The Amber Heart

I'm currently revising my great Polish story, now called the Amber Heart, which is loosely based on episodes from my own Polish family history. Browsing my bookshelves, recently, I came across some illustrations of work by artist Juliusz Kossak who was the rather famous grandfather of my own gorgeous great uncle Karol Kossak (below).

I met Karol in Ciechocinek, where he was living with my Aunt Wanda, when I was a very young woman and he was an old man. I think I fell a little bit in love with him, and even wrote a poem about him called Potato Fires:

I remember

talking with my uncle Karol,
walking arm in arm
on Polish evenings when
mist spread over flat fields
and women were burning
the last of the potato leaves.

We wrinkled our nostrils.
It was a kind of myrrh for us
preserving the moment yet
bitterly telling time.

There was no cure for it.
Though I hurtled through youth
for love of him
he’d gone too far before.

In truth, he was the closest I would ever come to meeting Count Danilo from the Merry Widow, and it occurred to me that that was indeed his world. It was part of my heritage too, but as impossibly strange, remote and magical to me as a fairytale - or a Viennese Operetta!

The pictures by Juliusz Kossak, and his equally famous son, Wojciech, were something of an inspiration for me, when I was writing. There's a heroic quality to many of them, for sure, but also a lovely evocation of atmosphere and detail that is something all writers of historical fiction are searching for.  Even now, when I look at them, I get a little thrill of excitement. It's the equivalent of walking through the fur coats and out the back of the wardrobe - and it's part of my own family history. How wonderful is that?