18 October 2009

Socially Inapt

When I moved from Croatia to London, I practically moved from ‘who you are’ culture to ‘what you do’ one. Social mobility back home was mostly based on who your closest relatives were: if they belonged to the right ethnic group which would subsequently give them enough social power. Stick with them, and you’re guaranteed a good job in any industry where they have connections. Meritocracy and individual talent are unheard of virtues in that context. On the other hand, moving up on the social ladder, even schmoozing around at a party, in London means impressing people with what you do. Creative industry, academia and high positions in a charitable organization are worth the loudest sighs of approval. You will know you’ve delivered a powerful self-presentation if people never leave your sight, offer you a top-up or a free joint. And if there is a polite, but undoubtedly hollow, invitation ‘you must come round to our place sometimes’ while you’re saying good bye to the guests, it means you have become integrated in your new cultural environment. If this is all there is to social life on either sides, I can positively define myself as socially inapt. What I am looking for in communication still has no clear name, but I’ll let you know when it dawns on me. Until then, I will happily stay at home enjoying solitude.

07 October 2009


When you open a book, are you one of those people who closely read through acknowledgements and dedications? Do you skip author’s biography at the end of the book or are you compelled to connect their real lives to the fictional plot?

Recently, I found whole studies about parts of books that I never noticed existed: there is an academic volume on footnotes, author’s biographies and introductions. I didn’t find anything about dedications. But, my own unease and even regret about dedicating my books to certain people made me ponder what that single line, placed at the opening of the story, means to the author. How is it related to the writing process and emotions that guide us when we create?

When I want to be funny, I say that the safest people to dedicate your book to are your parents: they will never stop loving you and you will never fall out with them. I know this might not be the case with everyone, but it is for me. I dedicated my last book to my ex boyfriend, and I have regretted it for a very long time. We have fallen out with each other since and now his name stands there as a reminder of a broken dream. What is even worse is that I consciously decided to put this dedication when our relationship was already crumbling. It was a desperate attempt to solidify a bond that was not meant to be. And if books can be compared to children, then my act felt as if I was trying to save something that was already far beyond repair.

The complication doesn’t stop there. My book was published in Croatian, a language he doesn’t speak. His English name was written with a suffix denoting a grammatical case and his only comment when he saw the book published was that it looked ridiculous. My only impression of him not being able to understand my writing was hopelessness: there was no communication between our different worlds.

A year ago, I started writing a novel in English. When I received a grant from the organization Exiled Writers Ink and they offered to publish the first three chapters in a form of a chapbook, I was faced with choosing another dedication. I was horrified. The editor reminded me three times that I had to have a dedication, even though I tried different ways to wriggle out of it. With no choice left, I considered the safest option: I decided to honour Blake Morrison, my mentor who helped me with the manuscript, thinking there would be no way I could ever fall out with him. A great teacher not only excels in his discipline, but in giving his pupils exactly what they need. To my mentor, Blake Morrison. Thank you for encouraging me to claim the English language as my own. I was pleased with that dedication.

You should always dedicate your book to someone who has taught you something. That might not always be your safest option: a choice which won’t hurt. But it’s the truth. Because if my mentor taught me to say yes to a new kind of communication, my ex boyfriend certainly taught me when to say no to the wrong one. Both are my teachers. When I think about what to do for the second edition of my Croatian book, I now know that I want to keep the ‘ridiculously’ spelt English name inscribed there.

I told you: there is a story behind every part of the book that we often fail to notice