It was a clever piece of programming. Teaming Esmahan Aykol with multi-million-copy-selling Paula Hawkins guaranteed a sellout audience in the Studio Theatre and hundreds of potential new readers for the lesser known (in UK reading circles) Turkish crime writer. Assigning doyenne of translated fiction, Rosie Goldsmith, to be chair ensured a lively event too.
For Women in Translation month, this post focuses solely on insights into Esmahan Aykol gained during the event.
Q: Which authors inspire you?
A: Patricia Highsmith. (Ed: She is a lady of finest discernment.)
Q: What are your objectives in writing the Kati Hirschel mysteries?
A: I want to depict the Turkish lifestyle told through the eyes of a German. (Aykol is Turkish, who lived for many years in Germany, before returning to Istanbul. Her protagonist, the amateur sleuth, Kati Hirschel, is German and the owner of a specialist crime-writing bookshop in Istanbul.)
Q: Is Kati’s bookshop based on a real place?
A: Unfortunately not. There is no crime-writing bookshop in Istanbul.
Q: Life in Istanbul now isn’t like that in your books, is it?
A: I’m showing how Turkey was at the beginning of the 21st century. It was a liberal country then.
Q: Why did you move back to Istanbul?
A: I write in Turkish about Istanbul. I simply need to be in the place and to hear the language.
Q: How do you view the world?
A: I look at the world with a detective’s eye. Politicians lie all the time and you need to do that to find the truth.
Q: Does crime fiction have a purpose beyond entertainment?
A: I use my novels to address contemporary social issues: Hotel Bosphorus addresses child abuse; Baksheesh, political corruption; Divorce Turkish Style, domestic violence and being gay in a Muslim world.
Q: (From audience). How long can you remain living in Istanbul, in the current political climate?
A: Life is frightening at the moment. Istanbul is a city of fear, bombs and police. But I have dual citizenship and a German passport. I feel this gives me a certain freedom which I still use to criticise. But I don’t know how long this will continue.
Q: (From Lizzy in the signing queue.). Do you miss Germany?
A: Not at all. I don’t miss the discrimination I experienced, although this has been reducing in recent times.
(This led to a conversation in which it became apparent that Lizzy’s German homesickness is partially fuelled by the scarcity of sunshine. Not a problem for Esmahan Aykol in Istanbul, of course. But she would struggle in Scotland. I left her shivering in her quilted jacket and that on a positively balmy Scottish evening. It was 16C.)