The biggest of its kind in Ukraine, the Lviv International Book Fair also numbers as one the largest international book fairs in the world. It draws in some of the biggest literary names both locally and internationally. Guests at this year’s fair included Yuri Andrukhovych, a Ukrainian prose writer, poet, essayist, and translator, Polish scientist and writer Janusz Wis´niewski, and prolific English children’s author Jeremy Strong. This trio of creatives were happy to talk the business of writing.
Talking The Craft
Andrukhovych is a bit of a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to writing, even branching into lyrics. Lauded in Ukraine and internationally, he has been awarded across Europe. His success as a wordsmith is in his style, which is very personal; every work is unique. “There can be only one universal piece of advice – follow your interests and just go for it. One pitfall of many aspiring writers is to follow a formula that has already been done,” he says. “Try to be a person who creates something unique, something your own. It is a very personal task, to discover your style.”
Wis´niewski’s background is in the decidedly non-creative spheres of science, economics, and computer programming. Away from those constrained environments he has found a creative outlet in writing. His most famous novel S@motnos´c´ w Sieci (Loneliness on the Net) was published in 2001 and translated into many languages. Wis´niewski agrees with Andrukhovych to an extent and suggests keeping writing personal to resonate with readers. “I think young writers should write for themselves, not for the public. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but I speak for myself personally, and when I write I don’t pay attention to readers at all. I want to write a book that I will like myself, which I would like to read. And only then do I think of the other people who will read it.”
Strong entered the workforce as a schoolteacher, and he goes on teaching with his multiple award-winning children’s books. During presentations of his book this autumn, he could be found interacting directly with his young readers, dancing and jumping on the stage of Lviv’s First Ukrainian Children and Youth Theatre, and despite speaking only English, language wasn’t a barrier. For his followers he also has some tips: “To start a literary career there are several things to know. First that it is difficult to get your work published – you just need to keep trying, and trying, and trying. I wrote for five years without getting anything published. I would send material to the publisher and he would send it back to me saying they didn’t want it. But that was a very good experience, because I was learning little things about writing all the time. One of the other important things is when you are starting is try to find your own style of writing, your own voice. That’s why when you read good writers, you recognise their style, their particular way of writing and you can say ‘oh yes this story is by this writer’. That makes your work unique and that’s important for the publisher.”
Writing takes dedication, motivation, and most importantly inspiration. Writers are quite often asked where they draw it from. Andrukhovych calls inspiration “a personal everyday rhythm”. He structures his day the same way as say someone who goes to work in an office. His inspiration comes in the form of a sense of achievement. “Basically it is all about those seconds of personal satisfaction from managing to do something. It is like completing a task for yourself, not others, and that makes all the difference. If you’re good at your work at a personal level it will also be good at an external level.”
Wis´niewski is poetic and says he finds his writing mojo all around him and in the development of his protagonists. “The people I am writing about inspire me, I like to write about people, to develop their personal stories.”
Strong says he aspired to be a writer before he became a teacher but he needed to earn money to live and it was the children he taught that gave him inspiration. “So, I became a teacher and in fact it was a great decision, because I found myself working with the audience I was trying to write for. It was very useful for me because I had all those children in front of me. I could get ideas, find out about things that were interesting for them, I could hear about problems they had at home. I discovered what made them laugh and I also found out there weren’t many books that young children could read for themselves.”
Speaking To An Audience
Being dedicated, motivated, and inspired is not enough to be successful in the writing biz. Finding a publisher is a good start, but your writing also needs to find an audience. The trick, according to Andrukhovych, is to find an audience locally and if your work strikes a chord, then think globally. He should know, his works are translated into other languages and well-received abroad. “You should do your best to produce good work in your mother tongue. People will find out about you, foreign publishers may show an interest and that could lead to versions in different languages. One should naturally follow the other. As for success in literature, I know it only partially. If to talk about the commercial aspect, I am not successful.” Mostly it is about hard work, he says. “These efforts won’t go unnoticed. As for contests, just apply for literary scholarships, seminars and let the jury evaluate. You must seize every opportunity.”
Wis´niewski also believes in writing about what you know and says his native Poland and Ukraine have much in common and is fertile and fascinating territory for writers. “Ukraine is like a buffer zone between Schengen Europe and Russian Europe, so it has to find a balance between the two, to take the best from East and West. Poland and Ukraine have common history, our mentality is quite similar.”
Strong is sure that if a book is good enough it will cross language divides. “Most of my favourite authors are European not British: Kurkov, Kundera, Škvorecký are available in English translation. So it is really a question of making a work good enough – if you want your work to appear in other countries then you have to try to make it wide in its appeal. If it is a book that deals with humanity in a general sense, those things we all share in common across the world, that’s going to appeal more.”
Young writers face challenges – from finding their personal style to promoting their work in their country and abroad. But they are the guardians of a tradition that dates back millennia. Our experts are in accord when they say if you strive to write, do it for ideals. Money, success, and acclaim may come later. Inspiring enough?
Having found success, here are the top three sellers from each of our authors. Where Andrukhovych and Wis´niewski focus on stand-alone works, Strong develops book series where his main characters appear across multiple titles.
12 Obruchiv (12 Rings)
Taemnucya. Zamist romany (Secret. Instead of a Novel)
Na fejsie z Moim Synem (On Facebook with My Son)
S@motność w Sieci (Loneliness on the Net)
Zespoły Napięć (Team Tensions)
Cartoon Kid (series)
My Brother’s Famous Bottom (series)
The Hundred-mile-an-hour Dog (series)
by Olga German