Greek author and criminologist Evgene Trivizas, who has published more than 200 children’s books worldwide, is known for his capacity to consistently challenge stereotypes and avoid cliched characters in his award-winning writing for younger readers.
“It started from my dissatisfaction with the way mainly good and evil was represented in children’s literature – a dichotomy between the good and the bad. And in my opinion there are not good and bad people, there are only good and bad acts,” he said, speaking ahead of his appearance at the 5th EU-China International Literary Festival.
His most successful book internationally, The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, was based on a reversal of the traditional concepts of good and evil.
“I decided to reverse roles and make the big bad pig the negative character and the three little wolves the heroes. So it is the same story, but in a different way. The wolves built a house and the pigs, huffingly and puffingly, demolishes it. Then they build a stronger house, and the big bad pig demolishes it. Whatever kind of house they build, the big bad pig demolishes it. Until they decide to build a house out of flowers. And instead of huffing and puffing the big bad pig smells the aroma, the scent of the flowers, and has a change of heart and becomes a good big pig – and they live happily ever after with the wolves.”
Several of Trivizas’s titles are published in China by the People’s Literature Publishing House, including The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig, and also The Last Black Cat, a book that tackles major themes such as racism, persecution of minorities and genocide.
In this book people believe that black cats bring bad luck so they decide to kill them and an organisation goes around exterminating all the black cats until there is only one black cat left. The story focuses on the plight of that solitary black cat and how she tries to avoid the fate of the other cats.
Trivizas also challenges the negative stereotyping of women in children’s literature, and how they are “often portrayed as passive creatures. They expect a prince or a hunter to solve their problems: the hunter will come and kill the wolves, or the prince will come and marry the princess,” he said.
“So again I tried to reverse this in a book that I wrote, instead of Little Red Riding Hood I wrote a book called Little Pink Red Riding Hood. In this the heroine takes her fortune in her own hands. When the wolf reveals that he’s a wolf and not her grandmother she pretends to be amazed at his acting talent and convinces him to be an actor. And the book ends with the wolf becoming a famous actor in Hollywood, winning an Oscar etc. So it was these stereotypes, like good and evil, passive heroine etc that prompted me to reverse some stories and I did this with quite a few books.”
STORIES SHOULDN’T END
His inclination to write stories came at a very early age, since the books he was encountering always left him somehow wanting more.
“When I was a child, every time I read a book, or a book was read to me by my mother, I felt disappointed when the book reached its end with, ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. They may have lived happily ever after but I was feeling betrayed because certainly I wasn’t living as nicely as the heroes of the book, and I was feeling abandoned by them,” he said. “In my imagination, I was trying to work out what happened next after the end of the story. So sometimes I was giving first aid to the dragon that had been killed, and the dragon, in order to express his gratitude, revealed to me the location of secret treasure. So I was trying to continue the story, because it might be a nice story and it could never end.”
The desire to keep the story going sparked his own writing career.
“Little by little, I started writing my own stories. This was to say, a child’s desire for stories that he enjoyed to continue, and by continuing I created new stories and new ideas and new characters. So this is how I started writing, even as a small child.”
WRITE BECAUSE YOU LOVE IT
Trivizas, who has won a long list of literary awards and accolades and was a finalist for the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award in 2006, is often asked by young writers for some secrets to literary success.
“I always ask them: Would you still write if nobody else was ever going to read your books? Because you love doing it, because you enjoy the creative process? Not because you’re going to make money or in order to become famous – this is false motivation. Genuine authors are the ones who love and enjoy the very act of creating,” he said. “If it is the case that you have an inner need to create and to go on, and then, even if initially no one takes notice of your writing, one day you will be read by people. But initially do it for yourself and your own satisfaction and your own fulfilment.”
Trivizas himself said he always keeps a few key things in mind when he writes books for children.
“I try to write stories that will be enjoyed by both children and adults – most of my books also have an adult readership. And secondly, I try, as best as I can, to transmit certain ideas and messages through my books. But at the first stage it should be entertaining. In order to transmit any message first it should be entertaining and keep the attention of your reader.”
For him, as a writer there are three really special moments in life that he most appreciates.
“The first is the moment of inspiration. You have an idea, and that is beautiful. You feel excited, you feel that something is coming, like a woman who will give birth to a child. Let’s see what I can do with this idea. The second precious moment is when you finished writing the book. It’s again a sense that I have done something, that I’ve created something,” he said. “Then the third one is when it is published and you get reviews and readers’ letters and you hear that people appreciated it, that it changed their lives sometimes. For me these are the three most precious moments in life for an author.”
Wearer of many hats, Trivizas is also a lawyer and a renowned criminologist, and over the years his academic writing has been published extensively all around the world. So what is more important to him as a writer – his academic writing or his writing for children?
“My academic writing as a criminologist, in a few years it will be just footnotes in somebody else’s book. While the fairytale stories are forever. They are international, they are read by children in Greece, in China, in Turkey, in Canada, all over the world. Like diamonds, they are forever,” he said. “Academic writings are a temporary thing because legislation changes, conditions change, after a while simply they are not appreciated, they are not offering anything.”
He cited Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice and Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, as an example.
“He was a mathematician, he wrote excellent books on mathematics and logic, but he is remembered for Alice in Wonderland not for his academic writing. So this is how I assess the importance of what I am doing. I think writing for children is much more important and it will stay for longer than writing as a criminologist,” he said.
“I believe writing for children is more important because it gives us our first heroes, our first values. Sometimes we never forget what has influenced us and touched us as children. So that’s the reason. Although I could write crime novels as a criminologist, I think it’s more important to talk to children and to try to transmit some ideas to them.”
Evgene Trivizas will join legendary Chinese children’s author Cao Wenxuan on Friday, November 27 at 7.30 pm (Beijing time) to discuss “Good Versus Evil: Challenging Stereotypes and Challenging Children”. In conversation with Frances Weightman, Associate Professor of Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds, UK, and the Director of The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing (https:\\writingchinese.leeds.ac.uk).