Interview with journalist and writer Zvezdan Georgievski: Books with miracles inside
In recent years, the name and surname of the editor and journalist Zvezdan Georgievski have been seen more and more frequently on the covers of literary works, and last week his latest novel "Crying like a whale" was promoted.
We had intensive cooperation with Zvezdan Georgievski on the editor-journalist relationship during the period when the daily "Utrinski Vesnik" and the weekly "Globus" were published. Georgievski gained his professional journalistic and editorial experience by working in the culture editorial office during the time of NIP "Nova Makedonija" in the daily newspaper, and then in the weekly "Puls" until its demise. After the closure of the printed edition of "Globus", he was left without permanent engagement, and in recent years he has been a regular columnist on a freelance basis for "Prism", a publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporters Network (BIRN) Macedonia.
In parallel, over the years, he started writing literature. After the debut novel "A week of days in the life and death of Grozdan", as well as the collection of short stories "Da ne bim pokuso" and the collection of essays "Urban toponyms", this year his second novel "Crying like a whale" was published in the edition of "Behemoth". . The novel was promoted at the seventh edition of the multimedia festival "Art Area / Arteria" in the cafe-bookstore "Bukva".
Your latest novel "Crying like a whale" was launched at the "Art Area" festival last week. The novel was published in April this year, you finished writing it last year. When did the idea of writing the novel appear and with what motive?
- Basically, it is about a dream from my early childhood. A dream about a giant human fish, which recurred to me at certain intervals. This novel is my confrontation with my nightmares and my dreams.
I have no other skills except writing. For me, writing is both a profession and a hobby. That is the meaning of my life. That's why I don't need any particular motives for writing. I simply have to write. In journalism, I write what the journalistic profession dictates, and in literature, what I want to read. And these are, as the respected Dimitrie Duratsovski would say, books with miracles inside. In fact, every creation is a miracle. If someone else likes what I write, then the stake is doubled.
My friends often joke with me, saying that I have never lifted anything heavier than a pen in my life. That, of course, is true, but I maintain that writing is the most difficult craft in the world. If, for example, you load coal into a tugboat for ten hours a day, no matter how much you dodge the work, at the end of the tugboat there will still be some pile of coal. Fruit of your labor. And it may happen that you write for ten hours and in the end you realize that none of it passes your criteria and everything you wrote ends up in the trash.
Literary critics read it as a "layered, hybrid work" in which there is a fictional personal story, but also memories and flashbacks to the past through different landscapes, mainly where there is a sea or an ocean. Why is the title "You cry like a whale" and why is the sea present throughout the novel?
– Whales don't cry, whales sing! Psychotherapists recommend whale song for relaxation. That's why the whine of the whale is a metaphor for a huge loss. You Cry Like a Whale is a novel about loss. About personal and collective loss. About the loss of the meaning of life. And, you will agree, there is no greater loss than the futility of existence. But at the same time, it is also a novel about survival. There is always someone left to tell the story. It is comforting to know that what you are going through today, someone has already experienced it centuries before you, and someone will survive it centuries after you. And he will be comforted by your story.
The sea is my obsession. I'm not much of a swimmer or a sailor, but I like to sit on sea docks. I want to slip off the salt stuck to those metal posts where they tie the brats. I like to sit on the coastal bars and look out into the endless blue. Somehow, I feel like I was born in the wrong place. In a landlocked country.
The sea is perfect, and the whale is a perfect animal. You know, the whale came out of the sea onto the land tens of millions of years ago. He lived here for a few million years and realized he missed the point, so he went back. It's nicer there. There are no borders and there you can experience complete freedom.
You are known as an editor and journalist in the field of culture. How and why did your transformation from journalist to writer happen?
– My first professional involvement in journalism dates back to 1983. In 2011, I was left without a permanent job, that is, I started living as a freelancer, from "stalls" and projects. You know very well how unreliable bread it is. When I didn't have any engagements, I took it upon myself to translate books. After about a dozen translations, I dared to write my first novel "A week of days in the life and death of Grozdan", which won the "News!" award of the "Templum" publishing house, and thus I became a debutante at the age of 55-56 at the time.
You often point out that journalism is based on facts, while fiction is allowed in literature, and the wildest imagination is desirable. How do you move from one state of consciousness to the other, bearing in mind the opposing basis of the two activities?
– Journalism is essentially a strict craft. Although journalistic style is also important, it is not crucial for the journalistic text. You know, we all remember that the Washington Post broke the Watergate scandal, but no one remembers whether it was a well-written piece. If an earthquake happens in Morocco, it is not the most important thing how you say it, but it is important that you say it. The information you convey as a medium represents the public interest and it is perceived the same by the largest number of readers.
Literature, like any other art, is a personal impression. Every person experiences the work of art differently and that is the whole beauty. I am delighted when a friend who has read what I have written reveals to me aspects of my work that I was not even aware of. And when I think about it, I realize that those aspects are quite relevant.
So, when I write literature, I primarily address myself. I don't write for other people and I don't think about whether what I write is clean and clear or whether it is likable. On the other hand, journalism helps me not to be afraid of publication, that is, of putting the work before the public. And not to be disturbed by possible negative reactions.
What kind of works do you like to read and what is your attitude towards your own works?
- I read everything. From electricity meters and water meters, comics, pulp literature, through classics, all the way to contemporary authors. Sometimes I'm jealous of what I read. I sometimes tell myself that if I had edited the novel, it would have been very different. Sometimes I'm amazed by the authors' imagination, and sometimes I'm bored and can't wait to finish reading the book.
As the executive director of the "Slavko Janevski" Foundation, which awards the "Novel of the Year" award, you have had a complete insight into the Macedonian novel production for years. What is the merit of the award for the development of literary production in our country?
- I am proud of the "Novel of the Year". I almost consider it my life project. Of course, "Novel of the Year" was a collective work of the cultural section of the then "Utrinski Vesnik", whose editor I was, as well as the entire editorial staff. But the initiative, the concept and the idea, however, were mine. I wanted to separate the culture column from following daily events. I wanted us, in addition to following events, to produce events. When "Utrinski Vesnik" went out of business in 2017, I and several colleagues decided to establish the "Slavko Janevski" Foundation with the basic idea that the prize should not go out together with the newspaper.
Next year we will mark the 25th anniversary. I don't have an exact record of how many titles were submitted to the competition, but they are probably somewhere around a thousand. But it's not just the quantity, but the quality, which literally grows proportionally from year to year. And that, we are talking about different authors according to all parameters, according to the way of writing, according to age, according to aesthetic preferences... Sufficient data for this claim is that in the past 24 years, only Olivera Nikolova managed to win the award twice.
In that sense, I will unabashedly claim that the Macedonian novelist production is at the top of the European one. Well, even in a culture like France, for example, quality novels don't appear every day.
The role of the "Novel of the Year" in the development of the Macedonian novel is undoubted, evident and easily proven. First of all, in establishing the criteria for a certain quality. It might sound exaggerated, but I often say that the "Novel of the Year" did more for the Macedonian novel than the entire Macedonian state from 1945 onwards.
You are not always satisfied with the support that the state provides for activities related to the "Novel of the Year" award. In your opinion, both as a journalist and as a writer, what kind of support is needed to maintain the level and quality of literary production?
– This is a bitter and long topic. The problem is neither in the Ministry of Culture, nor in the personnel decisions that have been made there. The problem is in the system setup. The Ministry finances projects of national or state interest. And state interest is an abstract criterion under which everything can be subsumed. And do not mislead anything. That is why the Ministry makes such and such financial restrictions. To give everyone something, which in the end comes down to nothing.
So, there is a lack of a serious strategy that will define exactly what the Macedonian state wants from culture (if it wants anything at all) and, based on that, make clean and clear criteria for funding.
I spoke too little about the quality of the Macedonian novel. What did the Macedonian state do for Europe to see the Macedonian novel? Except for some tourist visits to international book fairs. It is necessary to establish a Book Agency, which will take care of the placement of the Macedonian book in the world, but also at home. It is necessary to improve the distribution capacities and restore the dignity of the cultural worker.
You worked almost all your life as a journalist and editor in a newsroom about culture in print media. What was the treatment of culture from the time of your beginnings, and what is it like today with the emergence of internet media?
- Even in my time, we complained about the bad treatment of culture. But just for comparison, in the cultural column of "Nova Makedonija" there were a dozen professional journalists plus external collaborators. Most current media can only dream of having so many journalists in total.
However, the Internet is only a channel, a means to transmit information, and I would not seek justification in "Luddism", that is, in accusations of new technologies. We have accustomed readers to receive information for free, and information is a commodity and it has its price. Someone will pay that price. If he pays for the marketing, then he will edit the newspaper. If he pays for the policy, then it will edit him. The media is nothing but a mirror of society. As our society is, so are our media.
Although you publish columns on Prisma, if the opportunity arose, would you completely return to journalism?
- Even today, I recognize myself as a journalist and present myself as such. So to speak, once a journalist, always a journalist. However, I do not believe that I would return to journalism, in any day-to-day operational sense. I arranged my life to the best of my ability and I don't think that at my age (62) I could contribute anything more seriously in that sense. But I am always available for sharing experiences, teaching, advice and similar activities appropriate to my age and my professional experience.
In terms of writing, what kind of work would you like to write?
- I don't know. I like to write. And I want to be surprised myself by what I have written. So I want some kind of different work.
You Cry Like a Whale Novel: A Coherent Novelistic Unit
- The novel "You cry like a whale" is a layered, hybrid work, the chronotope of which moves from a fictitious personal story in the Macedonian present, through a return to the past through the regions of Chile and the Pacific Ocean with reference to historical facts, through fairy-tale regions of unspecified locations somewhere in Europe, through a mythological creation of the living world, all the way to a potential future of Macedonia in which the metaphor of sinking prevails. The different parts make up a coherent novelistic whole.
Namely, they are all connected with the leitmotif of the whale, a symbol of the noble qualities of people who seek something more than what fate has assigned them, which is difficult to overcome, and the monster, which symbolizes the fear that haunts the characters for various reasons even from their childhood. Through this combination of stories, readers are given a functional lens through which they follow the similar transformations of those who face the death of loved ones and the loss of meaning - wrote Kalina Maleska.
(The interview was published in "Kulturen Pechat" number 197, in the print edition of the newspaper "Sloboden Pechat" on 23-24.9.2023)