I couldn't be happier that this is becoming a vibrant and exciting series, the guest blog posts on Writing & Place, how where you are affects you as a writer. I am delighted to introduce Nora Nadjarian, a wonderful Cyprus-based poet and writer, author of the short story collection Ledra Street; we "met" when we ran a review of her book on the The Short Review. Nora has just entered the blogsphere, so do pop along to bettyboopinspired and welcome her to this craziness (as well as finding out the story behind her blog name)!
Over to Nora:
I’m sitting on a settee in my living room, in a first floor flat in Nicosia, Cyprus. Nicosia, for those of you who don’t know, is the divided capital of Cyprus – which is an island in the Mediterranean.
How long have you been there?
I’ve been living in Nicosia for the past ten years. I am originally from the seaside town of Limassol, and decided about ten years ago that I needed a change. It’s a decision I haven’t regretted.
What do you write?
I write poetry and short stories. I have also written a very short play, but lately I’ve been concentrating more on short stories.
How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write?
Moving to Nicosia brought me “closer” in many ways to the Cyprus problem, and although I am not at all into politics, I was obviously affected. I wrote “Ledra Street”, at least the title story of my book, after having lived in Nicosia for a couple of years. Ledra Street is now a thriving shopping street, but ten years ago, around the time when my story was written, Greek Cypriots could not cross over to northern, Turkish-occupied Cyprus. I always thought it was tragic that the street “stopped” at some point, and all you could do was look at the rest of it which fell into the UN buffer zone. On April 3, 2008, the Ledra Street roadblock crossing was reopened after 44 years. We like to think of it as our Berlin Wall.
If I hadn’t moved to Nicosia, the story (and subsequently, the book) would never have been written. I had written and published poetry before, but I always consider the story Ledra Street as the beginning of my writing career. I have also always been moved by stories of exile, of longing, of losing your space, of having to start all over again, because my grandparents were refugees from another country. I wish I had recorded the stories they told me. I am an Armenian Cypriot, I was born in Cyprus and I am happy about that, I love Cyprus, I am a Cypriot. But my soul is Armenian. All the feelings of love and loss and pain, and the general sadness which comes out in my stories I can attribute to the fact that I am Armenian.
A lot of my early stories were set in Cyprus, but I have recently been moving away from that. In many ways writing about Cyprus or setting my stories in Cyprus started getting a little “claustrophobic” after a while. I am not suggesting we forget about the past, but there is a tendency here, on both sides, to dwell on the Cyprus problem and turn to it for inspiration, if I can put it that way. I believe my work is well received abroad too, because it just hints at the problem or tries to present it in an original way.
I used to think that because I was writing about Cyprus nobody would be interested or be able to follow. But readers are very clever. You don’t have to tell them too much, they can just feel what you’re trying to say, more so if you do it subtly. People who had no idea about Cyprus have read between the lines in my stories, even wept at readings I have given in places as remote as New Zealand! I’m sure I have touched people’s lives in that way, and it gives me a sense of satisfaction. So, where I am is “here” reaching out to my reader who is often “there”, and we connect through words, poems, stories.
I also find that communicating with other writers through the Internet has been so important for me. It has kept me going at times when I have almost felt like giving up. I am a bit of an oddity, being Armenian Cypriot and writing in English. Many people ask me why. The reason is that I was educated in English from the age of about eleven. I also studied at universities in the UK and so I consider English to be my academic language, and when it comes to writing it is certainly my most creative. I once told someone in an interview that I felt my writing was my home, my own special place, that I could do anything with- and I still feel that way. I write because I love writing, and if it comes out best in English, why should I give reasons to anyone? I went to a brilliant conference in Brussels last year, where I met a Spanish-Basque author writing in Dutch, a Romanian author writing in French and an author of Turkish origin writing in Danish! There’s some wonderful work out there by authors writing in a second language.
Tania, thank you for giving me the opportunity to put these thoughts down. I’m really interested in your other guests’ opinions, too- It almost feels like we are all somehow, somewhere in the world, writing the chapters of a single book.
Nora, thank you.... another fascinating look at how where we are affects who we are, why we write, what we write. I am in awe of writers writing in second, third or even fourth languages. I can barely manage it in English. Maybe this could be a book, some day, what a lovely idea.