It’s my pleasure to republish an interview we had in early 2009 with Adrian Graham for The Digital Fiction Show. The original blog is gone, but you can read Adrian’s great stuff at Small Stories project.
Who exactly is Nick Name or is his identity being kept secret for a creative reason?
Nick Name is a person or a team, rather, who wants to be a living example of something which is happenig in front of our eyes – people are getting more and more identities. In times of mighty Internet, people select, adjust, create who they want to be to what they want to achieve – and they are just using this possibility of being anonymous to put different faces around. Each one of us has several Internet nicknames, personalities. Nick Name is just the opposite – several people try to have/can have/have one personality. It’s an artistic experiment, early stage, we’ll see how it evolves.
How would you define ‘absurd’ short stories? Is this kind of humour the result of post eastern bloc Soviet politics, something newer, or older?
It is definitely deep rooted in communism-related absurd, and we here in Poland have a great name for it – it is Slawomir Mrozek, famous around the world for his theatre of the absurd. At Soviet times the literary absurd (especially Mrozek’s short stories published in a Polish large-coverage weekly magazine) was a smart way to criticize communism as censors didin’t spot anything wrong wth it. So the literature absurd’s potential to put in between the lines something which was forbidden was something very specific for our Polish culture – I could call it a “Polish absurd pattern” – we like absurd in literature, because it used to address absurd in real life – usually in a form, where laughter is included.
How popular are short stories in Poland? In the UK the novel gets most of the literary attention? Is it the same in Poland?
Short fiction is not very popular in Poland, and it’s probably the same as everywhere else – novels, novels, novels. The thing is, that long-time reading in times of RSS feeds, no matter how exciting it is, seems to be an outdated way of spending time. At Indigo we believe, that its good to start a discussion on the new type of a reader – the one, who doesn’t have time to read big volume novels, is used to swallow short, on-the screen information, is eager to consume pleasure in short, but finished forms (YouTube films, etc.), is eager to read selectively, and gets satisfaction from a short time pleasures. This new type of a reader, we call him “Intereader”, all his reading habits gest from Internet and expects the rest of reading to be like that. As we learned, whose who like the books with short stories, mark the book they bought as “read” even if they have read ONE or TWO stories, they got satisfaction with. That’s a very interesting learning – there are people ready to buy a book just to consume a little part of it – but very intensively.
That’s a nice theory to share with you. But in terms of sales figures – here in Poland we are still are at the times of long-paper-hardcover-bigname readers. There is still a lot to be done to rediscover reading as a part of modern living pleasures. At this moment we must have a lot of belief in short stories:-)
Although the stories are available as printed books there’s a free sampler version available from Feedbooks.com. Is this a marketing device or do you have a particular passion for eBooks?
Books are going into public domain, we are very much into it. As a publishing house targeting Intereaders, we want to go into areas other publishers don’t see any benefit yet. So – it’s a promotional tool to draw attention to what we do, especially of those who consider reading books as a waste of time. The case of our book “Password Incorrect” addressed to iPhone users through Feedbooks.com/Stanza is a good example, that it works. We promoted the Polish edition of a book as a first Polish book for iPhone users and in no time got attention of major media in Poland. The very interesting thing is that it was technology guys who got deeply interested, not literary guys. In two weeks we had around 1000 downloads from feedbooks.com and the good thing is that this free iPhone book has boosted sales of all paper books by Nick Name – number of copies sold in October is almost four times bigger than in September. The conclusion: 75% of our readers come from technology world, not book world.
The stories often involve a fair amount of high tech and gadgets. Do you see your work as gadget-lit or tech-fiction?
The selection of stories in “Password Incorrect” is tech-oriented as this was the whole idea – to create a paradox: a book designed to be read on a hi-tech gadget, which is showing you the absurdity of using such gadgets. For us technology&science is one of the major sources of absurd and it’s good to be aware of it before we fully accept all the advances of civilisation. But absurd surely can be spotted in politics, entertainment, social relationship as well as other areas, and Nick Name is trying to deal with all of them, what is easy when using short stories as a tool.
The most important thing is that we don’t want to go into a typical science-fiction. As one of Nicks said once “Fiction is something which doesn’t exist, but makes sense. Absurd just the opposite.” So we want to talk about things, which are probable to happen – and we want to exaggerate to deconstruct absurd behind it. So it’s close future rather than typical futuristic fiction thing.
Do you have a translator? Or do you write in English?
I write in Polish. “Password Incorrect” is a first translation made. We wanted to check whether the fact, that the Polish book is already translated into English helps or not. Helps a lot:-) You know, people are snobs. But this translation we made is also a first step into an area of promoting what we do abroad.
Most of my favourite books were translated into English from another language. Sometimes I read the same book translated by two different translators. One I love and the other does nothing for me. Translation is a very tricky thing. And for those writers who are fluent in English as a second language there are colloquial terms and expressions that can be difficult. Do you worry about these issues?
Yes, we are fully aware that the the translations are a drawback. And they will always be. As already said, literary absurd is all about talking behind the lines, so associations can be made to real world. In lots of Nick Name’s Polish stories those associations are clear only for Poles. We lose some one-third of the meaning just on translation.
Have you thought about promoting your work more in the US and UK?
When it comes to such a niche area as absurd it’s only the question of time to at least try reach short fiction absurd lovers around the world, and obviously English is a language of first choice.
The book market in the UK is competitive and commercial. What is it like in Poland? Is it dominated by large business? Are there many independent bookshops? Is it easy for a writer (especially doing low volume, short fiction) to walk into a bookshop and get them to stock his or her book?
Large business, big warehouses, very big chains – this is the reality. There are small publishing houses like ours, but it’s really difficult to access the mainstream of a book distribution channels, so they do what we basically do – a lot of buzzmarketing, a lot of no-budget activities designed to get public’s attention. For a small publisher an e-book is a real choice. You can have a book published, there are no big costs involved, and the book is already there, so you can at least test the popularity, get first comments, this is good, this is helpful.
What is Nick Name planning for the future?
More absurd chasing, more fun:-)