Success is powerful: this isn’t a new concept. We know this. Success can change how others see us and how we see ourselves. And when perceptions changes, we change. For what are we if not subjective human constructions.
Marija Peričić’s The Lost Pages was recently awarded the 2017 The Australian / Vogel’s Literary Award. The story, set in early twentieth century Prague, describes the complex literary rivalry between Max Brod and talented newcomer, Franz Kafka. It shows Brod on the cusp of success—fame, respect, love are finally within his reach. But when Kafka appears, Brod discovers how close he is to losing everything he has worked so hard to attain. He has grasped success, and doesn’t wish to loosen his grip.
The success of The Lost Pages has also given us Marija Peričić. While still the same writer as pre-award, she is a new writer. While still the same person, a new person. She has a new definition. She is a new story of success.
Tell me about your writing pursuits before The Lost Pages.
Marija: I had not done very much creative writing at all: a few poems and short stories, none of which had been published, or even submitted for publication. My longest piece at that time was my Masters’ thesis in English Literature, which was in postcolonial studies.
Did you consider yourself a 'writer'?
I absolutely did not consider myself as a writer at all, but did dream of one day being able to think of myself as one. The thought of attempting creative writing was daunting, because I had been doing academic writing for what felt like ages, and was worried that my voice for fiction wouldn’t emerge.
Was writing a novel always within your sights?
Writing a novel had always been my dream, and this was my first serious attempt that achieved a complete draft, so I am incredibly lucky. My few previous attempts all fizzled out at the planning stage.
I understand your idea for The Lost Pages came from a New York Times article you read about the legal battle over some unpublished Kafka papers and manuscripts.
The idea developed very slowly. When first reading the article I didn’t immediately consider a novel, it was more as though I began playing with the idea, and somewhere along the line of playing with the idea, became committed to it. Because of this there wasn’t a lot of anxiety, only some uncertainty of whether the idea would sustain a whole novel, and whether I could even write a whole novel.
You mentioned your previous attempts at a novel didn’t make it past the planning stage. Tell me about how you approached the writing process this time around.
I didn’t really seek advice, because I think the writing process is very personal, and different things work for different people. I think there is more than enough writing advice out there, and if anything, I tried to avoid it. Having a plan generally works best for me, rather than going with the flow, so I decided to do a general story plan, and then character profiles, and then a chapter by chapter plan, of which there were a few, and then the first draft.
What was your goal for the novel?
I didn’t really think about any final goal. When writing the first draft my main goal was just to finish it. It really just went stage by stage: planning, drafting, editing and re-drafting. At each stage my goal was always just to finish the part I was on.
Tell me about your research trip to Prague and Karlovy Vary.
The research trip happened after the second draft was finished. During the writing stage I had an old map of Prague stuck up over my desk, and by the time the draft was finished I knew that map really well, so it was very exciting to go to Prague and see the city in the flesh, and to walk those streets myself.
I visited the various Kafka museums and monuments, and also the houses and streets that are in the book. My main aim was to get a general sense of Prague and Karlovy Vary: the smells and sounds and textures. This is something you just can’t access online. I did lot of sound recordings and took notes, and these became the sensory details which strengthened the sense of place in the novel.
How did you work on the novel? Tell me about the process.
Like so many writers I also have a full-time job, so it was necessary to fit my writing around that. There were four drafts in total. The most intensive part was the first draft, which was written in a three month block while my partner was overseas. During this time I set myself a daily quota of at least 1000 words. I just wrote whenever there was time. On weekdays it meant getting up very early and writing for an hour or two before work, and then again in the evening after work. My social life was very boring during those three months, but the writing process was very enjoyable. I did not edit during the writing, but after the draft was finished I would put it away for a few months before looking at it again for editing and re-drafting.
What were both the lowlights and highlights of the project?
My biggest challenge was to keep going during the times when it all seemed terrible and hopeless. It was also challenging at times to be constantly saying no to social engagements during the periods of intensive writing. My partner was so very encouraging and supportive of me prioritising my writing, and that made it all easier.
Everything about writing itself brings me huge pleasure! It was an immense thrill to write a plan, and get to know the characters from writing the prose. The most unexpected lovely thing was that after a while the writing seemed to get up its own momentum: I couldn’t have stopped even if I had wanted to. It was such fun!
Did your goals for the novel change throughout the project?
Goals were really not in my mind at all apart from just finishing the thing I was doing at that time – planning, writing or editing - without much judgement.
After you had finished writing and editing, what was your impression of your work? Pleased, unsure, surprised, disappointed?
All of the above at different times. Still now I don’t really have any clear fixed impression of the work, apart from obviously being thrilled at not only having had it published, but also it winning the Vogel.
Tell me about winning the Vogel.
It was totally life-changing. I could hardly believe it at first, and it’s still in fact sinking in. I got an email from someone at Allen & Unwin requesting to meet with me, and at first I didn’t know what it was about. The submission deadline for the Vogel had passed so long ago that it had kind of disappeared from my mind. It was such a thrill and a huge surprise when the news come about winning. The next day I woke up and wasn’t sure if it had really happened. I am so incredibly lucky and grateful for everyone behind the Vogel: it is such a fantastically generous award.
How has your perception of yourself as a writer shifted since winning the award?
The award has granted me the permission I felt I needed to see myself as a writer, and for me this has been the most valuable thing that the Vogel has given me. It has literally changed who I am and how I see myself.
Plans for your writing future?
I’ve started working on my next novel. It’s so exciting to lose myself in the writing process again: it is absolutely my favourite thing.