 novels (yes at once, I find this method keeps my mind fresh).
I’m starting to think of how I want to run #nestpitch next year (#nestpitch is a free pitching comp run annually at Easter time, I created it and host it).
And I’m also studying as well as BETA reading for other others.
· WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Is it OK to say everything?
Sometimes it’s my cats sleeping on the bed with me. Other times it’s the way a storm changes the colour of the sky, and the mood of people. Often it’s a news topic, good or bad and occasionally it’s remembering my nana’s wild stories!
· WHAT SORT OF POETRY DO YOU WRITE?
Again, how long have you got? The topics are so varied and the style changes to suit my mood, but if I had to pin a style down, it would be lyrical with a clear uniform voice.
· DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR ASPIRING POETS?
(i) Keep a notepad with you EVERYWHERE & attach a pen to it. Sometimes you’ll see or here something that is the start of a great poem, but if you don’t writing it down, you WILL forget it.
(ii) If you wake in the middle of the night with an idea, WAKE UP and write it down, for the same reasons as above
(iii) Read the works of others but feel free to follow your own style
· DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
No. Hate me now? OK, maybe I do, but I refuse to call it that. If I’m not inspired, I simply do other writer-ly things. I read. I edit my own work, I BETA other peoples work… and did I mention I read?
All these things need to be part of your writer’s week, so if you’re uninspired, do housework instead.
· DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
Oh god no! I will not even go into that one because I’m sure it’ll say way too much about my crazy-life-style ha!
· DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
It does vary a little on the project, but my favourite is in fact me bed. It has 101 pillows and my cats curl up next to me and with my laptop in front o me, I can be anywhere in the world once I free my imagination and I simply write what my minds eye sees.
· WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Re-reading what I have written months, even years later and thinking, “damn, that was a good, clever, unique line, how the heck did I think of that!”
· WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
Oh gosh I have so many!
I’m going to cheat and list several.
Works by Homer because I mean come on, Ulysses and Jason and all that?
Shakespeare – I love his works! I loved them even as a kid. I actually spent summer breaks with Macbeth or Caesar on my lap.
Oscar Wilde and Hemmingway, though I think it’s as much for the romance of their era!
Jane Austen, Harper Lee, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jack London… the list is endless!
· WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
I’ve had a lot of great little moments but I’ll let other’s speak for me.
My chapbook has had reviews, here are a few lines:
The beauty of these pieces can be found in their simplicity and honesty. In `Fog' we hear the poet's voice lamenting the loss of childhood in the teen years. Like a mist, we can hear the gentle rhythm of the poet's voice describing her lack of understanding about this confusing time.
I was impressed by her lyrical voice and also her range. Each poem had her distinct flavor but still felt very different. After the poetry, she shares three short stories featuring Croatian mythology. She mentions that these are a taste of a future full-length novel, and I'm quite glad! I look forward to reading more of the story.
I found the Croatian stories much more compelling than the Disney-ified ones that batter our senses on the popular media.
· WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
It was actually from a literary agent. I’d sent my work to several agents for consideration. I am fine with rejections, its part of the business of writing. But this one was vicious. This agent basically told me not to give up my day-job and if I \was smart, I’d keep my “amateurish and self-indulgent” work for family and friends as they believe I had no real talent.
· WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
A lot. If you read the above you’ll see that’s the case J
· OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
Painting. My family. My cats. Gardening. Travelling. Cooking. Good food and great wine.
· DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes. I think it’s vital you have your work BETA read and then edited. The author is too close to see the forest for the grammatical error trees.
· DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
Raining, old classic movie on TV, cats purring in little balls of fluff around me, the prefect hot chocolate, the mobile phone switched off… and a head full of inspiration demanding to get out.
· IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
I know she’s dead but I’m going to say her. Mother Teresa.
We are all aware of her amazing work and her wisdom, but I always wanted to know how she got the calling? Did you know Mother Teresa came from Noble Blood, was sent to private schools and there was every expectation she’d marry a Duke or a Barron or whatever? Well she did. She wasn’t from a poor household where the church was her only way to education herself. I’ve been drawn to her and fascinated by her all my life
· WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
Before you make another policy, or another proclamation of war, or cut funding from another social service, spend 1 month in a war-zone, 1 month working alongside a social worker and 3 months living below the poverty line – now you’re ready to represent the people!
· WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I’m hoping to get my first manuscript published in the next 1-2 years.
I’ve been asked to be part of a potentially very exciting anthology, though I can’t talk too much about it, but the idea is “mother-to-child” the sharing of short stories, legends, culture through the spoken and written word.
I want to finish my new BA and then perhaps work as an editor (for money, I do it now for free)
And I want to move back to Paris in 2016
· WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO YOUR GRAVE?
To Kill a Mockingbird
Pride & Prejudice
The Scarlet Letter
The Redemption of Althalus
Homer’s Illiad and/or Odyssey
· DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I really don’t but other’s who’ve read my work, say I’m clearly within the characters, though oddly, it seems I am often in a secondary character.
· DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
· DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Yes. Often. It really does get you down. But then I wake up every day and “hope springs eternal!” as the saying goes.
· WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE POEM TO WRITE? WHY?
I have struggled to answer this. I don’t have a favourite. I can’t pick!
· HOW WOULD YOU DEFINE ‘SUCCESS’ AS A WRITER.
For me it’s a combination of personal growth, feeling like I am moving forward and not stagnant and positive feedback from others (we all need a little affirmation). I do not measure it by figures or sales as I personally think a lot of wonderful work is overlooked while mediocre works become best sellers.
· WHAT SHOULD READERS WALK AWAY FROM YOUR POETRY KNOWING? HOW SHOULD THEY FEEL?
Like they know me and themselves a little better.
· HOW MUCH THOUGHT GOES INTO DESIGNING A BOOK COVER?
Well, I painted the cover myself, years ago, it’s one of my works of art. I knew I wanted to mix my artwork with my writing, so I spent weeks and months “mood-board-ing” various combinations. And then I played with my photoshop tools, just for the front cover, until I had something that looked real and surreal at the same time.
· WHAT’S YOUR ULTIMATE DREAM?
A cottage in the countryside of Brittany, with an open fire, chooks in the yard, my cats plus two dogs, a big vegie garden and small valley of fruit trees… and internet access, so that I can dream and write and plan… and also live.
· WRITING IS ONE THING. WHAT ABOUT MARKETING YOU, YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR BRAND? ANY THOUGHTS?
Oh man! I’m great with other people, but I’m hopeless at marketing myself. I always feel like I’m being annoying!
· ARE YOUR BOOKS SELF-PUBLISHED?
The Chapbook is. The short story coming out next year is not and the future – who knows!
· DO YOU HAVE AN AGENT?
· WHAT OTHER TALENTS DO YOU HAVE?
Well I paint as mentioned. I speak, read and write several languages, I’m a gourmet cook & I’m a cat whisperer (my cats sit, stay and go to sleep on command)
· ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
In 2007, one of my poems featured in an Artist Almanac. In 2013, I came 9th in a worldwide short story competition. I’m also a painter, a slave to three Feline Overlords and occasionally the power-company.
I take in unwanted/abandoned cats and kittens and foster care for them, socialise them and re-home them.
I discovered my family has a direct lineage to the Bariatinsky Noble House and the House of Chavchavadse, both part of the Romanov Dynasty.
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Clancy's comment: Wow, royalty! Well done, Nikola. I admire your ability to paint.
Think about this!