European Union Prize for Literature

Creative EuropeEuropean and International Booksellers FederationEuropean Writers' CouncilFederation of European Publishers


4 April 2018

Interview with Osvalds Zebris

Last week Osvalds Zebris was hosted by Jānis Roze bookshop in Riga to present his award-winning book 'Gaiļu kalna ēnā' (In the Shadow of Rooster Hill). During the small reception that followed, the audience had the opportunity to exchange with the author. EUPL comes back on this event and presents you with an interview of the author.

Action – 100 years ago and today – always requires effort, and nearly always an ounce of courage.

What did it mean for you, as a Latvian, to immerse yourself in the history of your own country and to write about it?  

This year Latvia celebrates 100 years of our independency. XX century was immensely significant and turbulent time for us – two times Latvia established sovereign country (1918 and 1990) and we experienced 50 years of occupation. Questions about our historical experience, majority of them, are still waiting for the new viewpoints and interpretations. I tried to rise some of them. My novel is about 1905 – time of the revolution and time of our national awakening. In the center of the novel are moral concepts of courage and cowardice. Action – 100 years ago and today – always requires effort, and nearly always an ounce of courage. You have to make a decision, and the main character of the novel is incapable of that. Thus he collapses – under the weight of his own impotence and indecision. The next step is the smothering of one's conscience.

Which part of yourself did you bring to the story? (Biographical facts, a friend or a family member has inspired you for a character, etc.)?

My inspiration or object of the interest was and is moral choices of the man. It is the central, core element of the novel. Regarding characters – some of them are real persons I found in historical documents, some are created.

In the Shadow of Rooster Hill is your first novel with a detective angle. Is there another specific genre that you would dream to write in or a specific topic that you would dream to write about?

I’m writing a novel about teenagers, Generation Z in real time and place – todays Latvia. I really want to finish the text this autumn. The same story I put in the scenario for TV series which are in the production now (for Latvian State TV) and it would be great to have my story in the book and on the screen in same time…

You have now concluded translation deals in 8 countries, among them the UK. How does it feel that your work will cross borders and reach wider European audience?

There are two different universes – big and small languages – with different rules of the “game”, different approaches for writers, publishers, book sellers. Translations and publications abroad for small language means not only ability to sell more copies but possibility to introduce with our culture. That’s crucial for small nations – to show that differences between us is not a threat but opportunity to unfold the potential of humanity.

Is there a language you would love to be translated into? Why?

Russian. Because today’s Latvia was a part of Russian Empire at the time covered in my novel and I presume it could be interesting for Russian speaking readers (in Latvia and outside) to get a new perspective about this period of time. Also German. Because at that time there were very deep connections with the The German Empire.

Has EUPL opened up new horizons for you? (Literary events in other countries, selling rights for translations of your other books into new languages, networking with other winners, etc.)

Of course! It gives possibility to publish my novel in such markets as UK (Jantar Publishing), to participate in Book Fairs (for example, New Delhi Book Fair) and to establish new connections with people from the literature.

Have you had a chance to get acquainted with the works of other EUPL winners – from 2017 or earlier years, especially those coming from your own country?

I knew the Latvian authors and their texts already but regarding other EUPL winners – I made some new contacts with them at the literary events and waiting for the translations in Latvian or English (I know that Kristian Bang Foss is translated and published in Latvia recently)

What kind of reaction did you get from your relatives when they heard that you had won the EUPL Prize?

Surprise, congratulations – it was a great time for me personally and it gave an extra confidence that I can go on, proceed my way in the literature.

20180404 Latvia - Osvalds Zebris - Written interview.pdf