For a comprehensive list of Marilyn’s work please, check her website: http://www.marilynztomlins.com/
My life is one of writing and reading. If I am not writing then I am reading. I love books and I have more than 4,000 here in my apartment and right now taking my eyes off the screen (I need not look at the keyboard as I am a touch typist) I am looking at four non-fiction Paul Therouxs and underneath them Margaret Thatcher’s The Downing Street Years, and next to them Anthony Summers’ Goddess, The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe. And looking the other way I see two hefty books about Hitler by Ian Kershaw, and beside those three books by Robert Lacey. I also read fiction and adore the books of André Makine, and those of Amos Oz who I think should be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and then also the books of Paulo Coelho.
You live in France, Paris. Is there any reason you chose it as your home?
Yes and no. I was working for a magazine group in Durban (I was born and brought up in South Africa) when I met my husband, an English foreign correspondent who was on holiday in South Africa. He asked me to marry him and we had to decide where – in which country – we were going to live because I wanted to see the world and he did not fancy living in South Africa permanently. So after having considered Sydney, Rio, Rome (where he was based at that time) and London (where he hailed from) we decided on Paris. He was a polyglot so language was no problem. (I use the past tense because he died 10 years ago of melanoma.)
So we came to Paris, and today, I can say, that I have just one regret: I will never see Paris for the first time again. I love this city and I always feel that I want to hug it! I will never leave it – well, never say never! – but I’ve now said it.
When it comes to passport controls at airports or train stations, mine is British. I do though consider myself a European – that I’ve returned to my roots.
In your website bio you touch briefly on the reason for writing Sitting On A Stick. Would you care to elaborate on that?
Since – I think since forever – I’ve been interested in Russia. My family and friends say that it is genetic because of my ancestry. You know the ‘blood is thicker than water’ thing. Someone once wrote a book with the title ‘There are no South Africans’ and this is true. White South Africans, as you will know, are not indigenous to the country. All, or rather their ancestors, arrived from somewhere else. Mine arrived from Germany, France, Holland, Poland and Russia. The first – a Dutchman – arrived in 1662, in the tenth year after the Dutch set up a settlement at the Cape under Jan van Riebeeck. And the last arrived at the beginning of the 20th century. Those were the Poles and the Russians. So from my father’s ‘German’ side I was the 11th generation to have been born in South Africa, and from my mother’s Polish and Russian side, I was the 2nd generation born in South Africa.
I did not know my Polish and Russian great-grandparents and grandparents naturally, but I grew up listening to stories about them, and so I became interested in Russia. My interest focused first on Russian literature – for example Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekov, Mandelstam and above all Pasternak – and from there it went to politics – Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin etc.
I therefore wanted to write about Stalin and also about Pasternak and with my novel Sitting on a Stick I wrote about both. Writing about Pasternak I could also write about Stalin and those terrible years of Stalinism.
Die In Paris. Again you touch briefly on your website bio about the reason for writing about Dr Marcel Petiot, but you concealed the key point that spurred you on to write about him. Would you like to finally reveal it to us?
This will not be a full revelation. For that I am not yet ready. I will though tell you a little about it.
I was a very frightened child. Everything scared me. I used to jump on to a chair and shout for my father to come and kill the moth which had just flown in through the window. Remember, this was Africa and there were many creepy crawlies about so jumping on to a chair was a daily happening. I could never watch a horror film or read a horror book. Even Stephen King’s books scared the daylights out of me. I must just say that my mother was a true crime reader and my husband was a true crime reader and my sister is a true crime reader, but I always had to leave the room when a discussion about murder was going on.
Then something traumatic happened in my life. My husband was diagnosed with melanoma and passed away. And then I changed. I think it happened because I wanted to know about life and about death. I suppose I asked the questions that all people who lose someone to death asks. And so I changed. For the first time in my life I could sit through a scary film and read about murder and murderers. And moths no longer scare me!