Peter Krištúfek talks family secrets, political regimes and writing naked...
The story has to resemble something that we are familiar with: it must have clear outlines, dynamics, coherent language and a little bit of obscurity, so that the readers want to know more about it. But the best thing for the author to do is to forget all about these rules – and write naturally and intuitively. That is the hardest part of the job.
Did you learn anything surprising while researching the book?
When I was writing House of the Deaf Man, I was going through my family history and I found a lot of family secrets – even the kind of secrets I really couldn’t write about! But the majority of them are in the book and are mostly connected with the difficulties of surviving the 20th century in middle Europe – at first, people were coping with fascism, than facing communism and in these days, wild democracy.
Because of living through different regimes, peoples’ lives changed in unpredictable ways. One story, in particular, was my grandfather, the glorious colonel of the new Soviet Army, who also had a Nazi Iron Cross from his time on the Eastern Front, fell into disfavour in the 50s because the regime disagreed with him baptising his son, or so they say. He then spent the rest of his life as an ordinary stock-keeper. It’s an unbelievable story, isn’t it?
If your main characters existed in real life would you be friends with them?
Each and every one of the important characters in my books is partly me, but my side characters probably reflect me more. I can hide myself quite well in the story; an ordinary reader cannot find me there. And because of the fact, that my characters are so similar to me, I would not be friends with them for sure.
Do you have any rituals before you write/ Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I used to like writing at night, but recently, I prefer mornings. Before starting work, I need my dose of caffeine and sugar – and a little bit of adrenalin, but that comes naturally. Writing is a very fulfilling activity and I am addicted to it. It is a drug. I always start to write spontaneously and very passionately. Sometimes, I can’t believe our luck of having computers! Writing the whole novel by hand or on a typewriter would probably kill me. I only use paper in the final phases, when I want to edit my work, or at the very beginning, when I write down something interesting that I hear or what comes to my mind. This usually happens while I am walking, because that’s when my brain works best. Then I copy these notes on to the computer and organise them.
Before I started to write House of the Deaf Man, I had 660 pages filled with notes and every time I opened it, I felt sick. I told myself that I would never put the book together, but fortunately, I managed to do it. Maybe I had some kind of advantage, because I work as a film director and in this job you have to work with a bunch of varied materials and create some sort of system. House of the Deaf Man’s contours were sketched wildly and associatively, so I transformed into the “man with scalpel” to carve the story’s details. This final phase is very rational, but it takes quite a lot of time. At this point, I focus on the language and its flow.
And I write partly or wholly naked – maybe because I do not like being tied down or limited by something. (I just made up this justification, it came very spontaneously.) But seldom somebody sees me like that, so I can disclose it. :-)
Peter's novel The House of the Deaf Man will be published by Parthian in summer 2014.
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