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Writing (MA)

Mads Kirk

I am a Danish writer, based between Copenhagen and London. I write fiction as well as creative non-fiction; the latter primarily on literature, art, architecture, and film. My writings often revolve around themes such as subjectivity, perspective, perception, memory, identity, and what happens when these constructs collide, collapse, or diverge inextricably. I am interested in the origins of the narrative, in writing stories inside stories inside stories, in meta-plots, and in exploring the blurry borders of reality and fiction and how they interrelate.

Picture of the writer at a reading in Kensington, London

'Walking home from the café, I kept hearing these words in my mind. It is and it isn’t. It was such a simple way of putting it, an indulgent turn of phrase really, but, nevertheless, it kept resounding to me. It felt like a mantra, like a gate suddenly opened ajar. It is and it isn’t. Yes, I thought, those were the books I wanted to write. Books that both were and were not. Those lingering, for example, on the border of reality and fiction. At once serious and playful, never quite separating the two. Both personal and invented. Concurrently realistic and surreal. And maybe, in some sense, even more real due to their fictitiousness, due to this obvious invention which might just function, if achieved successfully, as a mirror of the human mind. Mirroring its habit of indulging in storytelling. Mirroring its understanding of life as something like a series of narratives loosely knitted together. Mirroring its many ways of making sense of the universe rather than mirroring a version of the actual universe, which is dull, colourless, static, a meaningless walk from birth to grave.

In other words, what I decided was that I desired to write a novel not merely curious about the human mind, but one which actively mimicked it.'

Painting by Picasso titled 'Dora Maar with Green Fingernails' from 1936
'Dora Maar with Green Fingernails' by Pablo Picasso (1936)

‘It’s a strange realism,’ Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, ‘but it’s a strange reality.’

The Final Major Project, presented here, is concerned with exploring novel structures for fiction writing and models of narration which actively seek to mimic the nature of the human mind. Rather than aiming to portray a particular realism and to strive for objectivity or authenticity, the writing sets out to explore the lens of subjectivity in depth. It delves into the human psyche, imitates the brain’s convoluted ways of thinking and drawing associations, and plunges into both real and invented memories; not to mention, all those many moments trapped somewhere in between.

In terms of its structure, the project is made up of two parts. An essay and a novella.

The essay contemplates past and present literature in relation to the novella and explores themes and genres such as the blurry lines between reality and fiction, the slipperiness of the I, the relationship between past and experience, and the realism of realism.

The novella, meanwhile, is, in many ways, a simple story. It possesses two characters: an author and a sculptor. They have never met before. In the midst of winter, the entirety of the story unfolds over a single night in a Copenhagen flat. However, as the evening progresses, and as beverages are consumed, their dialogue reaches new degrees of intimacy, memories start to blend with fiction, the past with the present, and dreams with reality.

A painting by the artist Anna Syberg titled 'The Sickbed' from 1908
'The Sickbed' (1908) by Anna Syberg

The flowers in Anna Syberg’s paintings are rarely orderly, nor presentable. They are neither arranged, nor necessarily particularly decorative at first gaze, but vivacious, wild, raw, wet, gushing, refusing to be contained, settled, bent. In the artist’s house, flowerpots and vases are seemingly everywhere: a loose bouquet of white and blue spring flowers lingers in a glass vase; five or six flowerpots rest on a wooden table or are perhaps crammed onto a slender windowsill, the curious stems of the wild flowers searching the air for the presence of sunlight, the base of the pots nearly hidden beneath the leaves; and lilies – among tea, halved lemons, a cobalt blue glass, and a sugar bowl – are placed on the table by the sickbed, hinting the coming of spring. While other canvasses contain no narrative framework, no surroundings, no context. Nothing but flowers. Flowers painted at flower height. Flowers covering flowers in an abundance of green. Nature and the domestic, the Danish painter’s only two true motifs, moving together, negating the distance between the exterior and the interior, becoming one.

Two paintings by the artist Anna Syberg (1870-1914)
'Grapes in a Greenhouse' & 'Blomstrende bladkaktus' (1903)
Photograph of the Mexican author Josefina Vicens

‘Hey, Peque, why don't you write another book?’ And I say,

‘Hey, Juan, why don't you write another book?’

‘Well, yes, right? He tells me.’

‘Well, yes, right? I tell him.’

It is true that Josefina Vicens wrote slowly, to say the least. The above quotation stems from a conversation, relayed by Vicens, between herself and the Mexican novelist Juan Rulfo. In addition to their friendship, the two of them had a couple of experiences in common. They both won the prestigious Xavier Villaurrutia award for their first novel: Rulfo for Pedro Páramo in 1955, Vicens for The Empty Book in 1958. And they both responded to the sudden success of their debuting books with a deafening silence. In this sense, the unexpected triumph came to be as much a blessing as a curse for them, since they afterwards came to experience a comprehensive paralysis in regard to the insurmountable challenge of having to write a follow-up. In Vicens’ case, she had risen to prominence as a forty-seven-year-old unknown writer who suddenly pipped Carlos Fuentes to an award that had been won the year before by Octavio Paz, the great poet and essayist, who also wrote a letter to Vicens, praising the incredible achievement of The Empty Book.

In other words, Vicens and Rulfo both lived through the experience of – practically overnight – becoming one of the most promising literary voices of their home countries after the publication of just a single, award-winning novel.

For Rulfo, the silence would be permanent. He would publish short story collections and a vast array of essays as well as filmscripts; some of which he, in fact, collaborated on with Vicens. But he would never come to write another novel after Pedro Páramo.

For Vicens, the silence would be broken. Although, when she finally published her second novel The False Years in 1982, it was after one of the lengthier dry spells in literary history. In the end, nothing short of 24 years would have passed by since the publication and immense success of her debut novel.

Image of the book 'Sevastopol' by Brazilian author Emilio Fraia
'Sevastopol' by Emilio Fraia – Lolli Editions

In January 2022, I interviewed the Brazilian author Emilio Fraia on his latest book 'Sevastopol'.

Sevastopol is paradoxical at heart. The latest book by Emilio Fraia, the São Paulo native whose work previously has been printed in The New Yorker and Granta, consists of three mesmerising stories, and was published in 2021 by Lolli Editions in an excellent English translation by Zoë Perry. However, this is also just about everything you can state about this book with any certainty. Because even after reading it twice, it remains an enigma: a lingering, gloomy, and largely unexplained sensation that subtlety arises on this slow journey that never truly arrives anywhere; which is not to say that it does not progress. But in Sevastopol, like in the very best of contemporary Latin American literature, the mystery is tangible right from the beginning, and as we allow Emilio Fraia to guide us across the world, to the top of Mount Everest and down again, to an abandoned inn in the shadowy depths of the Brazilian countryside, and to the war-torn Russian city of Sevastopol, by the Black Sea, we seek answers, but we find only fresh question marks.