Maria Sweeney introduces you at The Hour of our Heaven
What was the spark to writing this book? I was there to witness my Mum, on her dying bed, having a transformation. Her body was limp, her voice but a whisper and then she saw something. Her eyes glistened as she stared ahead to the end of her bed at something awesome. I supposed it was The Light. She seemed to find this light or vision inviting, because she gently lifted back the bed-covers and turned her hand towards it, murmuring, "Jesus," wanting to go. Later, I began to wonder, if indeed my Mum saw her saviourChrist, at her dying moment, he who she loved so profoundly, what would people of other persuasions see in that most final of moments, given that it probably came from their upbringing, subconscious or expectations. My search for understanding (14 years) was an adventure, an expedition, a discovery, because as I wrote, my story seemed to snowball from a village to a city, then to a planet. Is it a gloomy story about death? The book is named 'The Hour of our Heaven', not the hour of our Death. Of course the sadness of death is depicted, before we soar with the characters into seven personalized versions of what would be Heaven. But death is part of life, and well before we get there, in the story, we too experience life in all its colour in comparative destinations: Hebron, London, Calcutta, Glasgow, San Francisco, Dublin and romantic Paris, At a quirky pace the narrative offers doses of delights and dilemmas, romance and religion, feasting and fasting, sex and disillusionment, song and dance, exuberance and despair. It is a curtain opener to the many different cultures in our world, through which we can debate which is better, reality or spirituality, freedom or allegiance. Seven perspectives are proffered. The reader can glide, comparing one mind to another, empathy with each being on offer. What are these seven perspectives? Of a Buddhist who is so in love he wants to attach to a beautiful woman for life; of a Catholic mother suffering from cancer who believes in miracles and sees Jesus as her saviour; of a lonely Jew who longs to be a father, but hates intimacy so finds refuge in Jewish rituals; of a young unemployed Muslim who wants his existence to count; of a Hindu-dancer who wants her daughter to have better karma than hers; an Agnostic-protestant who prefers to focus on sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll and finally an Atheist who scorns any concept of God but realises quantum physics is discovering invisible dimensions. Like the wind, we can not see it but we can detect its force. These seven need to give the seal of approval to one another before entering their Heaven. What is the role of your book or of literature in general today? Some readers said that this story weaves a fascinating tapestry, full of vivid emotion and psychological truth and even that it is my duty to present this book to the world because it is pertinent to our epoch with all its unexpected catastrophes, dramas, and conflict. It creates harmony and can bring personal peace as well as inter-racial tolerance. I believe through literature we discover that almost everyone has a cathedral of thoughts and feelings going on behind the surface and that they are worth discovering. Literature allows us to juggle and experiment with philosophy, psychology, and emotions until we strike gold in finding our own identity. Speaking more about you, Maria Sweeney, what authors have influenced you the most? I was enthralled when I read Anais Nin's "Ladders to Fire" with all its passion and intensity. I adored equally, "The God of Small Things," by Arundhati Roy because of her haunting, rhythmic style of writing. Then being Irish, I have had the great pleasure to relive extracts from James Joyce's Ulysses on the yearly Bloomsday commemorations. I have even had the opportunity to perform extracts myself and discover more nuances. If your novel were one day to be made into a movie, which films would guide us to depict it best? 'The Da Vinci Code' for its fascination with religion; 'Forrest Gump' for its quirky philosophy and the musical journey, and 21 Grams for its facility of interweaving different human dramas. The link between the physical and metaphysical would need to be shown. There is one recurrent scene in 'The Hour of our Heaven' redolent of the vast calming desert in Bertolucci's 'The Sheltering Sky.'
In “Sasha, what is to be done?”, S. T. Wilson develops a social comedy which crosses Europe, a road story of impressive content about a man determined to kidnap Lenin's body in Moscow. A tale of utopia, ethics, and love. With this novel, he collaborates for at last the world to bury the Cold War.
"We are only a means used by them to exist and transmit their messages."
What's the story behind your latest book? A friend asked me to tell the story of how he and three other people left the Iberian Peninsula to Moscow to rescue Lenin's body, displayed in a Mausoleum in Red Square. The story is a trip from Coimbra (Portugal) to Moscow and then to London, but ends in New York, precisely to try to help us analyze the Soviet period with more reason and less emotionalism. In fact, several generations lived a few of the Cold War. This era is part of our lives and of the humanity. I have received a lot of support from the readers, who send me messages and are making a positive current to spread the book as much as possible, considering that it raises many important points for reflection. I am very pleased with the repercussion of this work.
Remind us of some message that can be passed through this story. "People are divided into slaves, citizens and human beings. Slaves do not fight for their own rights. They go through life subjected to a structure, ambition or vice. Citizens fight only for their own rights. And human beings fight for the rights of other beings, especially those who do not have the strength or the voice to fight for themselves, like the sick, poor people, prisoners, and animals." Vlad in Sasha, What Is To Be Done?
What is the greatest joy of writing for you? The great joy of writing is to let the characters reveal themselves and gradually assume their personalities. We discover that we are only a means used by them to exist and transmit their messages that are also the messages of many readers. Another joy is when you feel that the story has come to an end, at least a temporary end. And the greatest joy is when we receive hundreds of messages from readers who have identified themselves with the set or with part of the messages that were transmitted.
What do your readers mean to you? Readers are the reason for writing. If writing is a solitary act, or little interactive, it validates only when it finds resonance, when it finds people who are interested in that theme or how the points are approached. The writer is a bridge between the characters and the readers, where the exchanges of energies between them pass.
Who are your favorite authors? Classics like Shakespeare, Voltaire, Charles Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Kafka, Hemingway.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day? Life and work and dream. And bills to pay. When you're not writing, how do you spend your time? I watch a lot of movies, I play music, I travel, I work in other activities.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing? I grew up in a small town, compared to larger ones, and large compared to smaller ones. A city of rural economy but dreaming of industrialization. I always wanted to go out in search of the center. When I was 10 I watched TV in the neighbor's house, sitting under the table. Few families had a TV set on the street. A year later I won the first prize in an arts contest on the main TV channel. Everything that I am, I owe to the city where I was born, for it was there that I began to discover the world. I read a lot of comic books, photonovels, I did not have a literary environment or influence of educated relatives. I had to find out everything by myself, in libraries, bookstores.
When did you first start writing? I started writing on school assignments, I was always good at it, and at 16 I participated in several short story contests. I earned my first thousand dolars in a contest in a major city of the one I lived in, and I had my first tale published in a national circulation magazine. Then I won another contest. What future do you see for literature? I believe that literature is the most advanced stage of writing, is what transcends time, which goes through generations. I believe the world can not live without content. And to write is to synthesize contents, it is to summarize life in what it can have of more important. I believe the future is literature, and literature is the future. That is, if we have a future, we have to have a good literature. It is the people who read that make the world better, they have more sensitivity, they have more information and they have more capacity to face the challenges and solve the problems that will come.
What a final message you would give us? You do a very important job for the world, for life, and for each one of us. I read a lot of good things that I would not have discovered were it not for you. When we are tired, or discouraged, or feeling a void, or even happy, it is when we need to read and discover interesting things. And you allow it.