For our Author of the Week series this week we are privileged to introduce you to Anthony Stancomb. His novel Under A Croatian Sun, a personal account of leaving the grey skies of the UK behind for a sunnier, more relaxed life on a Croatian Island, is being published on the 5th June and is set to become a classic summer read.
Anthony, please tell us a bit about yourself.
I was educated at Wellington College and St Andrews University and having studied all things to do with humanities and what was wrong with the world, when the sixties revolution started happening, I left university early and went down to take part in the goings on in London, Paris and Berlin. I joined the London School of Film and worked on political documentaries and feature films to make some money, and I then got involved in the Biafra war. We raised some money for some old aircrafts, and flew them down to West Africa to take in aid. However, we ended up getting shot down by mistake by our own side (that’s West Africa for you), and we had to come home, rather the worse for wear.
I then joined the BBC, and later ITV, where I produced programs about social issues and the arts.
Leaving television after seven years, I set up my own company to promote and sell British contemporary art to galleries abroad, and during the next twenty years I managed to create a worldwide distribution network that had a turnover of over £10 million.
It was on a relief convoy organised by Ivana, my wife, that took supplies to the Croatian refugee camps during the Serbo/Croatian war that we discovered the island of Vis – and we fell in love with it. So now in my late fifties and realising that running a highly commercially oriented, stress-filled, worldwide company was not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, when the war ended, I sold the company and moved there.
If you could describe the story line of your latest novel to someone in just a few sentences how would you entice someone to want to read it?
Many dream about upping sticks and leaving the humdrum of urban living for a life of blue skies, warm sun and sparking seas; and moving from Fulham to the island of Vis, the remotest island off the coast of Croatia, was an easy enough decision. Fitting in with the locals, however, was one of the hardest things we’d ever had to do.
The book traces our transformation from foreigners to islanders against a backdrop of adventures at sea, feuding families, fearsome grandmothers, star-crossed lovers and the establishment of an island cricket team.
In a nutshell, what would you say were the major differences between life in the UK and life on Vis?
Firstly, the pace of life. The minute you are out there, you get sucked into the rhythm. Secondly, the lack of expectation of what life might give you. On the island, what is there, is all there in front of you, and you don’t waste time hankering after what you might be able or not able to achieve!
When and why did you begin writing?
After our first year, I realised that I had an extraordinary tale to tell– about the cricket, our struggle to be accepted by the islanders, an ex-communist society adapting to a western world – and the dents to our pride and preconceptions gained along the way. So for the first time since leaving school, I took up a pen and began to write.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
The research – it’s absolutely fascinating. Once you start digging, you discover more and more riveting stories about people. I read, and read, and read, and get completely lost in the history.
What is the hardest thing about being a writer?
Getting the time to write. But there’s only one way to do it – start early in the morning and go on till suppertime.
What inspires you to write?
Somehow there seems to be something in us that wants to tell stories and pass on what we find interesting to others.
When working on a new novel, what is the first thing you do?
I sit down and write the rough outline of what I think will be the story, and I then write down the bones of all the stories that will go to make it up.
Which writers do you admire and can you name a favourite book?
Bill Bryson is perhaps the most accomplished and informative writer of travel literature. Notes From A Small Country must be the most insightful book ever to have been written about our green and pleasant land.
William Dalrymple is also a writer of extreme skill and erudition.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Just sit down and scribble. Then when you’ve got the bones of a book, get hold of an editor and get them to tell you what you need to do to make it publishable – there are lots of them around. Look on the internet. It costs a small amount, but it will save you a lot of time.
What are your plans for the future Anthony?
There are endless stories to tell about the people of the community you live in and the history of their families. I have already written two other books, and I’ll never run out of stories to tell.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Anthony for his time and patience and for providing us with all of the information required for this interview.