The Writer on the Shore. Masterclass with Norwegian author, Pedro Carmona-Alvarez

18 March, 2016. The Seagull School of Publishing hosted a wonderful interactive session with famous Norwegian poet-novelist-musician Pedro Carmona-Alvarez, who talked about poetry, prose, music, books and the hard task of writing. Pedro began by reminiscing about his formative years in his native country, Chile, from where, due to political reasons, his family had to relocate to Norway, where he now lives. Pedro talked about his experiences of adapting to a new culture, language and people, about overcoming the language barrier and about his passion for music—music transcends all languages.

Pedro shared with us wonderful line by his mother, something she said to him during their resettlement attempts in Norway: ‘Any new language you learn will only add to your wisdom.’ Learning a new language does not necessarily mean forgetting your native dialect but embracing something new, something different.

Pedro then took us into the writer’s world. He talked about how the writing is often more prudent than the writer, that the story tells the author what it needs, the story pulls the words seamlessly out of the writer’s mind. The writer is like a swimmer, waiting, poised, on the shore. The moment he spots a gleaming ship in the distance, he starts swimming towards it. Sometimes he might reach it and be greeted aboard with a joyous welcome; at other times, it turns out to be a mirage and he finds himself stranded in the middle of the deep blue sea. But as long as he is in the water, he must keep swimming, he must find another ship to swim to.

Once Pedro called his editor the night before his book was going to print, to tell him not to publish because he felt the book was not really ready to go out into the world! Now, that’s something the poor editor wasn’t expecting! But that just shows goes to show how very ardent, and particular, he is about the work he produces.

Pedro’s poems, novels and songs tell us a lot about his own journey—his writings delve deeply into isolation, nostalgia, the idea of home and abroad, childhood and love, reflecting his own experiences of separation and exile from his land and language. He mentioned that his poems, with their hymn-like airs, had taken much inspiration from those of Pablo Neruda.

Pedro has rather a striking way of sketching the characters in his stories. He creates a character, puts him or her in a situation, and then sits back and observes their thoughts, their reactions, walking round and round them in his mind, noting them from every angle but not imposing his will upon them at any time. In his remarkable novel The Weather Changed, Summer Came and So On, published by Seagull Books, he has adopted a unique narrative style, largely inflected with music, to explore the experiences of an uprooted life, swinging between different cultures and languages, the shadows cast by grief and the struggle humans undergo in order to arrive at an identity.

Talking about translation, Pedro said that it was important that whether it was someone’s work or an idea being nurtured in to poetry, prose or music, it should always retain the first-hand tone and voice of the source translated from.

Well, words can never be enough to convey how enriching and amazing an experience it was for us. He enlightened us not only with his personal accounts and work experience but also earnestly addressed our questions and shared some very helpful words of advice for the budding writers and editors among us.

We are all grateful to NORLA and the Seagull School for organizing this wonderful session for us.

Sukanya Sur

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