Author found inspiration in the classics

Source: ninemsn news
Saturday Nov 24 05:58 AEDT

As a young girl growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1960s Paullina Simons dreamed of becoming a writer.

Reading French novels by Alexander Dumas, which had been “beautifully translated into Russian”, along with some of the few western titles that were permitted, Simons was able to imagine a whole other world outside her family’s small apartment in Communist Russia.

In Australia to promote her new book, Road to Paradise, the now New-York based best-selling author smiles and warmly recounts the impact the works of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo had on her as a child.

“Things that you read, that you love, change who you are – you become somebody else by reading them,” says Simons, who is best known for her Bronze Horseman trilogy. “I know I did”.

Moving to the United States at the age of ten and unable to speak English, she describes feeling like the “odd duck out” and says the transition was enormous.

“They (my parents) didn’t buy anything cool. I felt so unfashionable, so provincial, so not hip – I had a lot of problems with it because they were stopping me from becoming the American I felt I needed to be, and deserved to be.”

Learning English through the books of Sidney Sheldon and Thomas Hardy, Simons penned her first novel at the age of 12.

“It was handwritten and 78 pages long. It was the stupidest thing that you would have ever read,” she laughs.

The 43-year-old author says, “My life-long prayer had always been that the things that I wrote might mean something to the people who read it.”

That dream appears to have come true.

Simons is now enjoying phenomenal success with works like Tully, Red Leaves, Eleven Hours and The Girl in Times Square.

Australians can’t seem to get enough of her, with sales here and in New Zealand accounting for half of the more than two million worldwide.

The Bronze Horseman trilogy, an epic love story of Alexander and Tatiana set in war-torn Russia during World War Two, captivated readers worldwide and sent Simons’ popularity in Australia soaring.

“It’s remarkable that Australians and New Zealanders have never lived through many of the things that I write about, but yet they imagine it so vividly. They seem to really embrace that other world of my books, which I love. It’s very special to me”, Simons says.

Appearing on the bestsellers list “is nice, there’s no denying it”, Simons says, but she leans in and enthusiastically reveals that four of her books are also in a list of 100 all-time favourites as voted by the public.

The vivacious author says she loves meeting her fans and describes herself as a real “people person”. To hear first hand the effect her writing has on her readers is “almost undeservedly remarkable”, she says.

Her latest offering, Road to Paradise, follows two high school graduates who set out on a road-trip with high hopes and good humour but end up on the darkest backroads of America.

Road to Paradise, says Simons, is about “the human quest for meaning, for transcendent discovery and the exploration of the unfathomable human heart”.

After conceiving the idea of a cross country adventure and writing the first section in 2006, Simons set out on a 6,500 kilometre road trip from Baltimore to Medicino, California, in order to write the rest of the novel through the eyes of her characters.

“I really wanted to do a story like Huck Finn or (Jack Kerouac’s) On the Road, but with girls,” she says.

“It’s always been done with young men, travelling, finding themselves, but I wanted to have that story of friendship, of that miracle of getting out of high school and not knowing where your life is, and going on to this adventure, where you think it’s going to be one thing and turns out to be completely another.”

Simons says her next project will be “sort of an American modernised version” of Anna Karenina (parts of it could be set in Australia).

She says her husband, with whom she has three young children, tried to warn her off any comparison with Tolstoy’s lengthy, epic novel, saying it’ll only scare off the readers .

Chances are his concerns are unfounded.

Judging by past form, the only thing fans will be worried about when it comes to length – is how long it will be before they can get their hands on the new book.

Road to Paradise is published by Harper Collins