Buchmesse: Rollin’ with Tumbleweed

Svetlana Lavochkina and Patrick Flanagan, performers and creators of Tumbleweed. Photo courtesy of Patrick Flanagan.

In the lead-up to the Leipziger Buchmesse, whose official start is March 17th, The Leipzig Glocal will run an article every other day about certain events happening during it. There are literally hundreds of book fair events, of different types, and all over town until the fair’s closing on March 20th; we’ll only manage to talk about some that come to our attention. The Leipzig Glocal itself will hold a couple events at the Buchmesse related to blogging, social media, publishing and marketing, but we’ll talk about that on Monday. Today I’d like to tell you about Tumbleweed: an intriguing literary/music event being put on by author Svetlana Lavochkina and musician Patrick Flanagan, with photography by Douglas Abuelo. It’s part of Poniatowski’s Leipzig Liest offerings for the Buchmesse, and takes place the evening of March 19th. Better yet – I’ll let Svetlana tell you about it, and a bit the woman behind the show as well, via an interview we just had.

Q: Thanks for agreeing to this Q&A, Svetlana. Can you please tell us a bit about your background and career?

A: I hail from South-Eastern Ukraine, the city of Zaporozhye, a failed industrial giant. I studied near Donetsk, the area that has been under the world’s dismayed scrutiny since 2014. I came to Germany in 1999, with my family. The start of my writing career dates back to 2005, when, on a plane to Amsterdam, I sketched my first short story and then was lucky to have it accepted by a respectable literary magazine. This gave me a confirmation that my writing “worked”. I had wanted to write as long as I remember myself. But, whimsically enough, I wanted to write only in English, not in Russian, my native tongue, and it took me two decades to gain enough confidence in the language to write fiction. In writing, I explore fates and relationships in the wake of historical turbulences, the power of dreams and obsessions, beauty in all its manifestations – I look for beauty in places least promising and never fail to find it.

Q: What would you highlight about your writings?

A: They say my writing is dense, fancy and provocative. My scope of genres has been expanding over the years, and from writing short stories I went over to translating Ukrainian and Russian poetry, then wrote a novella and a novel, both literary-historical burlesque. Last year, I surprised myself by starting a free verse narrative the length of a theatre play.

In 2013, my novella “Dam Duchess” was runner-up in the Paris Literary Prize run by Shakespeare and Company Bookshop and the de Groot Foundation, and in 2015, my novel “Zap” was a finalist for the Tibor&Jones Pageturner Prize. Both are currently under consideration with publishers. My short stories and poetry translations have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies in the US and UK. They can easily be found on my website or just googled.

Q: How would you describe Tumbleweed, and how and when did the idea come about?

A: Writing is such an unfathomable occupation. I think that a writer is actually a listener of stories that are already there but lurk unheard, undiscovered, hide in the folds of our mind’s eye, experiences, moods – it is our job (or obsession) to cajole them out and dress them in fitting words, and ask them if they would rather be a short story, a novel, a poem or something else.

It was in that no one’s land between wake and sleep, in the short hours, that, all of a sudden and in the middle of another project, a foetus of a free verse narrative sprouted in my mind, about a young man who rebels against mainstream life with a day job, the dictate of a dominant mother, and starts living, uncompromisingly, the life of a “Lebenskünstler”, a life artist. He is an obsessive reader, a ladies’ man, and in his universe, his gods are his writer idols who prompt him the next life steps, play tricks on him, leave him in dire straits and addictions and rescue him again. He is their favorite toy. This is a comedy, terse, sensual and romantic, with a moving love story underpinning the hero’s adventures.

I knew at once that the text had to be accompanied with music, and I knew for certain that I would ask Patrick Flanagan, an all-rounder musician and composer whom I had known from previous collaborations on shorter pieces for readings, to “father” this project. Luckily, Patrick agreed.

Q: Why this name in particular? Is Leipzig Liest the first time Tumbleweed is ever performed?

A: “Tumbleweed” is how George Whitman, the owner of the famous bookshop in Paris, Shakespeare and Company, named short-term apprentices, travellers and book aficionados who helped him out. This piece is a tribute to this shop and to literature – its immense power over us. Yes, Leipzig Liest is a perfect time for the premiere, and Patrick and I hope for Tumbleweed to eventually roll over cities and countries after the first run. It is impossible to predict the success of a non-commercial literary-musical venture, and, although writers and composers always have an audience in mind, they should work first and foremost to challenge and satisfy themselves, to meet their own expectations.

Q: What will happen during Tumbleweed?

A: Tumbleweed is a piece on the crossroads of genres, a free verse full-fledged narrative, actually an audio play with many characters, recited by me and Patrick and richly illustrated by Patrick’s music, songs and sound effects. I cannot say it better than Patrick himself:
“This is not your normal reading interspersed with music; the music tells the story as well, with sound effects, loops, riffs, full blown songs, and a typewriter… Dialogues between characters will be done as well as sage advice given by special guests James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Anna Karenina, to name a few.”

Q: What is a “mono musical” or “solo musical,” as Tumbleweed is described?

A: Since this is a hybrid of a recitation and musical, a duet of a writer and a musician performing all the roles, we named it mono, or solo musical. The music will be very eclectic, ranging from folk to punk rock to jazz improvisation to heavy metal. Plus the unexpected, indescribable special effects and a plethora of musical instruments.

Q: Is this the first time you participate in the Leipzig Buchmesse? Why do you feel Leipzig Liest is the ideal occasion to premiere Tumbleweed? Will you participate in other Buchmesse events this year?

A: I have been a regular participant in the Leipzig Book Fair since 2011. Leipzig Writers e.V., of which I’m co-founder and former president, has been doing what I would call literary concerts for every Book Fair – readings interspersed and illustrated with music. Now the current head of Leipzig Writers, Stewart Tunnicliff, is the keeper and perpetrator of this tradition.

Tumbleweed is a hymn to books, so there cannot be a better occasion for the premiere. This is our only event this year. Wish us luck and come to the show!

Have a listen:

“Tumbleweed” poster, photo by Douglas Abuelo.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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