Growing up in Bristol in the sixties, I was always conscious of being different. First of all there was my name. Malgorzata Anna Maria Chmielinksa, Polish and unprounceable once I went to school it was decided that I was to be Margaret, the closest equivalent in English.
I never felt like a Margaret and what was worse the nuns refused to even attempt my surname, so to distinguish me from the other Margarets in the class, I become known as Margaret Anne.
Stripped of my name, I soon realized that unlike the other girls, I had not extended family in the city, or even in the country. There were Mum and Dad, my sister, Anuk, and much younger brother, Peter and me. My grandmother died when I was twelve and apart from one uncle and aunt, the rest of my relatives lived in Poland.
Poland at that time was behind the Iron Curtain, part of the Soviet Bloc that was impossible to visit.
To add to the mix, the language we spoke at home was Polish as were the customs and expectations in the family. There was a great respect for education. It was taken for granted that we three children would all go to university, which we duly did.
Christmas was celebrated on Christmas Eve, with the traditional fish based food and presents under the tree, though unlike my mother, when she was young, we did not have to eat in silence, waiting for the moment when we would be allowed to go into the next room to see what Santa Claus had left for us.
My parents had come to England after the war. Both had been in the British Army and since their stories were not the sort you would tell young children, it took many years before we had even an inkling of how they arrived in this country.
Mum would talk, if asked. Dad never did and to this day I still don’t know how he escaped from Warsaw when the Nazis invaded in 1939. The only story he ever told us, was that when he was in the 8th Army, he met his brother in the street in Edinburgh. Neither of them had known that the other had left Poland.
With this background it is perhaps not surprising that I became a writer, or that later on in my life, I began to research the history, if not of my family, but that of my the country they came from.
“Shadows on the Grass” is the result of this research. The novel is not my family history. There are things in it that happened to family members, but the details have been changed and the characters and how they react are my own invention. I am not related in any way, shape, or form to a Russian princess and much as I would like to say I did, my teenage years were far from rebellious.
What my background did give me was the sense of being an outsider, someone who stands apart, watching, listening and analysing, all useful habits for a writer.
Will be published as an e book on January 11th 2018