Feri Lainšček, author whose characters have lives of their own

Ljubljana – Feri Lainšček, a writer, poet, playwright and screenwriter from north-eastern Slovenia, who will receive the Prešeren Prize for lifetime-achievement, sees his work not as a job but as a way of life. He believes literary heroes are spiritual beings with lives of their own.

Born in the hilly part of the Prekmurje region near the Hungarian border in 1959, Lainšček spoke and listened to nothing but dialect until primary school. In his first book from a trilogy about his life, Kurji Pastir (The Chicken Shepherd), which was published last year, he writes about the poverty he was born into and the immense love of his parents.

“I’ve always thought my mother and father have managed to build a kind of invisible bridge that I used to get out of that and somehow made it into a normal life,” Lainšček told the STA. “While writing this novel, I finally realised this bridge was actually made of love.”

He believes he has had “a kind of different childhood which taught me early on how to defy despair”. After finishing secondary school in Murska Sobota, he wanted to study art in Ljubljana but failed to get accepted at the Academy of Fine Arts, so he opted for what is today the Faculty of Social Sciences.

He came to the capital “with nothing, like many others probably, at the time” and “had to start from scratch”. “I had no acquaintances, relatives, godfathers. I actually got the most help from older writers I slowly got to know and started spending time with.”

He described this period of his life in the novel Peronarji, with which he entered the literary world in 1982. During that time, he worked for Radio Ljubljana, and wrote poems and novels in his spare time.

He has written more than 100 books, including 30 novels. Many of his works have been translated into several foreign languages, and some have been also made into films. As author, Lainšček also cooperates with Slovenian musicians, most notably with young singer-songwriter Ditka.

“I must admit that things have just happened for me and Ditka and we never wondered whom we should thank for that … No matter what it was, it is important that, spontaneously, we were on the same page, got closer in a creative way but also gave each other all the freedom. I believe the listeners sense that.”

Lainšček has received many awards for his work, including the Prešeren Fund Prize for his novel Ki Jo Je Megla Prinesla (She Who Was Brought by Fog) and the Kresnik award for the best novel of the year for Namesto Koga Roža Cveti (Instead of Whom Does the Flower Bloom).

Six of his books were made into films, including the 2007 blockbuster Petelinji Zajtrk (Rooster’s Breakfast), directed by Marko Naberšnik. “Luckily I learned early enough that the literary and film languages are very different. I realised that directors do not come to me because they wish to ‘translate’ my work but because they want to create something of their own.”

He also publishes his poems on social media, so he did not have to move online when the epidemic started. “I have been there all the time. I’ve always been interested in new media and different carriers of message. I’ve been among the first ones to try a lot of things and I sometimes also used them conceptually, so I must say I don’t see this as an emergency exit.”

Lainšček receives the Prešeren Prize for his novels, poetry collections, short stories, books for children and youth, screenplays and radio plays. “Lainšček’s literary achievements with their high artistic value have been significantly enriching the treasury of Slovenian culture for almost 40 years,” the jury said.

He is lauded as the “leading poet and writer of Panonian Slovenia, whose works portray the lives of ordinary people from the margins of society in a very sensitive manner”. By showing the “lyrical Gypsy soul”, he is expressing respect to those who are different, the jury said.

His poetry is described as a mixture of Panonian melancholy and a personal vision of love. His works in Prekmurje dialect have significantly contributed to the building of bridges between Slovenia and the Slovenian community living in Hungary.

Lainšček is known to empathise deeply with his literary characters. “I hope this doesn’t sound too mystical but I believe that literary heroes are in fact spiritual beings. We the writers create them and then they live their own lives, often outside their books. For example, Martin Krpan has never lived, he was created by (Fran) Levstik, yet he is still around and we all know him.”

He sees the whole creative process as a dialogue where literary heroes have free will, “so I usually don’t know until the end how the story will unfold”.

In the case of Muriša, a young woman who is the main character of Lainšček’s namesake book, the author says he tried very hard to save her but in the end she died anyway because she followed her beliefs and ideals blindly.

“I remember winning Kresnik for that novel. The award ceremony was at Rožnik Hill more than a year after I finished the novel but a single thought occurred to me there. Muriša did not die in vain after all. Everyone expected me to be happy about the prize, but I was so moved I nearly cried.”

The Prešeren Prize will, however, be different. “I am very happy to win it and I accept it with respect. I have won it for the work that I have been devoted to with my body and soul since youth. It has become my way of life and in a way affected everything I have ever done.”