Interview with Christos Chartomatsidis by Irina Papancheva
Christos Chartomatsidis: Interruptions in writing are necessary
By Irina Papancheva*
Christos Chartomatsidis was born in 1954 in Kazanlak, Bulgaria in the family of Greek political emigrants. He grew up in Sofia where he obtained a degree in medicine. In 1980 he moved to Greece where he has been working as a Head of the Microbiological and Biochemical laboratory, in the District Hospital of Komotini city. His first publications date back to 1969. He has won a number of prizes through the years: second prize in the competition for students’ short stories in the city of Shumen (1978), second prize in the short story competition “Tsvetan Zangov” (1980), second prize for a novel in the competition of “H. G. Danov” publishing house and Plovdiv municipality for the novel “That’s also me” (1990), published in Greece by Patakis publishing house, Athens, under the title “A guitar player in a tavern” and the prize of Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for the play “Lilya” (2015). “Lilya” has been translated into English and presented in Sofia and Varna, as well as played in Thessaloniki.
In Greece Christos Chartomatsidis has published short stories, poems and translations in various newspapers and literary magazines.
He has published two collections of poems, two collection of short stories, four novels and a novella. His four plays have been performed in theatres in Bulgaria and Greece.
Christos Chartomatsidis is a member of the Union of the Bulgarian writers and of the Slavonic literary and artistic academy. He is also a member of the Association of the Greek writers in Athens and of the Association of the Greek literary professionals in Thessaloniki.
You have once said, “Writing is a long story that starts in your early teenage years when you just want to do something that will attract the attention of others, and then it becomes a painful fate.” Does this reflect your own experience? How did your story with writing start?
Indeed, it is the case. During puberty, everyone is trying to shine, to attract the attention of the others; some do sports, others become aggressive, others sing or create. In fact, everyone is looking for themselves. And if in any of these expressions, they feel that they have found their true self, then this becomes fate. Whether this fate would be painful or happy does not always depend on the efforts invested. At the end of the day, what matters is whether it brings us joy, whether it gives meaning to our life regardless the success. Back on the day, we didn’t know the term “creative writing”. It is necessary that someone not only teaches you the writer’s craft, but also sifts those who can write from those who think they can. We were lucky that the newspaper “Srednoshkolsko zname” and the literary magazine “Rodna rech” existed then and offered the opportunity of publication to young writers, but also sifted the talented ones from those who were lacking talent. Later, as students, we had the Cabinet of the young writers-students “Dimcho Debelyanov”. Becoming a member of “Dimcho Debelyanov” was a serious achievement. The works of the candidates were discussed with cruel sincerity. It wasn’t rare to hear the harsh judgment: “Talentless!”. The label “A true talent!” or even “A genius!” was also given with unusual lightness. Another newspaper “Student tribune” offered literary consultations to student-authors. Having passed through these filters, one got the clarity whether there was any point for them to continue writing or they would better look for another vocation.
You were born in Bulgaria where you also completed your education. You have been writing in both Greek and Bulgarian. Do you consider yourself a Greek or a Bulgarian author? And how do you choose the language in which to create your work?
I write in both Bulgarian and Greek. I am a member of the two leading Greek writers’ associations – in Athens and in Thessaloniki. I am also a member of the Union of the Bulgarian Writers, so, formally, I am both a Bulgarian and a Greek writer. The choice of language comes with the topic. If it is about the contemporary Greek reality, I write in Greek and, respectively, if I go back to the years of my youth, I opt for Bulgarian.
Who has influenced you most as a writer?
Some writers have influenced my worldview and approach to life, such as the classics – Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Kazantzakis, Zola, Radichkov. From others I have learnt the craft – Gogol, Vazov with his “Uncles”. Lately, I am more and more admiring Dumas, the father, who is an unbeatable master of plot. We know him best for “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”, while he has written a series of novels about the French revolution – “The Knight of Maison-Rouge”, two novels about the Kingdom of Naples, a novel about the Borgias and other ones about the French history – “Queen Margot”, “Henry, the 4rd” etc, and all of them are page-turners.
Do you have a writing routine? What does your writing process look like?
What matters is to be in the mood for writing and not to succumb to the sweet laziness. At a certain moment, overcome by desire (inspiration?!), I write the first chapter. Then I wait for a similar moment – for the next chapter, and that’s how it continuous. In general, I don’t have writing discipline, but even when the writer is inactive on the surface, the topic works inside them, hence these interruptions are necessary. After the completion of the first draft comes what the Greek writer Vassilis Vassilikos calls montage – a term, taken by cinema. Then the real pleasure begins because the most incredible things could happen to the text and the characters.
Is your work as a Head of a microbiologic and bio-chemical laboratory a source of inspiration for your writing?
My work at the laboratory is definitely not a source of inspiration. Perhaps I get influenced by the people and the characters I come across as well as by their destinies. I don’t mean the patients with whom I have almost no contact, but the staff. However, even this happens to limited extent.
Has the current pandemic impacted you as a writer? Has it brought you new motives or stories?
Many writers claim that the pandemic has given them the free time they have missed so that they can finish their works. It didn’t happen that way with me. I continued to go to work as usual, but the overall limitation of contacts and outings has been depressing. Let’s hope that this will be over soon.
You have written poems, short stories, novels, plays. Do you express a different aspect of yourself with each genre? From your point of view, what are the similarities and differences between the poet, writer and playwright in you? And how an idea you get finds its genre?
I don’t know how a certain idea finds its expression in a specific genre, perhaps the content itself subconsciously suggests the form it needs. In some reviews on my prose, I have read that my pieces have the structure of scenes from a play. I have taken it as a compliment. I think this is exactly the way it should be – there must be a clash, a conflict, strong characters, authentic dialogues. It is different with poetry. My poems are sharper and more social than my prose.
You are also a translator. Being an author yourself, do you sometimes get tempted to edit the works you translate?
You are touching upon a very interesting topic. Generally speaking, the translator should be faithful to the author. However, what should be done when the source text is “heavy”? I recently had such a case. The author’s piece was carelessly written, often repeating the same words. This could be taken as a specific characteristic of the style but translating it the way it was, it would have left the impression of bad translation. Isn’t the objective not only to convey the meaning but also to make the speech flow in the new language, so that it reads without roughness and stumbling. Well, I did allow myself to make it slightly smoother, something which the editor should have done with the source text.
Finally, what would be your best advice about writing?
I doubt that I am the person to give advices, but I could wish other writers to write in an engaging, interesting, alive way. A boring work has been for long now not a synonym of impressive intelligence, but an expression of the author’s helplessness.
*Irina Papancheva is a Bulgarian fiction writer. She was born in Burgas. She specialized literature in “St. St. Cyril and Methodius” high school, then she earned a master’s degree in Czech language and literature at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski” and a master’s degree in European politics and social integration at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium. Website: ipapancheva.com