Lucy Chatburn (LC): How long have you been writing? How did you start?
Inga Gaile (IG): I’ve been writing poetry for over 20 years. It’s me. It’s the only thing I ever wanted to do, apart from maybe becoming a nurse. In my early years I was very quiet. I had a problem with self-expression. Then at a certain point it all came out, in the form of poetry. I’ve now published six books of poetry in Latvia.
LC: You recently published your first novel, Glass Shards. How did you find prose writing? Was it a good experience?
IG: It was a good experience. Less intense than writing poetry. I’ve since written a second novel, The Invisibles, and I plan to write more prose in future.
The novel is quite a new form for us; our literary language is only one hundred years old. Latvian poetry is far more evolved in comparison.
LC: Your poetry is quite dark…
IG: I suppose that emotions are dark. Shame, sadness… the dark emotions make more of an impression. We have to work hard to remember the good things.
I think my prose writing is lighter. Well, Glass Shards is a bit dark too. But The Invisibles is lighter, maybe. I will write something light when I’m ninety!
LC: You have read in UK festivals. How did it compare to performing in Latvia?
IG: I’ve participated in Birmingham, Edinburgh and the Hay Festival. Poetry audiences are small, but they tend to be kind, gentle. That doesn’t change. I loved the book festivals in the UK. We don’t have anything similar in Latvia. Our midsummer festival has some singing, but it’s really a big party.
LC: Where do you write?
IG: I’m a single mum and I have a three year old and a ten year old. So I have to take every opportunity I get. When I can I leave the children with a babysitter and work in a café for a few hours. But I can work under any conditions; noise, commotion – it doesn’t bother me.
Lucy Chatburn (LC): Your novel Doom 94 is about to be published in the UK. Can you tell us about it?
Janis Jonevs (JJ): It’s set in the 90s. We were young, Latvia was young. We were listening to Doom Metal. In short, it’s about history, heavy metal and coming of age.
LC: Doom 94 is enjoyed by younger readers as well as adults. Is that something you intended?
JJ: It was a surprise that teenagers were reading and enjoying the novel. I write about the teenage years, but with an ironic touch. But they like it in spite of this.
LC: Do you write full time?
JJ: Until two months ago I worked as an advertising copywriter. I’ve just switched to being a full time writer and I still have to get used to it.
LC: Is there any topic you can’t write about?
JJ: I hope there are lots! Because I need distance to write about something. Doom 94 is about when we were young, it’s over, and I feel I have processed that time now. I can’t write about love, for example, because it’s not over.
An interview with Inese Zandere, one of the country’s best known poets. She also writes children’s literature, librettos (one of her works is currently being performed at the Latvian National Opera) and founded publishing house Liels un Mazs (Big and Small), which was shortlisted for nest Children’s Publisher of the year at this years’ Bologna Children’s Book Fair.
Lucy Chatburn (LC): Why did you choose to write books for children?
Inese Zandere (IZ): There was a need. I’ve also been trying to encourage others to write for children, because we need more serious authors to write children’s literature. Traditionally the greats wrote for both adults and younger readers.
LC: Who is the first person to read your material?
IZ: I have a special husband. He’s very interested in my work and always the first to read it. He’s also a writer, and I edit his articles.
LC: What’s your writing process?
IZ: I can even write in my sleep! Recently I had to present a poem and I hadn’t finished it when I went to bed. I got up six times in the night to write, as the inspiration came, and by morning I had finished.
In Soviet times I worked on the night watch, and this gave me time to write. The older generation of writers were all night watchers or firefighters. The younger generation tend to work as copywriters instead, and I think it’s harder because this is a job which takes your creativity.
LC: Do Latvian children enjoy poetry?
IZ: Very much. They enjoy traditional and modern poetry. It’s closely related to folklore, and they can feel it. They often read poems at bedtime. They also enjoy translated versions of British nursery rhymes.
An interview with Pauls Bankovskis, whose novel 18 is published in the UK by Vagabond Voices, and he has written a short story for the upcoming Comma Press The Book of Riga. He also writes children’s books.
Lucy Chatburn (LC): Do you write every day?
Pauls Bankovskis (PB): Yes, I’m a full time writer. But it’s impossible to earn a living writing only fiction, so I also write advertising copy, documentary film scripts and magazine articles. When I’m writing a novel I work on it every day. When you’re a writer it’s hard to tell when you’re writing and when you aren’t.
LC: Can you write anywhere?
PB: I almost always write in my kitchen. I live in my kitchen. If I get a block I go for a walk, and when I come back the problem has been worked out.
I enjoy the switch between different kinds of writing. I might spend an hour working on an advertising slogan for a car company, then for the next hour I work on my own things.
LC: Your novel 18 is set around the time of Latvia’s independence in 1918. How do you approach your research?
PB: I read old newspapers. Then I imagine myself in a historical situation. It’s a kind of immersion.
For my children’s book Lost Master I visited a pet shelter. The pets there had all lost their masters.
Lucy Chatburn (LC): Does a blank page make you feel anxious or excited?
Inga Pizane (IP): Both! Especially when I’m waiting for the first word to come. It’s a new beginning. I like it.
LC: Do you write on paper or on the computer?
IP: I write by hand, and I don’t work with drafts. I write the poems down as they come and I don’t edit them afterwards. I feel the line breaks, for example.
LC: Do you struggle to read them afterwards?
IP: No, I have nice handwriting.
LC: Is love worse or better in the technological age?
IP: It’s more difficult. It’s difficult just to make eye contact because you are competing with the phone.
All interviews conducted by Lucy Chatburn