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Interview: Meltem Arıkan / The Sacred Book of the Cyber Chaos: Erospa

As a writer who always excites and distrubs the reader with her own methods, Meltem Arıkan has stepped into the genre of fantasy literature with her new novel Erospa. Meltem Arıkan has a unique style of creating an ongoing chaos in her novels, with Erospa she now spreads it into interstellar space. Meltem Arıkan doesn’t live in Turkey anymore so we couldn’t meet up in person and did an online interview instead which perfectly matches the style of her novel. With her emphasis on the ‘non-existence’ of the drawn borders in her novel, she showed us that this cyber interview could well be an  ‘existence’.

Interview by: Mahir Bora Kayıhan  Photos by: Melin Edomwonyi & Kerem Güneş

12 years ago, with her novel Yeter Tenimi Acıtmayın (Stop Hurting My Flesh), Meltem Arıkan introduced the reality of incest to the Turkish literature which resulted in  the book being pulled off the shelves and then being released again shortly after. With this novel Meltem Arıkan received Freedom of Thought and Speech Award by Turkish Publishers’ Association and she continued to disturb certain people with her consecutively published novels, although none of them were pulled off the shelves. She wrote plays, she disturbed people. She wrote articles, she made people uncomfortable. She thought, and she disturbed…

Her novel Umut Lanettir (Hope is a Curse) which was published by Everest sometime at the beginning of 2000’s was the first time I had the chance to interview Meltem Arıkan. In my opinion she is one of our women writers whose deep thinking is too much for these borders. I remember myself excitedly reading it then and now it has become a part of my literature adventure and has a special place in my library.

I must also admit that my interview with Meltem Arıkan on Umut Lanettir (Hope is a Curse) has been one of my favorites and it has become one of the most read interviews online.

Years gone pass… We read many books by Meltem Arıkan, watched her plays… And then there came Erospa, a novel that foreshadows a completely different Meltem Arıkan, introducing a fantasy world which is lacking in our country. Erospa, while being an obvious example of how powerful the voice of a female writer could become when liberated, also provides the reader with a novel that fits the chaos of our times.

Under these circumstances the fact that women writers like Meltem Arıkan are less than a handful in our counrty, makes what they say extremely important.

As someone who strongly believes that writers of our times should go one step further than mere representations of today’s relationships, love affairs, order and chaos, Meltem Arıkan was the first name who appealed to me. I am thrilled once again to be a follower of Meltem Arıkan, after reading her new signature work, Erospa, written in the fantasy literature genre which I closely follow. As a journalist who tries to follow and support the literature of this country and try to inform the readers as much as possible, if I was given the chance to publish a book of interviews about all of the books of one writer, I would choose Meltem Arıkan.

Meltem Arıkan and fantasy literature! You are an author who shocks her readers on each of her novels, but still I would have never guessed that one day you will come up with a fantasy novel. How did this happen?

To be perfectly honest with you if you had asked me whether I’d consider writing a fantasy novel one day, after writing Özlemin Beni Savuran (Tempest of Yearning), my answer would be ‘I don’t think so’.  Even though there are a few elements of fantasy in my other novels I never thought I’d write one in the genre. In fact, I’d decided to write one last novel before I quit writing. For that reason, I was mostly focused on writing articles to be published abroad and understanding the change in people’sperception with the change in the forms of communication that came with the use of social media. Erospa happened to develop during that time and funnily enough I can say that I found myself in the novel.

Then, wasn’t this risky? In terms of losing your core audience…

Of course this is risky, but as I said before, Erospa was going to be my last novel.

Did you say ‘…was going to be’! This means it won’t be and we will continue to read your novels?

Yes, I changed my mind, I have recently started writing a new novel, ‘Candy’… I must say that when I was writing Erospa I was aware of the risks, but it wasn’t possible for me to write Erospa otherwise. When it was published, I was really curious as to what – in your words – my core audience were going to say, thankfully I haven’t recieved any negative comments.

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Before Erospa, shall we talk about you first? Though you don’t like talking about yourself besides your novels , Erospa gave me the opportunity to ask this question. Because there is  your private life in some parts of the novel as you share some parts of your personal diary… What made you decide to add parts from your diary to the novel?

Erospa has been a novel that wrote itself and sometimes it even forced me to write it. When I first started writing Erospa, I was living in Turkey and my diary was not going to be a part of the book. While I was writing it, dear Pinar Öğün insisted that I write a new play for her to play and so I wrote Mi Minor. The play had been produced, staged for a season. Subsequently it was targetted as part of a massive conspiracy and our lives became more absurd then my play. During those days when every little absurdity was being used against us, the first thing I did was to delete Erospa. And one night I had to leave the country with a single suitcase and went to Wales. After moving to Wales, I always carried the pain of deleting Erospa and so at the end, I decided to rewrite it. Yet, when I sat infront of my computer I found myself writing my diary rather than the fiction of the novel. I thought “what if I, the writer of this book, added her diary to this?” Then “Why not?” I thought. In fact, the diary was longer and in more detail than in the published version, I made it a lot shorter. I think just the diary parts could be a novel itself.

As a close follower of your work, I thought what you’ve been through would effect you in a negative way. But on the contrary, I can see that this period had nurtured you in a very positive way….

Chaos nurtures me as a writer. It’s almost impossible for me to write in peaceful and calm conditions. For instance, while I am writing a novel, the TV must be on as well as the music player. Moreover, if I could have a crowd of people chatting around me, I’d be happier. Obviously this habit has been engraved in me, so the more my life turns into a nightmare, the more creative I become. Also I reliased that I can only maintain my life-balance when I write. Had I quit writting amid this social schizophrenia, I would have definetly failed to protect my mental health.

As a writer, not just your novels but also your plays caused problems in your life, do you sometimes feel like your creative process is under surveillance?

In 2004, my fourth novel ‘ Stop Hurting my Flesh’ was banned and since then a feeling of being under surveillance has been slyly following me, but it never got to a point to stop my creativity. There were times were I’d get really angry, but then I would quickly get over it. However, what I’ve been through with Mi Minor was the last straw for me. That’s why I moved to Wales.

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You don’t live in Turkey anymore… How does it feel to be forced to make such a desicion?

I can simply summerise this period by saying: “I wrote an absurd play and now my life has become more absurd than my life.” I know this answer might not be enough for you and  the readers, but I don’t think the absurd days have come to an end yet and sadly my nervous system is not strong enough to take more of this. So, let me give you my word for another interview in the future to talk about this very subject…

I’m taking your word on this, then let’s carry on talking about your novel. I follow fantasy literature very closely that’s why I’m very much impressed by Erospa. I think there could be more coming out from such an imaginary world.

I guess you’re right. As I said before, I have started working on a new fantasy novel and I think there will be more to come.

In Erospa, we find a completely different Meltem Arıkan and a completly different world! Meltem Arıkan and hackers, how did that happen?

Let me put it this way, as a writer I had the chance to be a guest in their world.

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I thought I was going to read a novel just about hackers, but then I felt like I’ve been slapped in the face. It’s obvious that you were fuelled from today’s world and the future when you were fictionalising the novel, yet it’s as if there is another time period that we don’t know of and this novel extends to that time period as well?

When I was wiritng Eropsa, I had already been digging into the concept of time as we know it. Time and life, time and perception, timelessness, past and time, future and time…Not that we don’t know, but there may be times that are beyond of our perception, or perhaps even timelessness…

A hacker who lost hope on humanity and a talking cobra who shows her the way? I immediately thought of the snake from Adam and Eve. What were your inspirations when you were fictionalising Wikka?  

When I started writing Erospa, I went to Marrakech and I had the chance to put the poisonous cobra around my neck. First the owner was holding it, but then I took over the cobra, held its head in my hands and made eye contact with it. It was such an enchanting moment… The owner got very excited, and said to my husband “Oh my goodness, this woman is a Snakewoman, I must take her to where the rest of the cobras are.” If I wasn’t pulled from one side by the snake owner and my husband from the other side shouting “No”, I could have stayed with the cobra over my shoulders and its head between my hands, looking at it for hours. Since then, I have this strange connection with snakes. Because of their venom, snakes are perceived as the symbol of evil. Whereas I belive the evil is the venom of people…for that reason, I’m not scared of snakes and I believe them to be the symbol of healing instead of evil.

In Meltem Arıkan’s previous novels we can sense a chaos within the calm narration, whereas this time, we have been startled with a very loud voice! Could the reason behind this escalated chaos be what the country has been through and where it is now?

I started writting Erospa in 2011 and finished in 2014. Even during the first days of writing it I used to say that the world was going towards really chaotic days and time proved me right. I believe in chaos. You become dull in stillness… Years have showed me that chaos can’t be perceived in that dull calmness! When chaos arrives it startles you. I guess this belief must have reflected in the novel as a loud voice…

While your heroine talks to the mother of God, she never speaks to God himself. Could it be because your narration is within a feminine frame?

One of the reasons behind this is that I’ve narrated a feminine novel, another reason is that the God doesn’t have the right to speak. He ruined his chance that was given to him. In my opinion someone who has lost their own reality, should not speak at all… I don’t believe in second chances…

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In fantasy literature when the subject is as heavy as in this book, you wouldn’t normally come across romantic moments. This is the first time I came across such a thing. What was your aim in using colour to turn space into a romantic place?

For me space is a fun, colourful puzzle filled with surprises. For that reason, in Erospa, I shared my own perception of outer space with the readers.

As I said at the begining of our interview, the diary parts which points out your process of writing and your most painful times, were especially powerful. We  read through your process of writing as well as the current situation in our country today…

Because of the things that were happening while I was writing Erospa, for the first time the situation of the counrty was also reflected in my novel. When I shared what I was going through and my feelings in the diary, naturally this has also meant that people will read through the process of my writting in parallel to what was happening in the country. In fact, as you can take it from my answers, Erospa has been a novel which forced me to write it.

There is a message from the humanity to one of the characters of the novel – Witchy, a quiet heartbreaking one… but did humanity had such a painful message to you as well?

What if I say: I have no more faith left in me for the product called ‘human’…

What were the reactions of the Turkish press to the novel? Are you happy with the critisims and the interviews so far?

Ozlem Ozdemir from Birgun newspaper, Betul Memis from Haberturk, Cemre Nur Meleke from Vatan Book Extra and Mesud Ata from L-Manyak Magazine made very good interviews that I’m happy with. And I haven’t come across any negative critisim so far.

Then, do you think Erospa is such a novel that needs to be discussed in order to understand it better?

I think the readers should decide this…

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The fantasy world in Erospa is so deep, the writing style is so simple… This is also is a new Meltem Arıkan style… Did you choose this style on purpose, or did it just come out as a result of how you were feeling?

I guess it was a combination of both. I wish I could create a style at a time whenwords are being emptied, concepts are losing their meanings. Erospa has been progressed exactly when I was going through this desperation. When I finished writing Erospa, I realised that the language I use has changed completely. I guess being understood used to be more important then expressing myself but now expressing myself is more important then being understood.

I think you are leading the reader to an ‘end’ throughout the novel. So, do you think you have given that statisfactory ending?

Most of my readers told me that Erospa could have been longer than this. They say, “we wanted more, wish you could have written more”. But I still think that it shouldn’t be any longer than this.

Taken from a hacker’s world, but reaching to a completely different level, Erospa allows the reader to experience serious leaps within time periods. You are pushing the limits of the readers who are only used to narrations from ‘present, past and the future’ in Turkish literature…

It is true that I am pushing my readers a little, but I really enjoyed writing Erospa, that’s why I didn’t want to change the novel, for the sake of making it easier for the readers.

If Erospa could be adapted for screen, who would you like it to be directed by and who would you like Erospa to be played by?

If Erospa could be adapted for screen I would very much like Özgür Uyanık to direct it and for the lead there is only one name in my mind: Pınar Öğün is a must for me.

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Hakkında Mahir Bora Kayıhan

1997 yılından beri basın sektörünün birçok iş dalında görev aldım. Daha çok dergicilik konusunda görev aldığım sektöre 2014 yılından beri grafiker olarak da hizmet ediyorum. Üretmeyi, ürettiğini paylaşmayı seven biriyim. Çevremde bana "fikir adamı" derler, iyi bir fikrin tüm hatalarıyla sahiplenilip büyütülmesinden yanayım. Fikirleri severim...

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