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Peter Robertson Interview

Posted on 13 July 2007. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Peter Robertson, associate editor of New York-based literary review The Mad Hatter's Review, writer and translator.

Tell us something about your background.

To date I have written about aspects of Argentine culture, mostly for Chris Mitchell’s “Spike Magazine”, and I have published literary translations—of writers such as Ronsard, Éluard, Rubén Darío and María Teresa Andruetto. I have also translated stories by the Spanish writer, Juan José Millás, and on the basis of these translations I was chosen recently as Emerging Writer by the Emerging Writers’ Network. Over the next few months, I will start writing short stories, and will continue to indulge my passion for literary translation. For example, any day now I will start to translate more work by Andruetto, a compelling writer who deserves to be better known by the Anglophone reading public. This is an exciting period of my life, now that I have arrived back in Buenos Aires, because while I continue to work as a United Nations linguist, I am also starting to meet more and more Argentine writers. A case in point is Ana María Shua—we will be meeting later this week with a view to discussing possible collaborative projects.

I am currently the Associate Editor of the New-York based literary review, “The Mad Hatters’ Review”, published by the incomparable Carol Novack. In this connection, I was responsible for conceiving and editing the “Viva Caledonia” feature which came out in February and showcased new work by twelve of Scotland’s most distinguished writers. In the same feature, I also ran an interview with the Scottish artist, Calum Colvin. These days I am working on another feature, “Eclectic England Part 1”, which will be going to press on July 1st. With regard to teaching, before embarking on my career with the United Nations, I worked as a teacher for several years, mostly in Madrid. I certainly miss the rapport with students, and the cross-fertilization of ideas, and will somehow find the time to take on some Argentine students this time round. Dramaturgy? Not as such, although I acted while at University. I’m not particularly interested in writing for the theatre but would like to write some radio plays at some point in the future. Anyway, all activities are grist to the mill for the writer.

How did you start writing?

I’ve always been obsessed with words. My Mother has recounted to me that when I was an infant, and she read stories to me, I was insatiable and demanded more and more. I simply couldn’t get enough. As for writing, I wrote as an adolescent but, with the benefit of hindsight, I see that it was the worst kind of juvenilia: trite and striving for effect.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

There’s no one writer I adulate or strive to emulate. I have read widely, and in several languages, and I’m sure I’ve been influenced by certain writers without realizing it. Obviously if you are too influenced by a particular writer, you run the risk of producing work that is derivative. But with regard to literary influences, it is hard to say which have been predominant as so much absorption is subliminal.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

I don’t have an agent at the moment. I am currently advised by the Society of Authors, of which I am a member, and happy with the advice they give me. Soon I will start negotiating with a publisher in order to seal a deal, but in this particular case I will probably dispense with an agent. However, at some point in the future I will probably need a good agent.. To answer your other question, my first publication was a review I wrote some years ago for Andrew Graham-Yooll, the Editor of “The Buenos Aires Herald”.

What's the worst thing about writing?

The monastic aspect but there is simply no other way if you are to get down to it. I am a gregarious man by nature and a large part of me thrives on the cut-and-thrust of the world. That said, I can cope with the loneliness of the writing vocation. I have had a lot of illness in my life—one illness, which was diagnosed in my early thirties, was devastating and lasted for fifteen years. I was confined to bed for long stretches, saw virtually no-one in the early stages, and was forced to look inwards. During this time I had no option but to come to terms with myself. So I now have the inner resources to shut myself in a room and will the world to recede.

And the best?

The sense of achievement born of the implacable pursuit of perfection. I go over what I write time and time again and may not send it off until I have given it six or seven revisions. I do believe there is something remorseless about writing. The writer who masters his trade never pampers words but hammers them relentlessly into shape.

Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.

I always show my writing to my best friend, both of whose parents happened to be successful writers, but I don’t necessarily take his advice. I believe in myself and what I am doing. If a reader were to tell me that he didn’t like my writing, I would ask him why he bothered to read me at all when there are so many other writers he could be reading.

What was your breakthrough moment?

I don’t think there is only one breakthrough in a lifetime but rather a succession of breakthroughs. I can be an impatient man and have to keep reminding myself of what Elizabeth Bowen said, “Fate is not an eagle, it creeps like a rat”. This is especially true in my case. Now in my mid forties, I am a late developer but am confident that I will go from strength to strength.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 18:00 on 13 July 2007  Report this post
A refreshing and very enjoyable interview.

Good luck with everything, Peter.


Lammi at 16:48 on 26 July 2007  Report this post
The advice you give here to a new writer is excellent.

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