Sketching in Ashes is a literary novel telling the story of Sophie, a film archivist and former war photographer – a Polish immigrant living in London – drawn to images of destruction and places on edge, trying to make sense of the dark side of humanity. The suicide of Sophie’s father, Zygmunt, sets her on a journey to the contested city of his birth – Lviv in Ukraine, once Lwów in Poland – and the borderlands along the river Bug between Poland, Ukraine and Belarus – one of the fault lines of European history. While she searches among birch forests along the riverbanks for elusive answers to what happens when borders are drawn onto the landscape, an encounter with a migrant woman, Aymani, offers a visceral insight into the experience of crossing them that shakes Sophie out of her withdrawn existence and demands confrontation with both the present and the past. Sketching in Ashes is told over four parts – Air, Earth, Fire, Water – and through the voices of three generations: Sophie, her father Zygmunt, and her grandmother Antonia.
For quite a long time, I have been interested in borders as contested spaces that have emerged as a result of decades or centuries of conflict or tension. To explore those places, I travelled extensively along the eastern border of the EU, between Poland and Ukraine and Poland and Belarus, conducting field research. I wanted the fictional story that was slowly brewing in my mind to be rooted in its setting and carry a sense of place.