1. Please tell us about who you are and what you do.
I was born and bred in an English hamlet called River, in what is now the South Downs National Park. When I was 19 I went to London and spent the next 30 years there and in Liverpool; I left in 2008 and moved to a village called Hill, in the Piatra Craiului National Park, Transylvania, where I write books. I’m free of dependents, so can indulge my hermit-like tendencies, enjoying the solitude of living among wildflower meadows and mountains.
2. Share your backstory with us. How did your business or organisation come about and what was it that switched you on to this area in the first place?
I came to Zarnesti for a week’s holiday in 2003, during which we were brought up to Magura in a horse and cart for the day. It’s a long story, but the following year I came back and bought a 4-bed house for the same price as my tiny flat in London, 20 years earlier. In Liverpool, I was a business journalist, book author and indie publisher; in Transylvania, I wrote my first Romanian book in 2016, published by Editura ALL in Bucharest, and then started writing children’s books for another Bucharest publisher, Booklet Fiction. I also run courses to encourage writers to exploit their imagination, and am starting to operate as a nano publisher again, in specific markets. Apart from one kids’ story set in London, all the books I’m writing now have the common denominator of being set in the same mountain village (surprisingly like Magura) called Fân. The latest book (published in September 2019) was A stake in Transylvania – the true story of why I came here and why I’ve stayed.
3 What do you think or hope the future has in store for you and your business? Where do you see yourself or your organisation five years from now?
I do next to no marketing, but I’ve had quite a bit of PR; the story of an English migrant moving from Britain to Transylvania is relatively unusual and is received well by Romanians. Especially as I am now a permanent resident in a mountain village, rather than an ex-pat on a three-year corporate contract in the city. And I was a single female, over 50, starting again when most people are planning for retirement. In five years’ time, if I’m spared, I plan to have written more children’s books, and started on a series of crime fiction. The next book, though, to be published early in 2021, is a sequel to Stake, called A spell in Transylvania.
4. How has lockdown been for you and for your business and what have you done that has helped you personally and professionally?
Here in Magura, lockdown is so similar to normal life that I didn’t notice the difference at first. I did a big shop on 11th March, when I came back from Bucharest, and didn’t leave the house again for nearly five weeks. By May, though, I was going through the same yoyo emotions as so many people, and had a couple of dark patches. But on 1st July I woke up with energy, feeling positive, and have been productive ever since. The book trade went into a nose dive in March, and since I couldn’t do any talks or signings or events (where I normally sell books), my book sales were in a death-spiral. So I’m in the process of setting up audiobook production on a nano-scale (ie me reading my books) so that I can sell digital formats worldwide. Sounds very grand but one has to start somewhere.
What’s helped me most, personally and professionally, is a skill I discovered when I moved here: that of accepting all the help that I’m offered by kind friends and neighbours, and complete strangers. Really, I’ve done very little for myself except to say ‘yes’ and ‘thank you’ to many kindnesses. And I’ve been intensely grateful to be here, with a garden and a huge sky and the mountains, clean air and peace; not stuck in a small apartment in a city somewhere.
5. What’s your take on Bucharest and Romania. What are the highs and the lows in your opinion?
Even after 10 years I don’t know Bucharest well. Or Brasov, come to that. I’m a bit allergic to cities these days, so the less time I spend in them, the better. I have good friends and business contacts in the city, but I don’t tend to explore much – go, do what I need to do, and leave. Romania as a whole… again, I haven’t explored it much. I’ve lost my need to travel and wander and explore; I’m happy at home. And to be frank, there are lots of places that are as beautiful as the environment around Magura, but I don’t think there are any more beautiful. I have what I love right outside my kitchen door.
6. What is your must do/must visit/favorite thing to do or show off to visitors here in Bucharest and Romania at large?
See above. Most visitors want to spend a couple of days in the capital – the Old Town, People Palace, whatever. And lots want to go to the bear sanctuary in Zarnesti (20 mins from me), or tick off a few castles and fortified churches (plenty within an hour’s drive). But visitors, whether foreigners or locals, all have the same reaction when they arrive at my house. Fairy tale, heaven, secret paradise, fantasy land, Narnia and Middle Earth – they’re the most common reactions. People just love being here. It’s one of Romania’s many secret treasures.
7. What is your number 1 recommendation now for a book/film/series/app/ or gadget?
My books, of course… But if I had to recommend just one book, it would be Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know, by Ranulph Fiennes. I do have a vested interest, but it’s a cracker of a book. Gadget? Living here? A sharp axe.
8. If you could eat in any restaurant in all of Romania and have dinner with anyone in the world (not a husband/wife/relative) which restaurant would that be and with which person?
My date? Vlad III, Dracul, Tepes. I’m curious about the real man behind the hyperbole. Rather than a restaurant, I’d demand a grand picnic on top of a mountain, somewhere flat enough for a table and two chairs, a portable kitchen, chef and maitre de l’herbe. And a helicopter to get me there and back. Vlad can arrive on horseback. The menu? Anything but Turkish. No kebabs, no souvlaki or brochettes, and no steak (in case he can’t spell). Maybe a raw vegan feast. That would challenge him.
9. Sum up your business in one sentence, what it is and why should people engage with it.
Engaging books full of stories, ideas and emotions, which show as many facets of Transylvania as a brilliant-cut diamond.
10. Describe your Romania in one word.