19th January 2019
The Saturday Interview: Marén Klement
Good afternoon Ms Klement and thanks for your time. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I’m originally from Germany and fully moved to the United Kingdom three years ago. I studied English literature, English language and Philosophy at a university in Germany and work as a secondary school teacher in London now. I have been writing stories since I was 6 years old and often switch between the two languages that both feel like mother tongues now. However, I find I fare better writing novels in English. It somehow feels more natural.
I read a lot of varying genres, just as my taste in music covers several genres and styles. One of the most traumatic books I have read is called ‘Torture the Artist’ by Joey Goebbel. I just remember feeling absolutely shattered after it, but it is also one of my favourites and one of those kind of books I wish I could have written myself.
I’ve not heard of that one before. What was it that made it so affecting?
The premise of the book is the idea of a tortured artist being a better artist, and that was something that I had been thinking about for some time anyway. Is poetry better when it comes from a broken heart? Does it always have to be about suffering? I remember, when I finished the book, I was heartbroken and stunned. I think I just sat there staring into nothingness for about half an hour. No other book has been able to do that. And the questions that it posed still float around my head every now and again.
Your book ‘Insight’ is about the integration of a wounded veteran of Afghanistan back into his life with his partner. What made you decide on this for your novel?
In the last year of my studies I happened to stumble upon a seminar about World War One literature and found it so fascinating I decided to write my final thesis on the topic. Ever since then I have been reading and watching a large variety of war fiction, so I think the idea just came out of my interest. My thesis focussed on the trauma World War One soldiers suffered and the fact that war causes trauma hasn’t changed since then. I wanted to try and show what it might be like for a soldier in a modern war. News stories don’t really talk about the coming home part.
Early readers of ‘Insight’ have praised the characterisation of the two main characters - Will and Alex. What do you think is the key to writing relatable and realistic characters?
I’m inclined to say emotional intelligence or empathy. I think being a teacher has made me more emotionally intelligent and when I’m writing I need to feel certain emotions or it won’t feel realistic to me. So I simply try and feel something close to the emotions that I think my characters would feel in that moment. I’m glad it seems to work.
Who do you think that ‘Insight’ will appeal to?
It will appeal to readers who enjoy war fiction as well as readers who enjoy romance I think. It is about the relationship between Will and Alex and their attempts to stay together and move on from what happened to them, so within all of their struggles there is romance.
You launched your book at a public event at Barking Library in December. How did it feel having a high profile event like this to publicise your book?
It’s absolutely fantastic that I have been given the opportunity to have an official book launch. The event was organised by Barking Library and their Pen to Print competition which I took part in. They picked ten authors that were given a six-months mentorship and the opportunity to publish the book through New Generation Publishing. They have an annual festival in September where they launch the competition and that’s where I found out that they wanted to launch the book in a public event in their library. It provided a great opportunity to introduce my book to a wider audience and get direct feedback on the day. It did feel a bit surreal when you’ve been working and writing for so long and suddenly there was an event dedicated to the book that you have written.
It’s really cool! What was the mentoring process like?
It was really good and productive. My mentor was writer and teacher Preetha Chockalingam. She helped me edit the book mainly as it was already done for the most part. It was interesting to see what she picked out as good passages and where she thought I could improve. It provides a whole new perspective. We often met in a coffee bar and went through her notes. I would then go home and rework what she had suggested. She always said that her suggestions were just that and that the choice about what I wanted to take out or leave would be mine all the way. She simply helped me see my novel in a different light and was extremely helpful in that way.
Do you think you might enjoy mentoring others with their writing in the same way in the future?
I think I would. I’m a teacher, through and through. I have mentored people in teacher training and enjoyed it immensely. I would say I need more experience in the writing circle myself and my mentoring at this stage of my life would probably be a very cooperative process in which we both learn a lot, which is great too. But it would be nice.
You also write poetry. What attracts you to this medium?
What attracts me the most is probably the possibilities of playing with the words. I am a slow writer because I think almost too much about how a word might sound and whether there might not be a different, a more fitting one. Poetry gives me a chance to play around with the words I want to use to figure out what I really want to express. Sometimes I also just simply like using puns.
Most of my poetry originates in German which I think provides more possibilities of using the same word in different contexts. English has a great range of synonyms, but German is almost more poetic in the sense that words can be taken apart and have different interpretations depending on how you read them or even simply whether the affix of a word is in a different line from the main stem of the word. It often creates a sense ambiguity.
That’s really interesting. Could you talk us through an example?
I was just looking at one of my poems on my blog that I had originally written in German and then translated into English. It’s called ‘See the world’. In it, I use the image of excited birds. In German it says ‘die aufgeregten Vögel’. ‘Aufgeregt’ is a word that can be translated as excited, but also agitated and upset. This is perhaps not the best example, but might give a sense of what I mean. I often feel I can arrange words in German much easier in order to bring about a sense of ambiguity.
You’re a fan of Shakespeare’s work. Do you have a favourite play?
I am a big fan of his work. I even volunteer at the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London. If I am allowed to name a few I would probably say that on the page my favourites are Henry V and Coriolanus. I suppose Henry V reflects my interest in war and battle. The St. Crispin’s Day speech is an absolute classic and the whole play is fantastic to read. With Coriolanus it’s fascinating to witness his downfall due to pride and his speech in the Roman Senate is another great one.
Considering on stage performances, very few have come close to my two favourites. Though they are not my favourite plays as such (and one in particular has some questionable messages) I remember vividly how incredible I had found the performances of Taming of the Shrew at the Globe in 2016, which was set in the period of the Easter Rising in Ireland, and King Lear at the Young Vic in 2009. Both plays were stunningly directed and performed and have stayed in my memory even for such a long time. I have yet to see Henry V on stage, though.
Oh well...I’m still the only person to put Julius Caesar towards the top of their list! Shakespeare gets taught at lot at schools in England, so much so that my wife never wants to watch or read Macbeth ever again. Do you think Shakespeare has relevance in the modern world?
I’m sorry. Julius Caesar is actually one of my least favourite plays of Shakespeare, but I think I might feel a bit like your wife. I have just seen Caesar get killed too many times and it has never improved upon the play.
Absolutely, Shakespeare still has huge relevance, and always will have, I think. He covers every topic that could possibly be covered, other than spaceship sagas, but because his plays are so universal they can easily be put into spaceship sagas. I have seen many modern interpretations of his plays in which certain social issues were particularly highlighted. I mentioned Taming of the Shrew earlier which highlighted the issues of rape culture (this was even before the #metoo movement). Shakespeare will always find a place in the world and will be reinterpreted so many more times.
But...but...Marc Antony’s speech! *sigh*
It is a good one, I’ll admit that.
Oh well. How have you found the writing community on Twitter?
They have been absolutely welcoming and supportive. I’m still a fairly small fish in the massive pond and trying to find my way around, but what I have seen so far has been nothing but open and friendly. There is a lot of information going around, from writing competition to writing advice to reviews and a sense of what might work and what might not. I feel like I have learned a lot in the last few months; ever since I have really gotten into the community. I used to be a relatively lazy Twitter user, but have found myself interacting more, retweeting more and connecting with so many people from all over the world. It’s really helpful and makes me want to do more, write more, connect more, learn more.
Do you think that an online presence is important for an author?
It is probably quite necessary for an author nowadays. Especially if you’re like me and don’t really have an agent yet and definitely no contract with a big publishing house that can do all the marketing for you. Short of providing a lot of money to hire people to do the marketing for you, it’s social media that help any artist to reach a wider audience. I’m still working on improving my online presence and it is a slow process, but it’s also fun and hopefully will be worth it in the end.
If people want to interact with you online, what’s the best way to do that?
I’m quite active on Twitter and I have a goodreads author page where people can ask questions. I also have a wordpress blog, called phasesofpoetry, where comments can be left. For quick 280 character conversations Twitter would be best, but I regularly look at all three.
Thanks very much for your time.
Marén Klement's novel 'Insight' can be purchased through Amazon.