THE SECRET TO CREATIVITY IS TO STAY FREE
by Gülşah ELIKBANK
Aegean Telgraf Newspaper
January 24, 2015
What do you attribute the obsession of “a child’s book should be based on real stories” that some parents, teachers and even some librarians that I’ve personally met to?
They say that one should ‘sink’ to the level of children’s imagination; for me, it is not ‘sinking’ but ‘rising’ to that level. An adult who rises to the level of children’s imagination, who trusts them would never make such an argument. They wouldn’t make a distinction between a realistic and an imaginary character. A child would know that this fiction is really a fiction. They grow up with fairytales; it is first literary genre they encounter with, and fairytale is one of the most important branches, even the main artery of fantasy literature. To me, saying “don’t tell children about characters that aren’t real” is the same as saying “don’t tell them fairytales”. What I would suggest to those people is to read a little bit more, to do their research and to get to know children a little better.
Do you think it’s about not trusting children?
I am not someone who accepts the concept of not trusting the other person. It is the self that lacks trust. If there is something wrong with you, you see it in the person before you; people become your reflection. The one who does not trust their child actually does not trust oneself.
You know, there are some authors who work with pedagogues and specialists to write books. Do you think it agrees with literature? Is there a need for such a thing in order to bring forth children’s literature?
If you are writing for children, you should know them very well. A children’s author should have a keen understanding of what a child will comprehend at which age, their fields of interest, their verbal skills, and what emotional associations the child will make with what is written. As my sole purpose is to present my reader an enjoyable piece, I’ve never consulted a pedagogue, and asked if my book was up to the standards of pedagogical formation; because, as an author, I should already be equipped with this kind of knowledge. Besides, while I was training to be a dentist, I studied a great deal of child psychology for my pedodontics class, and for a long time I worked with children patients.
You live in Izmir. I think you are not practicing dentistry anymore?
I carried on doing both for a long time. I was a dentist working with patients, and I wrote. Those two nourished each other. It is so fun to be responsible of the care of both teeth and dreams! But now, I am completely dedicated to children’s literature.
Do you think it’s possible for an author to write for a living in Turkey? Do the publishing houses provide proper conditions for the authors or does a long time have to pass to reach to that point as is in your case?
It takes a lot of time and perseverance. Of course, it’s directly proportional to society’s perception of art, labor, books and authors. It’s nearly impossible for a new author to support herself/himself just by writing, no matter how good an author s/he is. That would be utopic. Wish writing for a living was possible but it is very hard. Certainly, as years pass by, the number of your books increase, your relationship with the reader gets stronger; then, it can be possible to earn a living by writing. But the journey is long and hard.
Teenagers seem to think writers make a lot of money and it’s one of the reasons they’re interested in the profession. But that’s not the cast, is it?
That is a truly relevant question, Gülşah. An author should never surrender the feeling of self-reliance to greed, whim of fame, or the order of compliment. If they surrender to these, without realizing, their creativity will dry out. If your initial intention behind writing is being famous and rich, you’re going in the wrong direction; your literary integrity is in danger! If you’re putting literature to the back seat, you’ll be overcome by your ambitions. But this has never been the way of art for centuries. You’ll have to be liberated from everything, in order to get creative.
Do you think living in Izmir has its pros or cons in consideration of your profession, or do you manage either way?
In the first years my books started to get published and I started winning awards there were headlines like “There is someone from Izmir who is winning awards…” In the following years they stopped emphasizing the city I live in, because they realized that I’ve abolished the borders. When you look at Turkey, you see that the biggest pens in literature come from the heart of Anatolia. There is no prerequisite for an author to live in Istanbul to advance in the literary world. Especially now with the communication age gaining speed, it doesn’t make a difference if you live in Istanbul, Paris or Izmir. I cannot say that living in Izmir is a drawback when my articles are being published every week in a national newspaper, my plays are being staged in theaters and my books are being read here and in abroad. In my opinion it’s has more positive qualities to it; Izmir is a calm and inspiring city. I have a lot more time to write here.
There are books you’ve collaborated with Aytül Akal. How is your collective mind and collective imagination received in Turkey?
It’s been sixteen books so far that I’ve co-wrote with Aytül Akal. Our book Skeleton of the Lost Library (Tudem Publishing) was awarded internationally and will betranslated to various languages. At the talks we give at schools, children always askus if we ever get jealous of each other. Of course not. On the contrary, we inspireeach other. It doesn’t look easy for two authors to produce a work together, doesit? But actually, it is really fun. Our intention was never to set an example for others.After a while we realized that children were impressed by our collaboration.Then they started to work together as well. There are even some fellow authorswho tried it. But you cannot force it; it must come naturally. If it is meant to be,it unfolds on its own. Don’t you argue while working together, they ask, because itis said that authors always have high egos. They ask how we manage our egos. Onthat account, to me, Aytül Akal is a special author who should be taken as a rolemodel, and beyond that she is a special person. We get past our egos while working. We’ve never had an argument or a disagreement because we respect each other’s thoughts and literary sense. I think our success comes from this respect.
What do you think of the perception of Turkish literature in abroad? Do you think that the Turkish authors are well-represented internationally?
Actually, our books are under the foreign children’s literature standards; however, there are some representation problems, of course. In the abroad publishers do not contact with the authors they want to publish but rather with their agents. Agents in Turkey are not too interested in children’s and young adult literature. Among printing, marketing and distribution in Turkey, publishers simply don’t have enough time to spare to market their book in abroad. My books that were published abroad were translated under the TEDA Project. They are translated into Arabic, Hungarian and English. Three out of eighty-seven of my books were translated; but Skeleton of the Lost Library was named one of the “ten books that should be translated to world languages,” so I think this number will go higher soon. I hope agents in Turkey become more aware and active in this process.
Is there a city in Turkey that you haven’t been to?
There are few places left, but I’ve been to numerous cities and towns. Because I believe that it is a duty of the author to reach every inch of her/his country and I’m just trying to make that happen. I feel incredibly happy when I get to meet the children of the cities, towns, and villages as I get to know the lands and people of my own country. Of course, from time to time, I give speeches abroad. I attend international book fairs. I’ve discovered that a child from abroad laughs to the exact same lines in a story as a child from Turkey. Being a child is a universal thing, no matter where you’re from. This is one of the indicators that my writing has a universal appeal.
It’s been established that you travel a lot. How does your family feel about this?
I am really lucky on that department. My husband and daughters are always supporting me. They understand that my travels nourish my literary style. I always have so many stories to tell when I get back, so they feel happy as well. We feel as though what matters is the quality of the time we spend together, not the quantity.
Are you currently working on a book?
The Mad Class series published from Bilgi Publishing consisted of four books. My readers really liked the series, so now I’m writing the fifth book. It will be finished soon.
Do you have a story in your mind that you haven’t gotten around to, that you save for later?
I don’t save stories for later; I write what’s on my mind immediately. I write and get it out of my system. Because life goes on an amazingly fast pace and every moment triggers a new thought. Instead of regretting not having written it already, I sit and write it right away. When it’s time, the universe sends it to you. When an idea blossoms in your mind, it means it’s the right time to write it. When you postpone it, you’re going against the universe. And when you do that, the universe can turn against you and make you wait even more!
We should go with the flow of the universe then?
Absolutely! It is particularly important to me. I believe in miracles. Everything becomes better when we go with what universe unfolds for us and listen to that little voice in our hearts. This is my advice to young authors; sit down and write, don’t ever put it off. When you put it off, life puts you on hold!