The story of an award-winning book
The Austrian writer talks to us about her debut novel, recounting tales from a troubling past, the lessons we can learn from them and the beauty of Vienna.
Karin Peschka is probably the rising star in Austrian literature. With her debut novel “Watschenmann” she convinced readers and critics and won prestigious literature prices like the Alpha 2015 and winner of the audience award of the renowned “Bachmannpreis´17″ .
As your book, the “Watschenmann”, is only available in German, please tell our readers what is the most important lesson to learn from it:
I’m not sure if a fictional novel is meant to teach lessons. And if so, I’m not the person pretending to teach anyone anything. Although I admit that books – or stories – can have a moral aspect. Maybe in “Watschenmann” it’s the way people, despite of owing nearly nothing, take care of each other. And if the story has a message it is this one: War will never be over, for there is always a smaller or bigger remnant hidden in the soul, even in times of peace, ready to wake up when hard times come back again.
What made you choose such a challenging topic for your debut work?
When I was a child I loved to listen to the stories of my grandparents who ran a restaurant during and after WW II in my small hometown in Upper Austria. My parents, born in 1933 and 1941, also experienced many things in this time. As a social worker I’ve always been very interested in post traumatic stress disorder symptoms. I’ve met people coming from countries in war, suffering and trying to get along.
The post-war period is one that society has somewhat avoided, do you feel like you encouraged people to talk more about the social reality of the time?
I hope so. As I had the opportunity to mention in some interviews, I think this is really a very current and global topic. There are many threatening conflicts all over the world – so there are always war- and post-war situations.
How difficult was it to research this topic, were people open to telling their stories?
This was quite easy. Once you show interest, most people are very open and communicative. I read some books and searched online, too.
Is this book everything that you expected when you started writing it? Would you change anything?
Oh, I tried not to expect anything, just wrote the book and felt very free in doing it. As I had no experience in writing long novels, I just wrote and let the story show me the way. And until now I haven’t found a thing I want to change. Maybe after reading it again in a couple of years.
You received a lot of recognition, awards and, recently, a Canetti scholarship. Having obtained this well-deserved support, have you already decided on your next project?
Yes, I have. Last fall I applied for the Canetti scholarship with the draft for a new novel. And when I got the scholarship, this was both a big surprise and a great relief! Now I can concentrate on my second book and not worry about earning money – for the following year at least.
Which is a more powerful tool for a writer: a computer or a pen?
That depends, I guess. I’m writing with a computer, because my handwriting can’t keep up with the pace of my thoughts… they are quite fast sometimes. But of course I’m never without a pen and a little notebook to write down ideas or scenes or weird things I watched.
How would you describe present day Vienna to someone who has never been there?
Vienna has many faces, some are beautiful, some are ugly, friendly or hostile, shiny or pale. It’s a good place to live, with rich and poor spots, with hidden places and secret wonders. I love it. I love to stroll around, but also to leave Vienna, with its noise and restlessness for some days, and then to come back again.
If you want to see the face of Vienna that Karin Peschka loves, you can take a look at her Vienna Insider Guide. It’s full of chic cafes and quiet parks, ideal to inspire any artist. And visit her website to find out more about her book, future projects and upcoming book readings that you can attend. Meanwhile, enjoy your walk (whether it’s real or virtual) though this amazing and charming city!