• Geza Tatrallyay

More Thoughts on Writing...


During the last few days, I have been doing the final edits for CELLO’S TEARS, my collection of poems, to prepare the manuscript for layout and publication by P.R.A. Publishing. Of course, for me reading my poems is a great pleasure; they are intensely personal, and always evoke the memory of the feeling or deep thought process from the moment when I was writing them. And I never fail to find something new in each poem, a twist or a nuance I had not noticed before.

As I was going through this exercise, I could not help but think how much I love the whole experience of writing in different genres: poems, memoirs, thrillers, translations, maybe eventually some more high-brow literary fiction. The poems and memoirs, for me as their creator and on whose life-experience they are based, are intricately linked, with the former being a distilled and polished encapsulation in words of a momentary emotion or thought, and the latter a reenactment of not just events that took place over a period in the past but also the associated feelings, views and thoughts. In the parlance of finance (apologies to the literary world), one is a ‘spot’ exercise, while the other a ‘term’ purview. Also, as I discussed in my previous blog, one can argue that fiction and memoir are on a continuum, since much of what I write in my thrillers (see for example, TWISTED REASONS) is a fairly unfettered take-off from my own experience or research but still tied to fact, whereas my memoirs are by definition more chained to reality and historical veracity, although they are filtered through my retrospective perception.

Another interesting thought occurred to me, when I recently reworked an earlier translation into English I had made of a little brochure of Hungarian history - both family and national (eventually I will try to get this published too). The piece was written originally in 1909 by Livius Maderspach, the son of Károly Maderspach and Francesca Buchwald, and the brother of my great-great grandmother. It is mainly the story of Francesca, and how, after hiding the fleeing heroes of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848, she was taken out into a field by the pursuing army of the Austrian General Haynau, then stripped and buried to the waist while a troop of soldiers walked past and flogged her. Haynau wanted to punish her as a symbol of Hungarian womanhood for its stance in the Revolution, but it backfired against the Austrians, since this episode was cited in the British Parliament as an example of their cruelty in squashing the Revolution and my great-great-great grandmother became a national heroine. It is partly Livius’ work that inspired me to write the memoir of my family’s escape from Hungary, FOR THE CHILDREN (soon to be published by Editions Dedicaces), which is really the story of my parents’ bravery, and especially my mother’s persistence, against huge odds, to leave a country where they saw no future for their children.

The point I want to make is that the resulting English translation is in a sense a thrice distilled memoir: first Francesca remembering the episodes she recounted to Livius, then Livius processing what he was told, meshing it with what he actually saw and remembered with all the accompanying emotional turbulence, and then thirdly my re-encapsulation of what Livius had written, against the background of my life-experience and feelings about family, Hungary and everything else. Even though the story reads in some ways like a thriller, the difference here is that at each step of the way, the writer―whether author or translator―has to consciously stick as closely to what he or she sees as the facts (although inevitably perverting a detail or slightly altering a nuance), while the writer of fiction takes a fact (or a series of them) and allows his imagination to spin a story around them. In memoir and translation, as in (some) poetry, the creativity comes in best capturing an essence within the framework of language, while in fiction (as well as some poetry) the author creates the tale but then also uses his or her creativity to tell it in words.


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Cover Page for Cello's Tears adapted from https://www.flickr.com/photos/sutherlandviolin/2887346945/