Tatjana Plevnik, a retired graduate teacher, has been writing for just over ten years. She is a great supporter of writing, as she believes that writing allows a person to organize their thoughts and deepen them. This year, she won the Arsova swallow award with her short story Jablana.
Tatjana Plevnik is the latest winner of this year’s Ars swallow, the award for the best short story, which is announced every year by the Culture Editor of the third program of Radio Slovenia, the Ars program. Jury in composition Silvija Žnidar, Andrej Peric and Matej Juh shortlisted six stories out of the 345 stories submitted. These were the works of authors Barbara Kapelj and Jerneja Fišer, two were written by award winner Tatjana Plevnik, and one by Franjo Frančič. One of the authors did not confirm his authorship for the untitled and coded story Luscinia. The stories from the short selection were presented as part of the Literary Nocturne show on the 1st and 3rd programs of Radio Slovenia in the days before the award ceremony for the best story.
Tatjana Plevnik has already participated in the competition, in 2017 she wrote a story Cici Mici and Russian Roulette shortlisted for the award. She is a teacher who lives and works in Ljubljana. She worked at the University Development Center and the Ministry of Education, where she headed the Slovenian unit of the European Network for Education, translated professional works and wrote articles. She started writing short stories after her retirement in 2014, and she also publishes in various Slovenian literary magazines, and in 2020 and 2021 she won four times in various competitions in Slovenia. She also works as a mentor for several creative writing groups. She recently published her book debut with the title Litera Lures – a collection of unrelated stories, each standing and falling on its own merits alone.
Tatjana Plevnik says she is trying “to write in different ways, even provocatively. Maybe this is the way I resist the ‘invisibility of older women’. I myself recognize a common thread in my stories, which, I think, is irony (even self-irony). It is also true that not I know how to write good stories quickly. After I write it, I let it sit until I forget that I wrote it, so that it is easier to correct and polish it later. The whole process takes quite a long time, even several years”.
Lastovka was awarded to the story Jablana, which thematically deals with the toxic relationship between parents and children.
The jury wrote about Jablana’s story, that it is thoughtfully structured dramatically with discreet metaphors, but also convinces with the gradual characterization and unobtrusive comparison of the daughter as the central protagonist with the titular Jablana and her life cycle. So these are the words of the jury. What can you tell us about her?
The best thing to say about it briefly is that it is a mixture of autofiction and pure fiction. I borrowed something from my experience, maybe I borrowed my parents’ professions, but everything else is very little real. But first I unraveled the story in several ways, and then I decided on this one. I don’t write stories very quickly, so this story has been in the making for quite some time, it’s maybe the fourth or fifth version, and it’s obviously worked. It’s always worth waiting to find out what works in the story, what resonates with me as the author. And when I felt that this was it, I gave it away.
Do you delete or correct a lot? Do you write stories in one go or is it a long process for you?
Correcting, changing – for me, this process is even longer than putting the draft on paper. I do this many times. Sometimes I also throw something away, but not completely. I have one particular folder where I keep these drafts. Maybe someday I’ll figure out how to fix what’s written to make the story sound good. This has happened to me many times. That I pulled something out of the recycling bin and decorated it for publication.
You submitted three stories to our radio competition and all were shortlisted. The stories are very different from each other, so the jury was actually very surprised when they realized that they came from the same author.
That’s probably because I’ve only been writing for the last ten years and I’m basically self-educating myself the whole time. All three of these stories were not created at the same time. Some are older, even two or three years. As already mentioned, I supplemented and transformed them. For the last ten years, I have been experimenting a little all the time. What is it that you would like to say? What is it that lies to me? How do I say this? How do I change the narrator? What kind of story format should I create to make it interesting, convincing, resonating, effective. So these are all the results of my experimentation. I’m still working, even though I’m getting a little older.
You mentioned that you are self-taught. How does this education take place? Do you read your favorite authors, do you attend any workshops?
Also. But according to the well-known pedagogical pyramid, the one who teaches learns the most. That’s why, after two or three years of going to workshops at the University for the Third Life Period and also to other mentors, I formed the group myself. We meet with a group of colleagues every Tuesday and learn. I collected a whole bunch of notes, so now a hybrid book will be published at JSKD, which is half a manual, half a collection of stories of our workers. I wrote it with the help of Suzana Tratnik and Barbara Korun, for which I am very grateful. The book is finished and will soon go to press.
Well, this is not your only book, your short prose debut entitled Vabe was also recently published by the Litera publishing house.
Yes, this is my first book of short stories, which are very different from each other. It covers the period of the last ten years when I have been developing my writing skills. Contrary to the general belief that in our country more people write than read, I applaud that. People should just write. This is, firstly, better than throwing granite cubes, and secondly, when you write, you somehow articulate or arrange, systematize your thoughts. You also deepen them a little. You start looking at the problem or the world or relationships differently than you would if you hadn’t put it down on paper. So I’m a big advocate of people writing. Regardless, with what final purpose or with what superior quality. It makes people better in any case.
What about the short story form itself? You are attracted or interested more than some longer form, for example a novel?
First of all, there is probably a practical reason, because when I started going to creative writing workshops, they write a short story. That’s one. Secondly, I think that the short story suits me both from the point of view of the reader and from the point of view of the author. The power of a short story must be equivalent, or at least approximately the same, as a short novel. Condensing also lies to me. To say more with fewer words. So I think I will stick with the short story, although I am also trying my hand at writing a novel, but this requires a more architectural approach, more planning, a little more time and patience.
Who do you like to read, who inspires you as a writer or who do you look up to as a writer?
In any case, these are top ladies, Alice Monroe, Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood. We also have a whole bunch of female writers who have my respects and have a place on my shelves. From Vesna Lemaić to the recently awarded Ajda Bračič. Finally, I read Branching out by Richard Powers. I like to read novels that are current, that look to the future, that want to tell us something about what awaits us and what awaits our children. I also like to read on the beach, I like to read crime novels, but mostly in the summer on vacation. I must say that when one concentrates on one’s own writing, one is somewhat less prepared to empathize with another voice. Here you have to strike a balance between what you say yourself and what other writers say.