Today author Justine Ettler shares how the inspiration for her new novel Bohemia Beach came about.
PLUS to celebrate its recent publication 2 lucky readers will win Bohemia Beach in ebook — entries open worldwide.
When I moved to London in 1997 I was surprised by the amount of interest my being half-Czech aroused in London literary circles. It was something I’d never experienced in Australia, with the exception of a narrative writing class which analysed The Unbearable Lightness of Being at UTS. People spoke of music, art, architecture, design, linguistics, poetry—of novels, plays and politics. Most of all people waxed lyrical about magical Prague. I couldn’t wait to visit.
The first time I’d visited Czechoslovakia I was 6 and it had been a terrifying experience thanks to the communist regime which followed, arrested and terrorised my Czech father. Post Velvet Revolution, I found a very different place; beautiful, seductive, and as mysterious and compelling as a Kafka novel. I decided I’d set my next novel there. Add to that the warmth of my reception by Czech relatives, family friends, and the small expat community and Prague became my second home. I immersed myself in all of Prague’s complex history and wonderful culture—which would eventually surge beneath the action in Bohemia Beach.
The story began to emerge when, back in London and recovering from a debilitating brush with pneumonia, I learned how to meditate. The first thing I saw when I took three deep breaths and closed my eyes was a long beach drenched in sunshine with an indistinct headland and hazy with seaspray. I immediately wrote down what I’d seen, a process I repeated a number of times in early drafts. Around this time, I discovered that while the contemporary Czech Republic has no seacoast, that hadn’t always been the case. There had been a time, referred to in Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, when there was a ‘seacoast of Bohemia’; when the Czech Kings had ruled all the way to the Adriatic. This sense of an intertextual beach intrigued me and came to symbolise a place where the history of trauma and injury, both national and personal, could be healed.
My deep love for London, my adopted home, similarly inspired the characters of Nelly, Cathy’s eccentric but caring guru, and Edgar, Cathy’s alternative therapist. During my ten years as a Londoner, I developed a fascination with its countless eccentrics. I discovered that London has a long history concerning all things kooky—spiritualism for example, where even today you can visit The Spiritualist Association of Great Britain and have a medium talk to the dead. I was reminded of Wuthering Heights and my new novel began conceptually to take shape. Also, every second person I met in my West Kensington milieu was having reiki, cranial sacrum therapy, acupuncture or doing past lives hypnotherapy. Conventional medicine didn’t seem to rate. I soon accumulated a wealth of material that found its way into the novel.
Nine years in, though, I realised I needed a way to make Cathy’s history of trauma more dramatic for the reader: I decided to make her a problem drinker. Researching alcoholic characters I discovered a terrible double standard between the way women and men drinkers are portrayed. When a male character drinks, it’s seen either as a form masculine bravado, or as a deep tragedy. But when a female character drinks, it tarnishes everything about her and makes her shameful; her very sanity is questioned. While drinking women are everywhere today—from Hilary Clinton snapped holding a wine glass to Bridget Jones Diary style entertainment—the serious aspects of female alcoholism are often glamorised or glossed over. I decided to try to do something to alter the way women drinkers are perceived. Bohemia Beach is the result.
Bohemia Beach Synopsis:
Catherine Bell, a famous concert pianist, is struggling to hold on to her career in a competitive international arena that spans the classical music capitals of the world. After a disastrous show in Copenhagen, Cathy is about to attempt her first concert performance without alcohol in Prague when her marriage implodes, her terminally ill, Czech-born mother goes missing from her London hospital, and a much needed highly paid recording deal falls through. Cathy finds herself coping in the only way she knows how: grasping a glass of forbidden pre-performance champagne and flirting with Tomas, a stranger in a Prague nightclub.
While her therapist Nelly advises her to abstain, Cathy’s relationship with drink and Tomas draws her deep into a whirlpool of events as mysterious, tense and seductive as Prague itself. Justine Ettler’s discipline in the writing is as controlled as Cathy is out of control– the novel brilliantly references classics such as Wuthering Heights– and as with Rachel in The Girl on a Train, the reader is drawn into the protagonist’s predicament with moving palpable intensity.
Bohemia Beach is an edge of your seat ride, a compelling story of addiction, passionate love and the power of art. It heralds the return of one of Australia’s most distinctive authors.
‘Ettler is back after twenty years and the wait has been worth it. This is a mesmerising story of art and addiction – the author at her provocative best.’ — Nikki Gemmell, author of After
(304 pages, Transit Lounge Publishing – May 2018)
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About the Author, Justine Ettler
Justine’s second novel, The River Ophelia, was an instant best-seller in Australia and NZ with over 50 000 sales and has been taught at HSC and University level. Her first novel, Marilyn’s Almost Terminal New York Adventure, (Picador) was published the following year to critical acclaim. Justine made Australian literary history by being the first female debut writer to sell two books to a mainstream publisher.
In 1997 Justine was selected as one of six Australian authors to tour the UK as part of the New Images Writer’s Tour and subsequently moved to London where she lived until 2007. She worked as a book reviewer at The Observer, The Evening Standard, and The Times Literary Supplement, lectured in Creative Writing, and worked as a reader for the London literary agency, Cornerstones, as well as for The Literary Consultancy. In addition to her career as an author, Justine is an accomplished flautist who performed as a soloist at the Sydney Opera House while in her teens, taught flute at Sydney Girls High, who participates in amateur musical theatre, and who has accompanied the Australian band The Go-Betweens.
Thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing 2 lucky readers will win an ebook copy of Bohemia Beach.
- Open worldwide, entries close midnight 27 May 2018
- You can earn extra entries in the random draw by spreading the word via Twitter , Pinterest and Facebook/Google+/Webpage
- The 2 winners will be randomly selected and announced on our Facebook Page
SORRY, ENTRIES CLOSED — See winner announcement