About The Author
Anne Plichota (left in picture) and Cendrine Wolf have been close friends for almost two decades, and always wanted to find a project to work on together. They originally self-published Oksa Pollock - printing and carrying their books by hand to booksellers and even giving them away at school gates. In 2009, two teenage fans contacted the submissions department of French publisher XO Editions and urged them to read Oksa Pollock: The Last Hope. The publisher read it in one night and immediately offered the authors a deal for a five-volume fantasy series.
Anne Plichota studied Chinese language and culture. She spent several years living and working in China and Korea. She has had a varied career: as a Chinese teacher, a nurse, a public letter writer and, most recently, a librarian. She lives in Strasbourg with her teenage daughter.
Cendrine Wolf studied sports, specialising in judo and rock climbing, and worked with violent teenagers in deprived neighbourhoods, eventually going on to teach herself illustration, an interest she discovered late in life. She lives in Strasbourg.
Thirteen-year-old Oksa Pollock moves with her family from her home in Paris to London. One day, she finds she can produce fire from her hands, move objects with her mind and even fly. And then she discovers that her family are not from this world - they fled their magical, hidden homeland, Edefia, years ago in fear of their lives. And more than that, Oksa might be their last and only hope of ever returning. See below for an interview with Anne and Cendrine or read an extract from the book here.
As the Last Hope is published in paperback, and the next instalment, The Forest of Lost Souls hits the bookshops, Anne and Cendrine revisit their favourite London landmarks, many of which appear in their books. See their photoblog below.
Above: Anne Plichota and Cendrine Wolf; right: one of the many unlikely creatures of the Oksa Pollock universe
The Author At Foyles
Even though we are French and live in France, we set the Oksa Pollock series in London. For us, the city has always felt magical. From the black wrought iron railings to the red telephone boxes, from the 'bobbies' in the street to British music, we have always thought that London feels exotic. At every street corner and every underground station, there is always a sense of magic waiting to happen.
When we were in London seven years ago, we had just finished writing the first volume. We had sent it to a publisher, and were taking a welcome break in London. But instead of relaxing, we rang home every day to see if there had been a message from the publisher. There never was. We went home, and after four months received a rejection. Instead of giving up, we decided to publish the books ourselves. We wheeled trolleys of books round to schools and bookshops, and the books began to sell by word of mouth.
For us, Big Ben is the ultimate symbol of London. It plays a very important part in Oksa Pollock: The Forest of Lost Souls.
This fountain where we are sitting is actually the doorway from the lost world of Edefia, the country that Oksa Pollock and her family are from. But you'll have to wait until the third book comes out to find out about that. This photo is a very good visual representation of our creative process. Lots of people ask us how we work, who does what, and whether we fight. Although we do sometimes have disagreements, we normally have a lot of fun and really love writing together. Cendrine (left) writes the more action-packed parts, and Anne (right) is more interested in the psychology of the characters - but we both have to agree on everything.
For us, Piccadilly Circus is London; it represents the modernity and excitement of the city. Cendrine also always writes with a coca-cola beside her, so this photo is especially pertinent. Bigtoe Square, the fictional square where Oksa and her family live, is very close to Piccadilly Circus.
Questions & Answers
Where did the idea for Oksa Pollock come from? Did anything in particular inspire you?
Cendrine: To be honest, I had the idea of Oksa's story one New Year's Eve, as I was taking a bath! This girl came to me like a flash (and I hadn't even drunk any champagne yet...). Anne and I had both been invited to a friend's house. I told her my idea. We had both wanted to write for a long time, we get along well, we have the same attitude towards work and life... So we spent the evening alone discussing the project, the heroine, the outline of the story, some characters and other ingredients. And on January 2nd, we got to work...
Anne: Life is an unlimited source of inspiration, our own lives and those of others. For my part, I love listening to people tell me about their lives, their stories. Then I use them, I sprinkle elements from them here and there.
Here is a true example. There's a scene in the book (see the attached extract, above) where Oksa is spying on her grandmother and her friends. They're speaking a language she doesn't understand and she imagines that her grandmother is part of the Russian Mafia and that these friends are her accomplices. Well, this scene is directly inspired by something that really happened to me. When I was a little girl, my grandmother took me to her friends' -- some people like her, exiled from Ukraine. They sang, drank, cried (a lot!), but mostly they talked, and as I didn't understand their language (Ukrainian), I imagined they were Russian spies and that my grandmother was plotting a coup to overthrow the Soviet government at the time...
Inspiration really does spring from experience, from everything that surrounds us, it is permanent and intense, like a stream that never stops. What we see, what we hear, our dreams, nightmares, fantasies -- all contribute to what we create.
There are also all the details of daily life in which I constantly need to add an element of fantasy (we must fight boredom at all cost!), Our dreams and our nightmares, what we would like to be or do, but which we will never be able to, like flying or having magical powers.
Imagination can help to bear what might otherwise be unbearable, it is like a safety valve relieving pressure by suggesting other possibilities.
Who or what are your literary influences?
Anne: What a terrible question! I am a compulsive reader, books are my main addiction (but not the only one, unfortunately... or fortunately?). Among the multitude of those that I love, you will find John Fante, Robert Goolrick, Alan Bennett, Chuck Palahniuk, Larry Brown, John Irving, Junichiro Tanizaki, John Cheever, Jane Austen, Kate Atkinson, Tom Sharpe and many others!
Cendrine: My favourite books? Perfume by Patrick Süskind and the novels of Patricia Highsmith.
What were you doing before you wrote the books?
Cendrine: I worked a lot with young people who are said 'to be in difficulty' in disadvantaged neighborhoods. I was also a librarian, I was responsible for crime fiction... and fantasy!
Anne: My last job was as a librarian -- that was one of my favourite ones. Because I have had plenty others in the course of my life: project manager in China, salesperson, private Chinese teacher, public writer...
Did you always want to be authors?
Anne: The desire has always been there. When I was a child and teenager, I was extremely shy and reading was a refuge. Very quickly, I understood the power of words and I always liked to tell stories to myself. One day, I wanted to tell stories to other people, because I know what it can bring: comfort, understanding, discovery, escape, laughter, tears, emotions, thinking... It is so vast, limitless. In addition, I am very curious, I like to know how other people live, and when I am reading I can learn about others' life stories, because, in my opinion, real fiction does not exist. Even the most imaginative stories are always based on reality...
I wrote for a long time, but never dared show what I was doing to anyone. The first time I did it, I was almost 40 (I think we can agree, this is far from being an early starter...). And it was Cendrine who helped me to 'take the plunge'!
Cendrine: I came to writing through drawing: expressing what I felt through signs, letters or illustrations. All forms are possible!
Like Anne, I wasn't a very early starter: it took around 35 years to go from idea to action.
How does your writing partnership work? - (who comes up with the ideas, who does the writing, do you ever disagree?!)
Anne: Writing partnerships often fascinate readers and this is quite natural. Our partnership works primarily on a common principle: no matter who does what, the result is the only thing that matters!
But to be more precise, we work together to come up with the plot and sketch the characters. Each of us brings her own ideas, according to her interests, her sensitivity, her imagination. Then, for each scene, we talk (sometimes a lot!), we agree how to approach things, what will happen. We try to examine as many different aspects as we can. Then I write a first draft based on this discussion, I tell the story and I give it to Cendrine who brings her part. I write in black, Cendrine writes in red, and we go on with the revised versions, we enhance and improve, until we agree. When everything is black, we go on. It's a bit like the work of a painter, adding layers one on top of the other.
Cendrine: We really do share the work -- from the initial story plan, to writing the book itself, we work together. However, we are very different and therefore complementary. We use what each of us does best and forget our egos...
One last detail: when one of us has an idea that was not included in the original plan, we debate. Sometimes we need to argue, to defend our point of view till the other accepts. That encourages us to think more deeply, to ask questions that would not arise if we were working alone (and especially it pushes us to find meaningful answers!). Despite everything it's a really important and interesting part of the process.
Why did you set the books in the UK rather than in France?
Cendrine: It is a matter of personal taste. We love this country because it is so near and yet so different. Here we can feel abroad without feeling completely foreign. It is a country of deep customs and traditions, but at the same time, there is a real taste for fantasy, for difference and eccentricity.
Anne: There is a special atmosphere in England, a kind of aesthetic and culture with a hint of magic. We thought it was the perfect atmosphere in which to tell the story of Oksa. It is also a matter of sensations: a walk in Montmartre or in the Forbidden City does not inspire the same feelings as a stroll through the streets of Oxford...