Writer, editor, tutor, cloudwatcher, resident of Transylvania
Author: Arabella McIntyre-Brown
I'm a writer from West Sussex is southern England, but after 30 years of urban life in London and Liverpool, I now live in a remote village 1,000 metres up in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. My first book in Romania was published in November 2016: "Din Liverpool in Carpati: cum mi-am gasit fericirea în inima Transilvaniei". The English version, 'A stake in Transylvania' is out soon. I've also written (so far) four bilingual (En/Ro) children's books.
My very favourite tree – the magnificent Allerton Oak in Liverpool’s Calderstones Park – has been named England’s Tree of the Year, and will be in the running for Europe’s tree of the year in 2020. That oak has seen some action, dating back to before the Norman Conquest in 1066, so is older than the city that surrounds it.
In 2008 I chose the Oak as my favourite spot to be photographed by Dan Kenyon, for his book ‘Liverpool Sung & Unsung’ – portraits of assorted scoundrels and heroes of the city for its year as European Capital of Culture. Fun, isn’t it?
Donald Dunham, an American diplomat stationed in Bucharest, said this about Romanians in 1948:
“The Romanians are a social phenomenon. As a nation among nations, they are westerners evolved in the East. They are Latins surrounded by Slavs. They are Romans two thousand years away from Rome. They are contemporaries re-produced on Trajan’s Column.
“They are peasants with the utmost in sophistication. They farm instinctively, but are suspicious of machinery. They speak a language like Italian but the majority of their words are Slavonic. They are superstitious but religious at the same time. They are astutely intelligent, but refuse to be intellectual. They submit to invasion but preserve their identity. They support great wealth and extreme poverty. They produce striking beauty yet can live in filth.
“As a collective personality, the Romanians are Oriental in their souls although Latin on the surface. Their patience is almost unending but they are quick to explode in argument; they are peace-loving yet would disintegrate without controversy. They are passive but strong in their resistance; spontaneously adaptable, still difficult to influence. They are romantic but never escape from reality.
“They are charming yet cruel in their ridicule, warmly emotional but calculating, generous yet concentrate on the ‘main chance.’ They are opportunistic but lose interest after they have gained the advantage; they seize the moment, still adopt the long view.
“The Romanians are a people of colorful contrasts and extreme extremes, born in classic times, ravaged by barbarians, indentured to the Turks, dominated by the Byzantines, the Greeks, dictated to by the Hungarians, Poles, Austrians and others, seduced by the French and not recognized as a country until 1878. Yet they emerge with a character that defies this confusion, that is definitely, emphatically, unmistakably Romanian.”
What do you think? Is this still fair to Romanians of today?
A Stake in Transylvania – the English edition of my book first published in Romanian translation (Din Liverpool în Carpati) – is now published, at long last.
The book was launched with a reception at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Bucharest, where the guests from business, the book world, the British community and friends heard Ambassador Andrew Noble extol the book as a paean to rural Transylvania that will play a part in lifting the reputation of the area and attracting more visitors.
But what intrigued him about the book was – woven into the colourful stories of life in a mountain village – the candid discussion of mental illness, ageing, and living alone. The challenges are all too common, but not much shared.
In response to readers’ comments that the book reveals very personal details that seemed quite shocking, I told the guests: “Menopause, bereavement, getting older – they’re part of every woman’s life; it’s not our fault, there’s nothing we can do stop the process – why shouldn’t we talk about them?”
In her report of the event, well-known Bucharest journalist Alison Mutler said: “The 330-page read is a fascinating and honest study of her own state of mind, the seasons, animals (both pets and wild creatures), fences, making hay and naturally the locals and other folk she encounters. Arabella read out loud an excerpt about sheep wandering into her garden and home which delighted and amused the British and Romanian audience at Thursday’s reception.”
Mr Noble believes the book will become a bestseller. “Move over Peter Mayle,” he said, referring to the British writer who wrote “A Year in Provence” in 1990 which became an international bestseller and was made into a TV series.
I’m very grateful to the Ambassador and Mrs Noble for launching the book with such élan, and to the guests for braving filthy weather and Bucharest traffic that was worse than usual.
Charming short article in The Guardian, by Rena Effendi, about the living tradition of haymaking as part of the still-extant peasant lifestyle of Transylvania. This picture (also by Effendi) was taken in Maramures, where the haystacks are tall and thin.
Here where I live, in southern Transylvania, the haystacks are fat and stable to withstand tougher winds.
Another article, this time in the Financial Times, suggests that Transylvania is the new Tuscany. An Italian living in the Saxon villages is extolling the ancient ways of Saxon Transylvania as being reminiscent of the old Tuscan lifestyle.
I’ve just found this video from the Romanian Cultural Institute’s event at the 2018 London Book Fair. I was very much the easy-reading grit in the academic literary oyster… My bit starts 1 hr 11 mins in.
On the first day of Bookfest 2019 in Bucharest, I had an audience to talk about my book A Stake in Transylvania. This is how much I enjoyed it.
Thanks to Bookfest’s clever photographer…
And at the very end of the day, as a very unexpected bonus, the British Ambassador introduced me to one Klaus Iohannis, President of Romania. And to my great surprise, he recognised me… “Is it possible that I’ve seen you in a documentary?” he asked. “It’s possible,” I replied. Here’s the evidence (the Prez is the tallest in the line-up)
“De-abia așteptam sa ajungă cartea asta, sunt atât de nerăbdătoare sa o citesc ca am început lectura de la semafor!😌
Visez de mult ca intr-o buna zi as putea sa ma mut și eu intr-o căsuța pitoreasca la munte,in inima Transilvaniei, deși la o analiza mai atenta pare imposibil acum (drumuri, infrastructura, utilități, scoli, etc)… Sunteți o inspirație pentru mine și pana acum îmi place cartea la nebunie!”
“I could hardly wait for this book to arrive, I was so eager to read it that I started in the car, while sitting at the traffic lights! 😌
“I dream very much that someday I could move myself into a picturesque mountain village, in the heart of Transylvania, although a more careful analysis now seems impossible (roads, infrastructure, utilities, schools, etc). You’re an inspiration to me and so far I love the book to madness!”
But what style of cover will people like most, do you think? I’ve picked some covers that I like – they are not all about the same subjects as my book, and are not all modern. I like them for all sorts of reasons.
But… which two of these covers would you pick up off the table in the bookshop? Which would pique your curiosity and make you look at the back cover?
Have a quick look and go with your first instincts. In a bookshop it takes one or two seconds for someone to choose a book to pick up and look at – so first impressions are crucial. Don’t think about it too hard!
Let me know the titles in the comments below – and if you have a moment, tell me why you like them.