May 31, 2021.
Wenneke Savenije, creator of the prestigious Dutch Denieuwemuze blog interviewed Stamatia Karampini on her new novel, ARIADNE & DIONYSUS
Link to original https://denieuwemuze.nl/interview-met-stamatia-karampini-over-haar-debuutroman-ariadne-dionysus/
Please find below the translation in English:
Q: The book’s protagonist is a Greek female conductor in her 30s from Greece. Is this book a memoir?
A: Ariadne & Dionysus is a novel and, hence, fiction. In my official disclaimer, I clarify that all of the book’s main characters are wholly made-up. I concocted their backgrounds and fates. I baptized them. I chiseled their inner and outer shapes. Any resemblance to real persons (living or dead) is coincidental. And the opinions expressed by these characters should not be confused for my own.
Q: So there is no similarities whatsoever between you and the main character, Ariadne Pappathanos?
A: Most people know me as an orchestra and opera conductor. Merely reading the biographical note under my name—often occupying a small part on concert programs—one could easily, albeit wrongly, draw the conclusion that this novel is an auto-biography. It is not. This is a work of fiction, even if, broadly speaking, there are some faint similarities to my life, and life in general. After all, in every piece of literature, no matter how fantastical or dystopian the world-building, stories are used to express a human truth.
Q: Ariadne Pappathanos is an interesting character. Tell me how you came up with her.
A: Even back when I began writing the novel, I knew I wanted my protagonist to be a woman older than me. I was 32 at the time, so I wrote her to be in her late 30s and not a beauty, though you wouldn’t call her ugly either. This is a big part of the plot. Most of the rest of the cast are people in their early 40s to mid 60s. As a story-teller, I find it way more interesting putting a character with life-experience in tricky, not black-and-white situations. When Ariadne does something unusual, there might be a reason for her behaviour: she has life-experience and therefore, possibly, knows more than she lets on. Older characters are also more complex, because they are inevitably burdened by regret, doubt and knowledge. Now that I am closer to her age, I see I was right. Originally, she was going to be a dark-blonde German female conductor. As I developed the analogy to the Greek mythos, it made more sense that she should be Greek and from Crete, like the original mythological Ariadne. One thing led to the other, and I before I knew it, I couldn’t disentangle my own background to hers. Writing this story, I ended up exercising some of my personal demons. The narrative had to undergo 20-30 revisions, among other reasons, to make sure that I wasn’t letting any of my own issues leak into the story. It’s partially why it took me five years to finish it.
Q: When you say “the story” I presume you mean this and the next novel. Ariadne & Dionysus could be a stand alone, but there is a sequel?
A: Yes, “the story” implies both volumes. I’m currently revising the second. The book you read is literally half the story. At first I thought it was an impossible task: how do I sell half a story, let alone the FIRST half, with all the exciting things that happen in the second? I knew I didn’t want to produce an 800 page novel( after the editing). But the page-count wasn’t the only problem: the writing style and pacing is different between the two books. Because the characters grow a lot throughout the story. And that was the key!The narrative in Ariadne & Dionysus is character-driven; the suspense is psychological. I place flawed but interesting people in challenging situations that force them to come out of their comfort zones and evolve. In the sequel, now that we are fully familiar with the characters, their thoughts, goals and trepidations—not to mention, their growth—the story turns more plot-driven, and the pace keeps accelerating till the end.
Q : The structure of the novel is interesting. There are 14 titled chapters, but they are on their own divided by mini numbered chapters. Why not just write 50 or so mini chapters from start to end? Also is chapter one: PRELUDES a prologue?
A: I use some experimental techniques in this novel. PRELUDES are nine vignettes depicting tiny fragments of Ariadne’s background. Because she is shrouded in mystery for a long time in the novel, I am providing nine puzzle pieces of who she is and why she turns out the way she does. Starting from her infancy, with each vignette, I jump about five years ahead each time, until 2013where the main story begins. This technique is called Flash-fiction-in-novel, when chapters entail from 300 to 1000 words or so. The rest of the novel I wanted to separate in small sections ( I like to call them “episodes”)
Q: But the story is not episodic: it’s cohesive.
A: Yes, there is an overall arc from the beginning to the end of the novel. And there is a bigger arch from 1st book to 2nd. I only call the titled chapters “ Episodes” because they have each an arch of their own. The mini chapters then, almost indicate the 3-5 acts of each “episode”. I don’t think the reader needs to know any of that to enjoy the story.
Q: Why did you write your first novel in a foreign language?
A: It wasn’t out of disregard to my native Greek, a language of profound historical importance, and of overwhelming beauty. Then again, after highschool, I lived in many different countries. I’ve considered myself a “citizen of the world” for a very long time now. Silly as it may sound, I actually fell I love with English a few years back when, enchanted, I followed two “ white rabbits”: Oscar Wilde and James Joyce. I was suddenly Alice in a wonderland of literary riches.
Q: How many languages do you speak?
A: I’m not sure. I don’t consider myself linguistically talented. In fact, I never considered myself particularly talented in anything. But nobody can accuse me for lacking work ethic; that’s my secret weapon. And I find it hard answering this question, because I speak some languages poorer than others. I don’t think being able to say 20 phrases in a language qualifies as speaking it… I know 20 phrases in Japanese and I can read some of the writing, but if you ask me : “Stamatia, do you speak Japanese?” my answer would be resounding “no”. Also it depends on how much I practice a language. It’s like maintaining your garden, isn’t it? A bit of neglect and your precious plants, for which you cared and spent time nurturing, turn moribund. One needs to keep fertilizing, digging, working on that garden constantly…
Q: How hard was it to use multiple POVs (points of view) in the novel?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I wanted my own, personal view of orchestras, conducting, the music industry and the world as a woman not to drench the story. Getting inside the head of various people with different world-views was challenging and a great exercise for my intellect. Primarily though, you’ll find, the main POV is that of the protagonist. We mainly see the world through her eyes, and eventually the eyes of the male main character. One example of a scene between two very different people is in “episode” BARS. Ari( Ariadne) engages in an emotional/intellectual boxing match with a “frenemy” and colleague of hers, Evgeny. Seemingly, they’re just having a friendly beer at a British pub, talking about why orchestras don’t always follow the best conductors. But in reality, they are sparring, going for the knock out, round after round. It was interesting entering their minds, and forcing myself to examine a situation from two completely different points of view.
Q: did you write this novel to make a point as to things that must change in the world of classical music and conducting?
A: I wrote this novel for the same reason most authors write fiction: to entertain and to create a piece of art. I might give a lecture or write something else regarding my opinions and solutions to the classical music industry’s problems. It’s a project for another time. I really went out of my way to make sure that someone who is not familiar with(or interested in) orchestras, symphonies and classical composers could absolutely follow the plot and, hopefully, relate to the characters. Based on the positive feedback I got from my Beta-readers (people who read the book before its release), all of whom were not musicians, I am relieved to see I’ve succeeded in doing that.
Q: The books’ subthemes (difficult family relationships, the Greek crisis, alienation from one’s homeland, immigration, sexism, #meetoo, unlikely friendships and more) harmonize well together. What would you want the reader to take from them most?
A: Obviously, each reader of the same book will discover something that speaks to them personally and helps them express themselves. And so everyone understands and builds the same story in their minds differently. That age-old kinship and cooperation between author and reader is a natural and wonderful process with which I don’t intend to intervene by dissecting individual passages, overanalyzing and clinically explaining which parts are slightly closer to true people and events than others. I fear, to discuss the story’s subthemes or any possible philosophies that might or might not permeate the narrative, would “kill” the readers’ personal experience with the book.
Q: Thank you for answering my questions. I loved reading Ariadne & Dionysus and I know it will speak not just to musicians and women, but readers in general.
A: Thank you for having me. I hope so too.
Goodreads reviews can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58087513-ariadne-dionysus