Friday 17 July 2015

Interview with Ieva Melgalve

(image by Spīgana Spektore (,

Ieva Melgalve is a Latvian writer from Riga. She writes poetry, plays and novels as well as teaches writing. Her novel - The Dead Don't Forgive was nominated for the Latvian Literature Award of the year.

Bristol Book Blog met Ieva at the fantastic Archipelacon and asked her a few questions about her writing

For anyone who doesn’t speak Latvian can you tell us a little bit about your work?

I started out as a literary/experimental writer and then switched to fantasy and science fiction. My fantasy novel "The Dead Don't Forgive" is set in a world where emotions are magic, able to bind and control "common people". A rogue mage fights her conscience - and her troubled past - to unravel the mystery that surrounds multiple deaths in a mountain town. My middle grade fantasy novel "Arrow, Star and Laee" is set in the stone age and deals with three children, who, exiled from their tribe, travel to the land of the elves. And my upcoming SF novel "The Moon Theater" is about the last remnants of civilization after World War III - a set of actors in a huge theater, trying to break away from the arbitrary rules of their scenarios.

Your work has been translated into various languages but not English (yet) – any translation deals on the horizon?

It's not really been translated much - just some fragments in Swedish and a short story, "A Siren's Song" that was published in "A Capella Zoo" and should still be available online. Getting your work translated from Latvian takes about as much work as actually writing a new novel, so right now I am concentrating on the latter. Probably it's not very business-like, but then again I have been publishing fantasy and SF for slightly more than three years - I am hoping that my best and most translation-worthy work is not written yet.

You’ve mentioned a Latvian Writers retreat – can you tell us a little bit about that?

There are two retreats, one of them is located in Dubulti and belongs to the Latvian Writers Union. The other is an International Writers' and Translators' House in Ventspils, the website is here: Both places are very near the sea, which, of course, provides a special inspiration. In both places, you can either rent a room for a while, or apply for a grant and stay for a month. The summers are warmer, but I have always found that the best time to write is autumn, with the morning fog that covers everything except the bright orange-and-red treetops.

You’ve written for plays and for children as well as poetry and novels, what’s your favourite medium and why?

Every idea demands its own form, so that' s not always a matter of choice. I feel most comfortable in novels, where I have a chance both to explore an idea fully and to indulge in small digressions. But honestly, my favorite medium is poetry, because I can't really write good poetry. So poems are an indulgence for me, a form which is both a mystery for me (I seem to be unable to figure which of my poems are any good and how I should edit them) and one that is closest to the natural imagery and phrases in my head.

 You also teach writing, how did that come about?

I have always liked to work with aspiring authors (even when I was an aspiring author myself). So when I learned that the Latvian writing course/workshop lacked a teacher for practical tasks, I seized the opportunity to start helping them, and I have kept doing it, taking small breaks only in emergency situations (like, for example, giving birth to a baby). I have taken many courses by other writers, and read many how-to writing books, but I have learned the most from my students. 

If you could be a character from one of your books, who would you be and why?

I most likely want to be an elf from "Arrow, Star and Laee" - a magical being said to be beyond good and evil, and one whose life starts in magic and ends in pure light. However, since even my imaginary life does not go as I would prefer, I would most likely be Mime from "Moon theater", a genderqueer android stagehand who has just started to gain awareness and is trying to figure out how the mind works, and what it really means to be alive, to remember, to feel, and to suffer. 

You are also a critic as well as a writer, how do you balance the two?

The literary scene in Latvia is so small that many writers dabble as critics now and then, so we have learned to be... well, usually very gentle and polite, with a venomous stab here and there. My ground rule is not to review books that I don't like. If I don't like a boo
k, it's very hard for me to figure out what are the books strengths. I believe that reviews are mainly meant for the people who would like the book - a review serves best as a guide and adviser, not as a warning Not To Read That Crap. So, as a result, my reviews, even though not sugary, are usually kind enough, and I don't have to check my mail for Siberian plague and pipe bombs.

Would you say Latvian fiction differs from other countries’ fiction, and, if so, how and why?

First of all, we have a very rich and controversial history to draw upon, so there are many good memoirs and novels exploring that history. And we have an incredibly rich language, which is a pride of many writers. But actually, I like Latvian poetry much better than Latvian fiction - we have many excellent poets, some of them even translated into English. This year, Kārlis Vērdiņš' book "Come To Me" was published by Arc Publications, and for anybody who loves poetry, it would be a treat.

What’s the one question you never get asked in interviews that you really want to answer?

"Oh, by the way, I have a couple of bottles of Latvian craft beer from Malduguns brewery, would you like to have them?" - To which I would gladly answer, "yes".

In one sentence what’s your best piece of advice for new writers?

Always write as well as you can at the time, but not better. [OK, if this sounds confusing... For many writers, new or accomplished, the worst stumbling block is trying to write "better than they can", which leads to writer's block, self-loathing and misery, while working right on the edge of your capability is what makes you grow.]

Many Thanks to Ieva and we at Bristol Book Blog would love to see her work translated into English...

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