Saturday, February 06, 2010

Writing and Place: Sylvia Petter

This blog post has an international flavour, beginning with the wonderful-looking lit mag I received from Zagreb this morning. Called Autsajderski fragmenti, this is apparently its "Book of Love" issue, to which I was invited to submit any of my flash stories which related in some way to love. I was delighted, I had such a great email from the editor, and now here are 5 of my stories in Croatian. All I can tell is... one of them is Plaits, but not sure about the others! My name is there, and a link to my website, so we'll see if I get some Croatian hits. This is lovely, the first time I've been asked for stories to translate into another language, and they say they'd like more. I must find someone who speaks Croatian...

And now to the main part of this post, the latest in my series of Writing&Place guest blogs, this time from Sylvia Petter.On her website, Sylvia introduces herself as "an Australian in Austria and I write fiction, essays and poems," so already there is a sense of ex-pat-ness about her! Sylvia, who blogs at Merc's world, had these answers to my questions:

Tania: Where are you?

Sylvia: I’m all over the place in the space of a mind. Physically, I’m in Vienna, Austria. I have a writing house which I heat with leftover wood. But it’s been so cold lately that I’ve stayed in the family room with the house laptop. As I write I’m on a break at my day job.

T: How long have you been there?

S: I’ve been in Vienna since the end of 2005 when I took early retirement to write. I unretired myself last year and have been at my part-time day job since June. After a lot of back and forth to Sydney over the last few years, I think I´ll be staying put for a while.

I was born in Vienna. My parents had given up on Europe and when I was about 3 we emigrated to Australia. After uni I went back to see my where I was born. The Russians had just invaded Czechoslovakia and this part of Europe, including Vienna, was a dreary place. I met the man who would become my husband and we left. It was only years later after the UN came and the U-Bahn was built that I started visiting again. It was a toss-up between Sydney and Vienna. Vienna won. There´s a small Anglo writing scene, but I also participate in local events where there´s delight in the moment more than anything else. I also have an interesting day job; try getting a job in Sydney by saying: “I´m only 53 on Facebook …” Anyway, I´m no good in the heat. Yep. I think I´ll be in Vienna for the foreseeable future.

T: What do you write?

 S: I write short stories, snippets, nonsense, novels, novellas, essays... I like to play with words. I finished a PhD in Creative Writing last year. Although it nearly killed me and played havoc with my creative writing, the critical exercise certainly stretched my mind. I’m working on a photo/bio book on my mother’s craft work. I have two novels to revise and I’m itching to get started on those makeovers. I blog sporadically at Merc's world: writin and ruminations and I wonder what screenwriting would be like.

T: How do you think where you are affects what you write about and how you write?

S: Hmm. For a long time I only worked on the internet. This was in the pre-web days when we gophered text right and left. I was living in France close to Geneva at the time, feeling isolated, wanting to learn to write, wanting to claim my mother tongue after years of communicating in trilingual mishmash, wondering if I even had the right to write. Many of my early stories were a result of the physical me joining the Geneva Writers´ Group and the ethereal me working online in Alex Keegan’s Boot Camp. The Aussie bush seeped into many of my early stories, as did some political stances. I rarely wrote about Geneva. Maybe it was too close. I remember being affected by the rise of Le Pen in France (how did he get to have that name?) but I was too close geographically, so I ended up doing a fair amount of research and setting the story in Austria. Now that I live in Austria, I don’t write about this country. But the bush is never far away. Yet when I went back last year I found it wasn’t the bush I used to know, nor was the country the one I had left.

I don’t fit in anywhere, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m learning to let the “not fitting in” be the way of my flow. Why not find a new form for my to-be-revised “novels”? I don’t really care what shelf my books lie on: my first story collection, The Past Present, was published as an eBook back when the idea of that medium failed to take off; my second, Back Burning, was published initially in print in Australia, and for a short time I felt I’d come home. Now, the place of home is of lesser importance, as are all the strategies and appropriate procedures. Maybe it’s time that affects my writing? So much and so little in one single space.

Thank you Tania, for your questions. The last one kept me pondering most of the night.

Thank you so much, Sylvia, for giving us insight into your life, writing and location. Here's to "not-fitting-in-ness"! Check out Sylvia's blog, Merc's world, and the other writing&place guest blog posts, or do one yourself! Drop me an email, as ever.


Nik Perring said...

Great interview. I love your house, Sylvia - especially your office.


Rachel Fenton said...

"I don’t fit in anywhere, but that doesn’t bother me anymore. I’m learning to let the “not fitting in” be the way of my flow."

Really resonates with me.

How lovely to have a real face to sit alongside the one I had imagined for you, Sylvia!

Your house is a paint box - I should live there!

This was a very full interview - I'm going to keep rereading it I think. Thanks to both of you.

Merc said...

Thank you Tania for including me in your series. And thanks Nik and Rachel for the good words. I'm sorry to disappoint you and me, but that patchwork is not my house - it's the Hundertwasserhaus designed by the Austrian artist, pacifist and activist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser who believed that everyone should be allowed to decorate around the window of his flat as far as the arm could reach, and integrated trees and grass into city flat buildings. It's a must to see when in Vienna, but check his work out on the web.

Miriam Drori said...

Lovely interview. What I'm learning from all these interviews is how to be happy with not fitting in, and how to take advantage of it.

Group 8 said...

I've met you in person, Sylvia, and funny enough, that's often when there isn't time for lots of back-story swapping. So it's lovely to hear your story. Looking forward to meeting again in Toronto in June.

Eventhough I live only 90 miles from my real home, I am like an immigrant here. You are always a blow-in in Ireland if you're not native to a place.
All good wishes,

Nik Perring said...

Hundertwasser sounds like quite the man!

Merc said...

Thanks, Miriam and Nuala. There seem to be more of us not fitting in than people might think.

Am so looking forward to Toronto, Nuala.

Nik, he was great. I saw him just a few years before he died, wandering down for a coffee in the nearby to the HHaus Kunsthaus which has a permanent collection of his work. He had on his cap and it was like he was just popping down for a break. He decorated Vienna´s garbage incineration plant anong other things and a big copy of his cap sits on it.