Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview with Andy Evans and Vesna Kovac co Authors of "When Spirits Break Free"

Welcome to both of our authors: Andy Evans and Vesna Kovac,

The two of you have now collaborated on two novels, my readers will be interested to learn about you both as individuals before we touch on the books themselves,:

I will ask these questions of you both, ladies first;

Where were you born and raised? And where are you now living?

Vesna: I was born and raised in Novi Travnik (New Town), Bosnia. Following the civil war in the 1990’s I left my homeland and I now live in Detroit USA.

Andy: I was born in Castleford, West Yorkshire, England. The town was made famous with Viv Nicholson. ‘Spend Spend Spend’ had been her famous words, scooping a fortune on the national pools draw in the 1960’s.As a small child the family moved to the nearby coal mining town of Featherstone. This is the setting for “When Spirits Break Free.”

Are you married with children?

Vesna: Yes I am married to Tonci and have two boys, Nino and Tony, fifteen and ten years old.

Andy: I am married to Michelle and have two children, Sasha twenty four years old and Jamie who is almost eighteen. Ava, my granddaughter is almost three.

Please share with my readers a little of your history, what were your employment fields?

Vesna: I was a mechanical engineer at the Bratstvo" (Brotherhood) armaments factory, Bosnia. I finished college in Zagreb, Croatia.

My first choice of career was totally different and I finished High school hoping to become an English interpreter. Looking back I am glad that I did study English as this gave me the ability to put pen to paper and write. I now dedicate my time to my children, these are the future of our hopes and I do not regret pursuing my own career goals in America.

Andy: leaving school at the age of sixteen I readily followed family traditional and began working at one of the many local coal mines. Unfortunately a year long strike took place in 1984 and the British coal mining industry was gradually closed down. I remained working as a miner until 1997 but was forced to adapt to change with the times. I now work within the criminal justice system.

What lead to the initial contact between the two of you?

Andy: Following the death of my grandfather in 1988 I felt compelled to scrape away at the secrecy that surrounded him. He had been exiled to the United Kingdom from his native Yugoslavia following the ceasefire of hostilities in 1945.

He never spoke of his previous live so far away and believed that his whole family had been killed. Twenty years of searching, more recently with the easily accessible internet I began to finally decipher what he had guarded. The use of genealogy investigators and hand writing specialists were deployed. It was however by a chance conversation online with a photographer from Bosnia that finally placed the jigsaw together. Granddad had been given a new identity which he maintained for the rest of his life.

His brother had survived World War Two and continued to live in Bosnia until his sad death in 1987. Further online conversations pointed me in the direction of a family from a nearby town in Bosnia who agreed to visit the remote village. Ironically the first person they met was an elderly lady who remembered granddad before the war. She gave contact details of his brother’s grandson, Mile, which the family immediately passed to me. Language was a barrier when I contacted Mile by telephone and it was a great relief when I received the simple email “I am Petra’s daughter – same fate as Maksim, displaced, contact me I am Mile’s sister in America.” For some reason I thought America was five hours ahead of the UK in time. I spoke to Vesna for the very first time at 3am Detroit time, 8am Yorkshire time.

Have you actually met in person? If so tell us please how and when that took place?

Andy: Initially we had planned to meet in June 2009 and travel to Bosnia together. Unfortunately this had to be aborted. Vesna finally travelled to England in June this year. By that time our second book was complete and just needed editing. It was a strange feeling, to say the least as I waited nervously in arrivals at the airport in Manchester where I would meet Vesna for the first time, despite writing together online.

Did you anticipate writing the story together from the outset?

Vesna: Andy was the first one who suggested that we should write a book. I was a little sceptical but he gave me so much confidence that I soon came round to the idea that yes, perhaps we did have a story to tell that others would find interesting.

Andy: As my own research developed I often thought that if I were to be successful in uncovering the truth finally then yes, the story of my endeavours could arouse interest from anyone interested in genealogy. After all, who would go to such great lengths to uncover just ones mans story, especially as I always knew the odds were stacked against me. Within a few months of speaking with Vesna we agreed that the book should be a joint venture

When did you begin writing “In Search of the Displaced Persons”?

Andy: I began writing the initial plot prior to visiting Bosnia for the second time. Online conversations with Vesna helped me to arrange a weekend trip to Novi Travnik, Bosnia in October 2008. I was to visit her brother, grandfather’s brother’s grandson. Finally I landed in Sarajevo at 11pm. An eerie feeling swept over me as newsreel images filled my thoughts. The world had opened its eyes to the realities of modern warfare on the soil that was finally beneath my feet only a decade previous. I had finally woken from my slumber and thought that perhaps, maybe, I had bitten off more than I could chew.

Again my own stupidity or naivety had taken hold. Old scores it appears are never settled in Bosnia and as I was driven into the mountains at dawn, I feared the worst. Had grandfather committed crimes against his own family during world war two? Ironic I resigned to my own thoughts, “I am to die here in the mountains as you lie in peace in my country.” Thankfully, my fears were overcome as Mile, Vesna’s brother, finally stopped the car. Here, nestled within the picturesque mountains, was the resting place of what I had searched. I had finally visited the home of what granddad had missed so much. On my return to England I wrote the first chapter and sent this to Vesna. Thankfully she liked the idea and agreed that she too would write her side of the story.

Was the book self published?

Andy: Unfortunately yes. I say unfortunately because we were so fresh and naïve to writing and expected once the ink was dry, our role was complete. After sixteen weeks of writing the manuscript, designing our own galley and cover design we finalised the contract with our chosen publisher. Our naivety came back to bite us with a vengeance in July 2009 when the book was finally available on Amazon. We were faced with flaws. Spelling mistakes were rife and we had underestimated the company that had offered us much. Lessons learnt, we are now currently self-editing, and adding to our story. Once complete we will seek representation hoping this time our story will be told in its finest form.

What prompted you to continue your collaborative works?

Andy: Writing In Search of the Displaced Persons came naturally as we spoke. We simply wanted to show two different sides of a coin that had been tossed so long ago. Each side had imagined the others existence, but as we looked and hoped the coin had turned, and we were faced only with our own stories. It was obvious from our conversations that despite being separated and living different lives, the two brothers were identical in their actions and personalities. I recalled one story in particular to Vesna. Granddad had opposed the local council who had built a large retaining wall at the top of the street he lived. Not having his concerns taken seriously he simply demolished the wall with a lump hammer. Vesna recalled the story of once her grandfather; Ostoja had not been invited to a local family’s party. In revenge he had waited the next morning until the inhabitants of the house had left to work the fields and used dynamite to destroy the house. From that day Ostoja was always invited whenever a party was taking place. These are just two examples of why we decided the stories must be told.

How did you manage to collaborate when living in different countries? I imagine that would need careful scheduling…tell us about that.

Vesna: We would discuss an idea and then write separately. Andy was the one who put it all together and blended our joint works into one style of writing. That way you can not tell who was writing what and the whole book appears like it was written by just one person, but it is a product of us both. Andy is a person who can read your feelings through your writings and that way he improved my personal work so much. As the manuscript was completed we would edit, chapter by chapter, Andy first and he would send me his suggestions. I suggested my own corrections and finally a conclusion would be reached.

We soon came to realise however, biased in our own opinions, the work needed an independent, expert eye. Diane Hall of The writing Hall was employed to complete a professional proof read.

Andy: I was always the story teller. During my years working as a coal miner I would hold an audience whenever possible. Writing came second and it was Vesna who pushed me along. I had the aspirations of writing about my search but never put pen to paper. Vesna took me serious perhaps after she has read the initial chapter of ‘In Search of the Displaced Persons’. The story teller was free but needed someone to guide and direct along the path.

From that day we simply wrote separately and then gathered our thoughts together to accumulate into one to form the next chapter

What happens if you disagree on an element of the plot/characterizations?

Vesna: We rarely disagree and whenever we do it is usually over minor issues. We are both naturally stubborn and soon came to realise that compromise was to be the only way forward.

Andy: Surprisingly despite writing two books together without actually meeting we rarely disagreed. Any disagreements were usually minor issues around grammar and sentence structure. If at any point there were disagreements on the plot that we could not resolve, we would simply re-write until we were both happy.

Who has the final say in a disputed area?

Andy: Both of us. If ever we cannot agree on anything we take it back and start again. We have to be in complete agreement with every element before we continue. I recall one instance in particular. I had wrote ‘were’ in one particular sentence, Vesna suggested ‘was’. Being the native speaker of the Queens English I took offence and a stand off between us lasted two days. Surprisingly our proof reader took Vesna’s side and ‘were’ became ‘was’.

What do each of you bring to the table in this collaborative effort, is one stronger on dialogue for instance?

Vesna: I am stronger when it comes to grammar and sentence structure. Each chapter I will find Andy has developed a favourite word that he uses over and over again in repetition and I have to correct this.

Andy: Dialogue is always a problem. When Spirits Break Free is set in a Yorkshire coal mining town. To Vesna Yorkshire has its own unique language quite separate from the English she studied in Zagreb. It was also much easier for me when writing. I had lived the life of the characters, walking the streets and working in the coal mines that the story portrays.

What are the drawbacks in writing a book in collaboration online?

Vesna: For me the only disadvantage is that we can not sit down in a person and discuss any matters arising. It is sometimes difficult to exchange different points of view online. Without eye contact and essential body language sometimes written words can be misleading.

Andy: Mine is similar to Vesna’s answer. Wording of simple sentences can easily be misinterpreted online.

How long did it take you to write each book, from word one to final draft?

Andy: In Search of the Displaced Persons took about four months to complete. Despite being only fifty thousand words, extra care had to be taken due to Bosnia being the focus of my search. Vesna carefully checked the paragraphs word for word in order that no disrespect could be gleaned from any side. When Spirits Break Free took about the same time despite standing at just over eighty one thousand words.

Who does the editing on your work?

Andy: Experience has come to us quickly. We tried for months to pass each chapter of When Spirits Break Free back and forth, each highlighting certain areas for editing. Online software was used for grammar checking but after chapter ten we realised we were faced with a mammoth task. Finally the bullet was bitten and we agreed that professional assistance was needed in order to make the most of what we had worked so hard to achieve. Diane Hall was responsible for the professional proof read and the excellent Nicole from Authors On Show painstakingly helped us to produce the final synopsis.

Do you each have a favourite genre that you would like to further explore?

Vesna: I don't know if you can call it a genre but spiritual themes were and always will be my favourite.

Andy: I was always the horror fan. James Herbert and Graham Masterton were my preferred choice.

The book is due out when?

Andy: When Spirits Break Free is complete and has been professionally proof read. Like thousands of new writers we are currently seeking representation from an agent or contract from a traditional publishing house.

Do you have plans to meet up in the future?

Vesna: Yes. Distance is a major problem but I hope that our collective writing will give us the chance to meet again.

Andy: I am the optimist. Maybe book signings will give us the chance to bridge the distance between us.

Where do you each see yourselves personally and professionally in 2011?

Vesna: I hope we wake up in 2011 with ‘When Spirits Break Free’ published through a traditional publishing house. The doorway would then be open for us to continue with our writing. We have so many ideas which include venturing into writing a book aimed at the children’s audience.

Andy: I strongly believe that When Spirits Break Free will be published, in one form or another by 2011. We are already discussing re-writing In Search of the Displaced Persons and planning to write a children’s book together.

The publishing world is changing rapidly, adjusting to the newest technology, do you believe traditional publishers of paperbacks and hardcover books will all need to rethink their stance as e-Books become more popular?

Vesna: Publishers will be forced to move with the times. I think future generations will take to electronic reading as naturally as our own generation took to the paperback.

Andy: Yes. Sadly I see the slow demise of paperback and hardcover books. Technology moves quickly and traditional publishers will have to adapt to change if they are to survive. Personally I am a traditionalist but I can see advantages outweigh the disadvantages where e-Books are concerned.

Do either of you envisage a time when curling up with a paperback to read will be a fading memory?

Vesna: I personally have a kindle and not so comfortable reading from it as from a paperback. The younger generations probably are and will be more and more as time passes. Electronic books are easier to obtain, one click of the mouse and hey presto, but to read them is not yet for me. I prefer classical books in paperback or hard cover. C’mon, let’s stay with the old charming ways of life.

Andy: Unfortunately yes. Younger generations have been born into an age of electronic technology and I think it will be a natural progression that the paperback will gradually fade from all but memory.

Do you have plans for writing another book together?

Andy: We have so many ideas together. Vesna is a brilliant painter and we plan to work on an illustrated story book aimed at young children. We have also discussed the possibility of writing another work of fiction which will be set in Bosnia.


The long Road to Brđani

The following pages give an account of a twenty year search to uncover the mystery that had surrounded grandfather for the entirety of his life that he had spent living in the United Kingdom. All that was ever known of him were the basic facts that he was Serbian by nationality (although I was later to discover that he in fact lived in Bosnia) and that he was never to return to his native homeland again.

The book is like that of a split personality, two sides that would never see the other until the final chapters were acknowledged, recorded and written together.

It describes my own early recollections of the man and the time I would spend in his presence throughout childhood and teenage years until his death in 1988.

The other persona tells of the other side that was left behind in Bosnia. The happiness, ever wandering, the horrors and finally, as the first one is uncovered, the understanding and joining together of both as finally one.

The search would be a relentless task searching for a man that had no records of his existence prior to his displacement in 1946. Searching a country whose own bloodlust and carnage has seen whole generations of people and records of them disappear forever. A country whose varied people are so secretive in their wn right and often hide their own pasts with a passion.

It would see me travel to Bosnia only to be faced with the realisation that nothing there could be found.

Private Investigators that specialised in genealogy would be hired but it would be by sheer chance that the mystery would eventually unfold and a family lost for over sixty years would be uncovered.

A second visit to Bosnia would result in reunion and embrace and it would become clear that the connection had not been lost but was merely lying dormant in the passing of time.

The stories would begin to unfold from both sides, so differently told. Stories and memories so very different but would have the magnetic pull that would keep them connected without each knowing of the others existence. The same memories would become entwined spiritually as if they had never been apart.

Two lost brothers that had known of the others continued existence but for reasons out of their control would never have any contact for over sixty years until their deaths twelve months apart.

The connection would continue and would increase its pull even after their deaths and would eventually draw both sides together with a clarity that would have the feeling that they had never been apart.

Two separate people that had never met but found themselves spiritually drawn together with one goal. Finally, to bridge the gap that had been suspended for so long and to record finally the years that had been lost.

Reality joins the unexplained in this gripping novel. From coal mining backgrounds to the horrors of drug induced psychosis to realities of what could be.

Billy Hall was as humble as the very beginnings from those he was born into. Coal had been king and ruled the landscape surrounding the small town of Castlefields for countless generations.

From an early age, it was obvious to Molly, that her son did not fit into the mould expected for the traditions of children following their forefathers, deep down into the depths to win out the coals for a grateful nation.

Although Billy had been surrounded by children of his own age, parading, and playing out their games of fantasy along the cobbled streets, he more often chose his own company away from the others.

The friends of imagination that crept silently from the darkened shadows, provided him the friendship, and consolation, that he sought more and more, as early childhood progressed.

Adolescence beckoned, and the shadows withdrew, leaving Billy to seek out his own amusement and friendship that the town offered.

Innocently, the key would be turned again, releasing those that had been lost, to once again emerge and make their presence felt.

With the door within his mind once again opened, Billy would be left to face his own ultimate destiny.

Reviews on When Spirits Break Free.
Freeman wrote

I liked the references to the bands Hawkwind and Pink Floyd, reminded me of my youth. The dream sequence is good and her awakening. to find everything in its place. One of my sons suffers from epilepsy and I have often watched as they attached the cap to his skull and squeeze the special gel into holes to ensure a good contact when they push in the pins. This is well written with plenty of excellent descriptions.

Rosmerta wrote 

I admit to being very squeamish when it comes to medical details and if it hadn’t been so well written I probably wouldn’t have got through the first chapter, but because it is so well written, I was able to overcome my squeamishness and found myself empathizing with the doctor. Between you, you have been able to create a solid and believable narrative with equally solid and believable characters, it’s coming on nicely and I wish you well with the rest of the novel when it comes on line.

Joy Taylor

Jack Hughes wrote

This is a very well executed novel. The sad decline of the Yorkshire mining industry and the communities it supported is graphically shown here, told as a backdrop to a gripping and exciting mystery thriller. Your characters are really well defined and the writing is pin sharp throughout, giving a real and discernable tension to the unfolding plot. A masterful and exquisitely constructed novel.

 best of luck.
Jack Hughes
Dawn of Shadows

 Deseaux wrote
There is nothing I enjoy more than complex, imperfect, characters. A doctor, addicted to morphine, who is dying. What a fantastic platform from which to weave your tale.

The input from coauthors habitating different sides of the Atlantic is a potent amalgam of perspectives that adds depth to the characters, places and events.
Well done.


"Great work, right from the beginning when you set up the stage to begin the (play) book (just imagining) when Dr.Forster picks up the phone, to the point when Alison says Doctor and is confused you could not associate it to the paragraph, when the Dr had injected himself with morphine and had found himself floating towards the door over the carpet, earlier it was imagined to be an effect of morphine and later comes as a suspense that the Dr would have died injecting himself and his spirit would have visited Molly.Amazing work I should say and very interesting.Congratulations you would go up like anything not only in charts but also in life as you have the knack of hooking the audience which comes naturally.

Naveen Nayer

Hi Andy and Vesna, I have found your book to be of excellent narration, dialogue, and plot. Simply and beautifuly written. An eerie tale of life in a miner's village. I look forward to shelving and purchasing this in a bookstore. 

Best of luck,


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1 comment:

  1. Fascinating interview Sooz.
    I was writing a book with a guy in Germany and although we correspond regulary we have never met either. Unfortunately the book never got finished.
    It was great fun though while it lasted. Matching each others writing styles was the hardest part.


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