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“What does the way we treat nature tell us about the way we treat each other?”

Interview with Austrian author Marie Gamillscheg



When researching her prize-winning debut novel Alles was glänzt (All that Shines), Austrian writer Marie Gamillscheg asked herself – where and how can I explore the difficult relationship between nature und humankind without presumptions?


“There were different inspirations to the story I told. We’re talking a lot about climate change these days – so I was wondering, where and how can I explore the difficult relationship between nature und humankind without presumptions? What does the way we treat nature tell us about the way we treat each other? Can we even think of a community who treats each other with respect and in solidarity, if we keep on treating nature as we do right now? What happens if nature fights back one day?” asked Marie Gamillscheg, speaking ahead of her appearance at the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival.


“With a backpack full of questions I visited a few mining towns in Germany, Austria and in Bolivia and I found a landscape that tells that story in a very narrow (positively speaking) way. The old mining towns do not only show what happens if we keep on thinking only about accumulation of our own wealth, they also tell us what happened to the promise of the industrialisation nowadays – abandoned towns and more important, people, who have had the hardest working life we can think of and are now forgotten by society and politics.”


Following the success of the novel, Ms Gamillscheg adapted the story for stage, which will soon be performed at the prestigious Kosmos Theater in Vienna.


“Unfortunately due to corona restrictions the stage adaption has not been shown yet – the date of the premiere has been pushed back again and again. Hopefully next year people will finally be able to see it. I hope so! I did write the stage adaption myself. It was a very interesting experience for me, because I have never written anything for stage before. During the process I learned a lot, and thinking about the people who will speak and play the characters changed not only my writing but also my writing process, that was very interesting for me,” she said.


Before turning her hand to creative writing, Ms Gamillscheg worked as a journalist, which was a very different experience but one she feels she has benefitted from as a creative writer.


“My journalistic work and my creative writing are different things to me. But I think my journalistic work helped me to gain another, very different perspective on language and how to tell a story and to ask myself more about the choices I make in my writing.”


Ms Gamillscheg achieved success at a young age, with her debut work nominated for the aspekte literature prize and awarded the Austrian book prize for the best debut in 2018. Reflecting on this success, she feels it was not due to any structure in her career but more down to the natural priority she always gave her writing.


“I don’t think I’m a very disciplined writer – I get lost in research and push other stuff I’m doing aside – but writing is always my priority in life. I don’t need to make it a priority, it always is. I live through writing,” she said.


For those aspiring writers out there who are struggling to get published, Ms Gamillscheg said finding solidarity in the wider community was critical for her.


“Find your allies. Friends, colleagues, mentors, reach out to literature magazines (there are so many!) –  you’re not alone,” she said.


At the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival Marie Gamillscheg will join Nora Wagener from Luxembourg and Lu Min from China at an event entitled “Protagonists and Antagonists: Developing Characters on the Page”.


Developing credible, complex protagonists and antagonists is critical in propelling narratives forward. In this discussion these three leading proponents of the short story and the novel will talk about their work and the art of developing rich and memorable characters on the page.