The “unreliable narrator” is something you wrote about for your thesis and it often comes up in connection with your writing – does that annoy you now? Is it still your favourite ‘figure’, approach or method in narration?
It does annoy me! However, it is still a way of narrating which I enjoy, and it is stimulating if it’s done in a new, practical and interesting way.
The novels Lapači prachu (Dust Catchers) amd Smrtholka (Deathmaiden) brought you to the attention of readers as well as the media – the first book was nominated for the Magnesia Litera Award as well as the Jiří Orten Award, while the second received the European Union Prize for Literature. Was it difficult to meet the expectation of “only a successful second work guarantees the quality of an author”?
It wasn’t because I wasn’t aware of any such expectation while I was writing – I never placed this upon myself and I only acknowledged it from the outside once I had finished writing it.
Are you working on a third novel or are you taking some time out? How do you proceed when working on the plot, the motives, developing the characters – do you think about the next novel a great deal in advance or are you one of those authors who prefers to sit down and write – and it somehow evolves?
At the moment I’m working on a screenplay with my husband, the director Martin Krejčí. I have all sorts of ideas in my head regarding a future novel, but I’m just letting them circulate, becoming aware of them, and I’ll wait and see if they’ll take me somewhere. I think that I use the two methods you mentioned. I’ll think for a long time and at the same time I’ll sit and write without exactly knowing what, and then I just follow what happens.
You are a recipient of the European Union Prize for Literature, which is a literary prize that has been awarded since 2009. The 28 states of the EU take part in it as well as candidate countries and potential candidate countries and 3 countries from the EEA. What did this award bring to you personally and which translations did it support?
I was particularly pleased that it raised the profile of the book both in the Czech Republic – there is now a second edition on sale – and abroad. At the moment I know they are preparing translations in Spanish, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Italian, Serbian, Hungarian, Polish and Croatian.
You are obviously fascinated by the theme of suicide and death in general. Is there an element of terror in this fascination which gives it power and strength? On the other hand, you yourself have objected to this and see the central theme of Smrtholka as being freedom rather than death.
I think that there is an element of terror in all the things which attract me, and that this is an essential part of the fascination. I didn’t object to the fact that Smrtholka was about death. However, it seemed to me to be an oversimplification to see death as the main theme of the book just because it is explicitly mentioned and it gives the impression of a certain controversy. In short, I was thinking about death and suicide in various contexts and from various points of view. They are not themes which have nothing behind them. Behind them I saw the issue of freedom, the absurdity of life and the attempt to find some kind of meaning, the issue of free will and so on.
Your second novel which we are talking about, the award-winning Smrtholka, is distinctively rhythmic, and this rhythm and sound world which permeate the atmosphere of the train journey are also accentuated by the book’s graphics. Are the methods of poetry something you feel comfortable with even though your artistic and theoretical tools are more based in classical narration?
I would say that I have a poetic way of thinking. Sometimes I see lyrical images and I enjoy searching for ways to capture them and express them in prose.
What is your personal way of dealing with family tragedies and inherited troubles and grievances, or the unresolved tensions and recurring domestic dramas which you examine in your writing?
The best thing for me has probably just been to live with things, not hide them away, but continue forwards. And the most important thing for me is not to harbour feelings of being wronged and let them devour you.
You spent most of the covid period in California – what did the time spent there bring to your writing?
I don’t know yet. All I know is what it has brought into my life – which is a lot.
Do you agree with two prominent Czech literary critics that Czech female novelists pride themselves on their strange heroines?
I don’t know. I don’t have the same overview of contemporary Czech female novelists as our leading critics. Maybe they’re right. For me it’s a question of how you would define strange.
Are you inspired by contemporary Czech authors or do you take your inspiration from other artistic or literary forms?
I think that I find sources of inspiration everywhere – certainly not just from art and literature.
Is the study of literary theory more limiting or stimulating for the writer – does it interfere with creative work or does it support it?
That probably depends on the individual. It might impede one person and then help someone else. I took from it what was suitable for my work as well as for the interpretation of other works, and maybe even of the world in general…and then I decided to leave it.
You are part of the CELA international project, which aims to develop the skills of emerging writers and connect them across Europe. The second year of the project features 30 emerging writers, 79 translators and 6 literary professionals from 10 different European countries. As part of the project you were commissioned to write a short story. What was that experience like?
Wonderful. It’s always a challenge for me to write something on a given topic in such a way that I don’t let my hands get tied by the theme. I think that it worked out well. In addition, at the start I decided to link two subjects without having a clue as to how I’d finally connect them and whether it would work out. At the end it confirmed to me that sometimes it pays to trust your intuition.