The (Random) Name Game

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by Stella


Well I’ve been away from the View for a while. My day job was threatening to swallow me whole and I had to put up a good fight. Anyway, it’s good to be back! *stretch* Yes. What was I saying?

I love the internet. It’s full of so many things – useful, useless, and just plain mind-boggling. It’s a particularly fabulous resource for writing – fact checking, finding tips, stumbling over interesting articles, and getting inspired, especially when creative energy is present but the subject is lacking. One resource I’m especially fond of is all the websites and databases for baby names – etymology, popularity, etc – not only for when I’m trying to find a name for a specific character in a project, but when I need to do a random exercise to get in the right frame of mind. I choose a name and then invent a whole biography – parents, childhood, job, hobbies, achievements, whatever. Not a very long piece; a nice little sketch.

The only disadvantage is that it can become unbelievably time-consuming to pick a first name and then a surname. Really, it’s usually only meant as a brief exercise, but I end up digressing for a good half hour (or more…) trying to find the right combination with the right meaning. That’s why today I said no getting bogged down. Pick something random. Except my brain cells couldn’t cope with all that spontaneity at once and so I turned to Google. Ah, Google… *sigh* All I had to do was type in “name generator.” Sure enough, “random name generator” came up as a search possibility. One click and everything was before me. Aside from the fact that there are actual programs you can download to your computer to randomly generate names, there are three websites which are very handy.

First up is Behind the Name’s random name generator. I'm already familiar with their first name and surname databases, which provide thorough etymological breakdowns, I just never noticed the (shiny!) random name generator. Not only does it give you a choice of creating a first name with up to three optional middle names of defined or ambiguous gender in languages ranging alphabetically from African to Welsh, it also gives you the option to select other criteria such as mythological (Greek, Roman, Celtic, Norse), ancient (Greek, Roman, Celtic, Germanic), biblical, historical, literary, and theological connotations. But that’s not all! It also has special categories such as witch, fairy, goth, rapper, wrestler, hillbilly, kreatyve (spelling-wise), and transformer (for all that transformer fanfic you should be writing).

Next is the Random Name Generator, which isn’t as intricate as Behind the Name, but it lets you set the obscurity factor in your search through U.S. census statistics; 1 = common, 50 = not so common, 99 = totally obscure. Trust me, setting the thing to 99 yields weird and wonderful results – different cultural backgrounds collide headlong. Finally, there’s the Fake Name Generator, which somewhat freaks me out since it generates an entire fake identity, complete with address, phone number, birthday, credit card number, mother’s maiden name, occupation, and UPS tracking number. I never would have thought of tracking a fake person via UPS. I’ll have to remember that.

Until a fake person actually vanishes, I'll try to figure out whether “Evandrus Silvius” is a successful or failed rapper.

Mean as You Are


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by Kathleen

Monday and Tuesday nights Rufus and I play two sets at Isabel’s Pub. Days, I work for Spokane’s city council.

It’s not Madison Square Garden where The Opposites performed. And Rufus isn’t Hank, who could wrap his rhythms around my voice. But the beats Rufus puts together add brightness and hold space for my arpeggios.

All my songs revolve around old-fashioned women’s blues. “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” “You Lost the Best Thing.” “Mean as You Are.” But that was always my style. Not necessarily my life. So if anyone asks about The Opposites, I say, “Better this way.” Or: “Do I seem bitter?”

True, the group still wins Grammies but not off Nadia’s whiny voice. She was never a singer. Hank sings now and they sweeten Nadia’s stingy response with William’s mandolin.

It rarely comes up anymore. But The Opposites first hit? I sang upfront. I wore the strapless dress. Nadia played the marimbas in black sackcloth. We were on MTV Unplugged when people tuned in for that. Before the second CD, Hank made a play for me and I said, “Sorry.” Hours later Nadia delivered the news: They didn’t need me. So I moved on.

Tonight I’m singing, “”He Said, She Said” to maybe thirty people. Rufus contributes a new orbit. A man wearing a bandanna claps and hoots, dancing like he wants the stage. Even with the lights blinding me, I know I should know him. Somebody from somewhere.

“Thank you, everyone.” I unplug my guitar and—it’s Hank. I knew that; just hard to accept.

“Summer, what are you doing in this place? God, you sound great. Look great, too. Why are you here?”

Hank’s holding my wrist and I shrug. “What brings you here?”

Sister’s wedding. He’s by himself. But—well—why did I disappear like that? What happened?

“Nadia said you and William voted me out.”

“What the—?” Hank stumbles. The bandanna falls off and he leaves it there. “Let’s sit down. Honest to God, that never happened, Summer.”

Rufus asks if Hank is bothering me. “No, love. An old friend.”

I could use a drink. Hanks says, “Wait there.”

Rufus sits down. “Want me nearby?”

The Opposites mean nothing to him. He isn’t a fan. But if I’m happy, he’ll see me tomorrow. I’m happy.

Hank’s carrying beer bottles in one hand and balancing shots on a tray. “Tequila.” We swallow it. And sip Heineken, still his favorite.

He curses. “Nadia! Piece-o-work! She told us the pace was killing you. And, don’t call you; you’ll call us. She actually said that.”

“Stupid me. Not to check. Just trust Nadia.”

Hank says, “So...Come back. We’re doing the Redwood Fest next month. We’ll take it from there.”

We exchange numbers. He’ll call.

And I wonder. “Nadia stays…”

Hank grimaces. “At this point, she’s our rock star.”

Right. At this point, maybe don’t call.

Attention Deficit Disorder - Brad Listi Interview















Interview
Brad Listi

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by Kerrie Anne








Every so often I will read a book with totally no idea what to expect. Normally you pick up a book, read the back cover, read reviews or hear from friends you must read it; I decided with Attention Deficit Disorder not to do any of this.
So often the back cover leaves you with preconceived ideas of what lies between the covers. I wanted none of that as I opened this book. The cover intrigued me, I dove straight in and was led on a journey, through the mind of a young man as he journeyed to find his place in the world, a young man coming to terms with a tragedy.
Attention Deficit Disorder is written in the first person. It gives the reader a refreshing insight into the mind of a young man, as events take place.
As you read you are lead through the complex maze of emotion, with an honest clarity.
Brad Listi's short quick sentences, as he winds his way through this young man's world, leaves you wanting to keep moving, to see where this event or that will lead him. How he will react to the death of an ex girlfriend, his journey through the wilderness and if he will make it to the other side.
It is an honest and frank telling. Brad writes from his personal experience, giving the reader a privileged snapshot of a time in the life of one person and how the actions of others impact on each one us everyday.
A remarkable story and one well worth reading.


About Brad Listi.

Your fondest memory of growing up in the Midwest?

Leaving.

No, I kid. It was a nice place to grow up in some respects. One of my fondest memories? I once threw a sharpened number 2 pencil into the back pocket of the school bully, a kid named Sudovitz, whom my friends and I used to call Suds. One day Suds met us in the park after school to assault us or whatever, and upon finishing, he walked away. I remember I removed a number 2 pencil from my backpack and lobbed it at him. It landed, point-down, in the back pocket of his blue jeans. He never even broke stride. Had no idea it happened. A one in a million shot, and a searing memory. For some reason I’m really fond of it, even though my retaliation effort was, on balance, pathetically weak. I should have taken a baseball bat to that Neanderthal.

Where did your love of writing come from?

Shel Silverstein was my earliest favorite writer and my introduction to subversive literature, so maybe it’s his fault. Blame him.

You would have to be one of the busiest authors/writers online. Writing for the Huffington Post, Bradlisti.com, The Nervous Breakdown which you founded, Facebook, Twitter, and on it goes. Where does all this energy and enthusiasm come from?

Amphetamines. I draw all my inspiration from drugs, which should be a lesson to all the many youngsters out there. If you put your mind to freebasing caffeine, you can accomplish anything.

Your writing style and choice of subject reads much like a social commentary. What is it that captivates you about society and people in general?

Their genitalia, first and foremost. And then probably their souls.

If you could pick one subject to write about exclusively what would it be?

The difficulty in maintaining one’s sense of humor at the moment of death.

About Attention Deficit Disorder.

Attention Deficit Disorder is for the most part a young mans attempts to come to terms with the suicide of an ex Girlfriend, struggling to find himself and meaning for it all. It is something we all at some time in our lives contemplate. What inspired you to document his journey?

My buddy hanged himself when I was in college, and it sent me into a period of deep grief and confusion in which I re-evaluated pretty much everything. I spent some time in nature, living in the wild, and read many books. And in the end I came to the conclusion that I really don’t know what the fuck is going on around here.

Death and coming to terms with a loss can be difficult topic. Challenging. What were your easiest and hardest parts of writing Attention Deficit Disorder?

The easiest part to write was probably the scene in which the main character takes a shower with a Cuban hooker. And the hardest part to write was when he gets out of the shower.


There is an undercurrent running throughout, that of caring and friendship, the kindness of strangers and the need for solitude but not at the expense of social interaction. Given today’s society with the rise of the Internet, peoples drive for bigger and better everything, how important is our need for space and time to reflect as well as that interaction with real people?

Please leave me alone.

Attention Deficit Disorder gives the reader a very intimate view of a range of emotions, none more so than his guilt and grief. Where did your unique insight come from?

I don’t think my insights are unique. I think they came from common experience. If there’s anything “unique” about them, it’s the fact that I was willing to sit there and write them down in semi-coherent fashion.

Throughout the story we see Wayne attempt to change, grow and make changes to improve himself, things such as quitting smoking. Looking back what do think Wayne found out about himself and life in general?

That perception, generally speaking, is reality.

Being an Author

What do you consider the most valuable trait a person can have when it comes to writing?

The illness that is necessary to keep doing it, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It is tantamount to banging your head against a brick wall repeatedly until it leaves a bloody mark. Have fun!

How has your life changed since becoming published?

I’m much more comfortable being naked in public, for one thing.

What advice would you give readers wishing to become published?

Get naked in public immediately.

What’s next for Brad Listi?

Put some clothes on.

Welcome Grace Read

















Grace Read
joins the crew today as we take on another reader to cope with all those lovely books we keep getting sent by publishers! She'll join Charlie and Jane as the main reviewers for the magazine.

So let me introduce her ...

Grace is 25 years-old and lives in North Hertfordshire with her husband and her cat. She developed a love of books during her English A Level and English undergraduate degree, where she was forced to 'chain-read' a number of texts each week. This proved an enjoyable challenge as Grace is a slow reader and easily lost in plot twists! In her spare time Grace loves giggling, stretching, reading, shopping, chatting, working, dancing and volunteering.

Grace is currently working her way through The Shadow of a Smile by Kachi A. Ozumba - so expect her sparkle here soon.

Interview with Paolo Giordano Part 2 of 2



















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by Mike


The View From Here Interview:
Paolo Giordano


For part 1 of this interview click here.



Paolo Giordano was born in Turin in 1982. He received a degree with honours in Fundamental Physics from the University of Turin in 2007 and is now working on a doctorate in particle physics.
The Solitude of Prime Numbers, his first novel, has sold over a million copies in its native Italian since its launch in 2008, and has sold in 34 countries topping the Dutch and Spanish bestseller lists. It won Italy’s answer to the Man Booker Prize, the Premio Strega Award, making him the youngest author to receive this award.

With The Solitude of Prime Numbers easily ranking as my favourite read of the year I caught up with him in the middle of his book tour.

Your writing style is very focused and well crafted, do you think you are using similar disciplines that you would bring to your study of Physics or do you think you are engaging a different part of your brain when it comes to writing?

I think it's a different part of the brain, but there are regions in common. In a way, I've been so deeply involved in physics and for so long, that I cannot get rid of some structures and of a certain method. But writing has much to do with memories and concrete things, whereas the physics I've been working with is built on connections and abstraction only.

How easy did you find it splitting your day between writing and studying? Did you find yourself thinking about your book when you should have been studying or visa versa?

I was very strict in dividing my time. The main duty was physics and I devoted to that all the daylight. Some nights and some free time were instead for writing. Until one year ago, I was convinced I could only write at night. It is funny how lately things have turned in the exact opposite way around.



Have you enjoyed the publicity side of doing interviews, book signings, travelling to other countries to promote the book etc? And can you tell us a bit about some of those experiences.

I don't enjoy interviews very much. It always seems to me I have to add something to my book, that, instead, should already say anything needed. And, also, I don't like to appear as myself. The thing I hate the most is to appear on television: that's why I did it quite seldom, only when it was really worth it. Book signings are quite fun because still I don't really understand them: as a reader I wasn't interested at all in meeting authors of the books I loved. Travelling is the best thing, even though I travel for work, which is usually not that relaxing. But it gives me the impression that things can still expand, that there are lots of chances out there, lots of different ways of looking at literature.

What's it been like seeing your writing translated - do you worry that in being translated subtleties and nuances are lost?

I have trust in translators. As I am quite lazy, I always read foreign authors translated into Italian and I never had the impression I was missing something important. I assume foreign translators are as good as the Italian ones... Of course, some nuances are lost, but some new are gained.



Can you tell us anything about the film adaptation? Is it still due to start shooting in August and has the cast been decided?

The cast hasn't been decided yet. We are again working on the script as, when time passes, new small problems arise. Then, the start of shooting is postponed to fall.

Are you writing the screenplay then or acting as an advisor? And how have you found the script writing process compared to writing the novel?

I'm writing the script together with the director, Saverio Costanzo. It's a very different process from that of writing prose, mainly because the script is not a definitive form, but only an intermediate step. This allows you to put more effort on ideas and concepts rather than on the form itself. And, moreover, it is not such a lonely activity. Working in two makes everything more dialectic and, in the end, even more fun.



Can you tell us anything about your next book and have you started on it?

I haven't started yet. So far, I have a working title (but I'm not going to say it!) and some scenes in my mind. I know who the protagonist will be, how his voice will sound like (he's a fourty-year-old-man) and more or less the overall structure. I think it's enough to start. I just need to be a little more relaxed. The themes won't be that different from those of “The solitude” - again the relation between different ages of life, between father and son, wife and husband – but the perspective will change and will be, I think, more personal, careless of all the dangers related to that...

Thanks Paolo.


Photo Source: Elena Torre

Interview with Paolo Giordano Part 1 of 2

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by Mike


The View From Here Interview:
Paolo Giordano





Paolo Giordano was born in Turin in 1982. He received a degree with honours in Fundamental Physics from the University of Turin in 2007 and is now working on a doctorate in particle physics. The Solitude of Prime Numbers, his first novel, has sold over a million copies in its native Italian since its launch in 2008, and has sold in 34 countries topping the Dutch and Spanish bestseller lists. It won Italy’s answer to the Man Booker Prize, the Premio Strega Award, making him the youngest author to receive this award.

With The Solitude of Prime Numbers easily ranking as my favourite read of the year, I caught up with him in the middle of his book tour.

What's your ideal night?

Aperitif with friends + sushi + cinema + walk back home, not alone.

Can you take us through how you got your publishing deal and how that made you feel?

I sent a short story I wrote to a well-known literary magazine, called “Nuovi Argomenti”. The people there liked it and decided to publish it. As I got in contact with an editor there, I gave him a copy of the novel and he proposed it to Mondadori (my Italian publishing house, the biggest in the country). Everything happened very fast. I received a phone call at 11.30 p.m. from the chief editor. He told me: “Come here tomorrow. We need to talk.” So, it happened exactly in the way one would dream it to happen...



How much of the plot and theme formed and took shape in your mind before you started writing?

I decided to start writing without a complete idea of the plot: if I know where I'm headed I tend to rush and not to have fun. I need to discover things while I write. I only knew there would be a few stories intersecting (they were three in the beginning, then I cancelled one) and I had a series of small details and snapshots in my mind, that I knew I had to bind together.

What influences did you bring to your writing that you were conscious of?

Some books were crucial for this novel. The ones that have a direct link to my story are: “The child in time” (Ian McEwan), “Towelhead” (Alicia Erian), “Flesh and blood” (Michael Cunningham), “The elementary particles” (Michel Houllebecq). For one who knows them, the reason is self-evident.



Did you write a rough first draft and then bring definition and shape to it?

I seldom change a lot from the first version. I am very slow in writing, but then I don't need to re-write much. What I do is usually to cut redundant parts and to substitute words with more precise ones, if available.

How easy was it for you to show your work to other people?

Before writing I played the guitar and I wanted to be a rockstar. I had to quit because I was too afraid of being on stage... That doesn't happen to me with literature, as it is not a “live performance” (there are also live performances after the book is out, but it's quite different). I only show my work when I feel I don't have to be ashamed for it.

Do you know what caused the book to be so popular when it launched in Italy and was it a slow build in sales or an overnight success?

The book started selling well quite soon. I think its success was due to a complicated combination of factors. To me, the most important ones are that the book is very “accessible” in the language, but not commercial, so it can reach a large number of readers, and that it talks about those secret and invisible universes and scars that all of us feel in their personalities.

How have your friends and family reacted to your success?

At first they were a bit lost (as I was), but they soon got used to it. I think they made a big effort to give me the impression that nothing had changed in my personal relationships.

Well done for being the youngest writer to win Italy's prestigious Premio Strega Award for fiction. Has that and the massive success of your book caused you to rethink your future plans? And do you feel in control of what is happening or are you getting swept along with the momentum?

(Thank you). The book and the Prize changed drastically my life in many aspects. In a very short time, the perception all people had of me (even the closest ones) changed. We never like sudden changes in the people we love and I was aware of that. So, that was quite shocking, I had the fear of losing everybody and also my own centre of gravity. It took me a lot of energy and concentration (and isolation as well) to remain stable. Of course, my prospects have also mutated, but this was a much slower change. For the first time in my life I let the events choose what was the right ambition to follow.


Part 2 of this interview here.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers

Reader Logoby Charlie
Original Artwork by Fossfor


The Solitude of Prime Numbers
by Paolo Giordano
Publisher: Doubleday

Wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, tells us that a prime number is

“A natural number which has exactly two distinct natural number divisors: 1 and itself.”


Prime numbers are mysterious and beautiful things; extensively studied yet still not fully understood, they underpin both important cryptography applications and the life cycle of cicadas yet until recently they were seen as having mere curiosity value. Here in his intriguing debut, Paulo Giordano, a young doctoral student of physics, has taken them as his overarching metaphor in his first foray into literary fiction.

His novel opens with a young Alice Della Rosa being seriously injured in a skiing accident; a sport she has been pushed into by her overbearing father. In the second stanza, the twin Balossina children are invited to a birthday party with tragic consequences. Mattia’s sister Michela disappears, soon to be presumed dead. The consequences of these terrible events for Alice and Mattia are deep and enduring and shape their lives for the rest of this novel.

Prime numbers cannot be broken down into smaller parts and neither it appears can Alice and Mattia as what they experienced defines and maintains who they become. Both self harm; Alice who bears her scars on the outside strives to control herself from within whereas Mattia cuts himself to manage the guilt he keeps hidden. They meet as teenagers as the story unfolds and their lives begin to intermingle in ways that offer both hope and despair.

“They had built up a defective and asymmetrical friendship, made up of long absences and much silence, a clean and empty space to which both could come back to breathe when the walls of the school became too close for them to ignore the feeling of suffocation.”

This pattern continues into adulthood. Both gain careers and form relationships with others but they are inextricably linked, even when miles and worlds apart, until something occurs that redraws their relationship and by doing so, brings the story to a conclusion as they both come to some understanding of who they have become.

When I first closed this novel I was rather unsure of how I felt about it. Whilst I was very impressed with Giordano’s technical brilliance I was not so certain of his skills as a storyteller. I shall return to this point later but be in no doubt that as a craftsman of prose, Giordano is very gifted indeed.

“When at dinner, Mattia’s father has asked him if he really wanted to change schools, Mattia had replied with a shrug and studied the dazzling reflection of fluorescent light on the knife with which he was supposed to be cutting his meat.”

It is writing like this that kept me transfixed even when at times the story felt more like a series of startling images than a living entity. Interestingly this impression was given further credence when I discovered that Alice became a photographer, framing others’ lives at points in time just as her and Mattia’s lives had been shaped by certain profound events that froze them in place. If I might indulge myself a little further in ‘metaphor spotting’, I would go on to say that a sense of cold stillness permeates much of the book. The opening scene in which Alice lies injured in the snow as thick fog envelopes her seems another apt theme for what takes place in the protagonists’ worlds; they are imprisoned by their reactions to events that have left them blind to escape and with only the faint warmth from each other to sustain them.

This brings me back to how I felt about the storyline. On reflection I have come to see it as almost an incidental thing, a device used by Giordano to present his thesis on the nature of relationships and the spaces between them. Whilst there is a plot it is not in itself a page turner and the supporting characters, well drawn and often sharply observed, are peripheral. This means the reader may finish the last page and ask ‘what happened?’ A fair point perhaps but a question that should follow is ‘what did Giordano show me?’ The answer to that are aspects of us all, magnified and placed on display to mull over and learn from. Giordano is a scientist by training and in a sense he is writing as one here; analytical and dispassionate. However with his undoubted talent for observation and prose I am expectant that he will build on this impressive debut in future work. Right now he is very good, in time he may well be great.

Finally a large tip of the hat needs to go to his translator, Shaun Whiteside. I often feel that reading translated texts is akin to watching films in dark glasses; you can discern what is going on but not perhaps in a manner the director intended. Not so here. The prose feels fresh and vibrant and ‘right’. Long may the partnership continue.

The Writing Drum

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by Mike


Shatterred windows and the sound of drums. People couldn't believe what I'd become.
Coldplay Viva La Vida


You often hear the advice to write every day. Keep your hand in; exercise those writing mind muscles to keep them fit, trim, healthy. If you're really a writer, the advice goes, you will find the time to write.

It may be 3AM in the morning, it might be late at night, whenever just write
write
write.

Wrong.

That's far too simplistic a view. And in many cases just down right unhelpful.

If you have the lifestyle where you can write every day, then great. It you are awake at 3Am anyway, then great (and so on.) However if you are setting your alarm clock, then maybe just check yourself. If you have no social life and are shut away every night, then alarm bells should be ringing in your head instead of by your bed.

Write when you can of course. But it doesn't have to be every day - or even every week, month or year - not at the expensive of your friends, family and well being. It may be great that you've written every night for 2 years - you must be a writer right? Well if you are divorced because you're partner got fed up with it, or your kids hardly see you then you're either not going to make it in the long run or you're going to end up lonely.

"The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people - people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life." George Orwell

The idea of a writer being some recluse is a stereotype. You need experiences, you need to live and spend time with people to bring depth and resonance into your writing that reflects the world around you; the anger and evil, the hope and compassion. Do you want it just to reflect the same 4 walls and your 9 to 5? George Orwell spent time in slums so he could experience poverty which he used in his book Down and Out in Paris and London. You may not want to go to the same extremes but you get the idea.

Take the long term view; if it's in you you'll find a time when you can write without it being a drum pounding in your ears and becoming your master. And if you really haven't the time, but you have that burning desire, then work towards carving out that time in the future. Part of maturity is learning delayed satisfaction - you can't have everything now - you're not 3-years-old anymore. Just because the desire is there, doesn't mean the time for that to come out is now. Don't worry about labels and if you're a writer or not - you're you: live life.





Photo credit: Garrette

Dmetri Kakmi and 'Mother Land' - Interview Part Three


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by Paul


The third and final part of the Dmetri Kakmi interview.

Click to read Part One or Part Two of this interview.

PB: It’s interesting, with memoir, that it might generally be assumed it’s a matter of putting down facts, but of course it isn’t. There’s always an element of self-censorship; that knowing what to choose and what to leave out is important. And one of the things I found particularly interesting was when you mentioned earlier that you had blended a couple of names and inserted a fictional scene in order to create dramatic unity. Very often, in order to be honest in a piece of writing, those sorts of decisions have to be made. What was that process like? Did you feel that you were compromising the truth or did you feel you were reinforcing it?

DK: During the writing I found that the facts were getting in the way of telling the truth. I wanted to explore an emotional truth. The only way I was able to communicate that was to manipulate some of the facts. By that I don’t mean that I lied – relatives and friends who read the book certainly recognise the events and themselves – but, as you say, I collapsed two people into one character. I rearranged the chronology of certain events to suit the dramatic build-up and tension of the narrative. Part Three contains a fictional scene, which is an encounter between two main characters, but the information revealed in that scene is all factual.

It was information that I gathered over a period of three or so years, from different people. When I put it down on paper as it happened, I found that, in this pivotal section of the book, which should be built into an emotional peak, I was defusing the tension. The information was coming in from all over the place, I had different characters who hadn’t appeared before suddenly appearing and having their say, and it was just a very broken narrative. When I read it, I thought this isn’t doing it for me at all. I could not imagine that an objective reader who has no connection with the narrative would be carried away with this. So [I asked myself]: What are you trying to achieve here?

What I wanted, I suppose, was an emotional catharsis – a key to unlock the past and to open a kind of Pandora’s Box of expiation.

I’m a senior editor at Penguin Books, so I thought: What would one of my authors at Penguin do to resolve this problem? The answer was that they would probably bring two of the main characters together, plop them down at a table and they would have a dialogue that brings things to light. As soon as I started writing the scene, it was obvious to me which two characters had to be in it ... One of them was me and the other character will remain nameless for the readers’ sake.

I have to say I felt uncomfortable doing it because, after all, this is a memoir and we are meant to be telling the truth – these are the facts of our lives – and here I am creating a fictional dialogue between two people who’ve never met and reporting it as truth. I set it aside for a while and I thought I’m not going to go this way. I finished the book and that fictional scene sat in a separate document for a long time. Then I dropped it in again and I read it and I thought: This needs to be in the book. Even though it didn’t happen, it had an emotional impetus that fed the narrative in a very satisfactory way. It was a kind of wish-fulfilment, these two people meeting one another; a meeting that is ... very likely to never happen. But, by writing it, it helped me to release certain emotions that had been locked up for 30-40 years. Also, in the scene, I give voice to someone who is, to all intents and purposes, dead and has never been able to speak for herself.

When the manuscript was picked up by Giramondo, I made sure to tell the publisher there was one fictional scene. He said: ‘I couldn’t care less.’ He was too blasé and that worried me, but when you look at the current genre of memoir writing, a lot of people do it. I just didn’t realise they were doing it. Brian Castro’s Shanghai Dancing, Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family – they do very similar things: playing with scenes, the chronology, manipulating emotions to get full emotional peak – so I realised I was not all that unusual and ... could in time feel comfortable with it.

The publisher and I continued to debate it right up to the end. A month before the book came out, he rang up and said: ‘Okay, Dmetri, memoir or fiction?’ I thought it has to be fiction – there is a fiction scene here. I rang him back and I was going to say ‘fiction’ and I said ‘memoir’. And it was the wisest thing to do, because in terms of marketing, it’s proved to be the right decision. It’s been a drawback in terms of being shortlisted for awards, though, because judges are uncomfortable with a non-fiction book that contains fiction. So far the judges of the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award have been the only ones who have been kind to us.

PB: And Arnold Zable said, I believe, you’ve written a novel here. Is that right?

DK: Arnold Zable interviewed me for Readings magazine. While we were talking, he leaned across and very earnestly said: ‘You know you’ve written a novel, don’t you?’ It took me by surprise because I don’t think of myself as a novelist.

PB: A large part of that is because of the themes and the layers of ideas that are running through, which are much more than we might ordinarily expect to find in a memoir. There are a lot of universal themes running through.

DK: Absolutely. That was deliberate and I think I realised that – I guess the writer in me was coming through, without me being aware of it. I was making decisions – fifty or sixty percent out of sheer intuition and the rest of the time would be deliberation in terms of what information to put in, which themes to develop. As Arnold Zable said when he launched the book in July (2008) ... ‘It takes a great amount of skill and thought to actually find the story within such a huge narrative such as this.’ Because, quite literally, the story covers a couple of thousand years. There are stories that go back to classical times and other [more recent] stories from before I was born, and so on and so forth. I don’t know if it was skill – I think it was sheer luck in my case, but there is a story there and I think it hangs together fairly well.

PB: I think it’s possible, also, the poet is coming out in you despite what you said earlier [about having written bad poetry once]. I was interested to hear you say that you’d started off with poetry because one of the things that I love in writing is whether it has that lyrical or poetic quality. Certainly, as I was going through this, I was stopping and reading out sections to my wife and saying, ‘Listen to this; this is absolutely stunning.’

In a while, her golden-haired daughter Athena will come out. They will sit in wicker chairs and the daughter will brush her mother’s long grey hair, and coil it into a grizzled braid. While Athena lifts the brush and pulls it down again, a breeze will catch a stray strand and lift it over the rooftops to the sky. When it gets too close to the sun, it will burn and fall to earth. Mixed with the fertile soil, it will grow into a daffodil. (pp.33-34)

And then there are pieces like: 'My feet turn to goats’ hoofs, steady and sure, my arms into wings, light and fluid.' (p.65) and, a bit later on: 'Zotico’s shadow was still fresh on the pavement when they closed the front door. There is no life there, only a cemetery silence.' (p.230)

This is poetry, but what the poetry is doing is linking all the different worlds that you’re exploring; we’ve got pagan, we’ve got Christian, we’ve got Muslim; we’ve got Greek, we’ve got Turkish ... and it’s written in English. It’s as if the language is the story as much as anything else; there’s a lot in it. There’s the language of mythology; there’s the discussions with Grandad Dimitro, who is dead, and the vision that he’s providing to this young boy. Did you have difficulty finding those words?

DK: I have to say that I didn’t have any difficulty doing it. Once I found the boy’s voice, it virtually wrote itself. His thoughts blended with mine and the tale came quite simply pouring out in that visual language. When I first started writing this, I believed that I didn’t have a particularly interesting story to tell, but I wanted to tell it nonetheless; and I thought: How am I going to seduce readers into reading this. The best way I could think of doing it was to craft a beautifully-written book... And, of course, the other thing was to universalise the characters and the various themes, so that even an Australian would be able to pick it up and read about a group of people in an isolated corner of the world, in the northern Aegean Sea, that seemingly has no relation to them, but be able to relate. So that was a conscious decision.

Language is very important because I’m Greek, I was born in Turkey and I’ve spent most of my life in Australia. I’ve grown up with three languages: Greek, by osmosis from my parents; I went to a Turkish school for the first years of my life and learned how to speak, read and write Turkish; and then we came to Australia and within six months I learned how to read, write and speak English. And, of course, as an editor, you need a very good command of language ... So language has always been a central part of the factor for me because language can bring you in but it can also lock you out.

The saddest thing I experienced on one of my trips to Turkey was not being able to communicate with my own people. I’ve now forgotten how to speak Turkish and Greek. I have tourist Greek and Turkish. I can barely communicate in both my own languages. So English is really my only language. And I find that when I go back to Turkey now, I’m an outsider. I’m an outsider because I don’t have the language to open those doors and allow entry into this world that once was my world ...

From such loss, beautiful things occasionally grow. While Dmetri Kakmi may have lost the full use of his Greek and Turkish languages, and become an outsider in this respect, I believe he has, with Mother Land, added a rich, evocative and significant text to the body of English literature. Twelve months after first reading it, Mother Land remains one of the most finely crafted and compelling pieces of writing I've read, and through it he certainly succeeds in opening a number of doors and experiences for the reader. Thank you, Dmetri, and good luck both with the launch of the UK edition and with your future projects.

Mother Land is published by Eland (UK), by Giramondo (Australia) and as Anayurt by E Yayinlari, translated by Niran Elci (Turkey).