Denise Ersalahi Erguler
I imagine phenomenal things happening and fixing the wrongs
By Trevor Clarke
Denise Ersalahi Erguler is of Turkish Cypriot heritage, born in England, raised and educated in north London, moving to live in Cyprus ten years ago, soon after her first son was born. From being an interior designer in London, she now runs a family furnishing fabrics business, and is the author of two books, The Adventures of Shifting Jack and Essence. Denise won the Radio Works Authors Award for the best children’s novel at BAFTA London in December 2016. Denise has never let her dyslexia stop her from doing anything but in December 2015 she was given the devastating news by doctors that she had a rare type of brain cancer, which she is now bravely battling. Her wish for 2017 is to be given the all clear. Read on to discover more insights about Denise, her life, and supportive family.
Tell us about your childhood, your parents and what most influenced you as you were growing up.
Playing family games, especially card games with my father probably influenced quite a big chunk of my childhood. My parents worked long hours and I grew up with my three elder brothers. We were very close siblings. Coming from a Turkish Cypriot background and growing up in London meant going out and socialising with friends was a no-no for a young girl. I learned to appreciate boy-time with my brothers so I was a little boyish. At times I was included in their social lives and at times I was left out. I began to understand why as I got older. I went to an all-girl school in a not so safe area of London but was used to it and don’t think it did me any harm. I don’t think the school is there anymore and do remember that it was rated one of the worst schools in London!
What were your favourite stories that you were read as a young girl and liked to read as you got older?
My dad didn’t read to me BUT he would always make up his own stories. Probably a little fiction with a little fact. My eldest brother read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to me one summer and that was what introduced to me to the wonderful world of Fantasy Fiction. From then on it was all fantasy novels mainly with humour. Most recently female fantasy authors are my choice of reading. I like a little humour and a little adult novelty in my reading.
What made you move from London to North Cyprus 10 years ago and how would you describe the transition and lifestyle comparison?
We moved to Cyprus in 2007 just after our son was born at around 10 months old. Our main intentions and hopes being that he would grow up in a closely knit society where friends and family were always around and everyone knew everyone, so the chances of him derailing would be less. Kyrenia is definitely a more safer place than London to bring children up I think. We are also very lucky to be able to send our children to a private school with equally, if not better standards to UK private schools for a fraction of the cost.
Being part of the family business, helping mum and dad out in Cyprus, makes it easy for me to spend more time with the kids and attend any of their activities, and helps create a safe network of a social, friendly environment for them. We have a great supportive network of family and friends here. That would prove more difficult to create in London, as travelling on trains and busses and getting stuck in traffic takes most of your time, and everyone seems to be just too busy.
You have been a successful interior designer and now help run the family home furnishing and fabric business – where did your desire to write books come from?
I really enjoyed interior designing for offices in London but that wouldn’t work in Cyprus. Mum and dad needed to ease off work a little and I stepped in. At times real life seemed harsh and confusing and I have always had the tendency to create fantasies in my mind. I would always imagine phenomenal things happening and fixing the wrongs. Our world is a great place but there is so much wrong with it and only us humans are to blame. My heart is close to the environment and my husband volunteers in local conservation efforts and it’s great for the kids. I think that putting these real life problems into a children’s novel will help focus on these issues at a younger age. Now that I have more time for myself and family, I just started putting these thoughts into writing.
How have you overcome the challenges of dyslexia to become an author?
I haven’t really. Dyslexia has always been a problem and still is, although I’ve learned to live with it. Firstly, I have acknowledged it. I’ve enjoyed everything I have done and never let Dyslexia be an excuse. Now, I have a lot of support; A great team, including friends and family that help me with writing. Even texting and emails are a problem.
Your children, Ayla who is 7, and Adil, 10, are the same ages as the characters Jack and Lily in your first book, The Adventures of Shifting Jack: A New Home. How much of an influence and inspiration were they in this fantasy adventure?
Adil and Ayla have been a huge inspiration no doubt. I was able to adapt their real life experiences with their friends and family, and school lives into the fantasy stories in my head. I have used local references and friends names within the story. I like how that worked. It’s also a way of getting the local community to focus on these issues.
You have a new book just published called Essence, which is for adults. What was behind that decision to switch from a children’s story to adult novel?
Actually, it was the other way around. I was writing Essence first and Adil (then probably 7) asked me to read some excerpts from the book to him and then I noticed the spark in his eyes when he found out about shapeshifting. I instantly knew that I had to write something for them. I never classed myself or limited myself to writing for children or adults. I just wanted to write. I enjoy reading children novels and adult novels myself. I think it’s fair to say Shifting Jack is more about my family and friends and Essence is more about me.
Just over a year ago in December 2015, following a seizure, you were diagnosed with a rare type of brain cancer. What can you tell us about that time, your reaction, your family’s reaction, coming to terms with it and the situation now?
Truthfully, it was very difficult to accept and remains to be. It’s not been easy and is a struggle but we are trying to take each day as it comes and keep the faith. The day the doctors diagnosed me was the day life changed for me and my family, especially those closest to me. My husband and my youngest brother have been doing a lot of research into this, looking for the best route to take each step of the way. It’s definitely not easy for anyone as we are all involved in this. The kids have been our energy source from day one. You feel like you need to do your best for them. And they have so much positivity and energy, it keeps you going. I’m on certain prescribed drugs but they have side effects such as short term memory loss and steroids that are causing me to have a huge appetite. But the most difficult thing… is not being able to eat what I want! What can I do? I love food!
What inspires and motivates you?
My children inspire me, my husband inspires me, and I want them to be proud of me. I think I’ve achieved that to a certain extent as the kids love it when they see an article in the newspaper and their friends congratulate them at school for having a supper mummy! Being part of the Radio Works event in London and being in this magazine is an honour. I feel I have reached out. I really would love to hear what people think about my books.
What are your dreams and goals for 2017?
What I’d really like to hear from the doctors in 2017 is “You are all clear”!… Health and peace for everyone. I would also like to watch The Adventures of Shifting Jack – The Movie!