A Versatile Writer

073This 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.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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42 Responses to A Versatile Writer

  1. Ok, this just doesn’t make sense to me. Am I missing something? Lots of authors write about other countries but still publish from their home country. What’s the big deal. I love reading books with settings in other countries because I haven’t travelled very much, so I learn as I read. He is the author – he should be able to write about whatever the heck he wants :).

  2. Lucid Gypsy says:

    I think that as writers we should stretch ourselves as much as possible, but making sure not to drop any cultural errors that matter. I love writing stories set in Africa and have to top up what little I know and have experienced with info from family and research. As for writing novels, songs or whatever, being versatile is a good thing in my eyes!

    • TBM says:

      I agree Gilly! And I bet you’ve learned a lot from your research and from your family. Don’t limit yourself and write what makes you happy.

  3. bocafrau says:

    It’s very interesting and I don’t quite understand why he would be asked that question — many books world wide are translated into all kinds of different languages regardless of what they are about or where the writer is from. It’s interesting that a stereotype has been stamped on him — I guess, that happens in all works of life!

  4. IsobelandCat says:

    To go first to your questions, I don’t think should or shouldn’t apply. A writer is free to keep to one type of writing, genre, to put down his or her pen and use a paintbrush, to mix poetry with prose; whatever s/he feels right. Hilary Mantel has written in a variety of styles and genres. Some people want to pigeonhole her as a writer of historic fiction after the success of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Maybe she will continue in this genre after completing the trilogy, maybe she’ll surprise us with something different. I doubt if she knows yet where her next stories lie. But I hate the idea of her applying the word should to how she reaches her starting point.
    Similarly, I can’t see why books not set in Turkey shouldn’t be translated. Presumably the publisher has a specific audience in mind who want to read books by a Turkish writer set in Turkey. That is a marketing concern, not a cultural one.

    Back to Mungan, thank-you for this post. I had not heard of him and he sounds very interesting.

    • TBM says:

      I’m not too familiar with Mantel yet and I had no idea that she’s written other works besides her historical fiction. Just looking at the first book I can’t imagine how much time she spent researching the novel and then writing it. And now she’s working on a third one.

      And I agree with you, writers are artists. Putting limits on their abilities doesn’t made sense to me. I imagine some people, when they pick up a book by a Turkish author might expect the story to be set in Turkey. However, a quick look at the back cover should clear up the matter and that reader can search out a different work set in Turkey. Publishers try to push too many writers into genres. That’s something I heard again and again from many writers at the fair.

      I want to read some of Mungan’s works. He had this perpetual mysterious smile on his face and I would love to know what he was truly thinking when he was speaking. He’s one of those people who you can sense have a million ideas running through their head at one time, but chooses his words carefully when speaking to a large audience.

  5. MissFourEyes says:

    I don’t understand. It’s fiction, why does it matter where it’s set?

    • TBM says:

      I was puzzled by that as well. why would anyone want to limit someone’s imagination. That’s what writers do. They imagine things

  6. nrlymrtl says:

    I would love to have more fantasy and science fiction from non-English countries available. It doesn’t matter if you are a Turkish writer or not – if the author enjoys writing in various genres, why not translate them into other languages? I applaud Mungan for not falling into a niche and simply placing all his works in Turkey because that is what the publishing world expects from him.

    • TBM says:

      It didn’t strike me as the type who does what’s expected of him. He came across as an extremely intelligent fellow and very well-spoken.

  7. My first novel was a historical(http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=keeper+of+the+crystal+spring), I have three non-fiction books out, just finished a women’s contemporary, there’a nearly finished YA Sci-fi novel waiting in my desk drawer to be revised, and I have started working on a paranormal novel. I can’t seem to help myself–I am a genre-jumper, and everyone warns against that. Your readers want to know what to expect. But I follow my passion, and write what I feel like writing. It keeps writing fresh for me, but I acknowledge that it isn’t great for marketing purposes.

    • TBM says:

      Kudos to you! I want writers who are true to their stories, no matter what type of story. I believe that a reader can sense when a writer is forcing something and unfortunately I think many publishers force writers into one category and don’t let them tell the stories they want to tell. It strips the story of any passion. Feels more like an obligation. Now I need to pop on over to your amazon page. thanks for the link!

      • I agree with both of you. Writing is such a mystery. So many people say they want to write but can’t. It takes inspiration and passion because there’s never a guarantee, no matter how successful one is, that the next work will find a paying audience. Pearl Buck, post-Good Earth, was heard fretting about her editor rejecting a submission. it’s the natural and unique form of expression from the individual which draws in some, the topic covered drawing others. As to genres, well – tomorrow’s new genre is today’s “hybrid.”

      • TBM says:

        Genres is another thing I’m not too fond of. I understand why bookstores have sections in their stores. But I don’t like restricting writers to one genre, maybe two. That baffles me. Writers should write. if the readers like what they write, they’ll read it.

  8. Novroz says:

    I think writer should try different types of writing and even genre (tho not too far off) , it’s like musician trying diffrent type of music.

    I know a western who wrote great books about Japan, so no prob about writing with a set outside Turkey.

  9. lynnsbooks says:

    I don’t see why he should restrict himself either! What an odd thing to have happened.
    Lynn 😀

  10. i would imagine some authors, like actors, thrive on different roles and different story lines, while others find a single outlet and stick to it. i don’t even understand why there would be a discussion. we need all the talent we can find in the arts, his books no matter what the topic, should be on the shelves for the readers to decide.

    • TBM says:

      I wish publishers would let readers decide more. They are always trying to pick the next big “thing” and I think they pass on many talented writers.

  11. Sounds like he is uber-talented! I’m so glad you got to meet him and share his story and trials with us.

  12. Thanks for the post. I hadn’t heard of Mungan but his work sounds exciting!
    On the issue at hand, publishers see things from their perspective. Writers, and other artists, must follow their instincts and their creative urge to remain interesting to their audience.

  13. Fergiemoto says:

    If writers want to explore different types of writing, I say go for it. There could be hidden gems that may remain undiscovered if their creativity is stifled. I also think they should be able to write about different countries, and I agree with Gilly about avoiding cultural errors.

  14. Zachtacular1 says:

    Very exciting blog I must say! I hope to travel the world someday like you. What would you say is the most awesome place you have visited so far?

    http://lifeismuyfantastico.wordpress.com/

    • TBM says:

      That’s always a tough question to answer. I just returned from Malaysia last night and right now those memories are freshest in my mind. However, I haven’t been to a place that I’ve hated. Every place is unique and astounding as long as you keep your eyes and heart open.

  15. The Hook says:

    Versatility is a rare and wonderful quality for a writer – or anyone, for that matter – to posses.
    I wish I was more versatile.

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