In conversation with Markus Zusak
AUTHOR MARKUS ZUSAK AND TLF'S EDITOR NATASCHA SHAH
The Zee Jaipur Literature Festival saw a galaxy of eminent writers des-cend in Jaipur. Our Editor, Natascha Shah caught up with the Australi-an Author Markus Zusak, who after more than a decade of the publica-tion of his last book, the international bestseller The Book Thief, has re-leased another much-anticipated new novel, Bridge of Clay...
Excerpts from the conversation...
At what point in your life did you decide to be a writer and what inspired you?
I was 16 when I wrote my first book. I loved to read and was always immersed in the story-you know when you are aware that it is a fiction but still believe in it while you are reading it? It was that magic that inspired me to write. It is not an illusion that I am attracted to, it is the intensity of the feeling and the captivating power of the story.
How was the experience of writing your first book?
I started writing it when I was 16, and realised how hard it is going to be- I wrote eight pages that could easily qualify as the worst book ever written. Then I started again and what I did from there was basically imitate my heroes. In a way they were copies of other books that I loved. I finished writing it when I was 18, turning 19 and tried to get it published. I sent it to five publishers. Some rejected, some I never heard from. One of them sent me a nice letter.
What is more difficult- to write the book or to get it published?
Oh, it's writing it. But that is easy for me to say because I have been published. I don't think they can be compared. You need a little bit of luck to write a book, for the ideas to click into place and to get one right idea at the right time. You need a lot of luck to get published, unless you have a lot of connections, which I never had, and you know I am glad that I didn't. That doesn't mean people who do have contacts are lesser writers. But it makes the publishing part easier. Nothing can make the writing part easier.
āYou know when you are aware that it is a fiction but still believe in it while you are reading it? It is not an illusion that I am attracted to, it is the intensity of the feeling and the captivating power of the story.ā
Writing is an emotional process. Do you think it gives more than it takes or is it the other way around?
Writing has given me everything. Books have given me everything and reading books gave me eve-rything. But of course, there is a cost and you have to sacrifice things to do it. Writing must be on top of your list. Whenever I am working on a book, I put writing on the top of my day to day rou-tine. Everything must revolve around family and writing. If it's revolving around other things you are probably not going to get your book written.
Do you have a creative routine?
I like having routines when I start. I like to start work around the same time everyday. I do listen to a couple of songs before I start, sometimes ending with a short classical peace to calm my mind be-fore I start writing.
"Everything must revolve around family and writing. If it's revolving around other things you are probably not going to get your book written."
When you are in the middle of writing a book, does it happen sometimes that the world in the book starts merging with reality?
No, I have to say I am not one of those whimsical writers. Yes, I train my characters all the time and then they start talking to me. I love my characters I spend time on them by working with them which is whimsical enough. I write my books for the characters and try to be as true to them as possible.
The Book Thief was a historic fiction and history means a lot of research and arc-hives. As a writer do you think it is necessary to stick to what the archives say or do you have the freedom to use your imagination?
I think you got to be respectful to the facts, while understanding that your book is not a factual world. In case of The Book Thief, I researched about the bombing riots that happened in Germany and fit my story line around them. There is fiction around there. But it is important to pay respect to people who died; even those who dropped those bombs. It was important to research when did the concentration camps open and what happened in them. You need to get all those things right. I think you need to be true to the time and tread carefully.
What is more difficult as a writer- writing about a personal story or when you write about something that has affected many people?
I don't think that matters. Sometimes the simplest thing could be the hardest thing to write. Every moment in the book has different value and different reasons for being there. For me it was so hard to write the end of The Book Thief, I was bawling my eyes out but loved it as that was the response that I wanted from the readersā¦any scene can bring you undone.
Does travel inspire you when you are writing?
Yes and No. Probably It does more than you think. I start with the familiar. It starts from within-the first travel you do is to the world of story.