Iain is currently acting as editor and cat-herder-in-chief on a collaborative novel with TEN (count them, TEN) writers. A contemporary story set in a tacky British seaside resort, the Ten To One novel will follow ten characters whose lives intersect that of a mysterious old man…
We thought we’d ask those ten writers about themselves and their involvement in collaborative writing. All ten interviews will appear here over the course of the project.
Today, Livia Akstein Vioto…
Livia Akstein Vioto, who are you?
I’m Brazilian and work from home proofreading, copy-editing, and translating. I’ve attended Law School and History College, and I’ve worked a number of odd jobs where I’ve picked up skills from answering a phone call to reading a physician’s handwriting.
I’d like to make the leap into writing full-time and, while that doesn’t happen, I’m trying my hand at copywriting. I like cooking, dancing, reading, and learning other languages. I’m currently attempting to learn Japanese.
I live in a town that used to be small called Jundiaí, in the state of São Paulo. I suppose growing up in a Brazilian reality did influence who I am and how I write, but so did all the books I’ve read and places I’ve been.
At what age did you start writing?
I’ve always liked telling stories. When I was six, I started writing poems and went on from there. I’m actually really fond of that first piece. It was the beginning.
As a child, I wrote whatever kind of poetry I could. Lots of rhyme and lots of learning, but also a lot of freedom and discoveries. Now I try to keep rhymes to a minimal, and I keep pursuing freedom. Dada and expressionism have heavily influenced me.
Right now, I’m writing poems, short stories, flash fictions, and I have a novel I need to revise. My novel is about memories. The best way I can describe it is as a fictional autobiography.
My goals are to write more, keep writing, start publishing and earn a living from it.
Who are your writing heroes?
Lewis Carroll, Jorge Luis Borges, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Yukio Mishima, Italo Calvino, Herman Melville, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, Rex Stout, Raymond Chandler, John Dunning, Mark Twain, Neil Gaiman and Fernando Pessoa (and all his heteronyms) – in no particular order.
For the word rivering alone, James Joyce would already be one of my favourite writers, but there are many other reasons (and words) why he is. I love his versatility, his originality, and his mastery of the stream of consciousness. He truly inspires me and reminds me to think out of the proverbial box. In Fernando Pessoa, a Portuguese writer from the beginning of the 20thcentury, one has five different authors with completely different styles – and I’ve learnt so much from each one of them. And I just love to get lost and find myself in the immense labyrinth of words and stories of Jorge Luis Borges. It was through him I first came in contact with the world of magic realism and it was through his words that I encountered my definition of Heaven: “I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
How would you describe your style of writing, and why are you drawn to it?
I like to tell a story, whatever the format or genre. I do focus a lot on character development. I write both for myself and my audience, I suppose. But I’m my first audience.
You are one of three Ten To One authors who are not native to the UK. Although all three of you are still in the project, I guess this puts you at a bit of a disadvantage, since this is a novel set wholly in the UK. Would you agree?
Not really. Whilst it would be nice and informative to be able to walk the streets of Skegness, I think that as a writer you must have the capability to immerse yourself in a different reality and be able to convey it convincingly to the reader. My father is a journalist and he always says he has the best job ever, for he is paid to learn and share what he learns with others. I think this is true about writing as well.
I had never even heard of Skegness before Ten to One so, to me, Skegness will forever be linked to the novel. Skegness is to me part imagination, part excerpts of writings (both fictional and factual), and part the pictures I’ve seen. It has become this gyrating carousel of beaches, donkeys, piers, arcades, small convenience stores and cafes, fish and chips and ice creams, the sea and the wind.
How does writing in English differ to writing in your native Portuguese?
Well, there are not only different rules and rhythm but also a whole different mental universe behind another language. You have to be able to tap into this mental universe to be able to be fluent, as well as know the grammar and build vocabulary. And, of course, growing up speaking a language does give you a certain intimacy with it. So, when I write in Portuguese, I have an ease and a know-how that does not come so naturally, so instinctively when I write in English. On the other hand, because I’m not a native speaker, I sometimes see some possibilities within the English language that perhaps a native speaker might miss. An outside perspective, so to speak.
Are there any English idioms you’ve seen in the Ten To One novel that make no sense to you?
Not in Ten to One, not so far. I imagine I don’t know the meaning of many English idioms, and there are some that, even though I know their meaning, make no sense to me. Like ‘pulling one’s leg’. There are some idioms that are the same both in English and in Portuguese, but you can’t take it for granted. Kick the bucket means to die in English but in Portuguese it means to give up, act rashly or to make a scandal out of frustration. I love the English language and I find it beautiful, but Portuguese has this inbuilt lyricism I often miss. Words like saudade (there is really no equivalent in English to saudade, but it is a noun that represents the act of missing something or someone, sometimes fondly, though most times in a bittersweet manner – it is a sort of nostalgia) demonstrate this well.
What first drew you to the Ten To One project?
I found out about it on the last possible day to participate. I just fell in love with the concept and the opportunity to collaborate in writing with people from all over the world.
Have you written collaboratively before?
Nope. I think the challenge of collaborative writing, the skill we need is the capability to compromise, to bring many voices into a unity, and the logistics of it all.
Do you think there is a unity in the Ten To One novel?
Yes, absolutely. I think that, even though Ten to One is being written by ten authors, it is being woven together quite seamlessly. There are many voices but one rhythm. I think the stories the old man Popescu tells Gracie are a good example of the underlying notes that help form a unified melody in Ten to One. I’m not sure that it is pulling apart at all. With each round of chapters the story seems to be taking off rather than falling apart.
I think the advantages of a collaborative story include the many experiences, backgrounds and points of view that come together to create a story.
What genre of novel do you think Ten To One is going to be?
I’m not sure. Indubitably, there are some elements of mystery already present, but I think that, at this stage, the story could go anywhere. It’s not going to be a historical biography nor a western.
If someone asks me what the Ten To One novel is about, I direct them to the Ten to One Facebook page so they can discover for themselves! Honestly. But I also add that it is a novel written by ten authors, each one of them the creator of a different character. These characters start coming together around the mysterious circumstances that are taking place in Skegness and seem to be surrounding this old man. And through all of these events we get to know who these characters are and what they are made of.
When we interviewed Danielle Bentley, she expressed hopes that the story would take a fantastical twist. William Thirsk-Gaskill offered a preference for something with greater realism. What is your opinion of this? What strange twists do you think the story might take?
I suppose I’m somewhere in the middle, so to speak. I think it could be interesting and fun to combine both elements, veering the story towards the magic realism realm. I think that are any number of strange twists the story could take. I’m stuck with the image of Cthulhu rising by the pier of Skegness [something mentioned in the last interview]. I somehow can see that.
Really? What is your Ten To One character Mabel like?
Mabel is a woman divided between the tragedy of her past (the circus where she lived with her family burnt down) and her attempts to both improve and prove herself as an artist. She faces her fears head on, that’s why she learnt how to eat fire. She’s afraid of caring for people – she might lose them – but can’t help herself. Most of all she is a survivor who doesn’t let anything discourage her. What Mabel wants – as much as the applause that is at one time the recognition of her artistry and a lullaby from home – is to find out what happened to her circus family, and maybe even find herself a new one.
How much of your protagonist is a reflection of you?
Not much and everything. While I do not put a lot of myself into a character at all, this character will be a product of my experiences, notions, capability, understanding…
The bits I have drawn from my own experience include taking a part-time job I didn’t care for to make ends meet, the struggle to make it as an artist, the love for sword swallowing and the circus in general – even though I didn’t grow up in one. Also, the thrill of taking the stage – no, I did not swallow swords or eat fire, just a bit of acting. I think it is fantastic to be able to share your experiences by making them your characters’, but even more exciting is to experience new things through them.
Where is Mabel’s story going? What is going to happen to her?
Wish I knew! That is part of what is so exciting in this project, you think you know where the story is going and what is going to happen to your character, but then the whole story takes an unexpected turn and you have to figure things out all over again. I’d like Mabel to find what she is looking for, in one way or another.
Apart from your own, which of the Ten To One characters do you really like?
I think all the characters are great; they all bring something unique to the mix. I do have a soft spot for Mungo, though. I think there is something poetic about him, this clown who seemingly gave up on the world and himself – there are a lot of possibilities in a character like that. He has many layers and a very peculiar perspective, plus there are things only a clown can pull off. Of course, there is the fact that Mungo Joey and Mabel have a common past with the circus life and the fire – they are survivors, the show must go on. I always want to read more about him, and I think that is the best trait a character can have: to keep you wanting more.
You can find out more about the Ten To One novel on the Pigeon Park Press website (http://pigeonparkpress.blogspot.co.uk/p/ten-to-one-collaboratively-written.html) and also sign up for the Ten To One newsletter.