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Journalist Rachid Filali
Sits Down with Canadian Novelist Lisa de Nikolits
RF: Is scientific culture necessary to the novelist to create a virtual world, I mean, what is the boundary between reality and imagination to write fiction? What do you think of magical realism?
LDN: Gosh, there are lots of elements to this question! Let me start with “is scientific culture necessary to the novelist…” I believe the answer to be no. It’s not necessary. If we take novels such at George Orwell’s 1984 which was first published in 1949 or even A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess,
published in 1962 – both of those contained concepts about a scientific reality that did not yet exist but which now does. The writing preceded the science in the same way gadgets and gizmos on Star Trek seemed to be flights of screenwriting fantasy and yet, here we are today, clutching iPods and iPhones and iPads and all sorts of things that would have looked right at home on the Starship Enterprise. Perhaps it’s the unfettered imagination of the novelist that paves the way for science. Perhaps the writers, with our wild and free imaginations, provide ideas that that scientists then make real. The marriage of science and art results in the off-spring of a world striding forward in terms of invention.
To answer your second question, what do I think of magical realism… I love it! While I have not yet used any elements of magical realism in my novels, I am working on a collection of short stories titled Cannibals of The Afterlife and those works all have aspects of magical realism in them. I find it every exciting and something that comes naturally to me — my mind makes magical jumps that makes perfect sense to me. I’m not sure though, how my stories will be received but the joy is in their development. I would say that magical realism will feature increasingly in my writing, moving forward, and I’d love to do an entire novel. I’m not sure how many publishers would embrace it.
RF: We are in the era of the novel but with the spirit of poetry is still a strong presence. Why do you think?
LDN: The spirit of poetry is essential and yes, most certainly is a strong presence. I’m not a good poet by any means but I do find poetry to be a wonderful vehicle or tool to get my ideas going – many a long work has come from a few lines of poetry scribbled down. Poetry is to writing
is like vanilla essence to a cake – a few tiny drops makes a powerful impact.
Sometimes, as a treat, when I’ve been working very hard at my writing, I take myself off to a poetry bootcamp, which is a workshop for a day and it’s such fun! I find it refreshing for my brain and very stimulating too. A poem is a great way to set a tone for a story or novel – I often write an accompanying poem that will feature in the novel. I have poems in both my novels, The Hungry Mirror and West of Wawa.
RF: Do you prefer writing poetry or the novel in order to express the existential anxiety?
LDN: Ah, the existential anxiety! There is no escaping it. As mentioned above, I’m not a talented poet but you pose an interesting question. For me personally, to choose which writing would best express my own existential anxiety, I would answer poetry or the short story. But to express the existential anxiety in a novel is much harder, I think, because people are so afraid. They’re afraid to read about it, and afraid to publish it. People are terrified of the existential anxiety, as if acknowledging it will result in the nihilism of the self. I studied Philosophy at
a university many, many years ago and I fell in love with the Existentialists, their message resonated deeply. And years later, I was strongly drawn to Buddhism, despite having been educated as
Catholic and I find many similarities of thought between Buddhism and Existentialism.
RF: You've lived in South Africa and the United States, Britain, Australia and now in
Canada. What do you take advantage of these different environments on the level of the creative experience?
LDN: Yes, I have been greatly fortunate in being able to travel and live in so many places. It is thanks to my work as a magazine art director that I have lived and worked in all those countries, and, for the author in me, it has been invaluable. I do believe though, that had I stayed in South Africa all my life (which was my initial plan but one’s plans are often tossed aside by life!), I have no doubt that I would have written as passionately and as prolifically. I have been an avid writer all my life; writing has been the joy and passion of my soul. Funnily enough, I could not find it within me to write as a day job — that was a torment. I was fortunate to discover art directing and that for me was the perfect job – it has brought me great pleasure and that, more than the various countries, has created rich environments for my writing. Yes, I would have to thank art directing more than the different countries but actually, as I say that I wonder if that’s strictly true… you’ve made me stop to think! Art directing combined with the various countries has enriched my creative experience. But let’s say, for arguments sake, that I had stayed in one country and one job all my life, I still believe that with a powerful imagination, a fearless embrace of magical realism and a dedication to becoming a better and better writer, would see me writing as much.
RF: Novelist, Steinbeck has a beautiful style of writing. This is true, but some ideas are beautiful in themselves, these ideas do not need to express beautiful. What do you think?
LDN: Hmmm, the idea versus the expression of the idea. I think that Steinbeck has taken issues and İdeas of harsh ugliness but has made them beautiful and poignant by the lovely melody of his writing. He deals with poverty, loneliness, death and betrayal – all harsh and cruel issues – but he expresses them with such beauty that the stories become lovely. And then there are writers who write about beauty but they do it in such a heavy-handed, ham-fisted way, that the idea
becomes ugly and repulsive to the reader. That’s the power of writing. I would choose to be a beautiful writer of harsh ideas rather than a bad writer of beautiful ideas. And can one be a beautiful writer of beautiful ideas? I guess you can in that all ideas are equal – there are none more beautiful than the other – and how can one qualify the beauty of an idea? Only subjectively… But there is objectively beautiful writing and I would strive for that.
RF: Many authors in their writings invest part of their personal lives. You did in your novel West of Wawa?
LDN: I did, and I didn’t! I did the big cross-Canada trip, that is true. But the rest of the book is pure fiction. My protagonist, Benny, comes purely from my imagination, as do her adventures. Sure, I draw upon my experiences as an art director and a woman but my own personal experiences never find themselves on the page – instead I take my adventures in life (which are never as interesting as my character’s adventures!) and use them as a raw blank canvas – the painting and artwork that covers the canvas, all that comes from the imaginings of my mind.
RF: French writer Saint-Exupéry became famous with his "Little Prince". I think that the value of books is not in the size and number of words, but in the inherent quality of the ideas offered, is not it not?
LDN: Absolutely! Two books I referred to earlier, 1984 and A Clockwork Orange, neither of those were big books but look at their impact – extremely powerful.
Originally from South Africa, Lisa de Nikolits has been a Canadian citizen since 2003. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Philosophy and has lived in the U.S.A., Australia and Britain. Lisa de Nikolits is the author of four published novels: The Witchdoctor’s Bones launched Spring 2014 to literary and reader acclaim. A Glittering Chaos launched 2013 and tied to win the 2014 Silver IPPY for Popular Fiction. West of Wawa launched 2012 and won the 2012 IPPY Silver Medal Winner for Popular Fiction and was a Chatelaine Editor's Pick. The Hungry Mirror launched 2010 and won the 2011 IPPY Awards Gold Medal for Women's Issues Fiction and long-listed for a ReLit Award.
Lisa has a short story coming out in Postscripts To Darkness, 2015, a short story in the anthology, Thirteen O'Clock by the Mesdames of Mayhem, due in October 2015 and flash fiction and a short story in the debut issue of Maud.Lin House. Her fifth novel, Between The Cracks She Fell will be published in Fall 2015. All novels published by Inanna Publications. From her website
Rachid Filali was born in Algeria in 1964, and has been a journalist since 1985. Filali is a reseacher in linguitics, and is fluent in a number of languages: English, Arabic, French, German, Chinese, Japanese. He expressed his view about the universe and life in his first collection of poetry published in 2007. The second book published in 2014. In addition to these, he has published two books on world literature. He is also scientifically published in his study book about bees. Currently, he is collaborating with a number of Arab and foreign magazines and works as corrector and revisor for the newspaper Elkhabar-Elriadi.