In this Q&A session, author Claudia Chibici-Revneanu tells Jacaranda Books about the life experiences that have influenced her, and led to the characters, locations and occupations detailed in Of Murder, Muses and Me, as well as leaving some advice for young and emerging writers.
1. How would you describe Of Murder, Muses and Me in twenty words?
A whodunit set in literary London, liberating a young student-detective from painful loss, a useless lover and imprisoning ideals.
A London-based whodunit about a young woman’s encounter with lies, eccentric literary figures, and a rekindled love for life.
2. Of Murder, Muses and Me revolves around Rosalind, a young PhD student with her head in the clouds – what (or who) was the inspiration for the character?
I’m afraid I might be the inspiration for Rosalind’s defining head-in-the-clouds feature. I’m not called Claudia – pronounced “Cloud-ia” – for nothing. As a convinced practitioner, I can leave pretty much any place and go into “dream-land” within seconds – something that comes in very handy during dentist visits and not so much when it comes to driving lessons. But Rosalind also shares many characteristics and experiences with different people I have met and love. Ultimately, however, I picture her as a young woman I gradually got to know and understand by writing about her.
3. Of Murder, Muses and Me surprises by its humour and wit – what made you decide to go beyond the traditional crime genre?
My main objective was to write a murder mystery that faced the subject of death head-on. I suppose many years of living in Mexico, a country famous for its ability to also look at death with a kind of colourful, witty acceptance, allowed me to introduce a light touch to such an apparently “dark” issue. Also, I have a deep faith in the power of humour to transform some of this world’s suffering; something I tried to express through characters such as Gabriel, but also by playing with the genre itself.
4. You show throughout the pages an amazing knowledge of the world of publishing. Do you have any experience working in the industry?
After finishing an MA at Warwick, I worked as an editorial assistant in a prestigious London publishing house for some time. Also, I’ve always been fascinated by every aspect of literature, especially novels. And not just reading, writing and – like Rosalind – analysing them. I’m also interested in the history of the novel (I’m a follower of the theory it owes much of its existence to women writers), and the writing process from its original conception to its production. So for many years, both formally and informally, I’ve done research on the publishing industry, especially in the UK.
5. London is a real character in the novel. What made you pick this location for the story?
On the one hand, I chose places I have a personal “relationship” with. I worked in Soho and lived both near Edgware Road and in St. John’s Wood – although far less glamorously than the characters in the novel – and really loved it. A very dear friend of mine used to live in Campden Hill Court and when we were younger I remember sometimes taking refuge there. On the other hand, I chose places for their atmosphere and because they matched the atmosphere I was trying to convey.
6. Our readers might not know that you are a polyglot, as you are an Austrian living and teaching in Mexico. What pushed you to pen your first novel in English? Can we expect a German or Spanish version of the book?
There are many reasons why I chose to write in English. I think, above all, it was driven by a need to communicate to as many people as possible, including people I am very close to. When I was sixteen, I got a scholarship to study at Atlantic College in Wales – an international school deeply dedicated to promoting peace and international understanding. This experience changed my life – and my language. Even though I also still write in German, English became my first key to communicating with people from many different cultures. But for some reason unknown to me, literature in English somehow feels like “my home”; with important exceptions it’s the writing that “reaches” me the most. Maybe because I spent many of my most formative years in the UK.
Having said all this, I would be overjoyed about a German and Spanish version of the novel, it would be like separate strands of my life coming together
7. Rosalind is a fan of classics, and finds comfort in them. Who are your personal literary inspirations?
My main literary inspirations are women writers who – in my eyes – express women’s experiences and manage a delightful mixture of darkness and light. I’ve found this in many different voices from different places and times. The list will seem a bit erratic, but includes writers as apparently different as Eliza Haywood, Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Elsa Morante, Margaret Atwood, Sarah Waters and Lily King. I also love writing about writing, and found, for instance, Toni Morrison’s answers in a Paris Review interview about having to give herself permission to write extremely helpful and inspiring.
8. What is your advice for young writers out there?
I think the most important thing is never to stop writing out of love. For me, writing is one way to deeply enrich life, no matter the outcome. But I’m also a firm believer in retaining a persistent focus on one’s dream – even if one can only follow it slowly (because one has three different jobs, or triplets, or both!)