Russian-born American writer Paullina Simons has weaved her name throughout the global bestseller lists for more than two decades. Author of the novels Tully, Red Leaves, Eleven Hours, The Bronze Horseman, Tatiana and Alexander, and The Summer Garden, it’s not surprising that her latest trilogy is hot literary property. We caught up with Paullina during her New Zealand tour about what these books mean to her.
Can you tell us about the End of Forever saga and what these books mean to you?
They mean the last five years of my life. Literally. It sounds like a lot of time, and it is, but bear in mind that my books tend to be long and I usually spend about two years on each. So for three books, I’ve come out about a year ahead. This trilogy represents all of my hopes and dreams for my work for those five years. Every writer on every book worries they are wasting their time; that the story will never work; that readers won’t care. So I had all those concerns times three. But if it didn’t work, I wasn’t risking just a year or two. They represented a significant portion of my lifetime of work.
In addition, this is the first time since The Bronze Horseman that I’ve written this kind of sprawling epic love story. End of Forever is everything I’ve thought and felt about love and life and fate and grief in the intervening twenty years.
The trilogy started with The Tiger Catcher, you’ve just released A Beggar’s Kingdom and you’re releasing the third – Inexpressible Island – later this year. How intense has this been for you?
I thought it was a great idea when my publishers first suggested it, and I still think it’s a great idea for my readers, not to have to wait some inordinately long time to read the next book and the next. And clearly I’m hoping that when my readers finish A Beggar’s Kingdom, they will not want to do or read anything else until Inexpressible Island is finally in their hands –because I certainly didn’t! But for me, to revise, copy-edit, proofread, do the illustrations, go on tour, and promote all three books in quick succession, is both exhausting and exhilarating. I love getting the feedback on one book while I’m working on the third and promoting the second. It’s a heady combination of overwhelmed and deeply satisfied.
How long did they take to write?
Five long, tortuous years. I’m still writing them. Still changing words, adding sentences, thoughts, jokes, as the publishers are prying the books from my clutching hands so they can go to print on the final book in the saga, Inexpressible Island.
When it comes to writing, how strict do you have to be? Do you write full time or just when the inspiration hits?
I have to be strict, and I have to write full time. Sometimes I’m not, and I don’t. But when I’m working on a book, I force myself to stay alone in my office for about twelve hours every day, and hope that I can squeeze out a few lines, a page, a poem, a thought, a character, a story. Sometimes there is a trickle, sometimes there is a flood. Sometimes I feel pleased, and sometimes I feel raging self-doubt. If I wrote only when inspiration hit, I would probably never write at all. The inspiration comes from the daily grind of the work, not the other way around.
How connected to characters and a storyline do you get during the writing phase… is it sad to finish a character’s storyline after being so invested for so long?
When I was writing The Bronze Horseman books and for a long time after, I would dream of Tatiana and Alexander as if they were real people. Same thing with Julian and Josephine. I feel not just connected to my characters when I work, I am completely immersed in their struggles and stories. They live in me in technicolor and much of my actual life fades to black and white.
It is sad to finish, it is very difficult to let them go, but once I do, the colour gradually returns to the rest of my life. And afterward, the characters from my books live alongside me as real people with real lives. I often think about where they are and what they’re doing.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I get my inspiration from people who say hello to me, women who travel with me, my sister who breaks up with her boyfriend in the middle of the Stanley Cup Final, Olympic ice skaters, Ivy League colleges, my homeland, the prairies of America, Truman Capote, John Steinbeck, and my friend Penny who said to me when I told her I was writing my first book Tully, “Paullina, please, whatever you do, don’t write the parts that I don’t want to read”.
Oh, and I also get my inspiration from How to Train Your Dragon 2, the movie.
What do the next 12 months have in store for you?
There is a trip to the Grand Canyon, a cruise to Cozymel, a writer’s festival in Dubai, a research trip to Utah, and then four planned books that need to be written and finished before the year is out.