Interview with Miriam Verbeek, Author of Songs of Si’Empra

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What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Songs of Si’Empra?

Many things inspired me to write ‘Songs of Si’Empra’: intrigue with a character like Ellen (the main character); the challenge of bringing characters to life that readers can identify with; my love of nature and, particularly, those aspects of nature we humans sometimes say is ‘harsh’; the miriad ways humans can adapt; a love of playing with language (but not highfaluting language); and so on.

What’s the story behind the story? In short, the idea of writing an entertaining fiction underscored by difficult contemporary issues without forcing the reader to think about them (unless they want to).

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Songs of Si’Empra, what would they be?

I always imagined Ellen as having a somewhat Celtic theme song – something like Enya’s “Flight of Angels” (though I’d substitute ‘king’ for ‘queen’ – and it wouldn’t be a Christmas song anymore):

“Journey Of The Angels” Somewhere in a winter night The angels begin their flight Dark skies with miles to go No footsteps to be lost in snow They fly to You Oh, new-born King (Queen) They fly to You Oh, angels sing One is sorrow, one is peace One will come to give You sleep One is comfort, one is grief One will take the tears You weep New star in a midnight sky In heaven, all the angels fly Soft wings so true And all things they will give to You Somewhere in a winter night The angels begin their flight Tonight all sing Oh, angels, a new-born King (Queen) Tonight all sing Oh, angels, a new-born King (Queen) For Pedro and Elthán, it would be Enya’s “Stars and Midnight Blue” or maybe Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”.

For Richard, I’d pick something quirky like “Rainbow Glitter” (A collection of quirky tunes from Smashtrax). Gigi is all the upper keys of the piano – I think ‘Music Box’ (Frank Mills). And Müther… well it would be hard to go past Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony – da da da dum! – she has that presence.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I don’t really have a favourite genre to read. I steer away from books that are horror-based (though I’ve read some of Steven King’s books) and straight-out formulaic-genre books, whether romance or thriller or otherwise, generally lose my interest. War books, Westerns, out-and-out bloody/cruel stories and ‘greasy’ detective stories also don’t enthuse me. I do like a good fantasy – like science fiction but get bored when it gets too much into the techo bits.

My favourite genre to write? Well, I tend to mix the genres in my writing. ‘Songs of Si’Empra’, for example, is hard to place. It could be fantasy, but it isn’t really since it is very real. It could be action and adventure, but it has fantasy in it. It is a coming-of-age story but is definitely a book for adults and not young teens. I guess the best I could say about ‘favourite genre’ to write are stories that are character- and issues-driven and I’ll grab at whatever tropes come to hand to do what I want the story to do.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

On my TBR pile at present are: – Still Life (almost finished) by Sarah Winman – Truganini by Cassandra Pybus – A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchman – Amsterdam by Ian McEwan – First among equals by Jeffrey Archer – The Changing Room by Christine Sykes – Sharpe’s Assassin by Bernard Cornwell.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

Favourite scene to write… that’s a really difficult one to answer. Probably the ones that show tenderness or fun were the easiest to write, like the interactions with people that Josephine has in Si’Em Square. Though, I often reflect on the cliff-climbing scenes of Ellen and Richard, which were difficult for me to get right.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

I don’t have quirky habits to write… at least I don’t think so. I write whenever I give myself the time to do so. Often that’s jammed in between other things going on in my life. I’m serious about writing but also like to keep it in perspective. I have something to say but I know I’m competing in a space that already has a lot of ‘noise’.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

My motto: Be considerate, don’t cut corners, love nature.

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

Take away from my books: Understand that each person is formed by the events of their past and it is all embedded in how we treat our environment.


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