Transcription of the podcast translated into English
by A.S. Mink
(Whispering voice) Does it have human eyes?
When I was about thirteen, we moved to a large country house in Ireland in the middle of nowhere… near a small village.
Strange things occurred there; for example, I’d wake up in the middle of the night and hear heavy breathing. It kept me awake, but I waited calmly for it to stop and fell asleep again. The Irish call them ghosts. They often talk about ghosts and haunted houses.
Next to our house stood a castle built in 1400 something. The door was always open, and you could climb the stairs to the roof. I often sat there because the view was amazing. And, always I forgot about the time. So, you’d have to rush down the steps, trying to keep your eyes on the stairs before you and not look at the shadows hovering in the darkness… And the door on the ground floor was always closed. (giggling) When someone tells me about seeing ghosts, I don’t believe them, which is quite strange.
The Irish call them ghosts, but I wondered if it wasn’t two timelines colliding, giving a view into another past world. I was always wondering about what I experienced, and I came up with the idea for the book, A History of Love and Now. Two timelines collide, characters that can see each other but can never interact. But they can influence each other’s lives.
(Whispering voice repeating the words: being trapped in the body of a swan. Will you recognise me…?)
My name is Anita Salemink. I graduated from art college in 1989. The original idea was to write and illustrate children’s books, but during my writing course, I wanted to write stories for adults. And because I grew up in Ireland and was educated there in primary and secondary school, I chose to write in English and I attended writing courses in England. When I make visual artwork, I descend into deep concentration, but when I’m writing fiction, I reach a whole new level of concentration; I am completely absorbed in the scene I am writing, and even after I finish writing for the day, my mind remains fixated on the story. My characters are, to me, living people; all I have to do is write down their stories. I discover the plot as I write. A History of Love and Now was self-published last summer. I enjoyed the self-publishing side of it because I could make all my own decisions plot-wise.
I write under the pseudonym of A.S. Mink. A is from Anita, S is the first letter of my surname, and Mink is the last four letters of my surname. Mink (laughing): when you google my name, the first thing that comes up are minks. First thirty pictures of minks and then me. (Laughing)
I am always homesick for Ireland. When I’m in Ireland, I always visit the house I lived in. And usually, the people living there are very welcoming. I think I wanted to write a love story for Ireland and about Irish history.
My novel has two storylines. One starts in 1977. After Bloody Sunday. The height of the Irish Troubles. My main character is Anise, a young girl of 17. She moves with her father to a large country house in Ireland. She hears in the village that a murder has been committed in her home. She experiences strange things and starts investigating what happened there.
The second storyline is set in 1803 and tells the story of Linton. His friend is executed. The boys who fought for independence were called White Boys. They wore white shirts over their clothes, so they formed a distinguishable group. Their shirts lit up in the moonlight, and they were often mistaken for ghosts. I write about why they started to fight the English. Irish history is about the struggle for independence. The IRA, in all its forms, had been fighting against the English since they started to colonise Ireland. The Irish had to live by English law. They [the English] determined which language people were allowed to speak and what religion they were supposed to have. They went far in their domination. You could be very quickly called a traitor and stand trial. The execution described in my book is as described in a newspaper from 1803. I think it’s essential that the readers know how people were executed in those days. The punishments were terrible. Very inhuman and cruel.
(Whispering) Does it have human eyes?
This is my writing room. I like the old-fashioned décor. The old-fashioned telephone. The antique typewriter, a gift from my grandfather. I store all the books I have used for researching Irish history in this bookcase. Irish history books. Wolfe Tone is an important person. Robert Emmet, whose execution was horrific. IRA books but also diaries written by high-society ladies from that time. Books about high society and etiquette. How they interacted. I found this all so interesting in comparison to the horrific deeds committed at the time. I still have my schoolbooks on Irish history. And books about fashion from 1800 or 1700. For the dresses, I describe in my book. All the details must be correct.
While writing the book, I painted miniatures inspired by scenes from the book. So, I could think about the story structure while painting and visually see how the story unfolded. In the end, I had a hundred paintings portraying each scene’s essential element. Some are tiny, two by two cm, but very detailed. When you study them underneath a magnifying glass, they are complete works of art, like more significant works, but still very tiny.
I used watercolours on paper but also fake ivory, called ivorine. Ivorine is used for contemporary miniatures. Ivory is illegal to use nowadays. I love using ivorine because it’s so transparent. It is so very satisfying to work on.
Let me get you some examples. This is a portrait of Linton. He’s wearing a shirt with a loose-fitting collar, as was the day’s fashion. This is one of my main characters, Anise. She’s lying in bed. There’s part of a sentence written underneath the painting, but I’ve written it so small that I am unable to read it right now. It’s an important scene from the book. She has returned after an adventure early that morning.
And this is a miniature of a silhouette of a man. His silhouette is all black, and you see trees and a bright blue sky behind him. Anise is lying in a field, looking up at him. Bluebells surround her. She sees her boyfriend and realises she has landed in a hazardous situation. She has to hide and not let on she’s there… oh, that was a spoiler. (Laughing) You’re not supposed to know that.
This is a drawing of an execution taken from a newspaper from 1803—a portable gallows. I went to the library in Ireland and printed articles from microfilm. Super interesting. This one is of a man’s hand holding a gun. Fish swim just below the water’s surface and shoot away.
I have another scene I’d like to show you… It’s probably in one of these boxes. Not every thing is important. For example, this is one of a postcard. It’s tiny (giggle). I’m looking for a certain one. (Paper rustling) This is it. This is next to the house, with fields in the distance, the woods, and the river in the valley.
The setting is the house I lived in. It was a very special, extraordinary house: the fields, the woods, and the beautiful entrance to the driveway.
I heard in the village about a murder committed in our house. This became the inciting incident in my book. Irish folktales are beautiful, and I wanted to weave them into the story. There is a myth about children who were changed into swans and could only communicate with their eyes.
The myth I describe was originally like a prologue at the start of the book. But I changed my mind; I wanted the reader to start the story with the plot’s action, so I moved it further on in my story. So, you understand later on what happened at the beginning of the story. People are trapped in the bodies of animals. I want the reader to work at picking up clues. Reading a book open to interpretation is much more enjoyable.
I completed the final revisions of my second book, which was inspired by the stories my mother-in-law told me about living in Arnhem during World war II when she was a young girl.
It’s about a family torn apart because the father is a Nazi sympathiser, and the mother is thoroughly against them. The eldest [son] is manipulated into joining the SS.
The title is The Bone Sculptor. My main character has sculpted creatures from animal bones since childhood. He believes animals have souls and that they somehow transfer into his sculptures and can lead a new life.
I made a collage of the story. Do you want to see it? (Giggle) This is the Bone Sculptor. What do you mean (Giggling) Sorry. The Bone sculptor is the SS soldier, the main character of my second book. I didn’t get what you meant just now. (Laughing)
Podcast made by:
Soundscape: Marianna van der Noordt
Techniek: Hans Pfeiffer
Mastering: Armeno Alberts
Co-host: Kim van der Werff
Met dank aan Focus Filmtheater Arnhem