This week I had the pleasure of listening to Murathan Mungan speak at the London Book Fair. He’s from Turkey. And he has to be one of the most versatile writers I’ve encountered. He has written poetry, plays, short stories, novels, songs, screenplays, radio plays, essays, and political columns. During his talk he said there’s hardly any domain in literature that he hasn’t touched. He sees himself like a musician who can play many instruments. Mungan doesn’t say that this is easy. In fact it’s hell for a writer. However, if he’s happy with the final product than it’s worth it. The interviewer asked how he decides what form he wants to write in. His answer piqued my curiosity since he said that the material itself says “I will make a good play or a novel or a poem.” Material whispers in his ear and tells him what it will be. I can picture him cocking his head listening patiently to voice in his ear. He did state that he has to be careful. If his novels are too poetic, some readers complain about it and say, “Why didn’t you just write a poem?” He has to strike the right harmony and balance.
His latest novel doesn’t take place in Turkey. Instead it’s set in a dreamland. He received a call from a German publisher a few weeks ago who said that he had read the first four chapters and was questioning why he should translate the work into German and publish it in Germany since the novel was not set in Turkey. Mungan’s initial response to the publisher was to say that it was written by Robert Harris. Then he continued to say that this wasn’t his first foray into fantasy, legends, and fairy tales. But, people expect him to write about Turkey. His poetry book, Stories on the Ottomans, published in 1980 made him successful and known as a Turkish writer. However, does this mean that all his works have to be about Turkey? He tried to explain it this way. Some actors are comfortable playing different roles in thrillers, comedies, and others. Mungan, as a writer, will dress up as different characters to understand his characters. He said that maybe he should be characterized as an acting writer.
What do you think? Should writers explore different types of writing? And should publishers outside of Turkey publish his novels that don’t take place in Turkey? Does that matter? I know how I feel, but I would love to know your thoughts.