Marcela Remeňová: a successful sci-fi writer at sixteen

Marcela Remeňová, photo: Hannah Vaughan

Our colleague David Vaughan was quite surprised when a little over two years ago his daughter came home from school and said that she had been invited to the launch of a book written by one of her classmates. Marcela Remeňová was only thirteen when one of the top Czech publishing houses brought out her debut novel, Seznámení – First Acquaintance. This has been followed by a second, a third is on the way and that is even though Marcela has only just passed her sixteenth birthday. The three books will make up a sci-fi trilogy, Osm světů – Eight Worlds – drawing us into a world that is almost like our own, but not quite... In Czech Books this week, Hannah Vaughan interviews her school friend Marcela about her remarkable literary career.

Marcela Remeňová,  photo: Hannah Vaughan
I’m in a Prague café with a young Czech writer called Marcela Remeňová.

“Hello, I’m Marcela, I’m sixteen years old and I’m a student of the Jan Neruda Grammar School in Prague. I’ve written two books and I’m just finishing my third one.”

When did it all start, and why?

“I always tried to create my own world that didn’t exist and when I learned to write I started to put it on paper so that my parents and friends could read the stories as well.”

How did you manage to get these stories published?

“After I had written the first one, I sent it by email to the publishers Mladá fronta, and after several weeks or months they replied to me and told that they wanted to publish my book. So that’s how it worked and I am really happy about it.”

Where do you find your inspiration?

“Inspiration comes to me on its own – of its own will, with the ideas as well. It could be anywhere, when I’m in the shower, in the car, listening to music or with my friends – or on vacation watching the sunset, when I think of something interesting and then I want to write it down.”

Let’s turn to the books themselves. Would you like to explain briefly what they’re about?

“The first book, First Acquaintance, is about a teenage girl, who lives in New York with her adopted family. One day she finds out that they’re something like aliens, that they’re from another galaxy and have some kind of superpowers. And it changes her life a lot. After that she finds herself in many dangerous situations. In the second book, called The Bee People, we get to Eight Worlds, where there is a big war between eight brothers and mysterious insect creatures called Bee People.”

These Eight Worlds, what exactly are they?

“Eight Worlds are eight planets where eight brothers live. They are like us. They have the look of people but they have some kind of superpower. They can teleport themselves to other planets and they’re also stronger than us.”

Photo: Mladá fronta
The main character in the book is a young girl called Lea. Do you identify with her? Is she basically you or is it just a totally made up character?

“Lea is not based on me. I only wish she was, because I think she’s something more than me. I try to put my wishes and the things I want to be into her. She is better in many ways. She’s stronger and has some skills that I don’t have. But some friends of mine said that they could see a little bit of her in me.”

Some bits are also written from the point of view of – for example – Harry, Lea’s friend. Do you find it harder to write from the perspective of a boy than a girl?

“I don’t think it’s hard, but it’s a little bit different and I like it, because after I write from the view of a female it’s nice to change it and write something different. So I’m not bored.”

You’ve chosen a couple of extracts for us. What is the first one about?

“The first extract is from First Acquaintance and it’s from the view of the main male character, Harry, and it’s the part when he first meets Thomas, Lea’s father.”

‘You live here?’ asked Thomas in awe, squinting up at the skyscraper with its penthouse apartment. ‘Yes’, I replied and couldn’t help smiling. ‘You obviously earn quite a bit,’ he said, impressed. I jumped out of the car and headed for the door, where I was greeted by a sexy blonde with beautiful blue eyes in a tight, low-cut T-shirt – my secretary Angelica. Unfortunately Angelica is a robot – people are terribly unreliable. ‘Good evening, Harry,’ she said with a smile. ‘Look Angel, I probably won’t be back for quite a long time – I’ll be living somewhere else for a while. I’ve just dropped by to pick up some stuff. Clean the apartment, will you, and don’t let anyone in.’ ‘Sure, Harry,’ she smiled again. That was the best thing about her – she didn’t ask questions, and wasn’t driven by curiosity like normal people.

Do you have a favourite character in your book?

“I think I like all my characters. That’s the reason I put them in my book. But if I have to choose one it’s probably Thomas, Lea’s adopted father and James, who we first meet in the second book.”

Photo: Beltfilm
While reading the book, I noticed the illustrations. Could you tell us something about those?

“I found a student at the school where I was going to drawing lessons. His name was Milan Galia and he did the illustrations for my book. In the second book the illustrations were created by Tomáš Hájek, who is also an animator. The reason I wanted illustrations in the books is that I like it when there is not only text in books I read. It’s refreshing.”

You’ve also chosen a second extract. Would you like to explain that one as well?

“It’s from Bee People and it’s also from the point of view of a man. His name is Matthew and in this extract we learn more about his ability to draw.”

Although I hadn’t felt like drawing, I eventually opened my eyes, sat down and picked up a sketch pad from the rickety bedside table. Again it wobbled and as usual made me want to kick it as everything on it crashed to the floor. Ignoring the mess for once, I reached into my pocket and, instead of my pencil, took out some coloured crayons and started drawing. I let my hand do whatever it wanted without guiding the crayons at all. What emerged, unsurprisingly, was a dragonfly – slightly larger than normal life-size. Now that I was alone I used the opportunity to try out something I used to be good at, though I had never quite discovered how I did it. I had never come across this new-found ability of mine in anyone else, not even the strongest of the Eightworlders, and didn’t want to draw attention to it. I was afraid it might immediately be misused for military ends. I concentrated as much energy as I could into my index finger until it felt it might burst into flames, then touched the drawing of the dragonfly. The membranous wings, until then perfectly still, began to tremble, and the whole insect took off from the page, leaving nothing behind. With a smile I laid the sketch-pad on the bed beside me and watched as my animated creation fluttered around the room.

When you tell people that you’ve written two books, how do they usually react?

“Most of the time they are surprised by the fact that I written books so young and they want to know the name of the books and if they can buy them and read them.”

Have the books brought you any fame? Do people recognize you or anything like that?

“No, I don’t think so. There isn’t any difference in my life. But I hear from friends of my friends or friends of my family that they liked it, and I was in a few newspapers and a few interviews.”