For our latest author interview, we're delighted to welcome Stamatis Stamatopoulos to tell us more about his work, and his story 'The Colour That Defines Me' Χρώμα γλυκό και πολύτιμο, c0-translated by the author and Stephanie Polakis, which was published in our September 25th issue.
Can you tell us more about yourself and your writing – what first got you into speculative fiction?
I was born in Athens, Greece in 1974. I've lived in the UK since 2014 and I am a carpenter. The only period of my life when I wasn't passionate about science fiction and fantasy is probably before I started storing memories; that is before the age of four or five. And even then I can't be sure, because I don't remember. After that age my love for the what if' genre has only grown.
When you really love something, it's not enough to enjoy it only through other people's work. I think it is unavoidable that at some point you will try to engage with it, to become something more than a spectator. That's how I got into speculative fiction. My imagination took me to very interesting worlds, where I could satisfy an inner need to experiment with as many answers as possible to the question 'what if'. Imagination is probably one of the best remedies for restlessness.
There are some fascinating ideas in this story – can you tell us more about where the ideas came from, and the writing of the story?
A few years ago I watched a Greek short film which won an award from ALEF (the Science Fiction Club of Athens). The concept was that the colours are completely lost from the world, and a girl and a boy were looking for them. As soon as I saw the film a 'what if' question came up almost immediately: what if the colours were not lost completely, but each person could discern one specific hue? After that I started thinking about a world like that. What would be the consequences for people that had seen colours before, and after the fact had to live in a grey world? What would be the consequences for the generation of people born just after that profound change? What would people do to see their colour? How far would they go to be able to put some colour into their dull lives?
The plot and the characters came soon afterwards. The most difficult part was the structure of the story. I tried a couple of different versions before ending up with building the story the way it is now. For a short story it seems that it has too many characters, but if you really think about it, the story has only two: Azure as the main character, and Mohammad. The unusual feature of the story is the way we follow Azure through her adventure. It was an experiment on my part, but I am not the one to say if it is successful or meaningful.
Which writers inspire you?
There are writers which I enjoy reading and they definitely inspire and even scare me (because of their uncanny writing talent), like Iain M. Banks, Ursula K. Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, and Norman Spinrad. If I want to be honest though, I must say that what really inspires me is stories—whether these are novels, novellas or short stories—not writers.
Stories like The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Royal Game by Stefan Zweig, Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, 'The Lucky Strike' by Kim Stanley Robinson, The End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov, The End of the World News by Anthony Burgess, 'The Day After the Day the Martians Came' by Frederik Pohl, 'All You Zombies' by Robert A. Heinlein, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and many more sometimes offer a lot more food for thought and thus inspiration than whole multi-tome opuses. And then there are books like Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which although non-fiction, nevertheless contain a narrative which can offer a different and very powerful kind of inspiration.
You've pointed out that there are some differences between the Greek and English versions; can you tell us a bit more about this, and about your experiences of co-translating your own work?
I was very lucky to collaborate with Stephanie Polakis on the translation. Collaborations can be really difficult and eventually not fruitful, or even destructive. I am fluent in English, but Stephanie is the expert. Originally she did most of the translation and then we worked together to find ways of rendering specific Greek idioms and expressions into English. Then I gave the story to native English speakers and friends with exceptional command of the English language. Although the story in Greek received very positive comments, the first English version wasn't that successful. It wasn't the plot or the idea, which in both languages received very inspiring remarks, it was whole parts of the story which were confusing for native English speakers. It had to do with the flow of the story in another language, and that is one way I can think of describing the problem.
The root of the problem was that Stephanie is not a writer, and I am not a translator. She did her part of the job, but it was my responsibility to give the English version literariness. I know how to do that when writing in Greek (supposedly), but I had to learn how to do it in English as well (to the best of my ability). It was like trying to learn to play a new musical instrument so that I could execute the same music I did before with a different instrument.
The fact that the story is being hosted by Samovar probably means that I eventually managed to transform the story in such a way that reaches specific standards for English written literature. That transformation manages to deliver the same (or almost the same) meaning both to Greek and English speaking readers but not without sacrificing resemblance. And that is why there are differences. Ultimately the readers experience the same narrative, but the writer manages to do that by using two different tools: the Greek and the English language.
You live in the UK now, but when you lived in Athens were you involved in the speculative fiction scene at all? Is there a lot going on?
During the 90s and the early 00s there was a big commotion around speculative fiction and comics. A lot of things changed during that period for the best. Then the financial crisis hit us hard and all that which was happening came to a halt and even took some steps back. Lately there seems to be some movement again around fandom with new efforts like comic and fantasy conventions.
Personally I am still a member of ALEF (the Science Fiction Club of Athens) which plays a significant role in communicating and promoting science fiction and fantasy to the Greek public. Other groups and clubs in Greece also play a similar role.
In the publishing field, there are a few publishers who specialize in speculative fiction, but the truth is that we still have a long road ahead before we can say that Greek readers appreciate fiction to the same degree as abroad.
What Greek speculative fiction in translation should we be reading, or which authors would you like to see translated?
There are Greeks out there who already write fiction in English, like Natalia Theodoridou who has several publications (in Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld) and story nominations. It is very easy to find her works and my opinion is that her stories are exceptional.
In Greece, in the last twenty years, we have had a wave of new genre writers like Michalis Manolios, Kiara Kalountzi, Konstantinos Kellis, Vaso Christou, Yiannis Papadopoulos, Christina Malapetsa, Panagiotis Koustas, Kelly Theodorakopoulou, Ifaistion Christopoulos, Kostas Charitos, and many more who produce very interesting stories. A lot of their works deserve to be read by a broader audience.
The problem of course is the language barrier. At the moment speculative fiction is being dominated by English speaking writers, but there are fascinating and very intriguing non-English speaking creators who don't get the attention they deserve.
Maybe it's my impression, but I feel that we might see a change in that. Translating your work seems to be easier than it was a few decades ago. Most importantly the internet and magazines like Samovar will definitely offer us the opportunity to know writers from around the world, who might surprise us positively and bring a different perspective to what we call speculative fiction.