Mankind and nature, and their magical relationship

Vangelis Hatziyannidis is nothing if not versatile. After studying law, he turned to acting and has subsequently made a considerable name for himself as a writer of novels, theater and short stories. His latest book, «Fysikes istories» («Natural Histories»), just out from To Rodakio, revisits many of the themes that appeared in his earlier work. Eccentric narrators, dreams, mysteries, disappearances, enclosure, imprisonment and the burial of objects are some of the writer’s favorite motifs. The 11 stories in the collection all have some connection with nature, which bears an odd, sometimes magical, relationship to the human characters. There are trees whose fruit, when eaten, drives humans mad, and also compels them to ensure that its seed is planted and reproduced in «The Asproudia.» Ill-treated insects turn on their tormentor in «The Wasps.» A man who yields to the temptation to keep his head underwater in «The Lake» lives for a while in an aquatic universe, escaping just in time to regain his human faculties. A man turns into a tree in «A Transformation.» Kathimerini English Edition asked Hatziyannidis about «Natural Histories.» How did you start to write the stories? Were any of them solicited? Was the recurring theme of the natural world part of a deliberate plan to build a collection of related stories? I had long felt the desire to write a collection of short stories that would center on the world of nature, or rather on the relationship of mankind with that formidable entity, the natural world. The idea was there when I first began to write, and the first story I finished for this series was «The Secret Root,» which starts the «Natural Histories» collection. The second story I began working on was about a beekeeper and a unique recipe he invents that uses a combination of various plants to get the best honey. But it soon became apparent that that story had a tendency to spread out, and so my first novel, «Four Walls» was born. But the idea for «Natural Histories» was always there inside me, and even though I had embarked on a second novel, «The Guest,» I always found time to write a story for this collection. Those that have been published from time to time in newspapers or periodicals were either ready, in my drawer when I filed them (a sort of a pre-publication), or I wrote them on commission, all the while bearing in mind that I would later include them in this collection. Some of the themes in the stories also appear in your novels; there are mysteries, disappearances, enclosure, the burial of objects, eccentric narrators, dreams, dominant characters who initiate the narrator, magical connections between people and objects. I think there is indeed a unity among my three books and this happens because, no matter how much the topics change, I am still the same person, with the same way of thinking and with a tendency to be fascinated by the same fragrances and flavors. All the themes you mention have always exerted a fascination over me. They are like keys that open up marvelous rooms in my subconscious. Do you write short stories, novels and plays at the same time? Do they feed into one another? Not exactly at the same time, but by taking little breaks of different lengths and jumping from one genre to another. I don’t really think that one feeds into another, but the alternation and the break from monotony certainly are beneficial. You used small, discreet illustrations in «Stolen Time.» This time you have large, full color illustrations. What was the thinking behind the decision to use them? Was it a deliberate attempt to recreate the style of old illustrated editions? And how did you work with the illustrator? I think the illustrations function completely differently in the two books. In the novel, those sketches were like notes or footnotes made by the hero who is narrating the story. They are a visual representation, a supplement to what he tells us. And, in fact, I gave clear, exact instructions as to what each drawing should contain. In «Natural Histories» the illustrations do not make such an organic contribution. Their role is to intensify or complete the feeling that the text gives off. If that is reminiscent of old editions it was not intentional. Besides, Euphrosyne Doxiadis’s illustrations also have something very contemporary about them. At any rate, if the book is reminiscent of past times I hope that it is in terms of quality and beauty, and not because it is old-fashioned. As for working with my illustrator, it was unbelievably enjoyable. She had complete freedom to do whatever she liked, I adore her work and we became the best of friends. With two novels, a play and a book of short stories to your credit in just a few years, how do you see your writing developing? Have your ambitions for it changed? What are you working on now? There are times when one is more productive than others; times when you feel pleased with your work and others when you feel you have dried up. I believe that «Natural Histories» is the end of a cycle. Of course, as I said before, I can’t get away from my own fixations, preferences or revulsions, nor would I like to entirely change the way I see the world. However, I am almost certain that my next book (I’ve been working on a new novel for some months now) will be something new and different. It will have a different atmosphere. I think I am trying out a new path and I’m certainly enjoying it. Another project that makes me very happy is that a new play of mine will be performed next year at Dimitris Tarlow’s Poreia, a theater that always has good productions. And I have a subject for a new short story. That’s plenty, I think. Novelist, playwright and short-story writer Vangelis Hatziyannidis, born in 1967, has written two novels, «I tesseris toichi» («Four Walls») and «O filoxenoumenos» («Stolen Time»), published by To Rodakio in 2000 and 2004 respectively. His play «Metamfiesi» («Disguise») was published by Ianos in 2005. «Fysikes istories» («Natural Histories»), illustrated by Euphrosyne Doxiadis, has just come out from To Rodakio. «Four Walls» won Diavazo literary magazine’s prize for the best new writer in 2001 and has been translated into French, Italian, Spanish and English. The French edition won the Laure Bataillon Prize for the best foreign book and best translation of the year. Earlier this year Marion Boyars Publishers brought out an English translation of «Four Walls» by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife, who is currently preparing a translation of his second novel for the same publisher.