EU literature prize winners: Winning is an honour, but surreal

Ida Hegazi Høyer [London Book Fair/YouTube]

This article is part of our special report 2015 EU Prize for Literature.

SPECIAL REPORT / In a “very tough market” for books, winning a prize can make a huge difference and open the door for international recognition, say this year’s winners of the EU’s Prize for Literature.

David Machado and Ida Hegazi Høyer were two winners of the 2015 European Union Prize for Literature. They sat down with EURACTIV to discuss the prize and what winning it means to them.

Could we start with a summary of both of your books? Without giving away any of the twists!

Ida Hegazi Høyer: My book is called Forgive Me, in English. It is about a young boy and young girl meeting and falling instantly in love. They get engaged the same day and move in together almost immediately without knowing anything about each other.

Quite soon she finds he is hiding things and lying. Gradually, his past reveals itself. It turns out he comes from a very tough upbringing, with a violent, dark home. The book is about love and love falling apart on one hand. On the other, it’s about a man who is mentally sick and learned as child to lie as a defence mechanism. The novel is written as a letter from her to him.

David Machado: My novel is called Average Happiness Index. It is a story of man at a moment of crisis in his life, during the economic and financial crisis we are living in at the moment, in Europe and around the world. He gets to a point where he is unemployed, his wife moves away with his kids to where she has a job. He loses his house, starts living in his car. It is about how this man, who always thought of himself as happy and optimistic, has to deal with this new situation where everything he thought was going to be there forever is gone. He questions himself, his happiness, his values and his plans for the future. It is a book about happiness with unhappy people.

How do you feel about winning the prize?

IHH: It’s amazing, but quite surreal. It’s an honour and I’m very humbled by it. It is a very tough market but a prize like this helps your chances. I’m hoping the book can be translated, initially into Swedish or Danish, we’ll see.

DM: I think it’s always a very good thing when someone looks at your work and thinks it is worth giving it a distinction like this. A novel takes months or even years, a lot of research, thinking, rewriting, and sweat. It is a very good feeling to have someone believing in what you did.

What are you hoping to do next?

IHH: I’m working on my fourth novel. It is supposed to come out in the autumn. I don’t have a title in English yet, but it is a story I wrote when I went to the Galapagos islands. It’s actually a true story so it’s very different from my other work.

DM: I’m trying to write my next novel but other things keep showing up. Like other books and some work I wasn’t expecting. For the last couple of months I was writing a movie script for Average Happiness Index. We don’t know yet if the movie will be produced but I’m hoping it gets made. I also write children books, and I just published a new one in Portugal, last week. I have a lot of things going on at the same time.

Is the EU aspect of the prize important to you? Does it change how you look at the prize, or does it remain just a literature prize?

IHH: I actually haven’t thought that much about it to be honest. Norway isn’t even part of the European Union. The fact that it is international makes a huge difference, but the EU aspect I haven’t given much thought.

DM: I agree that it being an international prize means it is not just a prize. The fact it is the EU prize is something very political, but I don’t feel part of that. But the DG that gives the prize is doing an interesting thing in getting more people involved in literature. I’m happy to be a part of that.

Have you read the English versions of your works?

IHH: Almost, I read the first part of the translation. It was very hard actually. It feel like it isn’t mine anymore. It feels very different, to me. In a way, it nice to see it another language, but it is strange.

DM: I have some books translated already, and I always feel it sounds better translated into another language. It gives it a distance from me, and it sounds exotic. I read my text so many times in Portuguese, I can’t have an opinion. So when I read it in English or Italian, it gives a fresh perspective. I find it much better.

Most of the time, I think it is good to trust your translator. The translation is not your book anymore. The translator is also a writer, and there is something there that is not mine. That’s okay. I wrote it in Portuguese, but someone else finished it in another language.

IHH: Yes, you just have to let it go.

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