I met Saaskia through the Expat Book Club and was intrigued to hear that not only had she published ten books (in both french and English) but she also has her own You Tube channel with poems, interviews…and fabulous make up tips for over seventies!
A truly international woman, this seemed like the perfect interview for International Women’s Day. So, over to Saaskia…
You’re an expat and an author – which came first? Being an expat or an author?
Oh, that’s a bit of a chicken and eggs question – but perhaps I was an author first – I was only seven at the time, I remember it clearly, recounting some weird and frightening story I’d half-dreamed up. From then on, I knew I was an author although my first paid work wasn’t till I was fourteen, in the British Horse Society’s Year Book, republishing a story from Forrard On! – our local Pony Club magazine.
Tell us a little about your expat journey
My expat journey started right after the war, 1946, as we drove off the boat and headed for FOOD! Unrationed FOOD! We lunched in what I remember as a huge white-tiled hall in Calais, a hearty soup plate full of what Mother considered (not me) delicious fresh long green beans as first course, followed by the excitement of unrationed meat – a very thin and very chewy steak. I had an unorthodox childhood, schooling-wise – several times a year we drove up and down through France from Kent to our home in Cannes. From there I schooled in Switzerland with Anglophone girls – mostly with unusual family histories. We were honour-bound to speak French. This was between bouts of being near Sevenoaks and being in trouble for absenteeism. I learned to listen intently in class to ‘catch up’ due to so many missed months and although I felt estranged at both schools, I did usefully sharpen my memory and my wits – and my ability to philosophise. I do remember from that first trip from the U.K., as I as I looked out from my lonely seat in the back of the car, seeing the debris of broken tanks in ditches and around the countryside – and horses, huge Percherons in the north-east, golden horses in Bretagne, were doing the work of tractors in the fields. The rare tractors were doing the work of cars to take people to market. If we saw cars on the long, empty, Routes Nationales – we’d lean out of the windows and wave as we rushed past – sure that they were also English.
At twenty I set off with a girlfriend, much to my parents’ distress, on a liner for Montreal, the train to Vancouver and since then I’ve lived and worked, mainly by writing for newspapers and magazines, around the world – Vancouver, New York, France, San Francisco (working for the Pacific Coast Edition of the Wall Street Journal), Hawaii, Hong K
The Expat Book Club is all about connecting women living overseas through a love of reading. Have you been a member of a book club during your time living away from home?
No – I used to be afraid that I’d be impatient with other people’s points of views on specific books. Now I find this a strange attitude – I’m thrilled, truly interested to open my eyes and ears to other people’s ideas and reactions to different books, especially if I’ve read the book through a different light – fascinating!
What inspired you to write novels?
In the early seventies I did something that precious few other people have done – I walked from southern Borneo to the centre, cutting my way through thick jungle, living with native people, crossing a range of mountains on my own, up river, down river with people in loin-cloths – I went up to the very north and over to the east coast, long before so many townships were linked up by roads. I noted it all in tiny notebooks which I still have, and thought it’d be a shame to die without telling people about it. So I typed it up, thought it wouldn’t interest anyone really except myself and my nieces, so I invented a sort of Lara Croft in search of herself and of a man worth settling with – having her be sold to a Chinese drug baron (for a couple of diamonds, which she retrieves!) and escaping not just from him but from a madman, an ex-G.I. (Joe) – with whom she teamed up to provide her with a bodyguard on her adventures – and hence ‘Dodging Joe’ was born – my first novel although three books had been published in Hong Kong, they were a bit “How to”. Fired by my success (!) I since have written many more adventure/philosophy stories often involving the same almost anti-heroine, whom I named Saskia with only two ‘a’s instead of my three….
Did you write your novels while living in one country or did you move?
Except for the first three, written in Hong Kong, I’ve written, and am still writing, my last seven books here in France, just north of LOVELYON(c) where I now live permanently.
How did the experience of writing differ to the work you did in your career previously?
Now the only deadline I write to is my own – but I do write hard – easily ten hours a day, but I do take breaks for socialising!
How do you research your novels?
Well, with ‘Dodging Joe’, I had the basics written in my little notebooks, and a HUGE stock of memories – after drafting out all of that, I did a lot of thinking to come up with the story of the young adventurer. With ALL of my books, I set them in places I know, Hong Kong, New York, Sydney, London, Lyons, the Philippines and Los Angeles – oh! – wherever I’d loved being – and work for ages cooking up the plot, the background often highlighting the scenario. My style evolves – ‘Jenkin’s Power
‘ and ‘Jamieson’s Fortune‘ seem to appeal to a new, larger, male audience in addition to my formerly largely female readers.
And tell us a little about you as a reader – what genres do you enjoy? Do you have a favourite book or author?
Oh YES, I’ve so MANY favourite authors – I do read constantly, often late at night or early morning in bed with a mug of hot water or coffee brought to me by my kind husband. I tend to go in waves, once I’ve found an author whose style I enjoy, like at the moment Michel Bussi, Ian McEwan, Julian Barnes – I tend to gobble up ALL their books that I can get my hands on. I suppose they’re murder-mysteries, which surprises me. I would have thought my reading preferences are for philosophical works, but facts contradict me. I’ve zoomed through so many Scandinavian authors – after the Millenium Triptique, there’ve been a variety, including Camilla Leckberg although her messy families and babies exasperate me…
Are your books based on your own experiences?
My books may perhaps contain nuggets of an idea, an experience, crafted into an often very different story, especially careful to change the characters – perhaps a male to a female, a weak man to a strong one – but as you know, we are all so multi-faceted, and that’s the fascination of writing – creating a thrilling tale from thin air and, perhaps, memories!
How did you find the writing process? And how long does it take you to write your books?
Oh! There’s so much in the planning, the research in developing the plot and the characters. Each book is different, but on average it takes me a year-and-a-half from first groping inception of an idea to the finished work. I figure out what the story is that I want to tell and draft that. Then I imagine and work on the characters, drafting them separately and finding out how they would interact with each other, and finally there is masses of background and research to do before I’m ready to really plan the book, draft out the chapters. After that, it’s plain sailing to do the writing because I KNOW each person so well, how they look, move, react – their backgrounds, their hopes. I KNOW what the story’s about – it just needs writing. AH! But when it’s written, for me, that’s only a first draft. THEN I must re-read it, work on it – my critics and editors treat me cruelly and I variously disagree or see the light but my inner voice does consider their comments… and so, I edit and re-edit, over and over again, and then the book is published. Now I can take a deep breath and turn back to work on the book that’s been lurking in the wings, ready to push into my thoughts whenever I pause from current work.
What does a normal workday look like for you?
I wake, it’s dark, it’s three in the morning but I must get up (I want to, I’m driven), climb the stairs to my lovely garret and open my computer. And off I go, feverishly sketching my latest thoughts, ideas, correcting, changing, checking, creating. Sometimes a night barge goes by on the Soane river below and I stand up for a moment, stretch my legs, look out of the window… and then come back to my desk. At six-ish or so, my husband brings me a ‘double-whammy’ – two mugs, one of hot water (so cleansing) and one of coffee with milk. I work on before joining him breakfast, enjoying the river view together, chatting, discussing. Many days we walk up in our hills or go to the Friday market after the walk, stop off for a breakfast croissant and coffee at our favourite place, again by the river. Home, I take a shower, dress for the day and hit my computer once more. Lunch, writing, afternoon tea by another window, then I answer correspondence or phone calls if time. Change for dinner (we’re old-fashioned we do tend to dress up a bit) and, covered by a big apron, prepare dinner. Have a drink with my husband, chat, dinner, bed. But don’t think we don’t socialise! I somehow manage to give lunches and dinner parties and always stop to socialise.
Do you experience any creative slumps? How do you get yourself out of them?
Right from the beginning, the idea of a creative slump simply hasn’t passed through my experience. Not at all. Wherever I am, my mind is ALWAYS working, plotting, writing – always has been. Perhaps one day I’ll have a creative slump – but I’ll probably be dead by then.
Many of us expat women find ourselves moving from full time work to no work…would you encourage others to write?
First and foremost, I’d encourage them to live a full life – to learn about where they are, learn a bit of the language – (learning a language isn’t difficult once one gets one’s mind set around the fact that it’s merely a different way of saying something) – keep notes and write to their friends about their experiences if they wish. Write if they wish to, but it’s a huge long jump from writing notes for oneself and one’s children, to writing a decent book. And a huge long jump from there to selling it – to an agent, to the public! And IF you’re truly tempted to write a book, my advice is to THINK VERY CAREFULLY about WHO your audience will be, and keep this audience in mind as you write.
Postscriptum – To write a book, one has to be very committed – someone asked me how many hours a day I write. I knew the answer, but for veracity I suggested they asked my true-blue no-nonsense husband – who answered, “Ten.” Yes, I write at least ten hours a day.
Are you working on a book at the moment?
After what you know of me, what do you think? Haha! OF COURSE I’m working on a book – set in Lyon, it’s the story of a woman with an ambition. The story of family rivalries, secrets swept under the carpet, twists and turns and treacheries… and as with all my books – there’s ALWAYS a twist in the tale – er, I mean, tail ! …
About The Author:
Saaskia is author of ten published books and currently working on a novel set in her magical home town of Lyon. Saaskia fought for existence throughout her childhood, formulating her intense desire ‘to make a difference to the world.’ Having decided against emulating Napoleon, she chose to write and to travel. At 20 she left a short TV stint in London to cross Canada, on to San Francisco and work for the Wall Street Journal – an education in itself. San Francisco provided a busy life – restaurants, skiing, work and travel but her friends were all what she wasn’t – either married or homosexual. Feeling her most marriageable years declining and determined to NOT miss out on life – to do and see all that she wanted to. She subsisted by writing for various media on four continents – walking, for example, around much of S.E. Asia, Indonesia, Portuguese Timor, Australia and many isles of the Pacific. She married in Hong Kong, authoring ‘how-to’ books there under another name. After twenty years there and in China the couple came to France. Her adventures could fill a book – several books – and they do! Having reached seventy, she reflected it would be a shame to die without writing about having done what precious few other people could – to have mainly walked from Southern to Northern Borneo, then over to the East Coast via the Ulu-Ulu and over a range of mountains, hacking her way at times, living with and paddling up and downriver in dugouts with local people in g-strings, and more and more – all this in the early 1970’s when very few roads existed around a few main towns and certainly no inter-city highways – inspired her to type up her notes and write DODGING JOE the first of nine books – She plots her novels while sculpting large pieces for parks and gardens, and if not – you’ll find her painting in her studio. Via Internet and Facebook she stays in touch with her worldwide connections of friends met through her travels.
3 Replies to “Expat Author: Saaskia Aark-Bennett”
Saaskia. sounds like a fascinating lady, just the sort of person you’d love to invite for dinner!
I totally agree!
Hi Saaskia, I just read this article on you from down here in the Sahel. I’m glad you’re still writing away. Your energy amazes me. Keep on smiling. A+ R x PS I hope you got our Xmas e-photo.