• Susana Aikin

THE WEIGHT OF THE HEART

INTERVIEW WITH SUSANA AIKIN BY NAOMI BOLTON


A Beautifully Written Examination of Memory, Romance, and Family


Posted on 18th of August, 2020 by Naomi Bolton







Born in Spain of an English father and a Spanish mother, Susana Aikin is a writer and a filmmaker who has lived and worked in New York City since 1982. She was educated in both England and Spain; studied law at the University of Madrid, and later Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK. In 1986 she started her own independent film production company, Starfish Productions, producing and directing documentary films that won her multiple awards, including an American Film Institute grant, a Rockefeller Fellowship, and an Emmy Award in 1997. She started writing fiction full time in 2010. She has two sons, and lives between Brooklyn and the mountains north of Madrid. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about our latest book, The Weight of the Heart. Please give us a short introduction to what The Weight of the Heart is about. The Weight of the Heart is a story about healing the past. Three sisters are faced with selling the family house after their father’s death, but in order to advance on it they need to confront turbulent past memories that seem to have congealed inside the walls of a house that’s now as good as haunted. Since no rational method works for such an endeavor, they hire a Cuban Santeria priestess to perform an energetic cleansing of the space, and although initially skeptical about her unorthodox approach, the final outcome renders amazing and unexpected closure in their lives. What inspired you to write this story? Was there anything in particular that made you want to tackle this? I grew up in a large family and a big house we all identified with. The house was a large part of the group’s identity. We loved every inch of it. When time came to let it go, we were all struck with how our whole history as a family might be etched on its very walls. Parting with it also meant letting go of memories, a painful process, but also liberating. I think writing this novel made me make peace with all this. Tell us more about Anna, Julia and Marion.  What makes them so special? Anna, Julia and Marion’s stories are sort of a riches to rags tale, not in a material sense, but from an emotional point of view. At some point in their life it seems they might have it all, but then the initial source of their wealth and well being –their father- also becomes the agent of their future misery. Their dreams of amazing artistic careers and passionate love stories are dashed, and they plummet into dreary, embittered lives. But then years later they still find the ingenuity and inner strength to confront trauma and overcome it in order to reinvent themselves. Why did you pick Madrid as the backdrop for your story? I grew up largely in Madrid, and the house that inspired the story was in Madrid too. Of course, the story could have been set anywhere, because stories of family turbulence are always universal. But I thought I’d keep close to the house of my childhood, although the story of the Hurt sisters is not exactly that of my family. Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have? Oh, I’ve been around the block, as they say, before giving myself over to full time writing. I was a filmmaker for years, and later studied Homeopathy, a superb alternative medicine. I’ve also worked as a translator, which I still do now and then to pay the bills. Why did you decide to include a "cleansing ceremony" in this story? I’m very interested in different options when it comes to accessing and working through trauma and PTSD, apart from traditional Western psychology. Methods that work obliquely, bypassing the layers of rational mind, and dig deep into our unconscious by means of symbolic tools. After all, these are the ways of many cultures that have come before us, and that still coexist with our Western world. These methods have many times been discredited as primitive and superstitious, but actually, if we dig deep into Jung’s work with dreams and symbols we might recognize them as plausible paths into our subconscious, personal and collective. How does your background in filmmaking influence your writing? Once a filmmaker, always a filmmaker. Meaning that the visual intake of scenes and situations never leaves you. And this is also how I approach my writing, I tend to write what I see in my mind— every scene is alive with light and color, with camera movement; every face vivid with texture, every movement or gesture of a character can be reenacted endlessly, as if I were in the editing room. Of course, sometimes I feel frustrated because what I can see in my mind cannot be translated into the page with as much intensity as I would like it to. Which of your characters was the most challenging to create? James Hurt, the sisters’ father, was the most difficult character of all. I wanted to show his monstrosity, but also keep him human and fragile. He is a broken man who’s entrenched himself into a position of dominating and manipulating others so they will never leave him. He’s an example of twisted love, the person who loses it all because he thinks he can control other people and life at large. But he’s also lonely, disconnected from the needs of others, from his own well being. Anna describes him at some point as a King Midas of sorts, “obsessed not with gold but with the possessive greed of a heart that sucked in everything around like a black hole.” Readers say that your settings are vivid and descriptive.  How did you pull this off? This is a really lovely comment from my readers. But I think it goes back to my background in film, and the pressure I feel to describe things as if I were trying to convey the feeling of intense movie scenes, and the emotional impact these scenes can have on me. Do any of your characters ever take off on their own tangent and refuse to do what you had planned for them? Definitively. I always start with a story I pretend to know the ending of— but then, once I’m on board with characters, I realize I’m not in control. They have a way of using the written page for their own ends, even sometimes to tell their own hidden stories in ways I couldn’t have imagined. But actually, this is one of the magical aspects of writing I adore. Is there something that compels you to write? And do you find that writing helps you achieve a clarity about yourself or ideas you've been struggling with? Writing helps me work out the meaning of certain experiences, and the meaning of life at large. It validates my struggle as a human being. I also feel this when I read other writers. Once I hit a book that has deep meaning for me, I go, “Yes, this is real, and I’m not alone in feeling or thinking this. We’re doing this as a group, all of humanity, and we stay connected about our narratives through telling stories.” In this way, stories are nearly as important for humans as food, or having a roof over our heads. Do you have any interesting writing habits?  What is an average writing day like for you? I think my most interesting, or perverse, writing habit is that I write in bed in the morning. I wake up, walk my dog briefly, make a huge pot of tea, get back into bed with my lap desk and write for 2 or 3 hours. Later in the day I write in other places, but always wandering from one spot to another in the house: my study, the living room couch, the dinner table… I’m always restless, and can’t sit in one position for too long. What are you working on right now? I just finished a historical novel about an American woman’s experience in the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939.) And I have recently started a new novel set in a very different time and place: New York in the 1990’s, where two independent filmmakers (a creative couple) are commissioned by a media giant to go into a grungy community of drug users to make a film. Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you? My website: susanaaikin.org Twitter: @Susana_Aikin Instagram: susanaaikin Facebook: susanaaikinauthor

(c) Susana Aikin, 2020