Q&A with screenwriter and novelist Ozgur Uyanik

Ozgür Uyanik: There is a God-shaped Hole Troubling Our Moral Existence

Turkish-born novelist and screenwriter Ozgür Uyanik answers the Wales Arts Review Artist Q&A and talks influences, process, and the distractions of Cardiff street life.

Where are you from and how does it influence your work?

I was born in Türkiye and raised in the UK from an early age. Having spent plenty of time growing up in both countries and keeping my mother tongue intact, I have ended up bilingual and I tend to regard myself as bicultural too although the latter might well be an illusion, I suspect. Nevertheless, my in-betweenness seems to compromise any sense of unequivocal belonging and this perceived split-identity is probably a significant influence on my work if I had to hazard a guess.

Where are you while you answer these questions, and what can you see when you look up from the page/screen?

At my desk by a first-floor bay window overlooking a high street on the outskirts of Cardiff: shops, people, traffic, noise. It’s all very distracting actually. In fact, my initial answer to this question ballooned into the beginnings of a short story. Maybe I ought to move my desk!

What motivates you to create?

A desire to produce artefacts of sufficient merit that I might be bold enough to share them with the world without feeling ashamed of having spent so much time working on them and even more time thinking about working on them. The sunk cost fallacy (is it all that fallacious?) makes it impractical—or psychologically impossible—to stop trying to create stuff despite the voice that sometimes pipes up with a tone of sadistic relish saying to you, what’s the point? Well, ars gratia artis, you reply pugnaciously and keep on trucking…

What are you currently working on?

Two feature film screenplays in development (one a horror, the other a black comedy), a short story collection loosely themed around the topic of “belonging” (no surprise there), and a second novel that is at the very early stages of planning, a euphemistic claim if ever there was one.

When do you work?

My work schedule could be best described as scattered bursts of frantic typing to meet imaginary deadlines before they become actual deadlines.

How important is collaboration to you?

After the initial phase of solitude, I am always keen to integrate feedback into a piece of work with a view to having it reach its intended audience. So, I approach collaboration in good faith with an open-minded, though vigilant, attitude of alacrity.

Who has had the biggest impact on your work?

Mostly other writers. Some are—in no particular order—Honoré de Balzac, Vladimir Nabokov, Albert Camus, Orhan Kemal, Orhan Pamuk, Mikhael Bulgakov, Raymond Chandler, Angela Carter, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith, Hector Hugh Monro, John Cheever, and Martin Amis. Additionally, screenwriters such as the Coen Brothers, Paul Schrader, William Goldman, Robert Towne, and Charlie Kaufman. All have at various stages positively impacted me in terms of providing the impetus to write based on their inspirational mastery of language (Turkish and English) in their chosen form.

How would you describe your oeuvre?

I don’t think I have a substantial enough body of work yet and, in any case, a third party might be better placed to answer this question.

What was the first book you remember reading?

 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, in Turkish translation, and The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend.

What was the last book you read?

4321 by Paul Auster. But I had to intersperse that thousand-page tome with Ali Smith’s The Accidental and Tim Marshall’s The Power of Geography. Incidentally, I ended up reading Auster’s book in reverse chapter order and it worked out fine that way. In fact, maybe the wily author planted the idea in my head with his title?!

Is there a painting/sculpture you struggle to turn away from?

Almost anything by the proto-Impressionist painters of the mid-to-late nineteenth century—from J.M.W. Turner to Claude Monet—in whose brushstrokes you can almost follow the evolution of visual art as we understand it today, including cinema.

Who is the musical artist you know you can always return to?

Public Enemy or Frédéric Chopin come to mind. Music, for me, is all about the mood one wishes to be in.

During the working process of your last work, in those quiet moments, who was closest to your thoughts?

My father, grandmother and uncle who all passed away recently.

Do you believe in God?

I believe that there is a God-shaped hole troubling our mortal existence; an ineluctable lacuna of meaning that as a species we are committed to filling with something that rewards us with hope.

Do you believe in the power of art to change society?

I think that art is better at reflecting society’s collective subconscious if anything and is often shaped by it, including reacting to the challenges of technological advances such as photography and now AI. However, works of art—as part of an art movement accompanied by a manifesto—can give visibility to issues through the work of poets, playwrights, and painters. Also, art occasionally captures the zeitgeist well enough that it appears to have been a component of any change that is observed; the art being blamed or given credit depending on the politics.

Which artist working in your area, alive and working today, do you most admire and why?

As my areas are film and prose, I’ll pick one: Turkish filmmaker Nuri Bilge Ceylan has carved out a rather idiosyncratic career path for himself, and I admire his ability to consistently produce works of cinematic art that are accessible to audiences in both his home country of Türkiye and abroad. He speaks to his personal sensibilities without having to kowtow to market forces, which is a terrifically delicate act of artistry in the realm of cinema by itself.

What is your relationship with social media?

I deleted most of my accounts years ago, concerned by the deleterious effects of social media consumption on well-being and attention span. We’ve always had distractions to contend with of course but now digital technologies allow for the stream of diversions to be amplified beyond my analogue ability to interact with the stimulus in a productive way. However, I am aware of its potential as a publicity tool for some artists who can handle it.

What has been/is your greatest challenge as an artist?

In general, the greatest challenge has always been to get the work done and continue getting it done in the face of setbacks and self-doubt. On a practical level, finding an audience for one’s work is equally challenging, and it takes many months and years of hard work to find the right collaborators, both in film and publishing.

Do you have any words of advice for your younger self?

My younger self was very bad at taking advice from anyone so he would likely dismiss anything I had to say to him! Nonetheless, my advice would be to not confuse advice (and constructive criticism) as a personal attack; separate your work from yourself (ego) and reap the benefits, young man, I would say. It has taken years of painful and pointless resistance to criticism to cultivate this mindset and I would appreciate it if you could start now so I can save time later, I would add.

What does the future hold for you?

That is a frightening thought because I have no idea—does anyone? Taking the question less literally, in terms of work, there is a short story collection recently placed with a publisher that is ready to enter its editing stage, which is scary and exciting. The quest to get my screenplays produced continues at a snail’s pace sapping my will to live (I am only half-joking), and my PhD thesis requires immediate attention. Finally, that elusive idea for a second novel will perchance present itself while I’m doing all the other things…

Oz Uyanik’s latest novel is Conception

Ozgür Uyanik Ozgür Uyanik Ozgür Uyanik Ozgür Uyanik