Novel set on Korčula Island, CROATIA
Danger and Beauty in Polish Landscape and Slavic Folklore by Gabriela Houston
6th February 2022
Tiny TripFiction is thrilled to welcome Gabriela Houston to the blog! In celebration of her enchanting, Slavic-inspired MG novel, The Wind Child, Gabriela gives us an exclusive insight into the Polish landscapes and the Slavic folklore that inspired her writing.
The Wind Child (UCLan Publishing, 2022) is out now!
A landscape shapes a people. The challenges of the climate, of food security, all set the limits upon human endeavours.
Growing up in Poland, in a nature-loving family, I have always felt drawn to how we relate to the landscape, and how it can inspire the emotions of awe and serenity and fear, sometimes all at once. There is something about being in the wild that inspires humility, a reassessment of one’s place in the world.
In my debut adult novel, The Second Bell, I created a landscape partially influenced by the Polish alpine landscape of the Tatra mountain range. The characters in my book live a very claustrophobic existence, both in terms of the physical space they occupy in their settlement, and in terms of the social norms they impose on each other. Yet in contrast to that, they live in a world that is expansive and imposing in its sheer scale.
Tatra, like the Heyne Mountains in my book, are beautiful and dangerous both. The weather is changeable and can be treacherous. The mountains do not reward hubris, and the landscape demands respect and care, offering unparalleled beauty to those willing to put in the work. The changeability of the seasons there is something that also fascinates me, with the quiet and solace of its snowy winters, with the beauty and hope that comes with the emergence of spring.
Similarly, in writing The Wind Child, I was heavily inspired by Poland’s varied landscapes. Mara, the book’s twelve-year-old protagonist, in order to bring her father back from the dead, travels through the deep green forests, and over the wheat-covered fields, and then across a cold, stormy sea.
Slavic folklore is deeply rooted in humans’ relationship with the nature around them. The creatures that inhabit the lakes, the forests and the hills all delineate the rules that make life safe(r). The rusalki that lurk in the lakes will pull you in if you’re a fool enough to be lured by their beauty, especially in the night, when no sane man should be venturing near their waters. The forest spirits demand respect (and sometimes gifts) to appease them. Because once the trees’ canopy closes overhead, a wise human knows they are no longer in their realm.
Growing up, I spent most of my summers in Mazury, the Polish lake district. The expansive leafy forests surround the reed-growing ponds and lakes. Walking, mushroom picking and, of course, swimming (wild swimming, as people in the UK would call it, but, honestly, growing up I knew no other kind) filled my days, but I was ever aware of the dangers there, should I be foolish or careless. Swimming in the night under the moon is wonderful, but swim out too far or be over confident and you will drown. The mushrooms and berries are great, but you have to know what you’re picking, because there are plenty enough opportunities to poison yourself, should you forage carelessly. The forests lure you in with lush green and their calm, but don’t walk too close to the fresh wild boar tracks, and don’t mistake the lush grass-covered marshes for solid land.
The dangers and the beauty exist both in one space. To experience the awe for the life-affirming joy of the natural world is an adventure all in itself.
Gabriela Houston moved to London from Poland when she was nineteen, to complete her English Literature degree, and then a Masters in literatures of modernity, postmodernity, and postcolonialism. Her short stories have been selected for the Editor’s Choice Review by Bewildering Stories, and featured on the Ladies of Horror Fiction podcast. She has written for both adult and children, and she’s the cohost of a YouTube channel, Bookish Take, which focuses on a writer’s journey from the initial idea through to the publication process and beyond.
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