Interview of Me by Amita Basu

Some time ago, I read Ana Vidosavljevic’s articles at The Curious Reader, a magazine we both write for. I went on to discover her other writing, then her website. I was struck by her honest, fresh writing; by the novelty and freshness of her prose; and by her imaginative and accessible stories for children. I got to read some of the short stories and memoir pieces published in Ana’s two recently published books: Mermaids, a collection of short stories; and Flower Thieves, a memoir. Today I speak with Ana about reading, writing, surfing, and travelling.

Last week in this column, I featured an interview of me by Ana Vidosavljevic. This week, we change places.

Some time ago, I read Ana Vidosavljevic’s articles at The Curious Reader, a magazine we both write for. I went on to discover her other writing, then her website. I was struck by her honest, fresh writing; by the novelty and freshness of her prose; and by her imaginative and accessible stories for children. I got to read some of the short stories and memoir pieces published in Ana’s two recently published books: Mermaids, a collection of short stories; and Flower Thieves, a memoir. Today I speak with Ana about reading, writing, surfing, and travelling.

Amita: You’ve written about how reading books helped you cope with your father’s death. Was reading a habit you picked up from father? Did he read to you, shape your reading habits, and/or discuss books with you? Do you come from a family of readers?

Ana: I was lucky to grow up in the family of book lovers. I picked up the habit of reading from my maternal grandma, because I spent a lot of time with her when I was a child. But my father also read me some interesting stories when I was very little. Considering I was a small child, he might have made up those stories instead of reading them. I don’t remember well. If he had had then I had probably inherited the imagination and storytelling from him.

Amita: You’ve offered some useful tips for writing short fiction. How did you come by them? Have you taken any short fiction classes/read books on the craft of writing? Or have you learned mostly by doing?

Ana: I have not taken any fiction classes or attended workshops, but I read a lot and I read different things: fiction, literature on the craft of writing, magazines, journals, essays, lists, newsletters, blogs, interviews etc. One can find interesting things in various reading materials. I have collected those tips out of all the reading materials and created my own list of tips. And of course, my own experience of writing, submitting, being rejected, accepted etc. helped me a lot to write those instructions.

Amita: You’ve discussed how your writing was helped by one particular rejection letter, which offered both encouragement and a concrete critique. Do your friends and family also read and critique your reading? Have any of them (or any fellow writers) offered similarly helpful and detailed feedback?

Ana: Yes! And I am so grateful to receive the comments (both good and bad). Actually, there are no bad comments from my friends and family. Hehehe. They are biased. But occasionally, they recommend editing of certain parts, or paying more attention to language, sentence structure, plot etc.

Amita: Do you belong to any writing groups? What has your experience been like? Do you prefer in-person groups or online?

Ana: I don’t belong to any particular writing group, unfortunately. I would love to though. I hasn’t really searched for them and I haven’t had time lately. I would like to from such a group. It is great to have people with same interest around who share their knowledge, tips, news with you. Fellow writers’ discussions are always interesting and beneficial for everyone.

Amita: You’re from Serbia, and you’ve moved to Indonesia. When did you move, and what prompted the move? Did you encounter cultural difficulties? Are you learning the language? When abroad, do you seek the international expatriate community, or prefer to mingle with the locals? What’s been the biggest reward and the biggest challenge of living in so different a culture?

Ana: I moved to Indonesia 10 years ago. The reason was the scholarship from Indonesian Ministry of Education to study Indonesian History, Culture and Language. The programme lasted a year and after that I was supposed to go back home. At least, it was my plan. But that plan failed. I fell in love with Indonesia, its culture, natural beauty, lifestyle. I got a job offer and I decided to stay.

The first week in Bali, Indonesia was hard. Of course, unavoidable cultural shock and my European mindset (initially uninclined to adjust. Hehehe) were in conflict. Terrible traffic, Indonesian “rubber time”, pollution, “no rules are the best rules” while driving, coping to communicate since I didn’t speak Indonesian in the beginning. But soon enough I started exploring Indonesia, learning its rich culture and language and meeting lovely Indonesian people and I fell in love with all of them. They taught me: There was no need for rush in life. Everything will be eventually done without stress and strict deadlines. Always smile! Be polite Be kind. Respect other cultures. Be humble. Be patient. Less is more. Simplicity is the key. I have changed many houses/apartments in Indonesia. I learned not to get attached to material things. I am renting one at the moment. Maybe one day, I will have my own house/apartment, but even if I don’t it is not that important as long as I have dear people with me.

I love languages. I learned Indonesian fast not because I am a fast learner but because I think it is not that complicated language to learn.

I have both local and expat friends.

The biggest reward of leaving in a different culture is that you constantly grow and learn. You become open-minded, unbiased, more generous, more understanding and culturally richer.

Amita: Has becoming a mother changed your approach to writing? Are you finding inspiration in new places? Have you had to readjust your writing schedule?

Ana: Becoming a mother is a whole new experience. Your life changes completely. Not only has my writing schedule changed but daily life as well. You have to adjust everything to your child at least until he/she grows up a bit.

Yes, I am finding inspiration in my child and children I meet. I started writing fiction and poems for children as well as essays on motherhood.

Amita: I understand you also do copywriting/freelance writing, interpreting, and teaching. I think it’s important for writers to recognise that most of us won’t make a living solely from creative writing, and to build other income streams. What does a typical week in your life look like, in terms of balancing these activities with creative writing?

Ana: Unfortunately, I have worked a lot lately and I don’t have much time for my creative writing. It will not always be like that. I still manage to scribble something once in a while. It fulfils me. But I also love what I do during my working hours, so no complaints.

Amita: Have you lived anywhere except for Serbia and Indonesia? You seem to travel a lot. If you could pick a third country to live in at some point, which country would it be and why?

Ana: I have travelled a lot. However, I have lived only in Serbia and Indonesia. I would love to visit many other places. I think I would love to visit Samoa and Hawaii. Small islands attract me. I don’t like big cities and urban areas. I am a countryside person.

Amita: When did you start writing? Do you also write in Serbian? How do the books you read influence your writing?

Ana: I started writing when I was a little girl. My grandma used to buy beautiful notebooks that I would feel with stories and poems. I wrote in Serbian when I lived in Serbia. Nowadays I mostly write in English. It is challenging because English is not my native language but there is a great pleasure in doing that. It motivates me. I have to re-read and edit my texts many times to make sure they are written well but it is not a burden. I like doing that. By doing that I improve my English.

The books I read definitely inspire me. I love Haruki Murakami’s mysterious style and everything Marquez wrote. I have discovered Celeste Eng recently and her two books and even though, she is a new writer, I have had inspirational bursts while and after reading her books. I also love Hemingway and his simplicity as well as some Serbian authors such as Ivo Andric, Mesa Selimovic, Desanka Maksimovic and Dejan Stojiljkovic. Their unique styles inspire me in different ways.

Amita: In your nonfiction piece “Rakija” at The Peacock Journal, you wrote about your memories of the Serbian spirit rakija. You didn’t seem to be a fan of such a strong alcoholic beverage. What drinks and foods do you like? What’s your favourite dish and drink (can be alcoholic or non-alcoholic) from Serbia and from Indonesia?

Ana: I don’t really drink alcohol. Once in a while a glass of white wine is enough for me. I love water and coffee. I am a big coffee lover. My favorite Serbian dishes and desserts are the ones my mom makes. Yummy mushroom/cheese pie, burek, Serbian sopska salad, sweet fruit pie, chocolate fruit cakes, apple pie etc. I also love Indonesian food. My favorite dishes are Gado-gado, Mie goreng and Nasi goreng. I love Indonesian tempeh as well. I enjoy cooking and I have been cooking a lot lately.

Amita: You’ve just published two books. Congratulations! How long did it take you? Was the process different for a memoir vs. a collection of short stories? How did you go about selecting a publisher? Has being a published writer changed your daily life/attitude to writing/expectations and opportunities?

Ana: The process of writing and publishing books was long. It lasted longer than a year. I have a lot of short stories that I write on daily basis. My publishing company Adelaide Books owns a magazine and first they published one of my short stories in their magazine. I asked the editor if he was willing to read my collection of short stories and he accepted. And that is how everything started. My memoir is also a collection of short stories inspired but the events from my childhood. Therefore, the process of writing them was not much different. Except that while I was writing the memoir I was very emotional. Childhood memories brought smiles, laughter and occasional tears (while remembering those who had passed away).

Nothing really changed in my daily life after I had my books published. I am grateful that I am a published author but it does not mean that I am better of any other author who has not been published. I was only lucky to find an editor who wanted to read my books and liked them.

Amita: If your son were to tell you that he wanted to be a writer when he grew up — what would you tell him?

Ana: I would support him in whatever he decides to do/become. I would not impose on him the writers I love. I would let him find his own style/preferences/genres and give him a piece of advice only if he asks me. The only thing I would insist on teaching him is to be a good, kind, generous and humble person.

Amita: How does international relations feature into your work?

Ana: When I studied International relations, I believed I would use that knowledge more but I don’t.

I don’t know what the future will bring, maybe one day my career will have a drastic twist and I will work as a consultant, but at the moment I am not heading in that direction. But who knows!

Amita: How did you get into surfing? Are there places to surf in Serbia? What’s your most memorable surfing experience? How do you find the surf culture in Asia vs. Europe?

Ana: In Serbia, we don’t have places to surf since there is no sea or ocean. But I grew up playing and swimming in the river in my hometown. I have always loved water. My dad used to say that I first learned to swim and after that to walk. I learned to surf in Bali. And it is one of the reasons why I decided to stay here. Surf culture is amazing because almost all surfers are environmentalists, sustainability advocates, permaculture practitioners and in general ocean and nature lovers. The surfers come directly in contact with the ocean and they realize what pollution problems we have. Therefore, most of surfers dedicate their lives fighting against pollution and negative impacts on environment. Surf culture in Asia, Hawaii and Australia is influential and has made some significant steps toward nature protection. My most memorable surf experience was in small islands called Mentawais west from Sumatra. Those islands are postcard places. Indescribably beautiful. And waves probably among the best in the world. With that setting you feel like you are dreaming while riding the waves. I plan to go back there one day.

Amita: What are your biggest strength and your biggest weakness as a writer?

Ana: My biggest strength is I believe my persistence. I don’t give up easily. Even if all odds are against me, I will keep trying. Bad comments, the fact that English is not my native language, rejection letters didn’t make me give up of writing. Writing is my way of expression, my fuel and my motivation.

My biggest weakness is that I often bring myself to the state of burnout. If I have to finish some work, I usually don’t stop and keep surviving on almost no sleep for days until I see that I am coming to close the end of the project. I need to learn how to manage my time better.

Ana Vidosavljevic is a Serbian-born writer, teacher, surfer, water-lover, and mother. Her stories, poems, essays have been published in many magazines. Her collection of short stories “Mermaids” and memoir “Flower Thieves” were published by Adelaide Books. Ana lives in Bali, Indonesia with her son Archie.

Ana’s books on Amazon:
Flower Thieves: A Memoir
Mermaids: A Collection of Short StoriesVisit Ana’s website

Ana’s books in eBook format:
Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Smashwords
Kobo

Follow Ana on Instagram

Email Ana: vidosavljevicana@gmail.com

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