This is Part 7 of the Author Interview on Magical Realism and other questions that interested us in connection with the brand-new South African novel ‘The Immortal Life of Piu Piu’ , conducted by Arteby Publishing (AP) on 17th January, 2016, based on a series of 10 questions. Please follow the transcript below. The Interviews will be loaded to YouTube in due time. Here is Author Interview 6. Just in case you have missed it.
AP: What struck me immediately when I read your book is not only your closeness with the animal kingdom, but also how you integrated animals as major characters. Animals that speak like in a fable. Did you grow up with pets? Why did you focus on animals when you could have chosen people? In other words, why did Anata choose a life as a bird rather than that of a human being?
BG: This is another one of my favourite topics! As you know, I was born in Namibia. I spent my happiest days on the farm or in Etosha with the game ranger and his kids. Etosha is known for its wealth of big game to this very day – elephant – I mean big elephants – rhino – including black rhino . . . the big cats like lions, cheetahs and leopards, lots of giraffes, hyenas, many different antilopes and around 350 bird species – and there’s much more. Although we had lions walking through the garden at night, I loved to wait at waterholes to watch a carnival of wildlife in many different shapes and sizes all coming together to drink. I have so many memories . . . Some still give me goosebumps today when I think how naturally we moved – often on horseback accompanied by one of more dogs – in a world filled with so-called predators!
In those days my Mom observed that I spoke ‘funny languages’ when I slept, and that I laughed a lot – well, I kept on communicating with animals in my dreams . . . especially – wait for this – with giraffes! I remember it till today. The joyful side of it makes me smile even now. It’s the feeling that went with it, this ease. Trust. Joy for life. And also the moments of surrender. . . the inevitable transition as part of the circle. So much to learn from!
Space of Trust
If we love Nature – and we live close to it again here in Noordhoek – we’re naturally in tune with it, sooner or later. We’re in synch. We’re more conscious of the Oneness that encompasses ‘All that is’ here than in a city. You can almost feel it vibrating in the air, rippling across your skin. But we cannot force it; we have to allow it. Just as it takes time to actually see in the bushveld – meaning for your eyes to adapt to spot animals that might even be just a meter away from you. I saw exactly that just recently : everyone was keen to catch a glimpse of that gorgeous serval cat that had to be somewhere – but no one saw it! So everyone walked on . . . but the cat was hiding in a tuft of grass – in full sight – hardly a meter away ! So you develop a form of intuition where you know what to do – or not. In a way, you sense and respect the animals’ space – and vice versa. The Bushmen were – and those who live in Nature still are – incredible masters at this. They lead us through the wild in Botswana – stretches reeling with lions, hippos and elephants, including the most dangerous of all: the buffalo – without anyone wearing a weapon! It takes knowing, respect and love. This implies that there’s no fear – only ONE can reign – so we meet in a space of trust. That may be the secret.
It’s the same space play-expert Dr. Fred Donaldson refers to. He’s known all over the world for ‘playing’ with wild animals – like bears, lions and wolves – but he adapted his experience to develop strategies to help human beings to get in touch with themselves and others through trustful ‘play’. In this way, many discipline problems, power struggles and relationship disorders in the lives of especially hurting children, gang members and even prisoners could be solved fast – I’ve seen this myself.
Back to Piu Piu . . . but it’s all related and so wondrous to see and learn from!
I remember clearly that the game ranger tested us kids all the time. He was himself an outrageously courageous man, leading by example. But now – with hindsight – what he taught us was COURAGE – and that’s not the absence of FEAR . . . but it’s a big step in the right direction. That’s why in ‘The Immortal Life of Piu Piu’ the Elder says to Anata, in the first Chapter,: “Courage is not the absence of fear.” It’s also a famous quote from our beloved Madiba, Nelson Mandela, of course – and he knew what was meant. He knew that Fear had to be turned into Love – only one can rule.
Choosing Animal Characters
Actually, as we’re doing this Interview, it seems to me that choosing animal characters for my story was a natural . . . logical progression. They’re a part of me, my life, my memories – it’s a world where I feel at home. To this day, I live close to Nature and literally every encounter in my story is based on what I experienced myself – even the three scenes with the Cape cobra. There’s a small video on YouTube showing the one that visits me in my Studio on hot summer days. The mongoose comes into the kitchen, and birds – be it wild peacocks or small swallows and sunbirds – walk or fly in and out as they wish. What I find so endearing is that they come by their free will. No one forces them. They trust. I trust. That’s all it needs.
Besides enjoying it so much, I found it also very liberating to let the animals talk. They’re all quite some characters and keep surprising me with their wit and presence while I write. Besides, it’s easier . . . or more inspiring . . . to explain complex concepts when animals express them – as in a fable, as you mentioned earlier. As animals are completely controlled by their nature, the reader has no need to be ’in control’, feel ’superior’ or be cynical. Adults tend to be relaxed and laugh more when the child within is released, which then naturally identifies with one or the other character in the story.
So why does Anata choose to reincarnate as a bird?
When we choose to reincarnate, our future birth is determined by desire.
In the story, Anata wants to fly . . . to fly freely. Being free – in other words, independent – is one of her major desires. It’s funny, as that’s her – and our – natural state of Being in the nonlocal domain. But how can we experience. . . live it . . . in a material plane, on Earth?
In accordance with her desire, her choice… the physical plane equips her soul with the exact body it needs to fulfill that desire. Remember what one of her tribe says as she leaves: “Life is a desire, not a meaning.”
It’s a crucial statement . . . It keeps sinking deeper and deeper into me from the moment I first read it!
So why did Anata choose to live her new life from an animal perspective while remaining close to her human tribe?
As she said in the first chapter, she wanted to experience ‘the other side’. She had always been a winner – perhaps even an oppressor in a way – in her past lives. That’s what she knew. Now she chose to be a ‘victim’ rather. Dependent and vulnerable. She’s an orphan, to begin with. She’s a bit lost as she doesn’t know who she is as everyone around her is so different. While this is not important in the beginning, it starts to bother her as she grows up and tries to find her place in the world out there – separate from the rest.
I don’t want to give the story away – but there will be some horrendous obstacles she has to overcome – all building towards the biggest one of all: Fear!
Why did I write this story?
For me, it was predominantly a matter of the heart. What do I mean?
Firstly, I wanted to explore the world from a different perspective, one I love and know quite well. A world most of us love and that’s disappearing a little bit more each day. To raise awareness – as while there are many perceived differences, there are many similarities as well. We all come from the same Source. We’re all interconnected. We all have a soul. Everything that exists has meaning.
Secondly, I was absolutely driven to write for a number of people I had in mind. Not only the babyboomer generation – as myself and as I mention in my ‘Note to the Reader’ – but real people I know, including some who’ve come to me for help. People who currently suffer. Which doesn’t mean I exclude anyone else who’s drawn to this story – as, deep down, we all feel incomplete . . . we’re all searching for wholeness. At this time, many believe that we – as a species – are going through a valley of tears . . . and they don’t see or sense or even know that there is l i g h t waiting as we pull ourselves up and out with the tools we have within. I wanted to create a journey of joy . . . of inner healing . . . and hopefully, of discovery and finding . . . of inner peace. I wanted to write fiction – including the MAGICAL and the REAL as I always do – as it’s part of one same Consciousness.
I wanted to write a story that’s entertaining, surprising, and liberating at the same time. And who doesn’t adore Nature and love their pets? I knew I’d hit a chord.
And lastly, I believe that it’s easier – meaning more acceptable for the reader – especially a sick or handicapped person or someone who was hurt, is in pain or worried for some reason – all babyboomers know what I mean – to identify with Piu Piu when she fails and goes through all her drama – than if she had been just another person. These parts will hurt less on a personal level – as, for instance, we can’t fly – except in our dreams. My hope is that my readers are drawn into a healing journey where they can forget . . . grow beyond their own suffering, pain and insecurities . . . while their focus is directed towards the solution . . . overcoming fear and being free!
AP: Thank you – that’s a good moment to end this part of the conversation! I think you made your point clear and thank you for drawing us into that wondrous realm that is so close to your heart! Let’s have a drink before we move on to question 8!
Please stay tuned; the transcript of part 8 of our Arteby Author Interview with Bianca Gubalke on her book in the literary genre ‘Magical or Magic Realism’ will follow soon!