The Parrot Tree
The Parrot Tree tells the story of Vivien, a talented young Englishwoman in 1980’s suburbia who escapes the loveless marriage which suffocates her creativity, to find professional fulfilment and romance in Madison Avenue.
It is also the story of Karl, a tortured genius who as a boy fled the Nazis in the sewers below Bratislava, became gardener to an Austrian baron, fathered a beautiful but illegitimate daughter, emigrated to New York in the 1950s, and eventually founded his own advertising agency. Karl’s project is the preservation of the rainforest. His deputy, Barney, employs Vivien to assist in the location-shoot in the headwaters of the Amazon: part-paradise, part-nightmare. The model on the shoot is Leandra, Karl’s temperamental daughter.
The ancient forest has powers over mankind. The filming in the jungle encounters obstacles, greater even than Leandra and her tantrums. Despite this, a love affair with Barney blossoms amidst parrots, butterflies and passion flowers. However, deep secrets rise to the surface at the death of the Baron von Keyserling when his will cannot be found. Who will inherit the estate? What tortured road had led the Baron from war-torn Czechoslovakia to fame? And how does it shape Vivien’s destiny?
The author’s personal experiences of the rainforest, of Austrian mansions, of Madison Avenue, all find their authentic expression. There is passion, an attempted murder, and political insight. The result is a rich blend of human behaviour and emotions as they come together in a novel which moves, shocks and convinces. This beautifully crafted tale will appeal to all fans of romance and adventure novels.
Where are you from? Tell us a little about yourself!
I was born in Switzerland. My mother was a perfect Swiss: she polished the underneath of the dining table. My father was a bon-vivant, part-Russian part-French, playing the piano and loving company.
As a child I spent a lot of time in my room to give them the space to act out their fights. That bedroom came to be shared with a growing number of imaginary people who had amazing lives, compared to mine. School reports invariably read: Gives in to imagination and does not concentrate. Good in art.
According to psychological theory, each person invented was predominately me, but I did not know about Freud then.
Tell us about your book? How did it get started?
Vivien, my heroine in THE PARROT TREE, has the courage to step over her own shadow and go out there to find the key to her personal and artistic realisation – literally, a metal key in a man’s suit pocket.
Alongside Vivien’s story, there is one of a man showing similar courage. He makes it to Madison Avenue and creates his own advertising agency.
Vivien never meets him; she only sees him once from a distance. Yet his legacy forges the story, and his cousin becomes the lover in the romance. It is a turbulent story which partly plays on a film-shoot in the Amazonian rainforest, which harbours, I personally believe, mankind’s last and most precious tie to our origins.
How do you create your characters?
The candidates I chose for THE PARROT TREE came from a pool of people I have met, whom I boldly forced into acting the way I wanted them to. I chose their clothes, their moods. I tested them, exposed them, and often in precarious situations. Sometimes I could have hugged them because they responded so well. At times they made me angry, and I had to walk away and have a drink. Sometimes, the injustice I did to them dissolved me into tears.
What inspires and what got your started in writing?
Forms, shapes, colours were my original inspiration, especially as I studied graphic art in New York and, at 60, took my A-levels in fine art.
But images need words to make a story. A strong wind lifts a piece of white paper to fly about, and my mind sees a swift sail in a storm-threatened sky. Then, on the road beneath, is a woman who has run out of petrol, and the approaching silver Bentley is slowing down, or … In THE PARROT TREE, I as the author looked out of my window and chose Vivien out of the women driving through Wiltshire in 1966.
Where do you write? Is there something you need in order to write (music, drinks?)
Oh, that is a bit of a problem for my family. I write best in chaos. There are hundreds of books in my office, right up to the ceiling, piled up in Pisa towers on the floor, scattered under the desk, together with jotted-down notes on ringbook pages, papers from my purse, loo paper, napkins: ideas caught before they flee from my head.
The heros and heroines in my bookshelves seem to whisper, to connect with each other – Jane Eyre leaning against E L James’ Grey, Herman Hesse conferring with Somerset Maugham, speaking the same language. I feel in the midst of a creative mind conspiracy.
How do you get your ideas for writing?
From a pool of collected experiences during my varied working career, and having lived in many foreign countries due to my husband’s work in the Foreign Office. From meeting so many fascinating people, and from having learned to write and speak five languages. THE PARROT TREE is in my third language.
What do you like to read?
Pretty much everything. Words strung together are exciting by themselves, be they in novels, sagas, slogans, graffiti, poems, biographies or even on cereal boxes.
To settle down with a book, I prefer authors who write romance within a more complex and structured story, and not just chick-lit instant gratification. In the older category I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Iris Murdoch, Penny Vincenzi, Margaret Atwood and amongst more recent authors, Jojo Moyes, Francesca Segal, Candace Bushnell, Heather Gudenkauf, to name only a few.
What would your advice to be for authors or aspiring in regards to writing?
The same as my art teacher taught me in New York. Sit still somewhere and look around you. Teach yourself to see. Observe and listen, and then connect one thing to another while personally, slowly receding.
Anything else you’d like to share?
THE PARROT TREE is my first novel, published two weeks ago. Thank you for inviting me to talk about it.