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Interview with Olga Swan

I am thrilled to introduce another author from the SpellBound stable to the blog today. Best selling author, Olga Swan took time out of her busy schedule to discuss with me her new book, Mandarin Seeds. and all things writing. Thank you for your time, Olga.

What inspired you to write Mandarin Seeds?

I was watching a TV documentary, recounting the experiences of a group of Viennese people who had escaped the clutches of the Nazis during WWII. What surprised me was that, as a writer of several novels from the period, I had never heard of the man whom they all said had saved their lives. It seemed to me that if I had never heard of their saviour, then others wouldn’t have either. I therefore felt compelled to tell the world about the surprising man called Ho Feng Shan, so that his remarkable heroism would be recognised far and wide. Also, after listening to the King’s plea to the nation that we all help each other, my book is all the more timely. Would you have done what Ho Feng Shan did, even at great risk to your own safety? Who is your favourite character in Mandarin Seeds and why?

I rather like the fictional character Marta, a feisty showgirl who appears on stage in 1930s Vienna, consorting with the Nazi soldiers without their knowing she was Jewish. She was canny enough to use whatever knowledge she could glean from them to help the community escape. What was the first story you had published? It’s my campus novel ‘3rd Degree Murder’, the second edition of which is due to be published by SpellBound Books during 2023-24. It draws on my many years working at a redbrick university. Unlike other campus-based novels, it gives a behind the scenes look at what college life is really like in the corridors of power, from both a student and a staff member’s perspective. Do you have another story planned or in progress? When can we expect to see that? SpellBound Books will be publishing the first three novels for ages 9-14 of my planned seven novel MG series. These will be published during 2023-24, along with my back catalogue of a further eight books. I am currently writing book 4 in the MG series. Who is your favourite author?

Growing up, I liked Kathleen Winsor (Forever Amber), as she introduced me to the whole concept of historical novel writing.

In adulthood, I like Winston Churchill for his invaluable insights into WWII. There are many more, especially NF writers, too numerous to mention. What do you like to do when you’re not planning or writing your next book? Whatsapp conversations with our 2 adult children in Maine; visiting them in person when funds allow; completing compendium puzzlebooks (to keep my mind agile); eating out with friends we’ve known for decades; eating Cadbury’s chocolate – made just two miles away from our home.

When did you know you wanted to write novels?

When I took early-retirement from my work at the university, we moved to France. It was an ideal time and place to write – especially about topics that had meaning to me throughout my life. But there’s another important reason to be a writer. I lost both parents plus my two siblings and so found myself to be the only member of my immediate family with a mission to fulfil: to keep their memory alive. It was my husband who came up with my nom de plume Olga Swan – an anagram of my late brother’s name. So, with that new name, I was all set in France to write. As we don’t have any grandchildren, Olga Swan’s books will take over that role into the future! Do you write novels in other genres?

Yes. My writing’s quite eclectic, covering war-time thrillers (4); a campus mystery; sci-fi, non-fiction (3); a 7-book MG novel series. What do you like most about being an author?

As well as keeping my family’s memory alive, writing in general allows me to release all that pent up frustration, built up over many years. And, I can ‘kill off’ those people who caused me angst in the past! Do you have a specific routine for writing? Is there a special place or particular tool you use?

First thing in the morning is the best time for me, when my brain is fresh. I tend to write on my glass-topped kitchen table. I use a Microsoft Touch laptop. What advice do you have for other writers?

Write about what you know, and choose themes about which you feel strongly. As an English language graduate, I hate to see poor grammar. I’m one of the few social media contributors nowadays who always writes in full sentences, and hopefully with correct punctuation! If your book were to be made into an Audiobook, who would you choose to read it?

A Jewish character actor with a family emanating from Vienna, to give a particular resonance to the words.

If your book were to be made into a movie, who would you like to play main character’s name?

Eva: Gal Gadot Michael: Jake Gyllenhall Joseph: My friend and fellow-Brummie Anton Lesser. We grew up in the Birmingham community, before he went on to higher things. He is a well-respected Shakespearean-trained actor who would be perfect for the role of Eva’s Polish-born father. Anton recently excelled in the acclaimed TV drama Better.

The Blurb

You are but seeds of fortune, strewn eastwards by an unlikely Mandarin, towards the South China Seas. May you flourish and germinate in your new earth.

An epic story crossing three continents.

From the terror of pre-war Vienna to Shanghai and finally to post-war San Francisco, this is a saga full of fight against adversity. Added to this is a touch of romance and absolute, real-life, heroism.

In 1935 Vienna, the demi-monde enjoy the delights of the Grünberger patisserie. Eva and boyfriend Michael love dancing in the illicit American jazz clubs but Nazi terror is rising. Soon, the desperate situation for the Jewish civilians of Vienna forces Eva to try to leave, but where can she go?

Step forward an unlikely, real-life, Chinese hero called Ho Feng Shan, who miraculously helps Eva, her father and showgirl Marta to obtain visas for Shanghai. But, as Marta plans to seduce real-life Shanghai businessman Victor Sassoon, how is shy Eva coping in a totally unfamiliar world of sampans and rickshaws?

And what has happened to brave Michael, left behind in Nazi-controlled Vienna?

Cross continents to an electrifying and surprising ending in post-war San Francisco.

The Author

Olga has a BA Hons (Open) in English Language and Literature. She and her husband lived in France for 12 years before returning home to Birmingham due to Brexit! She writes a weekly Sunday blog, which lists all her 13 books, and is (in)famous for covering political commentary as she sees it, plus up to date com The Links

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