VIEW ENTERED BY ABCTALES: Two Zero Zero Two
Monday, January 07, 2002 6:00:00 AM
by Jozef Imrich
|Jozef Imrich’s roots are in Bohemian mountains, but his branches are on the Antipodean beaches. However, Jozef's alphabetical leaves of letters devoted to burning the midnight fire are stored in the ABCTales space capsule somewhere in the region of the big Ben.
Jozef was born in Czechoslovakia in 1958 and escaped through the Iron Curtain to Austria in 1980. Two of Jozef’s best friends had drowned during the dramatic crossing of 7 July 1980.
Jozef was the youngest boy in the family of six and therefore, statistically, the person most likely to seize upon the rebellion culture, the child to keep the family awake at night.
Everyone is born with some special talent, and Jozef discovered early on that he had two: a good sense of where to hide samizdat magazines and good research skills. Jozef has lived and worked in Australia for 20 years, for almost 18 years of which he worked as a reference officer and a researcher at the NSW Parliament. Indeed, life doesn't get much stranger than that. Find out more about him on his website.
How would you describe your writing?
I am a collector of throwaway stuff, spirits and sounds. For years, spirits appeared at the foot of my bed and at the edge of my mind I could hear howling Bessie, my dog who also survived the Iron Curtain.
As Tony Hillerman put it “A writer is like a ‘bag lady pushing her stolen shopping cart through life collecting throwaway stuff, which, who knows, might be useful some way someday.’”
As a survivor living in an exile, mothered by necessity, my stories reflect a search for identity that is inspired by the memory of my drowned friends, ghosts of my communist upbringing and the cold reality of homelessness.
I realized some time ago that I am not the most talented writer. But I have the determination needed to succeed. In the region of my heart I somehow feel that I needed to endure my own suffering in order to make people believe in a struggles of freedom.
My work provides a voice for all those like myself, who are lost in the sea of ironic macro -isms of human life, and who need to learn how to express their hidden emotions. I create a reflection of my experience that is also a reflection of experiences of thousands and thousands of Eastern and Central Europeans.
What currently fascinates me is the duality of views on migration our ability to be imbued with such goodness and yet have a capacity for such evil. For one generation of boat people to have the heart to drown the next generation of boat people.
Which piece of writing are you most proud of?
Until September 11, most people were in love with the idea that freedom lasted forever. However, as we all now know freedom is a mysterious force.
So I am most proud of the story which I dedicated to a folkloric teacher Miss Marta Chamillova, about a dancing and singing group called Tatranka. This narrative is something I believe my late sister Aga would also enjoy reading. Our childhood years at Tatranka were the happiest years in our lives. In the midst of the communist concentration camp, Chamillova created a mysterious sense of freedom for all the children of Tatranka.
To boot, this story was cherrypicked at the ABCTales in November 2001: Chamillova, once told me that ‘Blood talks a lot louder than words do’ and I never stopped believing that.’
Who are your favourite writers?
I love reading anything, anywhere, anytime. Shakespeare is a master of storytelling. He or she or them seem to know every possible trick and magic of suspense. Multitalented Shakespeare is forgiven by most Czechs and Slovaks for getting his research wrong about the Bohemian seaside.
I am partial to Slavic writers and their sense of slavery, identity and daily rituals. Dostoyevsky helps me recreating myself anew. Kafka’s kabbalic stories are very powerful. The graveyard may be the happiest place in the Kafka’s book, but I still admire Franz who would in 2001 enjoy reading Franzens' family saga entitled Corrections. Havel’s talent for the theatre of the absurd, when read in the context of the communist experience, is just mind boggling. Just read me aloud the title of Kundera’s book 'the Unbearable Lightness of Being,’ and you make me feel moved. The one and only, Slavoj Zizek, the sage of Slavic heart and global philosophy is also a great read.
A former Australian Ambassador in Vienna, James William Cumes, has written a book Haverleigh. One day soon this story about WWII and Kokoda Trail will become an epic like ‘A Fortunate Life’ by Facey. I am still amazed that it was an Australian writer, Thomas Kennealy, rather than some European writers who weaved a testing tale about the Czechoslovak, part saint and part sinner, Schindler.
However, one cannot expect to read anything of value, unless one is prepared to search for characters who do not simply walk through the pages but live the story. To delve deeply into the caverns of one’s soul. to acknowledge what one finds there, and to accept who one is. One knows that one has found a love of the self, when one sees one’s own 'weirdness' as wonder. Only then will the words the reader was born to find become apparent. Sunlight through rain; laughter through tears; death at the moment of birth.
As Tori Amos pointed out "You all have a responsibility to understand your writers rather then rolling your eyes and concluding they're not making sense. Or maybe you're just a dingbat."
What do you think of writing on the web?
Writing on web like cooking food, is mostly to do with comfort, filling us up and making us feel nourished or just sated. There is no specific boundary or hunger to stories on the web, it begins and ends in our minds. Web like food is here to stay.
I understand that hundreds of tradepaper backs published end up in recycling bins, where they are destined to be shredded.
Up to one million books per month are being pulped in Britain.
The next generation of young people are unlikely to support anything but just in time printing from the web.
The Internet is bringing young and old people from the whole world together. The Internet is opening their eyes and they are discovering things which they could not imagine. I know that many people will get information about my forthcoming book ‘Cold River’ through internet, many will go and read the story, many will like it , many will say it is ancient, but Cold River is the symbolic voice of every survivor which Internet will help to spread rather than suppress.
Authors now find it easier to find out what do people really think? Not the critics. Not the publishers. The bookshops. The people. People just like you, who surfed on-line, paid for their book, and spent two hours or three sitting in the dark watching the story unfold… or not! Now authors can see the unfiltered opinions of real readers all over the country that read the book on various internet sites.
Who are your favourite abctales writers?
After a while ABCtales writers become more than just one dimensional names on the screen one happens to come across in the bookshop. At the ABCTales, writers become almost as large as life. I lurk at discussions and I read not just their stories, poetries and interviews, but between the lines leading to sparks of their personalities, likes and dislikes, humour and seriousness, ideas shared on a good day or nor so good.
Souls like David Taub, Liana, Andrea, Linsi, poet Jude and ivoryfishbone have not only a gift of a gab but that extra artistic dimension of the Bohemian underground. I detected a certain dimension of a dark bloom of human existence in several of their creations.
There are many who can spin a yarn almost effortlessly such as Andrew, sneak, meremortal and misfit. In addition, these characters can chat with a great gusto. Often on the risque side without the slightest suggestion of flaming ...
Meremortal even without realising it has written a very powerful poem named after the village of my childhood ‘Vrbov’ Willow Tree.
What is your advice for other writers?
I understand that S. L. Viehl's response to every rejection letter she received was : "HEY, YOUR LOSS!" I would not advice anyone to do that, however, it is wonderful to see the power of individuality even when it comes to rejections.
It helps to remember what George Orwell had to say about the deep seated nature of some editors, preditors and critiques: ‘Man's greatest drive is not love or hate but to change another person's writing.’
Mary Higgins Clark was rejected forty times before selling her first story. One editor wrote: "Your story is light, slight, and trite." More than 30 million copies of her books are now in print.
If we want to be different, if we want to be creative, If we want to be writers, we’ve got to have a thick skin. Thick skin is our only defence against the steady stream of letters one and all of us are likely to encounter before an editor or agent or publisher shows interest in our creation.
On a more realistic note, whatever you do try not to listen to any advice from writers or anyone else. Tears, anger, bribery might work better for some writers than developing a thick skin. Time and patience must be in long term supply.
What are your aspirations?
To continue to be grateful for crossing paths with dynamic people like my teacher Marta Chamillova, my boss at the parliamentary library Dr Cope and Patricia Azarias at the Public Accounts Committee. Find a way to explain to people that not all politicians are lusting for power. As a poet, writer, prisoner, president, Vaclav Havel served not just Czechoslovakia but the whole world. At the NSW Parliament, I did not see characters like John Hatton, satisfying their wants at the expense of someone else’s integrity. To me, Australian parliamentarians like Kevin Rozzoli, Diedre Grusovin, Andrew Tink, Dr Goldsmith, John Newman, Janelle Saffin, Anne Symonds, and Johno Johnson managed to distil the essence of open society and democracy. These are the working bees who deserve more praises and attention to their deeds.
I want to become a more confident writer. Meet as many readers as I can. Die in a certainty that my children’s children will treasure the following praise from the ABCTales like a photoalbum:
“What a magnificent story. There are writers who are technically able on the site, but to be a good storyteller and to be an inspiring one is something much rarer.
This was a story that my time spent reading was repaid manyfold.
Thank you very much Jozef.
Andrew Pack abctales.com”
How did you get published?
I took six months off work. I sat next to my stolen shopping cart of throwaway pieces and began to quilt twenty years worth of fluid memories. I stuck a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt on top of my iMac. ‘You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, "I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along." You must do the thing you think you cannot do.’
I sold my soul. I begged, bribed and boozed in order to obtain contact names. I joined and lurked around dozens of chatrooms on the subject of writing and publishing.
It is easy for me to grant a happy ending to my story, which has been through so much and none of it is the story’s fault. I am thankful to Deron Douglas of Double Dragon publishers who is going to release my story around March 2002 and with each e-book sale my prospect of getting published in print on demand will increase.
My favourite saying for writers, poets and keepers of journals is “If you’re going to create, create a lot. Creativity is not like playing the slot machines, where failure to win means you go home broke. With creativity, if you don’t win, you’re usually no worse off than if you hadn’t played” -Scott Adams