Hélène Gestern q& a



As I said when I reviewed the people in the photo last week .I had been given the chance to ask Hélène Gestern a few questions about her book and influences here are her answers .

1 Is the photo that is the key to the story real ? If so how did you get it ? And was it the kernel for the story ?
The photo isn’t real, and no photo described in the book is, except one. The first photo is of course the kernel : it’s the major enigma (who are these people, why they are together in Switzerland at this moment), and the starting of point of Hélène and Stéphane’s investigation.
2 The epistolary novel was almost declared dead a few years ago, but with the increased use of email it has been revived. What made you choose it ?
I read few contemporary books so I know little about epistolary novel revival. But I admire very much great letters writers, as Madame de Sévigné, and novels of the XVIIIth century like Dangerous Liaisons. Recently, my publisher offered me a fantastic one, Guidi Piovene’s Lettera di Una Novicia (translated in French as La Novice, 1941). This genre owes a particular and fascinating rhythm : each letter calls for an answer. It also allows the writer to introduce several characters with “I”, so to get a polyphonic narration, without creating the massive autobiographical effect from a single “I”. Regarding The People in the Photo, two dimensions are interwoven : the past elements Hélène and Stéphane find out together, and the way it influences their present lives. I needed personal voices to express what happens inside, as the journey goes along ; therefore I chose an epistolary pattern. It was especially easy for me as I’m used to communicating by writing letters or emails – I nearly never make phone calls.
3 Your book revolves around affairs and secrets. Given recent events in France do you think the French have a different view on these matters ?
In my point of view, nothing happened in France regarding François Hollande : a man has an affair with a woman, so what ? Foreign newspaper attacks against him on this point seemed exaggerated as well as slightly ridiculous. The general feeling here is that we would prefer hear about his politics, considering the economic and social context. I’m extremely affected by private life violation matters and am scared to observe how quickly internet can destroy a person’s intimacy. A society that requires of each of its citizens, including politicians, an exemplary sentimental life, and that forces him/her to apologize on a TV show each time he/she does something wrong at home – anyway, it should be interesting to define what “wrong” means – seems to me a dangerous nonsense. Maybe the French are more tolerant about politician’s private life, as it involves consenting adults… If your question refers to DSK, what he did is not a matter of “affairs” or “secrets”, but a range of serious offences. Everyone was flabbergasted to discover who he really was, and you won’t find now a single person in France to stand up for him.
4 Which writers have influenced your writing ?
Georges Perec had a major influence, regarding the matter of construction : he elaborated a brilliant system to build Life, A User’s Manual, which is one of the most amazing novels of the XXth century. As far as photography is concerned, I admire very much Anne-Marie Garat, a French writer whose novels and work are almost completely dedicated to photography and memory ; W.G. Sebald, for the same reason – he had a great French translator, Patrick Charbonnier. When I was younger, I was also keen on some novelists like Kazuo Ishiguro, with his amazing stylistic perfection (his sentences give the feeling to listen to a river flowing) or Antonio Munoz Molina, a great Spanish storyteller. But the majority of my reading, for 14 years now, is dedicated to autobiography and personal diaries. I often write reviews in La Faute à Rousseau and some of them are readable on my site.
5 My blog is dedicated to books in translation. Which French books would you suggest for my readers ?
For lovers of epistolary novels and classical literature, Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Choderlos de Laclos) ; for lovers of complex and brilliant story-telling, Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec. I would also recommend Sorj Chalandon’s My Traitor and Return to Killybegs, the strong, dark, moving story of lies and broken friendship between the author and Denis Donaldson. One text I would strongly recommend to English readers is Hélène Berr’s Journal. She was a young Jewish student at the Sorbonne and she died in Bergen-Belsen camp at the end of the war. She wrote one of the most radiant, sensitive, lucid and moving texts I have ever read. She decided to stay in Paris during WW2 despite the dangers (her own way to resist to Nazis) and describes how everyday life is turning to hell for her and her family. At the same time, she falls in love. Within the awfulness and the darkness, despite her conviction she will be caught and die in a camp, she remains able to perceive beauty of life, to tell of her love for Jean, her fiancé, for countryside, music and Yeats’s poetry. Everyone should read this text.
6 How easy was it to work with your translator ?
The work was very easy : I had nothing to do ! Actually, one of the translators, Ros Schwartz, is a friend of a friend a mine, but we discovered this extraordinary coincidence after the decision to translate was made by Gallic Books. I’m aware that I am especially lucky, as the book was translated by two people, Ros and Emily Boyce, to give a genuine touch to the epistolary effect. One day, Ros Schwartz sent a mail to ask me three questions about a chapter. They were so precise, regarding some very subtle meanings (even for a French-native speaker), that I knew the translation would be great – and it is. I read the whole book in English and was so moved to see to what extent they succeeded in keeping the original rhythm of writing – nothing is more difficult – and to express how a friendship turns into something else through the way the characters sign off their letters – although there is no equivalent between the two languages. This translation is amazingly faithful, but with its own grace, its own poetry.

An Interview with the shadow IFFP winner Sjon

1. In both From the Mouth of the Whale and The Whispering Muse there is a seafaring feel do you sail or have a connection to the sea ?

Being born on island means that from an early age you are very aware of the sea. Throughout history things and people have come floating to your shores and the only way out was over the sea. So, I think sailing, swimming, and sinking will always be a part of the stories told on an island. As well as the great depths teeming with strange beings and everything the sea has swallowed.

2. Myth plays a big part in your fiction. What is your favourite myth ?

In general, I like the mischievous gods: the tricksters. So, Loki’s stories are a favourite: especially the one where he helps the Aesir (the principle members of the pantheon of Norse gods) to get out of the deal they made with a giant about building the fortress walls around Asgard. The gods promise the giant the Sun, the Moon and the hand of the fertility goddess Freyja as a reward if he finishes the job in time. When they realize too late that the giant will be able to do it they look to Loki for help. So, Loki transforms himself into a gray mare and lures the giant’s work horse away. Without his horse the giant can’t finish the walls. Later Loki has an affair with the horse, which results in the birth of Odin’s eight legged horse Sleipnir. Sleipnir, is the Nordic Pegasus, who can easily transport us across the borders of the many worlds that make up our universe …

3 .You’ve been connected to music. As I’ve read your books I feel a rhythm. Do you listen to music as you write? If so, what music?

Each of my novels has a special form and style, a new challenge for me to meet, so I listen to different kinds of music while writing them. I usually try to find something that in one way or another fits the theme or the mood of the novel, either by contrasting with it or by complementing it. With From the Mouth of the Whale it was two particular pieces by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt: Alina and Spiegel am Spiegel; with The Blue Fox it was Schubert’s string quartets and with The Whispering Muse it was Theolonius Monk.

4. We all loved Victoria’s translations. How closely did you work with her ?

And I love them as well! How close she wants me to be depends on the work. Sometimes I get many emails with questions about my intention with this phrase or that, or what outside source I am alluding to in one scene or another. Then sometimes she just asks me to read it over when the work is done. I trust her 100% and am always at her service if needed.

5. Which writers have influenced you ?

Samuel Beckett, Karen Blixen, Jorge Luis Borges, Mikhail Bulgakov, André Breton, Leonora Carrington … To name some of Bs and one of the Cs …

6. As much as your books are historic, are we meant to read a modern context into them ?

Yes, you are!

7 .Which of your books are not yet translated. Should we keep an eye out for any when they come out ?

This year I am finishing the third volume of a trilogy I have been working on since the early 90s. It tells the story of a man in Reykjavik who is telling an eager but sceptical listener the story of how he came into being as the result of the rendez-vous between a Jewish man fleeing the concentration camps and a chamber maid in a guesthouse in northern Germany in the middle of WWII. That he believes himself to have been fashioned from a lump of clay taken from the remains of the Golem of Prague is just one of the threads in the novel. There is also a corrupt stamp-collector, a gender confused archangel, a self-mutilating swimming pool attendant, a government official who believes half of the Icelandic population are descended from werewolves, a girl with four fathers, and many more characters with their own stories and occupations. Yes, I hope you will be on the lookout for those three …

8. For the person that has not read you, can tell them what to expect from you in one sentence ?

The smell of a puffin stew cooking over camp fire flickering in the shadows of gallows built on the ruins of a great library.

9. What’s the literary scene like at home and are there any writers from your
country we should read?

It is quite robust, thank you. Of our contemporary authors, I recommend Kristín Ómarsdóttir. Her novel Children in Reindeer Woods has just been published by Open Letter Books in the US. And for the deceased ones, I recommend our Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness. I am especially fond of his turn of the 20th century novel The Fish Can Sing.

Frank Wynne interviews winstonsdad B.B.A.W SWAP

I wanted to do something different for interview swap so I decided to get the prize-winning translator Frank “terrible man ” Wynne to interview me as I felt he would ask questions to give a deeper insight into me and the blog than a straight forward swap with another blog
1.What is the first book you can remember being profoundly moved by?
oh a tough one as a kid I loved Abel’s island by William Steig a mouse stuck on an island and Charlotte’s web they showed me how powerful emotion can be in books .I remember as a young teen trying Camus and going this is different to everything  else I ve read that maybe was first time I was moved by literature in  translation it was The plague I just found it opened a world of literature where there maybe isn’t a happy ending and yes life is very tough at times as I found out by reading this book .2 What was the last book that frustrated you enough to hurl it at the wall (swearing under your breath at the author will do at a push)?

Oh this is very easy Jonathan Littell the kindly ones I m not a huge novel fan but have tried to read more  large novels over recent years but this one I just couldn’t get on with I felt it was printed in to small a font that was also a little light on the eye that made it hard to read in first place but the main problem was the research He had researched it to well I felt the narrative just got bogged down in acronyms ,ranks and German army terms from the second world war I didn’t throw it but after 300 pages and little progress in two weeks I decide to call it a day and pull up stumps to a sunny day and more time so it has sat on my shelf for last two years  .3 You are a great champion of literature in translation; what draws you to writers in translation?

I always find this hard to sum up I feel I like other places I spent my 20’s reading uk/us literature with a few translations but as years gone by I just feel more drawn to world literature a sense of adventure as an armchair traveler ,but also the different  tones of grammar ,narrative  and description ,A french african novel is so different from a book from  Latin america but in some ways similar ,I like lines of literature how book a knocked on to make book b etc and I like seeing this as a global effect how Cervantes ,Borges, Tolstoy  and say Calvino have had knock on effect in different countries .
4 What language/book/author (if any) would you most like to be able to read in the original?
Know a couple of years ago I would say German I lived there and have a base that maybe could have launched into reading German overtime but as of late I have a real desire to maybe learn and read in spanish one day I feel more and more drawn to spanish and latin american literature and would love to read them in the original language ,I hope one day to have the time to do a Spanish course and start on the path to reading in Spanish .
5 Do you ever read aloud to Winston?
I don’t I hate my reading voices ,hence I never vlog on the blog I ve to deep and northern english accent for my liking .I maybe should practice for when I have kids .
6 How do you decide on which books to read/review? 
I do get sent a number of books I try to review the ones that  appeal on time other than that it what ever takes my fancy from local library or my own collection .I tend to be a butterfly read jumping from places to places .I m terrible at sticking to long-term plans ,so over time I ve  blogged  I found this best way to go a book at a time ,rather than have it all planned out .
6 William Phelps once said “I divide all readers into two classes; those who read to remember and those who read to forget”, do you fit into either category? do you think the categories are valid?
I don’t ,I read to discover new places and times also to escape the every day humdrum of my life ,so on whole I disagree although I suppose escapism is also part of forgetting in a way .I call my self a reader that reads to escape and discover ! .7 Do you prefer the smell of freshly printed books or are you excited by the possibilities of eReaders, iBooks and Kindle?
I love new books I love hardbacks most of all nothing feel better in the hand than a nice new hard back ,I did have a e reader til the screen broke in my work bag ,I m hoping to get a kindle for christmas ,the ability to read  classics is what draws me to e readers lesser known writers are available to read via Guttenberg for free which draws me to getting a replacement as I was enjoying dipping in and out of classics which draws me to getting a replacement also less modern works in translation that are starting to be made available like some of your works are .

8 where as many critics seem to enjoy penning vitriolic reviews, revelling in a stinging putdown, book bloggers tend to enjoy sharing  their passion for literature with the world: would you (do you) feel wary or writing a negative review or would you simply ignore a book you disliked?
I tend to trust my own choices in what I read I can also see the positive aspects in a lot of books I read even if others don’t .I struggle to write negative reviews as I m not a very negative person  in real life  ,I maybe should try to bring some negative points in but at moment I enjoy being positive and upbeat about what I read ,because that on the whole is the way I feel about the books I read .I feel that I know the books I d like accross genres so know if I will enjoy a book before I start most of the time .

9  How has blogging about books changed your life, your reading habits, Winston’s walking schedule?

It takes time to blog ,it hasn’t effect Winston we still go out four times a day for his walks like we always have ,I do read a lot more than I use to and I tend to read for longer than I did a few years ago most evening of i divide time between the blog and reading .It’s all about finding balance  in life and feel I ve got it right at moment with posting a few times a week rather than every day .

10  In “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller”, Italo Calvino gives a wondrous, dizzying list of  “Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them…” Of Calvino’s “countless embattled troops”,  three phalanxes haunt me… Can you give personal examples of:
*Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified
*Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread
*Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read
(mine: Riddley Walker, Confederacy of Dunces, Jane Eyre)
I m always curious about the other side of the fence more commercial fiction ,what makes these writers so popular ,I often tempt to try a Grisham or Picoult to see what the fuss is about but never do lol .
I ve been looking at a lord of the rings collection at local books sale I read it years ago and often feel I d like to go on the journey again Tolkien was such a great story-teller and this is such an epic book I felt as I read Don Quixote a click went in my head ,that this must have been a book that influence in a little way lord of the rings .Well like you I maybe admit to reading some Victorian female writers mine be wuthering heights I ve not read it but always feel I have maybe kate Bush summed it up to well or one of the film versions of the book I ve seen made me feel I d already read the book
at some point which I have not .
11   Are there any books you wish you had read when you were younger, or books where you feel you should have waited?
I always feel I maybe tackled Dickens to young as it was at hand ,when I was young due to us have a complete collection its been many years since I read him and I wonder if I would enjoy him more as a middle-aged man ,as for the flip side Don Quixote is a book that entered my life to late II would be further down the path of translation than I am if I’d had read this book years ago as it is so much a part of spanish and Latin American literature it helps you place modern books in context .12  What, for you, is the most satisfying thing about blogging?

I love the blogger I meet via blogging in the virtual world and also in real life ,I love the fact the I spread the word on translation which is the main aim of the blog I m not the biggest blogger and never will be ,nor the most talented but I feel I found my own niche and am happy where winstonsdad is and I feel that is the place for translation and world literature ,there are other bloggers in this field but I think I bring a lot breadth to this field .
Thanks Frank for some great questions ,I hope that gives your more of an insight into me Stu any thing else you want to know feel free to ask me in comments .

Laura Watkinson Translator talks to winstonsdad

I manage to ask Dutch translator some questions via e mail ,she has translated the new Peirene book tomorrow Pamplona ,she has her own site here .She is also doing a blog tour for Peirene at moment with Jan the writer of tomorrow Pamplona ,so you may want look at the other questions she has been asked .also may one to check Iris  on books blog for more tips on Dutch literature as she is hosting Dutch literature month

1 How did you get into translating?

I’ve always been interested in languages, literature and different cultures. At school, I leaned strongly in that direction and I went on to study medieval and modern languages and literature at university. I’ve since lived in Germany and Italy and moved to the Netherlands in 2003.

With that background, translation’s a very tempting career. It allows you to work with the languages you’ve studied, to maintain contact with the countries you’re interested in and, from a practical point of view, it’s the perfect portable career. You can translate anywhere you can use a laptop.

I’ve been translating since I left university, combined with other language-related jobs, but my first serious move towards a career in literary translation was in 2001, when I took the postgraduate certificate in literary translation from Dutch into English at University College London, a year-long introduction into the world of publishing and translating. That was a great foundation and gave me the confidence to approach publishers. The Dutch Foundation for Literature and the Expertisecentrum Literair Vertalen in Utrecht are also very helpful in providing training and networking opportunities for both new and experienced translators.

2 How long does the average translation take?

This is an interesting question, but there’s really no such thing as an average translation. Something that looks straightforward can turn out to be tricky, while other pieces may seem to flow from your fingertips! I have heard 2000 words a day given as a rough guideline for literary translation, but I’m not quite sure how that was calculated.

Of course, the process isn’t only about the actual translation. I’ve just checked my emails and see that my first communication with Peirene Press about Tomorrow Pamplona was way back in January 2010. First we mailed backwards and forwards and agreed to go ahead with the project together. Then I translated the book and took it through various drafts before sending it to the Peirene copy-editor. Meike from Peirene also read the following version and made some comments, which I reacted to. We discussed a few points and then the book went to a proof-reader and to Jan before I gave it a final check. So, from negotiation to publication, it’s been almost a year and a half for this book.

3 How much contact do you have with writers?

That depends very much on the project. Jan was great to work with, as he made it clear that he was available for queries and then let me get on with it. Some authors like to be closely involved in the translation, while others aren’t that bothered. Translating from Dutch can be an interesting process though, as so many Dutch authors have excellent English. They often come up with really good suggestions and are generally happy to talk things through, while respecting your role as a translator and a native speaker of English. I’ve sometimes even collaborated with authors on translations of their work, which can be great fun. It’s good for the lonesome translator to get out there and talk to other people sometimes!
4 In Tomorrow Pamplona you manage to keep the maleness of Jan’s words. Was this hard?
Thanks, Stu. That’s good to hear. Jan has a very strong voice as an author and I knew that I needed to keep that force and bluntness in the language. Danny’s a boxer, after all, and he’s a real bloke, a man’s man. During the editing process, one of our debates was about the swearing in the book. We discussed toning it down a little, but I didn’t want Danny – or Robert – to mince their words, so the swearing stayed.

Interestingly, although there are plenty of male literary translators, the German, French and English translations of Tomorrow Pamplona are all by women. I’m not sure that gender matters too much as long as you focus on the individual characters and the distinctive voice of the author.


5 What is your favourite book you’ve translated?

Tomorrow Pamplona! Next question? 😉

Seriously, this has been a great project to work on, not only because of the book, the author and the Peirene team, but also because there’s been so much involvement from the internet community of bloggers and tweeters. It’s great to have that thoughtful feedback and direct contact with readers.

6 Is there a book you would like to translate from Dutch?

Hmm. Well, I’m currently translating Berlin by Cees Nooteboom for MacLehose Press, which is something of a dream project, as it combines one of my favourite Dutch writers, one of my favourite cities and a great publishing house.

An author I’ve enjoyed working with in the past is Karlijn Stoffels. I translated her young adult novel Heartsinger for Arthur A. Levine at Scholastic. She has a fantastic, dry wit and writes with a beautifully lyrical touch. She’s recently written a novel for adults, Zuiderzeeballade, and that’s one title I’d be very interested in working on.

Other than that, there’s a classic Dutch children’s epic adventure of knights and chivalric exploits, De brief voor de koning by Tonke Dragt, which is a real favourite in the Netherlands. It’s been made into a film and was voted the best Dutch children’s book ever. Although some foreign publishers have shown interest, no one has picked it up for translation yet. I still have my fingers crossed!
7 Why is so little Dutch lit read in the UK you think? Will books like Tomorrow Pamplona help this?

An interesting question. Firstly, there’s the fact that publishers in the English-speaking world are notoriously reluctant to produce books in translation. After all, there are so many authors out there already writing in English, which means that the publishers get to read the entire book before they decide to buy, as there’s no language barrier. I can see why having to go to the trouble of getting the book translated and then perhaps finding that you don’t like the book or translation would be an obstacle. Then there’s the issue of the bookshops and what they decide to stock. Some more literary texts may only be available in the larger bookshops or online.
However, I am largely optimistic, perhaps because I’m attuned to the number of Dutch books published in English. More would always be welcome, of course, but there are some wonderful titles out there, such as Marieke van der Pol’s Bride Flight, translated by Colleen Higgins, or The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker, translated by David Colmer, which won the 2010 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Even Dutch classics are getting a look in, such as Louis Couperus’s 1889 novel Eline Vere, translated recently by Ina Rilke. So I think there’s quite a lot of Dutch literature out there in English. It’s just a question of hunting it down! I certainly hope that Tomorrow Pamplona will play a part in helping to bring more Dutch literature to English-speaking readers.



8 What do you say to readers that are nervous of translations?

I know that a lot of people aren’t keen on reading books in translation, but I’d say that if you’ve had a bad experience in the past, maybe it’s time to give it another go, as there’s so much high-quality translated literature available now from all over the world. You could start by choosing a book that’s set in a location you know well and focusing first on the place and the atmosphere – if it’s a good read, the writing and the characters should draw you in before long.


I’d also like to suggest that readers, including myself, should try to be a little gentle with literature in translation. Sometimes I feel that if we’re aware that a work has been translated we tend to approach it with that in mind, looking for evidence that it’s not the original text, hunting down any slightly awkward phrases so that we can dismiss the writing as ‘just a translation’. I suspect that a lot of perceived literary infelicities in translations would be overlooked or forgiven if they appeared in an original work. So, my advice to any readers who are nervous of translations would be to try to switch off that hyper-sensitive ‘translationese’ alarm for the first few pages and to allow the narrative to carry you along. There’s a whole world of great stories and characters out there in translation and it’d be a shame to miss out on them

Marcelo Figueras winstonsdad talks to the IFFP SHORTLISTED WRITER ,

I m very happy to bring you a interview with Argentina writer Marcelo Figueras short listed for Thursdays Independent foreign fiction prize 2011 .Thanks to Frank Wynne his translator who mention my interview with him to Marcelo and he said he would be happy to be interviewed as well .Here are the answers .

1.How did you get into writing?

I always wanted to be a writer. Since I was even younger than The Midget! I started with short stories that I copied, illustrated and labelled as ‘novels’ and sold to family and friends. Then I tried to write and draw comics as well. My father still keeps one of those pages (a ripoff of a Burne Hogarth character called Drago, in fact) in his study. And afterwards I pestered my teachers, who in turn read my stories to my poor colleagues at school. They were all extremely kind, and never crushed my one-man industry. And with minimal variations, that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.

2.What gave you the idea for Kamchatka?

I was consciously trying to write a story about what we in Argentina call The Dark Years, or The Iron Years: the period between 1976 and 1983, ruled by our last military dictatorship. Most of the stories I knew back then about that particular time (not many novels, mostly films) were unbearable, and repeated the same pattern ad nauseam: romantic young man / woman, his / her involvement in politics, that leads to kidnapping, torture, death and the inevitable coda at the law courts. And I wanted to write about the other horror, the one that the rest of us, who were not kidnapped but still were victims of violence of another sort, have endured.

3.What are your memories of the time?

My memories are a mixed batch. On the one hand, I was the typical boy on the verge of adolescence: shy, introspective, living in a bubble made of books music comics TV and movies. I played Risk a lot. I watched The Invaders. I enjoyed Houdini, the movie with Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, but rejected its sad, sad ending. I fell in love every day. I danced alone. But on the other hand, I lived in fear. I knew nothing about what was happening, my family had always been apolitical. In spite of that, I sensed something awful was going on: it was everywhere, even in the air, atoms of fear mixed with oxygen and nitrogen. That was one of the main ingredients of the military Junta’s perversity: they tried to keep the appearance of normality, Buenos Aires’ streets were calm and orderly (and filled with policemen), as if nothing out of the ordinary was really happening. But people were being kidnapped in the dark, locked in dungeons, tortured and killed, and their bodies hidden in massive, anonymous graves or dropped into the sea. So something wicked was indeed happening. And my nose picked it up somehow. Even when I reached my teenager years, I was afraid of going out to the streets at night. And if I saw a policeman out there, I retraced my footsteps and avoided him. I still knew nothing about politics, but in some strange way I gathered that being young and inquisitive, I was definitely the enemy for the guys in blue.

4.How much of harry’s character is based on yourself he seemed so real?

Given that Harry was more or less my age, it seemed natural to lend him most of my experiences: the public school and then the religious one, my father, my mother (The Rock!) and my little brother (The Midget!), Risk, The Invaders, my love of books and the rest. I had a bit of a temper, too. And as I answered before, my experience of living in fear also became quite useful.

5..Do you like strawberry nesquik?

I loved chocolate Nesquik, that dark brown powder that you mixed with milk. And as the Midget, I loved it most when it had little, crunchy chocolate bubbles.

6.What does being up for the independant foreign fiction prize me to you?

Being in the longlist for the IFFP meant already a lot, and the shortlist was sheer Heaven. Even if I don’t win, being between the six best novels written in a non-English language is quite a prize in itself.

7.What does being translated into english mean to you?

It means a lot. English is my second language. Most of the novels I read are in English. (And when I say most I’m not embellishing: 98 % is a conservative figure in this respect.) And many of my all-time favorite writers are English: from Shakespeare to Dickens, from Graham Greene to Martin Amis, from Joseph Conrad (well, sort of English) to David Mitchell. Learning English was the only thing my mother really forced me to do, when I desperately wanted to drop out citing well documented exhaustion. I was a really good student, so I thought deserved a break… that luckily, my mom didn’t give me. So I’m really grateful to her. And this modest recognition in the country she admired so much feels to me like poetic justice, given that she encouraged me so much and that she died so, so young. (Not as young as Harry’s mother, but…)

8. Do you ever feel burden by Argentina ‘s glorious writing history?

I don’t feel burdened. Argentina has a great literary tradition (Robert Arlt, Borges, Cortázar and Rodolfo Walsh are amongst my favorites) that wasn’t really helpful at the time of creating Kamchatka. Because for the most part, Argentina greatest writers tend to escape from emotion, embracing stylishness and formal exploration instead. And Kamchatka without emotion would have been a table with only two legs. So I reached my hand to the masters of the form, starting obviously with Dickens. He is the one who taught me that children are more resilient than grownups. Or, to put it in the words Lillian Gish says at the end of The Night of the Hunter: “Children are man at his strongest. They endure and they abide”.

9.Which of your books would you like to see next in English?

I would like very much to see La batalla del calentamiento translated. Because it has many things in common with Kamchatka (emotions being one) but also some fantasy: a giant, a girl with magical powers and a wolf that speaks Latin (that’s me repaying my debts with Europe’s fairytale tradition), mixed with some heavy stuff taken from real life and Argentinian history from the recent past -as in Kamchatka too.

10. Which do you enjoy most fiction writing or script writing or do the two overlap?

As the frogs in Kamchatka, I deem myself amphibious. I need literature and movies to survive. One’s a solitary way of creating; the other is more of a group endeavour. And I like it the most when I can mix both in the right proportions as in a good Martini. (Shaken, yes, but not stirred!)

11.Which Argentina writers should we be watching for?

Mariana Enríquez, Samantha Schweblin, Sergio Olguín, Félix  Bruzzone.

12.What are your favourite books and writers?

Don’t get me started. I’ve mentioned some of them. I would add: Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salinger, Saul Bellow, Michael Ondaatje, John Irving, Cormac McCarthy, Alan Moore… Do you need more?

Elise Blackwell -answers my questions

Elise Blackwell

Early this month i asked Elise Blackwell who i have tweeted with on twitter if i could ask her some questions with her new book the unfinished score is coming out in april on unbridled books .I myself am a huge fan having read both grub and hunger by Elise .As it is my birthday today i decide to run it today here you go-

What books /writers have influenced your writing?

I grew up in the shadow of southern American writers, including Faulkner, O’Connor, Welty, Percy, and Hannah. While I don’t write like any of them, all influenced me in an identifiable way. In college and immediately following, by biggest contemporary influence was probably Michael Ondaatje. I read all kinds of things—though more European than U.S. fiction as of late—and I feel their presence when I work. My favorite writer is W.G. Sebald, particularly The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz.

How much research did you have to do for your new book an unfinished score ?

You could ask how much research did I get to do for An Unfinished Score! I love music, so the research was part of what attracted me to the material. I went to concerts, sat in on master classes, read the biographies of composers, and listened to a lot of music. It was a lot of work. Though I’ve always loved music, I found out quickly that I knew a lot less than I thought I did. Having bailed on the viola at the age of ten (due to utter lack of talent), I’d forgotten how physical music is.

Do you have a routine when you are writing your novels ,what is your study/office like ?

In the summer when I’m not teaching, I have something of a routine in that I write for a few hours every day. During the rest of the year, I write when I can. That might be four hours on Friday afternoon, four more on Saturday, and twenty minutes here and there throughout the rest of the week. I’ve trained myself to think about the novel I’m working on whenever possible; that way I’m ready to write as soon as I sit down.

What gave you the idea for an unfinished score ?

Like most novels, this one didn’t arise from a single idea but from several small moments and thoughts. The image that fuelled the initial writing came from a symphony I attended in Philadelphia. One of the viola players seemed both passionate about her work and really sad. I wondered how she could play so beautifully if she was indeed deeply sad. It’s the fiction writer’s job to wonder why people are how they are, and I wondered why she was sad, whether she was grieving something. I’d been interested in writing about music since I touched on Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in my first novel, and so I started to think more about it, including composition. Among the ideas I considered was what it would be like to have a talent and love for an art form with a such a small audience. Would your life feel special or wasted? What would it be like to lead that life?

Are you working on anything new ?

I’ve started the next novel, which I’m calling Water Damage. I’s set in post-Katrina New Orleans, and one of the main characters is an art conservator who specializes in the restoration of water-damaged paintings. Another is an artist, another works for the Art Loss Registry, and another is a troubled young man from a prominent family. My idea is that each of these four major characters is damaged in some unseen way that makes them dangerous to each other. The plot centers around a stolen painting from the past and a murder that was overlooked in the chaos of the Katrina evacuation. One idea I want to explore is how some people’s lives are dramatically altered by external forces, while other people fates are shaped by their pasts.

 many thanks Elise and good luck with the new book .an unfinished score is out april 10th on unbridled books

an unfinished score by Elise Blackwell

May 2022


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