Best Known Works: JOURNEY BACK TO THE GREAT BEFORE
Where You Can Find Them: Website
Top Writing Tip: Write down everything and don’t immediately judge your work. Be generous to your writer self.
Hi Zaro, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!
When and why did you begin writing?
I began writing poetry a long time ago. And when, as a 22-year-old, I started a childrens’ theatre dance company in America (which I directed and performed in for 10 years), I found myself writing all of the pieces we performed. It just came easily. From there, my poetry for children began to be published and when I moved to London in 1981, I continued writing. And even during the years when I founded and ran a publishing company, I kept on writing.
How did the topic of your book come to you?
It came to me because I saw the animals doing odd or funny or touching things. And this nourished my interest in the natural world.
When did you realise that you were Pagan?
I suppose I realised after finishing this book, that indeed I was a part of the picture, that in other words, Nature and I were one and the same and that my links with the animal and plant world were the most important elements of my life. And I suppose I am pagan in as much as I put my faith and trust in the natural world.
What are the main life experiences that have led to this book?
Being mostly a city girl, I had no idea of the complexities and richness of animal life and my association with “nature” was limited to buying flowers in Chapel Market in London every week. Then things changed. We moved to a remote hill in southern France and at once I was face to face with the natural world. I saw things that befuddled and amazed me: owls flying down chimneys, bats rolling around in the sky every twilight, mice sitting on the back of toads, wild boars snorting outside my door, watching the entire sky light up with fire during rainstorms, seeing the earth quickly swell with water and so on. These and other natural events struck something within me. They felt magical. And so I wrote them down. They became little stories and finally a book.
Tell us a bit about your story, key characters and plot.
The book opens in an ancient graveyard where a historic meeting is taking place between Owl, the King of Guignolet Haut, and his Council - White Horse, Hawk, and Dog. Owl announces that a prophecy of great destruction is coming to pass and that there is little time left. The ‘Right Humans’ must be summoned back to the hill.
Having set out from London on what they imagined to be simply a summer holiday, the chosen family, (mother Zinnia and father Coriander, and Verbena aged eleven and Cosmos aged nine) wind up at Guignolet Haut, an old farm house in southern France.
The humans meet Kharma, the dog, and are amazed to learn that she can talk. She leads them to The Great Book and over time they decipher its ancient markings and the prophecy. They are helped in their animal understandings by the enigmatic Madame Aligot. She is a ‘confectioner of potions,’ as she explains to the family, and has strange powers. She insists that the family develop their ‘mind’s eye’ so they can truly understand the world around them, just as the animals do. Only in this way will the animals trust them enough to allow them to comprehend their languages.
The Family find themselves drawn into a series of encounters with idiosyncratic animal characters – a mouse and toad who fall in love, a giant lizard rapper who lives in the garbage can, badgers who meet for a Philosophy Challenge, busybody donkeys who boss the other animals around, Hawk who as chief scientist predicts the weather…. They are then faced with nine challenges, which involve them in a series of bizarre, frightening, instructive and yet at the same time often hilarious adventures.
As the humans re-establish their links with nature and slowly learn to see things through the prism of their ‘mind’s eye’ they come to understand the world from the animals’ point of view, to develop empathy with the natural world, and to appreciate that things aren’t always what they seem.
Do we see some of you in your book?
YES. You can find me in every character!
Is there any “back story” that inspired you to write this book?
Living in the middle of the French countryside, after years of city life and the continual commercial hum of running a publishing company, I found myself closely drawn to the natural world. I observed more, listened keenly and had some strange encounters. My horror at the environmental degradation of the planet grew stronger, and became the main social theme in the book. I think of the novel as a wake-up call for the planet, and who better to understand the beauty and power of the natural world than kids? I want my audience to understand what is at stake. But I dislike preaching at kids, which gets no one anywhere. I want the story to be just that, a tale in a classic tradition: a dazzling epic with a cast of thousands and a powerful literary adventure.
Do you plan your stories before you begin?
I never plan. I just have a feeling and go with it. I never know what I have to say in advance exactly. Writing for me is a process of question asking. And the epiphany comes when you get to the end and you have answered your own questions. I find it is the same with poetry.
Are you a fast writer or a slow writer?
This novel took me seven years to write. I did a lot of re-writing along the way. I found narrative writing hard to learn. I had been used to writing poetry and plays.
Do you socialise with other writers or are you a solitary author?
I would love to socialise and have dialogues with other writers, but I don’t live close to a writers’ community. Anyway, it is essentially a solo act.
Who encourages or inspires you?
Of course the answer is clear…..the creatures, the flowers, the trees, the mountains, the clouds. I am dotty about what I experience around me every day.
Are you published or self-published, and what has been your experience of this process?
My poetry has been published by a number of publishing companies. My first novel, JOURNEY BACK TO THE GREAT BEFORE is published by my own company, MQP BOOKS, which I set up expressly to publish my own work. I did it this way because I wanted to keep control and I know how publishers work…and it is not very often in the favour of the writer.
What are your future plans for writing?
I am planning my new poetry collection for children to be published Sept 2016: MORE MUD MOON AND ME; THE COMPLETE COLLECTION OF ZARO WEIL. And a short story for younger kids called THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF SPOT GUEVARRA- WONDER DOG.
Thank you again for giving us a glimpse into your passion and your process, Zaro. We wish you all the best with your poetry and we look forward to reading your novel!