I am so pleased that Sharon Maas has agreed to be interviewed on my blog today. I reviewed her latest book ‘The Small Fortune of Dorothea Q’ recently and absolutely loved it – my review is here. Huge thanks Sharon for taking part in the interview – can’t wait to read more about Ma Quint!
Sharon Maas was born in Georgetown, Guyana in 1951, and spent many childhood hours either curled up behind a novel or writing her own adventure stories. Sometimes she had adventures of her own, and found fifteen minutes of Guyanese fame for salvaging an old horse-drawn coach from a funeral parlor, fixing it up, painting it bright blue, and tearing around Georgetown with all her teenage friends. The coach ended up in a ditch, but thankfully neither teens nor horse were injured. Boarding school in England tamed her somewhat; but after a few years as a reporter with the Guyana Graphic in Georgetown she plunged off to discover South America by the seat of her pants. She ended up in a Colombian jail, and that’s a story for another day.
Sharon has lived in an Ashram in India and as German Hausfrau–the latter giving her the time and the motivation to finally start writing seriously. Her first novel, Of Marriageable Age, was published by HarperCollins, London, in 1999 and reprinted as a digital edition in 2014. She now lives in South Germany and works as a Social Worker in a hospital.
My interview with Sharon:
1 – You have lived in many and very different places – how is it that you have travelled about so much?
It came from books! I was born in British Guiana, South America, and from my earliest years I was a voracious reader. But none of the books I read as a child were set in my home country, so I had to go out and discover the world outside. My parents took me to England when I was three, and that was the start. I wanted to discover first of all the world of my beloved Enid Blyton characters, and that took me to England as a ten-year-old… Then, as a 19-year-old, I set off to discover the rest of South America and went back-packing for over a year through the continent. After that, I caught the philosophy bug and plunged off to India, overland, for another year and a half. There I met my future husband, who was German, so Germany was the next step. I’ve had my base in Germany since 1975, and from there I fly off to Guyana and India regularly. Also, I lived in England between times and my daughter still lives there, so I’m regularly in the UK. When I retire I hope to revisit some of the places I spent time in as a child: Yorkshire and the coast of Cumberland.
2 – I am very intrigued to read that you have been in a Columbian jail! What happened or is that a tale for another book?
That was part of my great South America adventure – and yes, it was a huge adventure since I didn’t have much money and my friends and I just drifted from place to place with the wind! It was the most marvelous time, but looking back it was quite hair-raising at times and I guess it was only my complete naiveté that got me through in one piece! The last country we visited was Colombia, and I ended up on a Colombian island with all my money stolen. And then I got busted for a matchbox of marijuana. They threw me into jail where I expected to languish for the rest of my life as nobody in the world knew I was there and I didn’t even have the money for a stamp to write my mother back in Guyana. And indeed, that whole adventure did become an (unpublished) memoir, and how I eventually got free is part of it, so I’m not telling!
3 – Where is your favourite place to write and how do you go about your writing – is it a daily activity for you?
Many years ago I discovered that I need to have the peace and quietude of early morning in order to write without being disturbed. That’s when I began getting up at 4:30 in order to write. The place doesn’t matter much as I have moved home a couple of times and my desk changes place accordingly. But the time is essential. I don’t think I could write at night, for instance. I’m just in writing mode in the early morning, and that’s just my routine.
4 – Much of this book is set in Guyana, where you were born. Is the book autobiographical to any extent?
Yes. Friends who have read it immediately see the connection between myself and Rika. However, the actual story as it unfolded is fiction.
5 – Dorothea Q is dedicated to your grandmothers and other women in your family. Can you tell me about your relationship with your own grandmothers?
I spent most of my childhood living in my maternal grandmother’s house, and that remains a very strong memory. She would spend her days sitting in a comfortable chair next to the window in the gallery, watching life go by in the street outside, and I loved to nestle into her lap. It was my place of comfort. My paternal grandmother had had eight boys and so her place was overrun with grandchildren, and so of course hers was a house of much fun and laughter. Those two homes, two grandmothers, were like the two poles in my life. Yet I don’t remember much talking with either of them. They both remain silent, strong background figures.
6- I am particularly fond of Ma Quint in this book – do you have a favourite character or is that like asking someone to choose a favourite child?
Ma Quint is based on my paternal grandmother; she had an amazing story and I decided to make a novel out of it. The story actually starts with her as a young girl – a white girl who fell in love with a black man, back in the early 20th century. I picked out elements of that story and made a novel out of it, which is due to be published this July, the first part of a trilogy! Later, Granny had eight sons, just like Ma Quint. So The Small Fortune of Dorothea Quint is actually a sequel to that trilogy. I’m glad you like Ma’s character, as you’ll be able to go back into her life for three whole books
7 – The heirloom stamp plays a significant role in this novel and I believe this was inspired by a similar stamp with a connection to your own family?
Yes. The “British Guiana 1 cent Magenta” is a real stamp, the most valuable and rarest in the world, one of a kind. It was created when a postal clerk initialed it in 1878 so as to prevent fraud; that postal clerk was my great-great-grandfather, E.D.Wight. So I grew up hearing about this valuable stamp, and wondered what it would be like if a second such stamp turned up in our family. A novel was born!
8 – How long did it take you to write Dorothea Q?
I wrote it in 2008 and it took me about six months.
9 – You have spent a long time working on The Mahabharata – tell us about what inspired you to spend so long on this epic.
I read my first version of the Mahabhrata when I lived in India in 1974. It was a huge book yet I could not put it down. However, I did not think the writing did justice to the story, which was magnificent. And I could not find a single version of it that I liked. So I started to rewrite it in my own words, for my own satisfaction. I didn’t even think of publication for the first few decades; I just wanted to get it right for myself. It was only when digital publishing became a possibility that I decided to self-publish it. So now I can say it took me 40 years to write – though of course it was a very leisurely undertaking! In the early years, of course, I used a typewriter so every revision meant retyping everything from scratch. But I had time on my hands, and no deadline. I called it Sons of Gods just to give it its own distinct character.
10 – What fictional character do you wish you had created?
Oh, whenever I fall in love with a book I wish I had written it myself! But Karna, in the Mahabharata, remains my favourite character of all time. And I did get to recreate him a bit by writing Sons of Gods.
11 -Have you ever seen anyone reading your books, on public transport for example?
I’ve never had that pleasure – hopefully it’s still waiting for me!
12 – What’s next – are you working on something new?
As I said in Question 6, I’m working on a prequel to Dorothea Q and am still at the revision stage. After that, I have the two follow-ups of the trilogy to finish. I also have three other unpublished novels, which need revising and polishing. They are all in the publishing queue.
Thank you Sharon for taking the time to answer these questions. I really appreciate it. If you’d like to find out more about Sharon, follow the links below.
Sharon’s website: Sharon Maas
Follow Sharon on Twitter: @Sharon_Maas
On Facebook: Sharon Maas Facebook
On Amazon: Sharon Maas’ Amazon page