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Words change lives



Writers’ Room: Ece Temelkuran

By Canan Marasligil on 20/5/13

Ece Temelkuran

The Turkish novelist and journalist speaks to our Translator in Residence about why Anna Karenina is more real than Margaret Thatcher, and why a writer's best friend is a waiter who asks no questions.




Why do you write?

I don't know how not to write.

You're a famous journalist in Turkey, but you've also published numerous books of non-fiction, as well as poetry and, more recently, two novels. How do you like to define yourself? As a writer, a journalist, a novelist, or all of these at once?

I write. Journalism is the form of anger and disgust. Literature is the form of writing you need when you are heartbroken or when you are in awe. And when everything seems to be happening on another planet, when you are deeply mute, it is poetry. I need them all... I think. At least at the moment. 

How do you write?

I write like a lovely, peaceful obssesive compulsive! After finally deciding what to write, my life turns into that of a monk's. I wake up early, walk, and sit at a cafe where I will be sitting every morning for the next six months. In every country I write a book in, I have such a café with a table and a lovely waiter who doesn't ask many questions and embraces my weirdness. I do the planning in the morning and then I do completely ordinary, stupid stuff in the afternoon so I don’t go completely to “the other side". One time it was watching Sex and the City, one time it was knitting. Then I start writing around 7 o'clock in the evening and go on until midnight. I have fun, but nobody around me does.

Your two novels are set in the Middle East and North Africa. Why did you choose to write stories from people living in those places? You lived in Beyrouth and Tunis: how close do you feel to these countries, cultures and its people?

It is the level of craziness and ridicule in that part of the world that makes me feel comfortable, I guess. The fear is real there. So you don't get busy with your own fears, which are more sticky, boring and fruitless. By the way, I am not sure anymore that there are countries for me. There are cafes where I write, people I love to see, things that I miss doing. So maybe it is not a matter of closeness or comfort anymore but an ongoing story which takes place in different parts of the world.

Do you think stories told through literature (or art for that matter) have a stronger impact on people than if they'd read them in the news?

I guess most of the time my characters are those people who you want to be friends with. They are more Zorba than Anna Karenina. Through journalism, you always end up writing about people who you wouldn't want to see, but through literature you can create new people who deserve to exist more. Or you have the chance, at least. I think literature has more impact on life in that regard. You can consider that a prime minister does not exist (by not listening the news for instance) but no one can say that Zorba did not exist. Who would deny the fact that even Anna Karenina is stronger than the Iron Lady?

You've been translated into English and other languages, including Arabic. Do you feel enriched by these translations? Do you think it is essential for a writer to see his or her work translated?

Lately I have a new divine pleasure. It is listening to my writing in languages that I don't know. Recently I listened to a part of my book Deep Mountain in Croatian. And watched the audience; their facial expressions. It is magical. The same thing happened to me in Germany for The Sounds of Bananas. The sighs, the laughter... it is indescribable. I don't know if it’s essential, but one can get addicted to this pleasure for sure. It brings back your childhood to you when you didn't know the words but you wanted to be understood the most. It makes you feel like you are understood even though you don't speak.

You're part of European Literature Night this year. Do you feel European? Should we define literature geographically? Or should literature be above borders?

I think Europe should be redefined. I feel European as much as a Beiruti who is doing contemporary art or an Egyptian on Tahrir Square. I think we need a new Andalucia that will bring together the new political experience of the "Squares" (Tahrir, Del Mayo, Kasbah, Athens) to redefine Europe. But that is a subject of a very long article I guess. The title should be "Andalucia Reloaded", though.

Ece Temelkuran's exploration of the Turkish-Armenian divide, Deep Mountain, is available in hardback from Verso. She joins us again in London on June 13th for our event with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, The Many Voices of Women from Turkey with writer Meltem Halaceli and the Awaz Ensemble who will open and close the evening with music. Full details of the event will be published soon.

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