August 10, 2011 stefivos

Interview: “Being an only child is what has defined me the most”

After Lisa Roberts approached Greek author Stefanos Livos with the idea of interviewing him, he had no choice but to agree to her reinvention of the usual interview format, which she called a ‘duoview’, where both participants interview each other, in a relaxed and very real ‘chatting-over-coffee’ conversation.

Lisa Roberts:

Because I am also a writer, and because where I write is so important to how I end up writing, I couldn’t help but wonder how you have set up your writing space, and why?

 

Stefanos Livos

Well, it depends on whether I write a short story or a novel.  For a short story I just sit at my desk and start typing.  For a novel, I first write down in notes everything I come up with, and when I feel I’m ready, I begin.  It always needs to be in quiet place, with no people around because I get easily distracted.  I don’t listen to music for the same reason. I also like to drink something, usually coffee or wine.

How about you?

 

Lisa Roberts:

I generally use my laptop, but I jot and scribble away in my journal and all sorts of scraps when I have ideas and do research. I find writing in cafes incredibly exciting – but not very productive. I get lost in people-watching and daydreaming… Red wine, black coffee or jasmine green tea is the only company I keep when I write! Music is essential! But it has to be just the right kind of music for that specific day: so old-school jazz the one day, and maybe some 90s rock that reminds me of being a teenager another day…

Do you have any advice for writers wanting to move into fiction-writing?

 

Stefanos Livos

Advice?  No.  It would be like advising someone on how to live their life.  Writing is like that. The way you’re writing has to do with who you are, where you come from, where are you heading to and what means of imagination you use.  For me, fiction is a journey, and since it is me who create the route, I make it as I would like it to be, so it doesn’t feel artificial.

 

Lisa Roberts:

That’s very ego-free advice! I think many writers enjoy the role of teacher – dispensing their advice to the new, younger writers.

 

Stefanos Livos

I am one of those young writers.

Of all the roles you’ve taken up so far, apart from the one of mother’s, which would you say represents you the most?

 

Lisa Roberts:

The role of writer. Especially my role of ‘writer as activist’ where I work within the political, cultural and racial spheres of what it means to be South African.

I am intrigued by the two, opposite metaphors you have used (in a previous interview) to describe yourself: the diver descending to the ocean floor, and the high-soaring bird. What draws you to this imagery?

 

Stefanos Livos

Well, I think I used these metaphors because I like to wonder/wander where there are few people (or birds!) around, and the ocean floor or high in the sky are two good examples of such areas. Don’t get me wrong though, I enjoy being amongst people, because I get to know them better, observe them and finally understand them – if possible.  But I also like being a loner and watch the crowd from a distance.

Can you tell me about how and why you came to pretend being an extrovert in public, despite your natural introvert character?

 

Lisa Roberts:

As a very young child, I discovered that if I made people laugh or smile, I could distract them from their pain. Their pain was my pain. But basically, I somehow thought that making others happy was more important than being authentic and happy in my own self — even if it meant sacrificing the truth. All truth – and especially, the truth of me.

 

Stefanos Livos

That must be quite tough for you.

 

Lisa Roberts:

Yes – and no. It is part of my life’s journey. I am always growing and evolving; and this is what I feel life is all about.  Perhaps because so much of my life has been lived as a ‘fiction’, this is why I can write only non-fiction?

Do you spend much time in Zakynthos?

 

Stefanos Livos

No. Since I now live in theUK, I don’t go often, but I always carry in me the Zakynthos I grew up in and not the island it’s sadly evolving into. However, the Zakynthos I will describe in my novel is one that no longer exists, for many reasons. Maybe the most significant one being the catastrophic earthquake  in 1953.  From this point of view, I’ll try to recreate it, based on narrations, photographs and of course, my imagination.

Of all the places you’ve lived in, where did you feel the most comfortable?

 

Lisa Roberts:

Cape Town! Without a doubt! When I lived in theUKfor 7 years, and now living a 10-hour drive east ofCape Town, I feelCape Townis the very cradle of who I am. I find it incredibly challenging (actually, painful and exhausting) to live away from my family and my heart’s home. But still, it ‘grows’ me to live outside of my comfort zones.

In a previous interview, you described how falling in love at 15 transformed your heart, soul and mind’s capacity for feeling, seeing and creating. Does ‘love’ feature in your past and current novels as a theme?

 

Stefanos Livos

Yes, of course it does.  I guess something that doesn’t include love is really boring.  Our life is full of love, either by its presence or its absence.  In my first novel, love is actually the leading theme, but in the one I’m writing now, it is just one of the topics I talk about.

Having had to actually run away from an abusive husband, and change not only country, but continent, would you say that your own icon of love was damaged?

 

Lisa Roberts:

Yes. Irrevocably. I explain it like this: After leaving him, I was unable to see life, people or myself with pure clarity. I perceived everything through obscuring veils of brokenness, rejection and fear.  Though I still struggle to tear these veils down, one by one, with each new day, I become more and more real and me. I feel that this is my purpose. I feel it all has to have been for a reason. And even if this ‘reason’ is a mere rationalisation of the pain, it helps me to move forward and to instill in my own daughter strong values about love, boundaries andself-esteem.

Sometimes the essence of meaning is lost in the process of translation. Has the process of translation been exciting or frustrating for you?

 

Stefanos Livos

Well, I’m not the one who translates as this is done by a professional, but of course, I’m the first to adjust the translation to my preferences, before I pass it to… you, my editor, and after that, to a team of beta readers. This will ensure that everything will be apprehended as pleasantly correct to native English ears.

Can you tell me a bit about your participation in the TV series “South African Heroes”?

 

Lisa Roberts:

A: With 7 years spent living in the UK, I experienced the self-centred negativity and self-pitying passivity of the average South African expat, seeing how much of the problem was NOT our country, but their attitudes to South Africa, I took action by ‘activistly’ writing about why South Africans should stay and be a part of the solution, instead of running away like cowards. I hosted a nationwide (and international) project which was considered so revolutionary that it caused amazing sociopolitical waves which changed lives – to the extent that I was even stalked with death-threats! And after all the radio interviews and newspaper publicity, when I arrived back inSouth Africalast year, the e-tv news channel filmed me unpacking my bags and shipped boxes. It is rare to see a white person taking such public non-political responsibility for her country: and DOING something about it!

Because our childhood is so much a part of who we become and what we write about, how much do you think your growing-up years influence you as a writer now?

 

Stefanos Livos

A lot.  I think that being an only child had a huge impact on me in terms of the way I perceived the world. I had to keep everything to myself, find ways to entertain myself, think of solutions to any problems I had to deal with etc.  Of course, I had friends, but friends aren’t around all the time, though they still laugh at me about the “cat elevator” I had once tried to build!  (Please, don’t bother asking why and how it would work!)

 

Lisa Roberts:

I’ll leave that for another interview! (*laughing*) I wonder if that’s why you are able to ‘fictionalise’?  Writing is a solitary game of the imagination which requires no friends except the characters in your imagination…

 

Stefanos Livos

It is something like that.  I mean, later when I could be with my friends all the time, I didn’t stop fictionalising, but then the presence or absence of theirs worked in a different way.  They themselves and their lives had, and continue to have an influence on me, on the way I fictionalise and create my own worlds.

Did your international sailing time work creatively for you? Did you have the time to write ‘in your head’ during your long days out at sea, did you simply enjoy the magic of the ocean?

 

Lisa Roberts:

I started sailing with my dad when I was 7 years old: and very often the racing was terrifying or exhausting — or just plain frustrating! I spent hours waiting, crouched in the centre of the boat with my dad, silently waiting for the wind to filter through — learning patience, perseverance and good sportsmanship! I learnt that it is not winning or losing that matters, but the process. And this ability to experience each creative project as a process or journey — as opposed to an end product or destination — is what sailing did for my creativity.

As a writer, how would you describe your style of writing?

 

Stefanos Livos

Well, I think it’s not overly detailed and descriptive, because as a reader I don’t like that, since I prefer to invite the reader into my story without giving them strict directions on how they should move around in it.  I think it’s better if they get a chance to think and imagine whilethey’re reading, so I just give them clues all the time, but I try to avoid declaring exactly what’s happening.  Of course, in the end I do, since it’s a book – and not a puzzle.  A book is like a board game; it takes two to play it – the writer and the reader.

So, reaching the end of our ‘duoview’, one last question: how do you see yourself and the world in 10 years?

 

Lisa Roberts:

Hmm…. I see myself writing and making art from a studio in the second floor of my own house — and exhibiting regularly in the South Africa’s more academic/conceptual (as opposed to the more ‘interior decor’ art spaces.) I see myself writing books: a very quirky, story-filledand visually rich recipe book. And then there is the book about love, lust and how the internet has distorted and transformed human relationships, for good or very, very bad! There are lots of books inside me, actually – but all non-fiction! I still ACHE to dig and scrape out thenovel that hides inside me…

I also see myself with another child, and travelling! And also becoming much more involved in a-politicisingSouth Africa, and finally catalysingmy concept of a News Revolution.

And how do YOU see yourself in 10 years’ time?

 

Stefanos Livos

Well, first of all I’d love to be making my living as a writer, to gather a supportive family around me, and to be able to travel a lot.  As for the world, I believe that something good is going to emerge out of this global movement reacting to the unfair financial crisis, so I’m looking forward to more freedom and justice.

 

Lisa Roberts:

Stefanos, thank you for this unusual ‘chat’ of an interview: I feel enriched from this interaction with you – with ideas, lessons of life and about writing and writer-to-writer encouragement!

 

Stefanos Livos

I know, Lisa, it was great and really interesting!

Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

stefivos Nothing to declare.