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Rachel Seiffert and Zoran Zivkovic – favorite books

Readersvoice.com aims to give readers a few good reading tips. You might want to check out some previous issues, too, for more interviews and reading tips.For this issue I spoke to numerous writers at the Brisbane Writers' Festival, Australia, by the Brisbane River at South Bank in late September - early October. So for some of the favorite books of people like Amitav Ghosh, Rachel Seiffert, Austin Clarke and many others, read on.

Rachel Seiffert’s favorite books reflect her deep interest in post-war European history.
Ms Seiffert has been described by Granta literary magazine as one of the 20 best young writers in Britain.
She said she started out as a film-maker, working as an assistant editor, writing short film scripts, and writing short stories. “One of the short stories got larger and larger and turned into a novel,” she said.
The novel, The Dark Room, was shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize. It tells three stories about the legacy of the Nazi period to the German people.
One character, Micha, is a young teacher who, half a century later, is obsessed with what his grandfather did in the war.
“The Dark Room is entirely fictional,” Ms Seiffert said. “It wasn’t about my grandfather for example.”
Ms Seiffert’s mother was German, and Ms Seiffert was raised in Britain.
She said The Dark Room was about whether you could stop loving someone who has done something awful, and whether it was an appropriate reaction anyway.
She said she had been intimidated by the Booker nomination for The Dark Room, so instead of writing another novel she wrote short stories. She spent time in Germany, had fun with the short stories and retreated to them, she said.
After a while her agent asked her what she’d been doing, and this led to the short story collection Field Studies (2004) being published. Ms Seiffert read a story from Field Studies, and it showed her minimilist writing style.

“I do tend to edit out as much as possible in my writing,” she said. She said she was very distrustful of adjectives.

Ms Seiffert used this minimalist style because she wanted the reader to be able to imagine the characters, so the reading was more personal.
She was trying to get something across rather than linger on an atmosphere.
She has since started a new novel inspired by fact, although she said it was fiction, not journalism.
Ms Seiffert liked Heinrich Boll, author of The Bread of Our Early Years (1955): “the best writer on post-war Germany,” she said. Boll won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972.
Also Ms Seiffert liked Mavis Gallant, a bi-lingual Canadian short story writer who made observations on post-war European sensibilities. Some of Ms Gallant’s books include Home Truths: Selected Canadian Stories (1981).

Another of Ms Seiffert’s favorites was The Reader by Bernard Schlink.
Fantasy author Zoran Zivkovic had a good sense of humor. I saw the author of The Fourth Circle; The Book; and The Library, at two sessions at the Brisbane Writers’ Festival.
In one session he told how one of his cats was allowed to come into his study in the morning, and how it would lie on the keyboard of his computer.
He would caress the cat a few times and when the cat was ready it would get up and lie on the desk next to the computer. He said he would wait for the cat to give him a look which meant it was ok for him to start writing, and then he would write.

He said that now, however, he had become dependent on the cat in order to write.
And when he was overseas and phoned home, instead of asking how his adult sons were he asked how the cat was.

Mr Zivkovic read one of his fantasy stories, and his sense of humor shone through there as well.

He talked about why he liked fantasy.

“Whoever sees in the world only reality is missing a lot,” he said.
“This is something very trivial, very banal, living one day to another.”
He said you would be a very happy person if you opened your eyes to fantasy around you.
He said 95 per cent of writing was fantasy of one sort or another and that it was very difficult to be original. “I just try to offer a slightly different voice,” he said.
Mr Zivkovic, who started writing fiction at 45, said he was very grateful for the influence of other writers. “My writing is full of inter-textual references,” he said. “If you read carefully you might find hints to other writers.”
He said there was nothing wrong with borrowing ideas and exploring them in a new way, and he said that there was a pool of ideas. “From time to time we jump in that pool and come out with drops of water on us.”
He said he would be flattered if another writer borrowed ideas of his.
On the topic of his favorite books, he said he especially liked the Czech writer Milan Kundera (author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being); but also he liked Umberto Eco, author of The Name of the Rose; the novella Silk (1996) by Alessandro Baricco; and Kafka. “He was a great master,” he said of Kafka.