Nikolai Terzijski is one of the nominees for the “Elias Canetti” National Award this year. “Guilty” for this is his novel “Stars under the Eyelids”. The meeting with him will take place on October 6th at 20.00 in Canetti House. Read the interview with Nikolai about the theme of the festival, writing and publishing in Bulgaria and come to the meeting.

What do you expect from the 16th edition of the literary festival under the motto “The sleep of reason…” (based on Francisco Goya’s “The sleep of reason gives birth to monsters”)?

If the sleep of the reason gives birth to monsters, the awakening of the spirit gives birth to humans. The monster and the man live in each one of us, inside somewhere, in our inexplicable essence of Homo sapiens. Unknowingly, we are the miracle of evolution, and with it the two-legged parasites on the planet, from whence we came and whither we are going. Human-monsters and human-men at the same time. We are brought together by building and destruction; mutual aid and war; love and hate. What makes humans human, however, is precisely the awakening of the spirit. Spirituality. The books, the paintings, the music, the theatre… Compare the people on a bus, off to work, huddled together, staring at their phones and the people at a literary meeting, talking, discussing ideas, dreams, love, immortality, people whose thoughts make the air shine. I’ve seen that glowing air many times, in meetings with readers. And I am sure that at the literary festival in Ruse, we will all together be charged by this radiance to give birth not to monsters, but to men.

  • When the future is seen as something distant and well-protected, without considering the consequences of major breakthroughs, revolutionary discoveries, innovations, etc., what kind of setbacks can they inflict on humanity’s life? Is this actually a basis for daily concern?

I believe we are witnessing how technological progress surpasses human capabilities. We have not yet unraveled our own potential, yet we seek the abilities of our own creations, which have completely consumed us. But aren’t we, once again, reflected in our screens, in our “smart” weapons used for foolish purposes? When we say Frankenstein, we envision a monster in our thoughts, although Victor Frankenstein is the man who created that monster. Which is entirely true – we are both the creator of the monster and the monster itself. And yes, this is worrisome, much more worrisome than anything else.

  • How do you perceive artificial intelligence – as an aid or obstacle in your profession? Are you afraid of it?

I always smile at this question because it reminds me of a song by “Nirvana” that I listened to some time ago. It was written by a computer years after Kurt Cobain’s death. A song created through the analysis of all the old songs by the band. At first, I was impressed. Then, I found it amusing. However, I never played it again, unlike other songs that I have listened to hundreds of times. So, for me, neither literature, nor music, nor any form of art would be of interest if I sense that it was created by an algorithm. And that feeling is always present.

  • Reading and publishing books – which one is ahead, which one is taking steps forward, and how should it be?

I don’t like the word “should.” I wouldn’t say what should or shouldn’t be done regarding reading, writing, and publishing. But I would share my experience. In one sentence, a few years before the publication of my first novel “Isolation,” before it received the “Southern Spring” award for debut, and before I started writing the second and then the third, I was awarded “Reader of the Year” by the Sofia City Library.

  • The number of writers (or those who easily call themselves writers) is increasing. What are the good and not-so-good aspects of the accessibility of book publishing today?

It is a popular thesis that there were more writers than readers, just how many books were written and published. I have heard it many times. However, I don’t think it’s that scary. Make writing accessible. Let everyone who wants to try – try it. It isn’t dangerous – even if they decides to print it themselves. If the publishers rejected them, they’d self-promote. What’s wrong with that? Our bookstores were full of pretty much everything… This is nothing to complain about. Our supermarkets are full of all manner of things now, but we know that didnt use to be the case before. When the shops were empty, it was far more unpleasant. Let books be written, let us have full bookstores and libraries. It’s difficult for a person to present himself surrounded by so many books? That’s right, it is difficult! Time will weed out the valuable books from all others. I am glad that we have an abundance of both publishers and authors. That doesn’t mean I like all the books. But I wouldn’t call any book worthless. Every book is needed.

  • Should the writer, the artist in general, be a factor in politics? Whether your answer is YES or NO, justify it.

If many people today easily call themselves writers, then even more people with even greater ease call themselves politicians. With politicians, the devaluation of the word is far more advanced than with writers. And perhaps this is precisely the reason why many artists in Bulgaria shy away from political upheavals. We have been too tarnished by the political class in recent years, and the danger of being taken as part of someone’s interests probably repels artists. At least most of them. In my opinion, this is one of the important reasons why we have such a sharp opposition of extreme opinions today. Because if a great creative or intellectual takes a position, it will rarely go to extremes. A good writer is also a person of balance, he sees all shades of color, not just black and white. The bad thing is that today in Bulgaria he neither wants to speak, nor does anyone want to hear him.

  • What will you present at the Literary Festival? Give more detail about the book we will be reading, more about why you wrote it, and how in particular you will intrigue the audience in advance.

I will be visiting Ruse with my latest novel “Stars under the eyelids”. I will tell the story of this book – from the idea that arose in a difficult personal moment, through its writing, to its arrival in the reader’s arms. I will read a fragment of the novel and I will be happy to answer any questions. This book really came to life – in the hands of readers that my previous two novels “Isolation” and “Chronicles of the Unknown”, had or had not reached. It received an award (“Hristo G. Danov”) and all important nominations, which makes me happy – there was no jury that didn’t define it as one of the best of the year. And there is that the commission of the International “Elias Canetti” Society placed it among the best seven for the last two years. The last time I was in Ruse was in 2019, when I presented “Chronicles of the Unknown” with Vanq Hinkova, and I have great memories of meeting the readers in this wonderful city. I can’t wait to see you and talk again. About what’s important.