Today we are celebrating publication of Getting by in Tligolian – a clever and beguiling novel in flash about life, love, language and time, by Roppotucha Greenberg. Laura Besley, flash fiction writer and author of 100neHundred, caught up with Roppotucha to ask about her writing process:
Laura: Firstly, congratulations on the publication of Getting by in Tligolian – it’s a fantastic novella! Often, while I’m reading – whether it be a novel, novella or one of the various forms of short fiction – I find myself wondering what sparked the story. Was there a moment or a character or an image or something entirely different that led you to write Getting by in Tligolian?
Roppotucha: Thank you so much. Yes, it was the image of that city: those huge glass enclosures, the traffic, and the narrow streets with tired looking shops, and the river. The giant as well. His presence was almost instantly apparent in my imagination.
Laura: There are various strands to this novella, one of which use ‘language’. In the story, ‘Appendix’, the main character states: ‘I tried to learn Tligolian so many times and forgot it just as many.’ Did you purposefully use language, or the lack of language, to disorientate her and set her up as ‘an outsider’?
Roppotucha: I think she would be an outsider regardless of the language. Apart from the physical fact of immigration, her chronic naiveté both protects her and isolates her from the world. Through learning Tligolian, which is not necessary for communication in Tligol, she attempts to ground herself in the world. Language learning makes things seem simple, especially in the beginning when one talks of girls eating apples and your mother being a teacher and things like that. Of course, this does not work, because language turns into layers of forgetting, while its difficult tenses wrap around her and make her confusion grow.
Laura: The main character describes Tligol, the fictional city in which the novella is set, as ‘so beautiful, I convinced myself that I was in charge of the perfect expression of its beauty.’ Do you feel the city functions as a character within the novella and if so, how did you go about conjuring that feeling?
Roppotucha: Thank you for citing this line. In a way Jenny spends the whole book chasing the city, trying to express its beauty, learn its language, find its giant, take the trains to all its time layers. The city is a character. Like other places in real life, it is alive and wonderful, but it also evades easy capture. One comes near, but only just near enough, and being in the midst of the thing you want to capture complicates matters.
Laura: Another aspect of the novella is ‘time’. Did you layer in that complexity through multiple versions and/or edits, or was that aspect of the novella clear in your mind from the outset?
Roppotucha: That was something that became apparent very soon, in one of the early drafts. Time- travelling trains are an inherent part of the city. Though other aspects of the city became apparent earlier – the way its spaces are not quite stable, for example, or the way living people get recorded as ‘reflections’.
Laura: All of the chapters are short, some only a few lines. Was this a conscious choice? What is the effect of this on the reader? And what benefits do you feel you gain as a writer by learning to write/writing concisely?
Roppotucha: Yes, this was a conscious choice, but it was motivated by the needs of the story. I think novella in flash is a genre that works well for fragmented narratives and stories that work with negative space – in the sense that narrative gaps are part of the story. Without giving away too much, I feel that the form of the text works well with its ending…
Roppotucha Greenberg has lived in Russia, Israel and now Ireland; she speaks three languages fluently and has tried to learn six more. She has previously published a flash and micro-fiction collection Zglevians on the Move (TwistiT Press, 2019) and three silly-but-wise doodle books for humans, Creatures Give Advice (2019) , Creatures Give Advice Again and it’s warmer now (2019) and Creatures Set Forth (2020) and Cooking with Humans (2022). Arachne Press has published Roppotucha’s stories in Solstice Shorts Festival anthologies Noon, and Time and Tide.