Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Sarah Pleydell - Cologne: A Novel - Guest Post
About the Book
London, 1960: Renate von Hasselmann, a nineteen-year-old German au pair, arrives at Victoria Station prepared to meet her new charges, Caroline and Maggie Whitaker. Yet she is ill-prepared for their parents: the mother, Helen, knows more about Nazi Germany than Renate does, and the father, Jack, disarms Renate with his quicksilver charm.
In Sarah Pleydell's debut novel, childhood and history collide, blurring the distinctions between victim and victor, ruin and redemption. With delicate humor, Pleydell presents a portrait of a family on the cusp of great social change, while reminding us that the traumas of war revisit the children of the peace.
The story of Cologne began with my reminiscences of growing up in England during the nineteen fifties and sixties. After spending twenty years in the US, I began to feel an overwhelming nostalgia for the country of my birth, a longing for the consolation of native not adoptive soil. I love the United States but feel in my bones that these are not my lands, mountains, rivers or streams. I think this is true for many an expatriate. As I journalled and reflected, I realized that Kew Gardens, the affluent London suburb where I grew up, presented the perfect setting for a novel. I understood this could be derived from characters and events from my own life, but that they would need to be both crafted and tempered by the rules of the novel. In short, I would need a stronger plotline than my own biography.
As I was casting around for ideas, I remembered the au pair girls who had come from abroad to take care of us as children; I began to wonder what their experience of post war Britain would have been like, especially the Germans given how jingoistic and fiercely ante-German the British still were during that time period. What would it have meant to come to the country of the victors as the child of losers?
In early drafts there were three au pairs, one German, one Polish and one Scandinavian, but as I was honing the plot I knew they had to cohere into one: Renate. So I folded the other two characters into hers and used their stories to represent different phases of her experience in England.
I began writing this book around the period in my life when I was becoming conscious of how truly abusive my father had been to both my sister and to me. I began to ruminate on ways I could integrate these two themes into one narrative, to weave personal and political trauma into one interconnected, inter-penetrating whole. Thus the ultimate vision of Cologne was born. But it still took me many years to craft an artful plot. I credit Molly Tinsley as a major editorial influence in helping me shape the final drafts. She helped me flesh out aspects of the story that remained sketchy. For example, the history of Renate’s family was still quite vague, especially her relationship with her father and brother. Filling these out helped me understand how important it was to include Helen’s pre-war romance with Dieter, Renate’s much older brother, how this created a counterweight to her marriage with Jack.
One major change happened toward the end of this book’s long, long journey. I had the epiphany that Jack could die in the car accident instead of being injured (as he was in earlier versions), and that if the novel started with this event, the rest would work as flashback. Suddenly the shape of the plot became clear, but it had taken over fifteen years to get there.
Price: $14.95 paperback, $6.47-$12.95 ebook
Release: September 18, 2012
Buy Links: Kindle, Nook, Fuze Publishing (paperback), Fuze Publishing (ebook)
About the Author
A graduate of Oxford and London Universities, Sarah Pleydell is an award-winning writer, performer and playwright who teaches English and writing at the University of Maryland. For the past twenty years, she has been a master teaching artist and arts integration specialist, working with institutions that include The Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning Through the Arts, The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Luce Institute. In 2000, she won the American Association for Theatre Educators’ award for best book of the year with co-author Victoria Brown. Most recently she wrote the script and played the role of Isadora in Revolutionary: The Life and Times of Isadora Duncan with Word Dance Theater.
Based on her childhood in London, "Cologne" (Fuze Publishing) has been twenty years in the making. It has benefited from fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and input many generous and gifted writers.
Connect with Sarah:
Blog Tour Site
Fuze Publishing Web Site
Fuze Publishing Blog
Fuze Publishing Facebook
Fuze Publishing Twitter