This webpage is so often focused on the problems we face; the growing shadows of darkness and the insanity that seems to be prevailing. Consequently, one could be forgiven for thinking that I see little hope. Fortunately, that is not true. There is always hope and when this is combined with faith, confidence cannot but be restored.
However, in troubled times it is good to be inspired and uplifted. Good stories do this and that is why I am very pleased to feature this interview with Mishka Gora about her novel, Wellspring.
I am also very pleased to support Mishka. She is a great writer. She is a logical thinker. And she is a warrior. Mishka’s clear and concise words on key issues of morality, such as abortion, have inspired me. I have been proud to feature her thoughts on this webpage in the past because she has ideas that deserve to be heard. They are ideas founded on truth.
Mishka is also a person whose ideas result in action. She didn’t just write a novel. As she states on her webpage, she lived it too:
“I did not delegate the research for this book and it required no small amount of fortitude on my own part. I studied sixteenth-century English swordfighting at Stephen Hand’s Stoccata School of Defence, and had to cross swords with the man whom I would eventually marry. And I spent more than one hundred memorable sea days on the tall ship, Lady Nelson, learning a way of life that is virtually extinct. There aren’t many ways of truly understanding the rhythm of life before the twentieth century, but sailing a brig up the east coast of Tasmania and across Bass Strait is surely one of them. For a (former) landlubber scared of heights, it speaks volumes that I now count furling a topsail while at sea as one of the great pleasures in life.”
That, in itself, is a great story.
And in order to find out more about Mishka, the background to her novel and what it’s all about, I asked her some questions.
Mishka, tell us a bit about your background.
I’m not the sort of person you can put in a box and label. I’ve been an Aussie girl at an Ivy League university, an aid worker in a war zone, a project manager for IBM, a dog groomer on $8/hour driving a red sports car, and the list of my bizarre incarnations goes on. What has been consistent through all of these is a love of the written word, a passion for the truth, and a stubborn determination to milk life of everything it has to offer.
I made my name as a writer quite by chance when I championed the cause of two Croatian generals unjustly convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for war crimes. The article I wrote was a ‘ray of light’ according to one of the defence counsels, I found myself on the front page of a Croatian newspaper, and then I was featured in a documentary alongside Margaret Thatcher’s adviser Robin Harris and the Hollywood actor Goran Visnjic. It was then that it dawned on me that perhaps I shouldn’t be keeping my scribblings to myself.
My writing springs from a need to communicate effectively, and my foray into fiction (which began with my novel-memoir Fragments of War and has seen fruition in Wellspring) is a testimony to what I’ve experienced of the human condition. Rationality is no longer the primary basis for decision-making in our society, and I’ve made a conscious choice to write more fiction simply because you can’t argue someone into being rational. Yet we are rational beings, and I’m hoping to ignite the spark that remains.
What is Wellspring all about?
Wellspring is the tale of people who are forced to fight for what they believe in, for the “old ways” of doing things. Their faith and fortitude is put to the test, they have to discern what is duty and what is desire, and they have to somehow live together in harmony despite the immense stress.
The main character is a priestess who doesn’t understand why she’s been called to a predominantly male role and yet must put on a brave face for the sake of her comrades. In the bigger picture, she is just one of a number of leaders who have the burden of responsibility in dealing with colonial rule, social decline, and revolution. Wellspring is about the threats we face and the ways in which we are perpetrators, victims, and bystanders…and sometimes rescuers.
What age group is Wellspring aimed at?
It’s suitable for adults and mature teenagers and aimed at anyone born after World War Two. I know I’m not the only one who’s aghast at the abandonment of tradition and rejection of rectitude. We live in a time when morality has become a dirty word, and I can think of nothing more perverse than insisting that one should not differentiate between good and bad, right and wrong.
I wanted to write something that would help us to gird our loins, so to speak, while also speaking to our hearts. So, Wellspring is aimed at all ages, but I have a particular hope that younger adults who are turned off by saccharine Christian fiction and find themselves immersed in the nihilism of modern culture will find sustenance in the stout-hearted candour of my characters.
Is it just another Harry Potter?
I’m not sure I’d make the comparison, Bernie, though I have to admit I haven’t read the books or seen the films. What it does have in common with Harry Potter is that it should appeal to readers who (like myself) aren’t into the fantasy genre per se. Wellspring isn’t a standard ‘epic fantasy’ of the good guys battling the bad guys. The tension between good and evil is far more nuanced, with no character portrayed as immune to temptation or bad beyond redemption. And I’ve hinted at rational explanations for some of the fantastic elements.
Magic is another point of difference. While many fantasies try to justify magic by putting forward the idea there is good (white) magic and bad (black) magic, I don’t even go there. What I have done is raise questions about how some perceive miracles as magic and how sorcery can be disguised as a miraculous occurrence or religious experience. Things aren’t always what they seem, and our lives can be ‘magical’ without recourse to the occult or gimmicks.
What themes and ideas are you trying to inspire in the reader?
The general theme of the book is “the things that we love tell us what we are”. We choose what sort of treasure to store in our hearts, and our habits allow us to either cultivate virtue or become ingrained in vice. No one consciously decides to become a bad person, but we do choose what and whom is an influence on us and those choices set us upon a path for good or ill. There are many people who scoff at the idea of a slippery slope, but it does exist and it’s no less present in our own personal lives.
I am not so much trying to inspire ideas as to prompt readers to think for themselves. In my articles and blogging, I tend to hammer the point home in as clear and concise a manner as I can. I believe that’s the most effective form of essay. However, fiction is entirely different and requires me as the writer to be more of a guide who takes the reader on a journey and shares interesting tidbits along the way to enlighten and enrich but who, at the end of the day, has no real power over the reader’s ultimate experience.
I want my readers to identify with all the characters to varying degrees. I don’t want them to simply barrack for the ‘good guys’. There is good and bad in everyone, and it’s through seeing ourselves in the ‘bad guys’ that we can identify our shortcomings and be alert to the dangers we face. The struggles of the ‘good guys’ reassure us that we’re not failures and also inspire us to change for the better.
What personal experiences influenced Wellspring?
I believe you have to write from experience, so I took that as an excuse to quit my job, live off my savings, and spend a couple of years doing things like learning to sail a tall ship, make historical costumes, and swordfight in a late Elizabethan style. Those experiences give Wellspring an authenticity that is unusual in fantasy (which so often relies purely on the author’s imagination).
That said, the most influential experiences were more personal. In particular, witnessing a war firsthand gave me insight into how desperate circumstances bring out the best (and the worst) in people. Fighting for freedom from tyranny creates an almost unearthly bond between people, a bond that survives the distance of time and space and cannot be superseded. I want Wellspring to embody that tremendous spirit, that of hearts being “touched with fire”, to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
What’s different about Wellspring?
It harkens back to a time when people were willing to lay down their lives for what they believed in. I remember thinking when the war broke out in the former Yugoslavia how times had changed, that in the 1930s and 1940s many young people dropped what they were doing and journeyed far to fight fascism. In the years since then things have gone from bad to worse. A brief trawl of social media reveals the nihilism and narcissism that pervades our culture. The most fundamental and self-evident tenets of the Western tradition have become anathema. Wellspring is, I hope, part of the antidote to that absence of meaning and rejection of tradition, an attempt to restore our connection with all the things that remind us we are human. I like to think of it as a memory or dream we can draw upon for courage and inspiration.
It’s not just children who need stories, after all. Adults need them too. But there’s no point to the relentless nihilism of the immensely popular Game of Thrones (which an alarming number of Christians defend). There’s no edification in the image-soaked and morally vacuous sensations of mainstream culture. Wellspring is a story with a purpose, but it’s up to the reader to decide what purpose they will make of it.
Will there be a sequel?
I have already begun writing the sequel. Verys will take more of a back seat so that some of the other characters can have their turn in the spotlight. One of the themes in Wellspring is that it can seem as if evil is getting the upperhand but we must fight on in faith that things will one day improve. The sequel will continue in that vein and show us more of the bigger picture.
Where can readers purchase a copy?
Wellspring is already available on Amazon in both paperback and electronic format and most bookstores should be able to order it in within the next few weeks. Australian residents can purchase autographed copies direct from me for $20 plus $15 postage simply by emailing me at [email protected] and paying by either direct deposit or PayPal.