How did reading lead you to writing?
My emotional need for books preceded my desire and determination to become a professional writer. I started writing at the age of eight, so I was very young. Not because I wanted to become a novelist one day. I didn’t even know such a thing was possible; there were no novelists around me. I started writing because I thought “real life” was boring, and Storyland was where I wanted to be and where I felt at home.
I did not have support or guidance in this path. But I had independence. And this was something that many Turkish girls who were my age mostly lacked. So I cherished that independence.
What has life as a writer been like?
It has not been easy. It has been a big journey full of struggles. Being a Turkish novelist is like being kissed on one cheek while being slapped on the other. On the one hand, in countries like Turkey, books matter, stories matter, perhaps even more than those countries that enjoy freedom of speech. Stories are shared by word-of-mouth. People keep reading despite the odds. So that is incredibly heartwarming.
On the other hand, because there is no freedom of speech, and no proper democracy, writers are always vilified, attacked by the media and social media, put on trial, arrested, exiled…
After the publication of my novel The Bastard of Istanbul, I was put on trial in Turkey for “insulting Turkishness”. No one knew what that meant. But as a writer, if you question the official history, and care about minorities, which is exactly what I did, you are automatically accused of “insulting Turkishness”.
My novel tells the story of a Turkish and Armenian-American family. It talks about memory and amnesia. I was prosecuted for using the term ‘Armenian genocide’. My Turkish lawyer had to defend my Armenian fictional characters in the courtroom. It was quite Kafkaesque.
The whole thing was a strange, almost surreal experience. I had to live with a bodyguard. There were nationalist groups on the streets spitting at my books, burning my pictures and EU flags side by side.