“The memory of places tends to bleed into my writing”

We keep on publishing Q&A with the winners of the 2021 Ruritania prize.

The full versions will feature the issue 8 of Panel, but for now – enjoy some bits of our interview with Eleanor Updegraff, 2nd place winner, with the story “Marina”.

Eleanor Updegraff is a freelance writer, editor, and literary translator. She holds a B.A. in English literature, German and Russian from Durham University and is now based in Carinthia, Austria, following several years in Vienna. Her creative and critical writing has appeared online and in print.

Eleanor UpdegraffQ: What’s your personal experience with Central and Eastern Europe? Did you live here or spend a long time here?

A: I moved to Austria in 2015 and have lived here ever since – a few years in Vienna, followed by two in the more rural surroundings of Carinthia. Before and since moving here I have also travelled a bit in the region and find it endlessly fascinating; there is always more to see.

Q: How do your travels and your experience in Europe affect your writing?

A: I am very affected by place, so my current surroundings, or the memory of places I’ve felt deeply connected to, tend to bleed into my writing. This can be in terms of physical geography – natural landscapes, urban environments – but also the people I encounter, the culture I experience, the spirit and atmosphere of the place as a whole. I work as a translator, so am very inspired by language and its use in everyday life, particularly in porous border regions – where I live in the south of Austria, Slovenian has an often unseen but very powerful presence, which itself comes with a significant backstory. That leads into what is perhaps one of the most important aspects of this region for me: the past and our relationship with it. Everywhere has a history, of course, but here the past seems to bubble just below the surface. It’s a theme I often explore in my writing, including "Marina".

Q: You write in different genres. How does it help, if it does, to develop and strengthen your own voice as a writer?

A: I think that writing is one of those wonderful disciplines in which you can hone your craft by expanding, rather than narrowing, your focus. It can be incredibly refreshing to try exploring a certain theme or idea in a different genre, or even to blend several together – language is a living thing, after all, so the structures in which we tend to use it should be just as adaptable. I have always read widely across different genres, but since allowing myself consciously to write across them too, I have definitely felt a stronger sense of my own voice, even though on the surface it may seem different depending on whether I’m working on fiction, narrative non-fiction, criticism or even literary translation.

Q: What do you think is the most important thing any writer should keep in mind?

A: Writers are always told to learn to deal with rejection, but I think something even more essential is to find someone who will champion you. Not necessarily to the outside world, but just on a personal level. They could be a friend, a partner, a family member, a mentor – anyone who can offer constructive feedback and will believe in your work. Another thing I always try to keep in mind (because it’s something I personally struggle with) is a wonderful piece of advice I once read: ‘trying to edit while writing is like trying to drive with the handbrake on’. In other words, it doesn’t have to be perfect on the first draft. The best writing happens when creativity is given free rein; there will always be time for editing later.

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