Q & A with Altug Cakmakci

Chronicling the mysteries of everyday lives

Toronto-based Altug Cakmakci is originally from Turkey. Altug has published two novels in Turkish, but is now focusing on writing in English.

CommuterLit: You’ve recently returned to your home in Canada after a long stay in Istanbul and remarked that when you are in Turkey you write in Turkish, but when you are in Canada in prefer to write in English. Why? How does your surroundings influence your writing?

Altug Cakmakci: Mainly, I prefer writing in English because everyday language has the utmost impact on my writing. Milan Kundera, when he moved from Czechoslovakia to France, spent his first years there learning to excel in French. He then started to write only in French. Now he insists his work should be studied as French literature. It is healthy, for an author, to be influenced by his surroundings. Art is the most beautiful form of jealousy. My stories are never real, nor are my characters. But they are a fine combination of events and people that leave marks on my conscience.

CL: Are you a different writer when you write in Turkish than when you write in English? If so, how? How does the language you write in affect the end result?

AC: In many ways, my works in Turkish are similar to my works in English — overall storytelling, the structure, portrayal of places and characters. But when it comes to presenting the story — not what you tell but how you tell — there is an inevitable divergence. Fundamentally, the construction of sentences in these two languages is different. That forces me to take dissimilar routes when staging the story. I also have to take the influence of what I read into account. I am very much affected by the styles of
others. I usually read in English, and I usually imagine and visualize stories in English.

CL: What themes do you go back to again and again? Why?

AC: I don’t know if anyone remembers the directorial debut of Robert Redford, a movie called Ordinary People. Even the title still captures my imagination. There is a lot to explore about the lives of ordinary people, and the family unit. Once I introduce a character to myself, I usually find myself delving into that ordinary person’s family matters. Even when working on a science-fiction story, I am interested in characters with common problems. My characters are never marginal people, imaginary
creatures, or invincible heroes. I prefer the closeness of the real and ordinary to the attractiveness of the unconventional.

CL: What books/authors are you currently reading? Why?

AC: Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor and Absolom, Absolom! by William Faulkner. The latter is an old schoolbook of mine, like many of the other classics that I have read during the last two years. But a writer should also always explore new styles and follow new trends. Post-modernism taught us that there are various good ways to tell a story, not just one, and there is no harm in inventing another.