THE BRITISH LIBRARY

European studies blog

11 May 2016

My Way of Looking/Breathing

Our latest Q&A post with a writer featured in tonight’s European Literature Festival Writers’ Showcase event introduces Belgian Flemish novelist, poet and dramatist Peter Verhelst, whose story The Man I Became is published by Peirene Press

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Peter Verhelst

How did you become a writer?

I’m not sure I became a writer. I’m sure I didn’t become a painter. I wanted to become Jan Van Eyck, but wasn’t able to paint very well. I've written every day since I was 15. That's my way of looking/breathing.

You’re coming to London for European Literature Night. Is there a British author you particularly admire?

I love (to hate) James Joyce. No one can irritate me the way he does and at the same time: witty!
I love Julian Barnes. His elegant way of thinking and finding words for all human emotions.
I love Samuel Beckett VERY MUCH.
I would love to love Tom McCarthy: I only read fragments of his books. Didn’t have the time yet to read full texts. But I'm sure I will love his books.

Other than reading literature in translation, how else can we break down barriers between people of different nationalities and cultures?

Talk to each other. Visit each other. Eat with each other.

Is there a book you wish you’d written? If so what is it?

Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll): it’s a book about the pleasure of writing. The pleasure of ‘making things up’.
(But I don't like the songs.)

What advice would you give to anyone just starting out?

Don’t try to be loved. Don’t believe compliments. Never mind the haters. Do exactly what you think you have to do (and don’t hesitate to contradict your own opinions).

What are you reading now?

Books about art. Preparing for my new novel.

Can you tell us anything about your next book?

It’s a novel about grief, trauma. Is it possible to talk about ‘what you can't talk about’? (Of course it is)

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