Friends of the Tsar is inspired by your personal experiences and your family history. Why was this an important book for you to write?
The diversity of my knowledge, which was given to me by spirit, was something too important to have lay dormant. The knowledge I accrued from many camping and four wheel driving trips was gained through life and death situations I encountered. If, by getting this information out to the world could save just one life, then I will have had good reason to write it.
The many miracles that kept my family and I safe on these learning adventures were so profound in that they were logic-defying, and I thought what better way to tell of my miracles than through an Australian character who entertained the Zuckschwerdts, my grandparents, with the narratives while snowed in.
What were some things that you felt had to stay true to real life and what were some things you took liberties with?
I felt that the horrific conditions in which my grandparents were successful in decamping from Russia had to stay true to life, also their personality.
I took liberties with the negative aspects of their plight because it would have been too depressing for a reader to continue reading. Too many family members were murdered by the Bolsheviks.
I also wanted to honour them with an acknowledgement of their plight after which they were positive in the rebuilding of their future together.
I felt like faith and family were important in the book. What were some themes you wanted to capture in this book?
The pivotal themes I wanted to capture were miracles, spiritual awareness, hope, danger awareness in nature, remembering ones heritage, and faith and family.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
My mother, on the other side, wants me to write children’s books. My previous vocation as artist allows me to illustrate the books myself, and my eagerness to encourage young people to speak up when put in danger, especially when dad’s driving is too scary, strengthens my resolve.
It won’t be until this time next year that a book would be ready for publication, should I decide to do so.
1917–The Russian Revolution. Danger and chaos abound, and the aristocratic Zuckschwerdt and Orloff families are desperate to escape to safety. Enter Blue, an Australian cattle-breeder with a big heart. Blessed by a heap of miracles from the Outback and beyond, he shares his gripping adventures with the snowed-in families. Blue has survived everything from bushfires to crocodile attacks.
With wolves and winter nipping at their heels, the Zuckschwerdts prepare to depart for the lucky country. Plunged into hostilities and espionage in Petrograd, they make a break for the high seas, only to find themselves in a deadly game of bluff with a German U-boat skipper.
Blue is in a predicament of his own when three of the Orloff daughters fall for his red earth charms. Will he find true love with one of them? And will his Aussie anecdotes help the family understand that awareness and preparation can spell the difference between life and death? As miracles begin to unfold, the Russian refugees discover the power of faith.
Inspired by Jon de Graaff’s personal experiences and his grandparents’ family history, ‘Friends of the Tsar’ is a thrilling tale. Spiked with humorous twists, tragic turns, perilous encounters, and life-saving lessons of survival. It offers spiritual insights into forgiveness and unconventional love.
Posted in Interviews
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Mortgaged Goods follows the tumultuous relationship of Nata and Karl as they deal with the challenges life often poses. What was your inspiration for this intriguing novel?
Two key events in my life inspired me:
Firstly, the premature birth of my youngest grandson and supporting my daughter through hearing a diagnosis of a serious condition and months of watching her child fight for life in neo-natal intensive care gave me a keen awareness of the roller coaster of intense emotions mothers experience in this situation.
Secondly, I was involved, some time ago, with a Body Corporate of a young person’s accommodation building where investors suffered loss due to some shady dealing involving corrupt lawyers.
I want to stress that the story I told is complete fiction, but my personal experiences gave me fuel for the plot.
Marriage to someone who was removed from his family in early childhood and knowing several people who experienced foster care and/or child abuse drove a desire to explore the issues fostered, orphaned and abused children might struggle with in adulthood.
I tapped the memory of migrant friends to shape Nata’s foster parents and decide how they would approach child-raising and the potential effects of their methods of disciplining and showing love, because I wanted to include exploration of the challenges faced by immigrant families.
Nata’s character was interesting and well developed. What themes did you want to explore with her character?
I wanted to explore the effect on a woman of intense parental love combined with the strictest parental discipline and a deep religious influence, and I wanted to delve into the potential impact of this kind of upbringing on a woman who partnered with someone from an very different background. Karl’s background was on of great affluence combined with discipline that was is harsh and unloving, but one parent’s cautious affection drove hope of winning love if he could achieve well enough. I wanted to contrast diverse home environments and the effects of two completely different styles of parenting that both involved strict discipline and drove an intense desire for success.
My research with children who are removed from their families early inspired a strong desire to expose the emotional journey that accompanies a struggle for acceptance by substitute carers, the yearning for approval and a sense of truly belonging, and the feeling of never being good enough, because for so long society looked down on children who were not being cared for by their birth parents.
I also felt driven to expose the emotional journey of mothers of critically ill and special needs children.
This novel is very good at displaying the complexity of the decisions people make about family, relationships and love. Did you start writing with the intention of exploring these topics or did this happen organically?
I think it happened organically, though the short story that started this writing journey was about the a difficult family situation in which both mother and children were seriously abused by an alcoholic. I suspect my own childhood, as the child of a widow whose remarriages exposed me to two very different but extremely dysfunctional families, and my husband’s childhood as a Forgotten Australian, drove a desire to explore the complexity of family relationships, the potential effects deprivation of family connections, and the effect of different styles of parenting on children. We are all, to a greater or lesser extent, shaped by our experiences of care (or lack of it) in our formative years. Family and relationships are extremely complex, and researching how character and personality is shaped has always fascinated me.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
Currently, I’m working on another novel about unethical legal behavior. My goal is to expose the hideous wrongs in the laws relating to challenging a will, and how the profit motive has displaced any legitimate desire to ensure fairness in the distribution of estates and abolished all respect for the stated wishes of the deceased. Though completely fictional, this novel is also based loosely on a personal experience. Once again, the central character is an ambitious and highly successful female lawyer, but her upbringing more closely resembled Karl’s than Natalya’s.
A gay partner is the Guardian in this story, and the antagonist is a self-serving narcissist consumed with extreme greed.
The story explores the dilemma of a fundamentally ethical woman whose ambition requires that she set aside all her core values in order to succeed, and how her choices impact on her and those around her. The character of the antagonist was shaped by disfunctional family relationships, poor decisions and personal trauma, and her story will explore these themes – particularly the personal consequences of decisions increasingly driven by greed and selfishness.
When this novel will be available is a question I can’t answer reliably. I am a painfully slow writer and one who struggles constantly with a frantically busy life and far too many distractions (though I am technically retired, whatever that means!)
My goal is to release it by mid 2019 at latest, but it will be available when it’s ready for discerning readers. I write for pleasure, not profit, and I strive to produce stories with genuine literary merit and characters who come to life in the minds of readers. Like most writers, I aspire to produce that elusive best-seller, and I am happy to invest whatever time is needed to deliver a work that I consider worthy.
Natalie is living the dream, but when tragedy strikes, her past comes back to haunt her and she must reassess what really defines a woman’s value.
Meanwhile, a crisis and confronting revelations challenge Karl to re-examine his standards and to question his deepest beliefs.
Posted in Interviews
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This collective memoir recounts the history of Sergio Tinoco, a migrant worker born in the USA accidentally, and his life as he maneuvers the complicated world of privileges and adventures. The storytelling is light and intuitive, offering a beautiful insight to the world of a maturing American trapped within a completely different frame-of-mind within his grandparents, who had raised him. As the years progress through Tinoco’s smooth narrative you see how his growth manifests in impressive ways as he joins the army and continues his life as a strong individual and proud American.
A tough beginning gives Sergio a critical and unique insight to the world that is clearly delivered through the narrative of the story, which is a tale about the author’s own beginnings and his growth into an adult. He was born into an immigrant family, having to be raised by his grandparents who were located in the US instead of his biological mother who was stuck in Mexico.
One aspect that is heavily played into in the beginning of the story is the itching desire to escape your hometown, your family, and reach a greater place. Most kids and teenagers feel this way, I believe, despite what kind of upbringing they had. It’s inspiring to read how that path opens up for a young soldier with such a rich background.
Fear and ambition is a common element in the history of Sergio, and the way he writes really draws readers in and lets them experience the emotions he feels during the twists and turns of his life. There are not many other characters aside from the storyteller, just brief occurrences of names and influences as years pass by in a beautiful trail of words and imagery. The narrative is quite similar to how our real lives unfold, full of minor characters and events that help mold and craft us into the people we stand as today. The same is true for Sergio, and the story is patriotic and full of struggles and achievements that you can share in while reading.
Every few pages readers are treated with an image of the author, sometimes accompanied by other family members and friends, or just of an action he has told us about. It’s a great way to connect with his audience and it really helped me get a picture of the life he lived and how it affected him.
Since I didn’t have an upbringing or lifestyle even remotely close to what Sergio’s environment, it was very interesting to read about, and I enjoyed the opportunity to learn about things foreign to me. The writing was thought-provoking, and I enjoyed the little instances of humor that were thrown in. Seeing the evolution of Sergio and his mindset over the years as he thinks back was a really enjoyable read, and I loved the way he painted vivid images and made me understand how his mind worked. A truly beautiful story.
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