Erato Ioannou is a writer from Cyprus. Since the publication of her first book Cats Have It All (Armida, 2004), her work has appeared in journals and anthologies around the world. Her most recent collection Not in the Ornamental Teapot was published in September 2020. The collection includes her short story ‘Deserted’, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Not in the Ornamental Teapot was translated into Spanish. The Greek translation will be out in the coming months by Govostis Publishing House in Greece.
Erato has served as Assistant Editor-in-Chief at In Focus, the literary journal of the Cyprus PEN (2016– 2021). Erato is also founder and chair of Room for Art (www.roomforart.eu), a non-profit cultural organisation established in 2020, aspiring to contribute, through its projects, towards the creation of a cultural hub within the walls of the old town of Nicosia and to promote the walled city as a cultural destination for local and international artists and researchers. Simultaneously, Room for Art seeks to provide support and guidance to local and international writers and artists who juggle the demands of life and their creative work.
Concurrently, Erato is a Higher Administrative Officer and Coordinator at the Cyprus Agency of Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Higher Education (CYQAA). She previously worked at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Youth, where she was actively involved in policy developments and reforms at a national level and international cooperation. Within the Ministry, she also managed European-funded projects.
Erato holds a Bachelor degree in English Language and Literature (ΒΑ) from the University of Cyprus, a Master of Fine Arts Degree in Creative Writing (MFA) from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and a Master in Public Sector Management (MPSM) from the Cyprus International Institute of Management.
Erato lives in Nicosia with her husband, their two children, and their cats.
Author interview – Erato Ioannou
Hi Erato, thank you for joining me here today! Please tell us, when did you start writing, and why?
Books have always fascinated me and I started writing creatively at a very young age. I wanted to do that—create worlds of my own. Through the years, writing has become my way to understand the world within me and the world around me.
At what age did you take yourself seriously as a writer?
Writing means devotion and discipline so I take my writing seriously. I always have; even as a child, during those first, clumsy attempts to write creatively. I started thinking of myself as a writer when I published my first short story in a literary journal at the age of twenty-three.
Do you prefer the term ‘writer’ or ‘author’, and why?
Labels are not important, really. What matters is what’s on the page and how it’s been received.
Good answer 😊 How long did it take you to write your first book?
My first book was Cats Have It All, a collection of short stories published in 2004. I am not sure if I can answer how long it takes to write a story or how long it takes to put a short story collection together. When does one start to count? From the moment the idea is born? From the first time a character shows up in your head? From when you start questioning a more general concept? From the moment you start striking those keys on the computer?
What was your last book about? Is that Not in the Ornamental Teapot? I remember snatching the last copy from a Parga in Nicosia.
Yes, it is. Not in the Ornamental Teapot, my most recent collection, encompasses a chorus of voices that are less heard and underrepresented in contemporary literature. It tells the stories of older women who deal with extreme situations and they resort to extreme action. They are rebellious, determined women and their actions are driven by their obsessions as they navigate through the tragedies of their worlds. I would say that these stories are propelled by the themes of loss and yearning. The short story as an art form, however, aspires to be multilayered in terms of meaning and is always open for interpretation.
You know I love both of your collections and highly recommend them, so please tell us what you’re working on right now?
Born and raised in Cyprus, an island-country torn by conflict, it is only natural for me as a writer to focus on the themes of displacement, exile, loss, and longing for topos. Right now, I am working on a novella exploring these themes. At the same time, I’m putting together of collection of short stories narrated by young adults, in collaboration with graphic artist Eleni Rafaella Anagnostopoulos.
Sounds excellent, I’m looking forward to both! So, what is your writing process like? Do you plot or do you just dive in? How many drafts do you go through before the work is final?
I spend a lot of time with my characters and their stories in my head. And after a while, the story pours out. The actual work… the actual writing, I do it very late at night or very early in the morning. Sometimes before the sun comes up… before real life has to get ready for school. The rewriting process is the most time-consuming, mind wrecking, and exuberant part of the process. On average, I go through eight drafts before the work is final.
Well, you know what they, or Paul Walker rather, say: ‘The easy, conversational tone of good writing comes only on the eight rewrite’, so that explains the quality of your work right there.
Now, what do you struggle with most as a writer?
Words and time. Since the birth of my first child, I juggle the demands of motherhood, my work in quality assurance for higher education, and my writing. Each time I work on a new project, be it a short story, a play, or a longer piece of fiction, I try to remain disciplined and focused on the task at hand in the limited time allocated to writing.
Have you always had that struggle or has it changed over time?
Still writing… therefore, still struggling.
What advice would you give to writers dealing with the same?
Be persistent and precice.
Have you ever had writer’s block? If yes, how did you overcome it?
Writer’s block is a construct and the result of fear of not getting it right. It’s not open-heart surgery. It’s writing. Nobody’s hurt if you don’t get it right the first time. Write even when you feel that what you’re writing is worthless. Just hit those keys. Something good will come out of it eventually. Rewrite. Cut without mercy. Keep that one sentence that works. Repeat.
What do you do to stay inspired?
I try to be alert and observant. Inspiration lurks in the shadows. For us writers, the act of writing arises from our intrinsic need to express our innermost feelings and thoughts as we experience the rising darkness of nowadays. It’s a redeeming ritual as it is first and foremost a dialogue with our inner selves. The process of writing is simultaneously strenuous and therapeutic. It’s an inescapable need, to tell stories, and through them, to seek a deeper truth as we delve into our pursuit for balance and maybe this is why, as Franz Kafka wrote to Max Brod on 5 July 1922, ‘a non-writing writer is a monster courting insanity’.
And then, when the literary text is finally free from its creator when it is owned by the reader, the universal dialogue is sprawling. The literary text becomes part of our shared consciousness, our collective knowledge; it provides insights and a deeper understanding; it becomes a factor of change, a spark of hope.
Who’s your favourite author?
What’s your favourite book?
The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.
What’s your favourite book on the craft?
The Art of the Novel by Milan Kundera.
What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
Read, write, rewrite, and never give up!