Author’s book on girl during war

An author who escaped to England after her hometown became the centre of a desperate war launches a new novel in the Old Town tomorrow (Saturday).

Town Hero by Olga Bogdan Hodgson is a gripping account of a young girl’s struggle to grow up amid the Croatian War of Independence that broke out in 1991.

The book draws on Olga’s own experiences of living in Vukovar, a city in eastern Croatia that was almost completely destroyed during a three-month siege.

“The war has not resolved anything,” said Olga, whose novel mixes the violence of that conflict with sharp humour. “It’s made it worse. There is still deep nationalistic hostility between Serbs and Croats. And people don’t talk about this conflict. People are still very scared – we need a much louder conversation about what happened in Yugoslavia.”

Olga fled to London a few months after Vukovar was captured by a Serbian paramilitary force. “Some people would say it was cleansed,” said Olga, who stayed with a series of friends before moving to St Leonards in 2001.

Her novel centres on Helena, a 16-year-old student who wakes up one morning in Vukovar’s red light district. The book is marauding first-person narrative of Helena’s attempts to find herself, and work out right from wrong, through drink, love, and sex. The war is a constant presence, and the story ends with a cliffhanger just as Vukovar is falling. A sequel is due out before the end of the year.

Olga said: “Helena is a completely different female role model. In this book she gives a perspective on what it’s like to be different, and to grow up in a city in wartime.”

With groups like the Hastings Writers Hub and the Hastings Writers Group hosting regular meetings, and events like the popular Black Huts Festival, Olga is part of a thriving literary community. She thanked two members of that community in particular – Jim Robertson and Benjamin Cousen – for helping to edit her book.

Olga is signing copies of Town Hero at the launch from noon to 3pm tomorrow in Butlers Emporium, George Street. Copies are also available through Amazon, or from www.particlepublishing.com.