Zdravka Evtimova: Writing is a happy place

Give your goodness to others, lest it turns into evil

It is quite like planting trees - here, in the wild land that is my hometown of Radomir - and knowing that they would bear fruit in 30 years, translator and writer Zdravka Evtimova says in an interview to Europost.

Two souls co-exist in your body - these of a translator and a writer.

Writing is a happy place. After a long day of work, writing is a way to relax. Translation is about striving to preserve all the nuances invested in a text by its author. You go where the mind, thoughts, or indecisions of another person take you. By contrast, writing gives you complete freedom.

I do not write to get awards or create buzz. Yes, I'm happy when I receive some payments, but these are not much. What I mean to say is they cannot be the driving force for writing. It is quite like planting trees - here, in the wild land that is my hometown of Radomir - and knowing that they would bear fruit in 30 years. But I rejoice at the sight of each tree that has taken root, and it is the same with short stories - they are like successfully planted trees, like a child, like my little granddaughter.

What are the strong suits of the short story Blood? Perhaps its classical theme about values or their disappearance?

One of its strengths, it seems to me - based on the reviews in English-speaking countries - is that it is short; and the sentences, at least in the translation, are clear, comprehensible and flow naturally so readers have no problem understanding what it is about. And when you get to the end of the story, you can spin it however you want - that is what I have been told. I wrote it a long time ago and have already forgotten what I thought at the time, to be honest. I know it was related to rather traumatic events in my family. My grandmother got sick, my son too - seriously sick. Thank God, he recovered, and the only possible reaction for me at the time was to write something. I am not a doctor so I could not help, writing eased my burden. Just sitting and feeling powerless would have been excruciating.

How did the mole get the part (the short story's original title is translated as Blood of a Mole)?

There is this old village near Radomir, and we had planted tomatoes there. It is a poor piece of land, not a good one at all, the soil is brown and not fertile. I am out there, and what should I see - all of a sudden the earth moves and when I scoop some dirt, there is a mole in my hands. I felt its heart beating in my palms. The little creature was petrified and I took it to the top of a nearby hill. I cannot kill. This is why I stopped growing tomatoes - because the place is overridden with moles. Maybe it was not just this episode that inspired the idea, I do not know. I will never forget the frantic beat of the little heart, and I am thinking that a person is that helpless when cornered by a force, an event, or other people. Whenever I see someone forlorn or scared, I am reminded of that animal, and I wish with my entire being that nothing bad happens to this person. I pray that someone is there to pick them up and take them to the top of some distant hill, and leave them there to get better.

How would you want people to interpret the blood metaphor?

This is something that helps in hopeless situations. I know it is not always possible, but I wish that some hope is always there, as the first step in finding a solution.

Continuing the topic of this illusion and belief in whatever, that it will help - is it not fear that stands behind it and how should we cope with it?

I have no ready-made recipe. I have no idea. Whenever I feel scared, I turn to people I trust. I am not inclined to accept utopic beliefs or traditions. To me, they offer an outside look at our existence. In this case, I would really like to believe in good, in the power of people to do good to others, and not keep that capacity locked only in their own selves. When a good is not given to another, it becomes its antithesis.

How do you deal with language specificities while translating?

I have been working with English for so long and yet some constructions still elude me - they still feel dicey to me, even though I have all sorts of literature - I have three volumes of sayings and proverbs, idioms, I have signed up for grammar tests that I get every day, and so on. It is the same with every philologist. You need a lot of hard work just to keep the same level of command of a given foreign language, which can never be as beautiful in my mind as Bulgarian - so deep and tender, so harsh and powerful. I try, but unsuccessfully. Imagine a person who gets lost in a city and they meet a translator who takes them to the street they need to get to. This, in essence, is the translator's job - to take the idea and the beauty of one person's work to another person, who is in search of it. And the translator feels happy despite the long walk.

You once said that in Bulgaria every street is a story and every glance - a novel, waiting to be told.

It is enough to take a stroll in some Bulgarian city, look into someone's eyes, see their clothes, their walk, the houses around, the trees, and it makes you want to write about that person. This process is not automated - you cannot just push a button and get what you want, like your morning coffee for instance. Sometimes a chance encounter jolts you and the story starts to tell itself.

You write mostly short stories. Why is that?

I have precious little spare time. Working as I am a regular 9-to-5 job to make a living and travelling every day from Pernik to Sofia, how could I possibly find the time to write a long-form work? Whenever I am on a writer's residency, it is a different matter. You can devote to the craft as much time as you want, without worrying that you have to catch the train the next morning, without falling asleep on the third paragraph. That is when novels are born. Sometimes you have the time, but you do not feel like writing. Sometimes the story comes to you, and other times it eludes you.

Should we be concerned that children nowadays are more often seen holding a mobile device than a book?

I am a big supporter of technologies. The only time I get concerned is when my granddaughter, who is five, starts playing games on my phone, because of her eyesight. I have read how technologies hinder the spiritual growth of children, the ability to think rationally and profoundly. I have to disagree. Technologies are very useful. For example, I can write something and send it wherever I want in the world, and it will be there in seconds. This is freedom.


Zdravka Evtimova was born on 24 July 1959 in Pernik, some 30 kilometres south-west of Sofia. She studied English philology at the University of Veliko Tarnovo and later specialised in literary translation in St Louis, Missouri, US. Having translated over 25 novels from British and Canadian authors into Bulgarian, as well as works by Bulgarian writers into English, she has also authored dozens of short stories and several novels, published in many countries around the world, and has won numerous awards. One of her short stories, Blood, has been included in the New Sudden Fiction anthology in which its editors Robert Shapard and James Thomas present a selection of sixty stories - each under 2,000 words, each with its own element of surprise, whether traditional, experimental, humorous, moving, or magical.

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