This Writer’s Space: Nik VukojaPosted: July 2, 2014
Today on This Writer’s Space we have Nik Vujoka, Nest Pitch‘s Chief Bunny. Nik has kindly offered to share an excerpt with us from her new Chapbook — you can find it at the bottom of this post.
Where I Write
Although I move around a bit, I mostly write in my bedroom, on the bed. I’ve got a TV/DVD in there, a big coffee table which works as my ‘bedside-table-come-mini-office-bookshelf’; and I can look straight into the back yard when I want to relax my eyes. As you can see, bed, laptop, notepad… and Feline Overlords!
Where I’m Inspired
Woo, this is a harder one to answer. Sometimes it’ll be something someone says or something I read or even something on TV. But usually it’ll come from practically nowhere. I am well known for waking at some ungodly hour with an idea that I simply must put to paper.
To Be Read
OK, that’s HUGE!
I was looking at my ‘want to read pile’ on my Goodreads page and then looked at my ‘to be read’ pile and it’s like, OMG, are there enough hours left in my life?
Right now I have a lot of fiction I’m hoping to get to this year and quite a lot of non-fiction. I’ve recently bought a few books at a local bookshop: some on Queen Elizabeth I, a few on the Romanovs, the Habsburgs and sister Marie Christine and Marie Antoinette. I also want to re-read a book on Catherine the Great, but that one runs at around 800 pages so I’m avoiding it.
As for fiction:
The Masked Songbird by Emmie Mears
The Kiya Series by Katie Hamstead
I’m holding out for the second in the December People series by Sharon Bayliss
I still need to read book #2 of the Ever Series by Jessa Russo
A Touch of Darkness by Tina Moss
Twelve Steps by Veronica Bartles
And Isla’s Inheritance by a certain Cass Page!
As well as a few others.
Born in Croatia, my family moved to Australia when I was two. Thirteen days after landing, mum gave birth to my twin brothers. A month after my youngest brother, Steve, was born, my maternal grandmother came from Croatia to live with us.
I started school without being able to speak English, so my first year of school wasn’t fun. But Nana was! Nana had wonderful stories to share with us about dragons and wizards and witches and warriors kings. She’d regale and often frighten us with scary stories with magical Slavic creatures, igniting in me a life long fascination in history and Slav mythology.
We didn’t own a TV for several years, but I don’t recall missing it. Winter evenings were spent on the veranda watching thunderstorms as Dad told us about The God of Thunder “Perun” while summer evenings were for star-gazing.
I’ve worn many hats, have several degrees and diplomas and have lived in Australia, Croatia, Germany and France. I don’t know if it’s because of the family’s nomadic start, but I tend to like new places and new adventures, and reinvention.
In the past 5-6 years I have learned a lot about the art of writing. I also learned I could not work fulltime and write. So I left my fulltime employment, took my life savings and decided to dedicate myself to my craft. And while there are times when the “cheque’s in the mail,” I have not regretted my decision.
I have just published a chapbook of poetry, sonnets and short stories, with illustrations and 25% from each sale will be going to AnimalsAsia. You can find out more and see a sample of the poems here. If you quote CODE: RL33S (not case-sensitive), you’ll be entitled to a 30% discount if you buy the Chapbook.
Excerpt: Perun & the Flaming-Winged Owl
Please do not copy, reproduce any part of the below without Nikola’s permission.
Ivan knew what was coming. Charlene’s tightly crossed arms were the first signal, the second, how she unconsciously placed her feet when angry. This time she had them in the third ballet position, an auto-reflex after a childhood of lessons.
Ivan had come to recognise the strength of his wife’s emotions by her body-language. Strumming fingers over crossed arms equalled, Tabasco Chilli Pepper anger. Tapping foot was a little less angry, Jalapeño Chilli. And ballet position number three; tangy Bell-Peppers — in other words, he could make fun of her without fear until she’d hit Habañero Chilli heat — pretty damn close to She-Devil-Hell. How so much passion could burst free from her tiny frame was one of Charlene’s many mysteries. A reasonable mind would question how she managed to open a pickle bottle. Even after so many years together, she charmed him.
Charlene’s top lip crinkled. He braced himself. At least he knew the topic, he knew what he was about to do wrong. Not that he agreed. Charlene had a tendency to know she was right, even when she was completely illogical, irrational or simply emotional. He loved that about her. It should have been a turn-off, but damn if it didn’t make the gold flecks in her eyes dance! Ivan hid the smirk creeping over his face as best he could as she inhaled oxygen in preparation for a breathless rant.
“Seriously, Ivan, I don’t know how many times we have to have the very same conversation. It’s not like I, well, you know, how I…” She rolled her eyes. “I really don’t like your mother telling those stories.” Charlene’s hazel eyes stared at her husband with as much accusation as she could force through them.
“They’re creepy,” she added.
He tried to take her seriously. If she caught his smirk, he’d never win. “They’re only stories, and the kids love ’em,” said her husband.
“Until they begin to imagine one of her creatures is hiding in the bushes.” Charlene huffed before adding, “Some of them are just scary shit Ivan; you have to admit that.”
Ivan said nothing.
“I know you’re Croatian an ’all,” she demanded, “But when we got married I didn’t expect our children to have a grandmother who scared the crap out of them!” she demanded.
Ivan squinted his almond-shaped eyes, “Sorry, I should have added into our vows, and my wife agrees to allow Mama to tell tales of an ancient land to our future children, of witches called Jezi Babas who steal your soul, of Perun, God of Thunder riding his chariot, and of Vukodlak—”
“—You’re being an idiot,” Charlene interrupted, jerking her head as a curly ringlet hid eyes changing from hazel to steel-grey.
Ivan looked at his wife. Her cheeks flashed with a soft pink. She barely wore makeup. She didn’t need it, just a little mascara to highlight her eyes. Her cheeks flashed with a soft pink. Anger only made her look more attractive.
He knew she was angry, what tapping feet and ballet positions didn’t give away, her eye colour did, but this was about family pride and cultural history and for once Charlene would not get the last word.
“And you’re being unreasonable.” He rose from his seat and walked over to the percolator to pour himself a long black. After a deep breath, he lowered his voice. “How are Mama’s stories any less frightening than some of the stuff by the Brothers Grimm? How’s it okay for our kids to read Harry Potter, but it’s not okay for Mama to tell them the stories of their own Croatian mythology?”
“They’re only half Croatian,” she said, just indignant enough to wound.
“Okay, yes, my kids aren’t what, Aussie enough for you? If you didn’t want your kids to have Croatian blood you should never have said yes to me. They are only half Croatian, and my wife is Australian, and what is Australian anyway? Are they also one eighth Irish, a sixteenth Italian and what, one sixty-fourth Koori? And what else?”
Ivan took a sip of his coffee and turned his back on her. His voice softened a little. “I don’t want us to fight over something you should understand. It’s my heritage.”
He turned back to face her and put the mug down. “This is who I am and they are half me. You can’t love all of me and dismiss their half of me too.”
She felt her chest knot with guilt but didn’t know what to say to make that word disappear.
He wished she hand not said “half” anything. She knew how it cut him. How he considered it one of the cruelest words because it seemed so innocent, so harmless, so unsullied. Half-hearted, half-arsed, half-wit, half-cast, half of something, he’d often said was a subtle way of saying something wasn’t worthy of full value. Ivan loathed it in all its forms.
“I’m sorry babe, I didn’t mean…”
Ivan put his hand up as he almost spat, “Perhaps we could tell them true stories, Jack the Ripper or the Black Death? Or we could share the real meaning of ‘ring around the rosy’ or how the Hundred Years War began?”
“It’s just that.”
“Just what. Seriously, what is it? Is it that it’s Mama telling the stories, or is it that the stories weren’t recreated by Disney. Or is it that I don’t really see the issue?” She’d gone too far. He couldn’t let it go. She was sure she was right, but challenging his heritage was not the way to convince him–ever.
Charlene’s voice softened. “If she must tell them her stories, can she at least pick the nice ones?”
As she conceded, Ivan relaxed his face, took a sip of his coffee, and allowed a slight smile to settle. “So it’s agreed. Mama will mind the kids tonight?”
“And Mama will tell Adam and Katarina a nice story tonight,” Charlene said as she intentionally did a fake eyelash that made Ivan grin.
“Yes, Mama will tell a nice story tonight.”
He gave Charlene a hug as he whispered, “Are we friends again?”
Charlene shrugged, pretending anger, but her shoulders were loose. Still Ivan thought better than to salt her defensive wound. “One of the things I have always loved about you is that damn stubborn streak.”
By nightfall Adam, tall and lanky for nine, and six-year-old pixie-cute Katarina, were bundled into the family car along with their pyjama’s and Katarina’s favourite stuffed teddy.
As they pulled up in front of Grandma’s house, her porch light enticing them to enter, Charlene said, “Remember, you promised, no scary stuff.”
With the kids safely inside and his mother warned, Ivan and Charlene left their children with Mama and her wild fairytales.
“So, what will be do tonight?” asked their Grandma as two sets of eyes, one hazel like his mother’s and the other as green as an emerald, shone back with eager anticipation.
“Tell us a story, Grandma,” chirped Katarina. With a giggle she added, “Make it a scary one.”
Grandma chuckled. “All-right-ty then, let’s make some popcorn and I’ll tell you a story, but nothing too scary, we promised your mum.”
Katarina looked at her older brother. Adam shook his head and Katarina was satisfied Grandma was joking about the story not being scary. The scary kind was always the best.
Their Grandma thought for a moment as she patted a heavy purring Sir-Purrs-a-Lot. Adam renamed him when he was just a kitten, all grey fluff with his big eyes and pushed in nose. Every time Grandma picked him up, the kitten would purr loudly. His ‘real’ name was Ghost because of his grey fur, but once Adam started calling him Sir-Purrs-a-Lot, so did everyone else.
Fully five years old now and not nearly as playful as when he was a fuzz of kitten energy, he’d become Grandma’s best friend. She once said to Adam, “I keep him and he keeps me.” Adam pretended to understand.
“I’ll tell you the story of the Flaming-Winged Owl,” said their Grandma, her words breaking Adam’s trance on the cat as well as throwing both children into action.
They knew the routine. While their grandmother popped the corn, they had just enough time to dump their bags into the spare bedroom, prepare two large glasses of milk and nestle into the comfy sofa.
With the lights dimmed, Grandma in the middle, bowl of popcorn on her lap, a warm blanket covering all three of them and Sir-Purrs-a-lot taking advantage of the empty sofa-chair by the radiator, the children waited. There was no way of knowing what sort of marvellous creatures would be in one of Grandma’s stories. A shape-shifting monster, evil witches, battling Gods…
Grandma took a deep breath. “A long time ago, Perun, God of Thunder and Lightening became very angry with his brother Veles. Veles was the god of the Underworld and, like all Gods, had no place or business going to the world of man. But Veles had left the Underworld, and this made everything in the world of man unbalanced.
“Night fell in the middle of the day, only to return a moment later. The mountains grumbled and the sky shimmered bright red. Perun, furious at his younger brother’s mischievous behaviour, threatened his brother with bolts of lightening but Veles simply hid from the lightening spears.
“So Perun commanded the Goddess of Winter, the Princess Morana, to pelt Veles with rain, then hail and also with wind and snow blizzards, but Veles singed the rain with fireballs, turned the hail into snow, and the snow into waterfalls to feed rivers and oceans.
“Veles laughed at his niece, Morana, telling her, ‘Go, go back to your father and tell my brother I fear him not, and fear you even less, little niece. Tell him I like this world of man and think I will stay here.’
“By now the humans suffered. As night and day mixed unnaturally, nothing grew, crops failed, grass died and soon cows and sheep would have nothing to eat. Even the wild creatures of the forest suffered. Everything was dying, even hope.”
“Were even bunnies and birds dying?” asked Katarina.
“Yes,” said Grandma. “And this made Perun very sad and even angrier at his brother.”
“What did Perun do?” asked Adam.
“Well,” Grandma’s voice rose sharply. The children recognised this tone; the story was about to get good.
“Perun had no choice but to send his beloved Flaming-Winged Owl. This was no ordinary owl; this was a special owl, with magical powers!”
Adam reached over and poked Katarina. She giggled before saying, “Adam wants to know why the owl’s so special.”
“Oh, Adam wants to know, and you don’t?” teased Grandma. Katarina giggled again before nodding.
“Well. This is not just a magical owl; this owl is also Perun’s friend.”
Their Grandma looked at both children and lowered her voice a little as she added, “His only friend.”
Adam tried to pretend this didn’t surprise him but Katarina couldn’t keep her green eyes from turning into saucers.
“Gods have a lot of power, but they have few friends. That’s why this owl was special to Perun.”
“And was Perun afraid the owl would get lost?” asked Katarina.
“Oh, much worse. You see magical creatures are not supposed to live in the world of man, and the longer it stayed with humans, the more danger it was in. Why!” exclaimed Grandma, “It could even die!”
Katarina’s bottom lip trembled a little, “Is the owl going to die?” she asked.
Adam, always the protective big brother tried his best to make light of her fears. He rolled his eyes and threw his hands up in the air. “The owl’s not going to die!”
“But Grandma…” Katarina began.
“She said it might die… but I’ll die if you keep interrupting!”
With Katarina sufficiently satisfied that her big brother would not let the owl die, she snuggled deeper into her grandmother, took a handful of popcorn and smiled. “Please continue,” she said very properly, then giggled again.
The old woman smiled. “Perun tried one last time to convince his brother to return to the Underground, but Veles continued to ignore him. Even as Perun’s words rumbled around the world like thunder, Veles paid no attention, instead skipping across the world causing buildings to tumble down, mountains to crumble and rivers to bubble with hot poisonous water.
“Perun knew he had to save the human world, even if it cost him his friend. Good Friend, he said, ‘You must fly to the land of man and use your magic to return my brother to the Underworld. You must make this happen, even if this means we shall never see each other again. You must be willing to sacrifice everything if that is what is needed. Will you do this, my old friend?’”
Adam jumped in excitement, “What did the owl do?”
“The owl turned to his friend, because Perun was also the owl’s only friend. They had been best friends for thousands and thousands of years, together protecting the world from high in the clouds, among the stars of heaven. They were so close, they were like family. And even though one was a great god and the other a magical bird, and really to look at them, they seemed so different, they were the same inside.
“The owl looked at her long-time companion and said, ‘We have been almost as one for these many years. If this is what I must do to bring order to the world, I do it not only the world, but because you ask this of me. As I know you would risk everything for me, so I happily risk everything for you.’
“And with that, Perun’s Flaming-Winged Owl flew from the heavens to search for and return Veles to the Underworld.”
Adam reached deep into the nearly empty bowl of popcorn as he asked, “So the owl’s a girl?”
“What’s her name?”
“I’m not sure she had one,” said Grandma.
“Oh, Grandma, everyone has a name!”
“Well, I don’t know her name. Maybe she has one and I don’t know it, or maybe because there is only one Flaming-Winged Owl, she doesn’t need one… or maybe because it’s just she and Perun, she never thought she needed a name?”
Adam shrugged off further questions. “What happened next?”
“Well, Veles saw the owl and knew instantly it was his brother’s owl, because there is only one like her. He also knew the world of man was dangerous for her, but he didn’t care and ignored her request to return to his home. He was not yet finished having fun in the world of man.
“The owl plucked her feathers of pure magic from her tail and scattered them over Veles, hoping to bind him and them force him back to the Underworld. But this was not enough magic to make Veles return. Because he was magical and also a god, he was very powerful. And because he was from the Underworld, unlike Perun or the owl, Veles did not lose his powers in the world of humans.”
“Why not?” asked Adam.
“Because when you die, first you must go to the Underworld before you pass to the heavens, so Veles is linked to the world of man like no other magical being.
“It’s only after your soul passes the Underworld that it can enter the afterlife. And this permits Veles to live among people.
“When nothing Perun’s owl said or did, changed Veles’ mind, Perun knew he had no choice. Perun asked his friend to scatter her burning feathers through the air. If she plucked and lost too many, she would not be able to fly back to the heavens, and without the magic of the heavens, she would die.
“To the people looking up, it seemed like the sky was aflame and the end of the world had come. But to Veles the Flaming-Winged Owl’s feathers were like shackles, their power binding him and forcing him back to the Underworld.
“As Veles returned to the Underworld, Perun struck the opening to Veles’ Kingdom with three bolts of lightning, saying to his brother, you have frightened the people and the animals for the last time and though a mortal soul can enter your world, you can no longer leave it. Veles tried many times to escape, but Perun’s magic and power was greater than his younger brother’s.
Perun’s Flaming-Winged Owl had just enough feathers to return to her friend in the heavens. She was weakened, but she lived and as soon as she felt the power of the heavens enter her heart, she began to recover.
“Oh, that’s good,” said a satisfied Katarina.
“Yes, it was good, but that’s not the end of the story.”
“Did Veles find a way to get out again?” asked Adam.
“No, much worse,” said Grandma.
“What happened?” asked Adam.
“Well, there’s more to this story. Do you want to hear the rest?” she asked. The children both nodded.
“There’s still a little popcorn left in the packet. Shall we pop it too and then I’ll tell you the rest?”
Her grandchildren jumped off the sofa so quickly it woke Sir-Purrs-a-Lot. Before Grandma could say another word, the children were already in the kitchen, almost empty bowl of popcorn in Katarina’s hands.