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Writer vs. Writer Interview: Vitor Vicente

In this post, I had a chance to chat with Vitor Vicente one of my favorite travel writers. Vitor was born in Portugal and lives abroad since 2006, between Spain, Ireland, Poland, and Hungary; currently based in Cork. Author of books in various literary genres, travel is a common topic in all of them. Some of his works are translated into Spanish, Hungarian, and English.

1. Hi Vitor. So glad to have you here. Let's begin before the cats interrupt. Tell us when did you decide to become a writer? And as a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Let me start by answering the second question. As a child, I wanted to be a football player, ideally a goalkeeper. If you ask me why a goalkeeper and not a striker, you know, scoring goals, getting all the attention, I suppose the reason lays in the goalkeeper’s opportunity given to play somehow by himself within the team. And that is linked to my wish to become a writer. Before I do any actual writing, I recall being shown a book named “men who changed the world”. There weren´t that many writers there, most of them were remarkable individuals like Thomas Edison or Louis Pasteur. I know I won’t be popular in the literary scene with this sentence, but the crude reality is the following: at the end of the day, we are more grateful for those who developed a cure for a teeth pain than for the author of our favorite novel.

Now, when I did decide to become a writer? That I know very, very well. It happened at the moment I realize I was doing a better job at writing the lyrics than at the time I was trying to sing. So, I was probably sixteen or seventeen, I had a few rock/metal bands that didn’t go anywhere; though our egos were already clashing, wildly debating who would step in first/last in the gig that wasn’t even scheduled or who would be photographed in the cover of the album for which we were unable to complete a single song. A writer indeed needs a network, at least a team, that’s out of the question. But at some point, it is only he and himself; similar to that goalkeeper of my childhood.

2. It's fascinating how you developed such an interest. How many titles have you published and in what genre?

I’ve published seven books and a handful of others I don’t usually mention, though I haven’t renounced to any of them; just don’t proactively bring those to the table. Genres, well a bit of everything: poetry, play, memoir, fiction, short stories.

3. What is your latest book title and what is it about?

I have a book being printed at moment. It is written in Portuguese, as in the majority of my books; though the tendency, or the “trend”, being a trend a trendy word, may change. If I translate the title to English, it would be something at the lines of “Fury of Travel – The Trips of the Old Days”. Let me tell you about the title, why it is in two parts. “Fury of travel” is a reference to the famous Jean Dean movie “Rebel without a cause”. I bet you are wondering about the reference! Ok, for some reason in Portugal it was translated to “Fury of Living”. And that’s how I’ve traveled during those years, furiously, as they say, “like there is no tomorrow.” I don’t want to sound paternalist, but those were different times, I was quite naïve; which in essence it is necessary at a certain stage of your life, it makes you high in openness and increases your exposure to the world and its events. On other hand, the world itself has also changed. And no, I am not talking about the post-Covid. I meant that back in the days – some of the trips happened fourteen years ago and the most recent as early as 2014 – no one was using apps to go from a to b and we knew much less about the destination than we could ever imagine. Although I am thankful for some of the technology perks, the doors opened, etc., sometimes I miss my brain prior the internet and the broader experience of discovery in those days.

4. What genre do you prefer to read and write?

I can’t give a straightforward answer to this question at all. When it comes to reading, I am not a big fan of massive novels, rather concise stories. Same issue I usually face when watching movies. If above 100 minutes, it really needs to click, if you know what I mean. As for writing, it also depends on my mood and life phase. Perhaps literature travel or memoir would be my favorites, at least they come up spontaneously or just naturally.

5. What do you think makes a good story?

It has to be engaging. The reader needs to feel that the writer was enjoying himself whilst writing it. For instance, in some stories, you can sense the hidden smile of the author. That’s an absolute delight. And I don’t mean that the author is playing a narcissistic role, rather unfolding himself at his own eyes and sharing it with the reader; it is intimate to a degree.

6. How long does it take you to write?

Not sure if you mean how long it takes to start writing from the moment I am preparing it or to finish writing once I started. Will try to answer both briefly. The first is hard to measure. It is more about finding the time. And writing time for sure doesn’t exist. Jordan Peterson has a piece of good advice on this, he says that writing time is not granted, needs to be stolen. And he goes on, adding that you actually need to steal this time from your partner, children and pets, precisely the crowd you would struggle the most to stay away from. Now, I believe that at some point the act of writing, or its necessity, can make the writer´s life unbearable. Either he writes or he won’t be able to take a proper part in any other daily situation. For the latter, it also varies from work to work. My last novel, a volume of about 160 pages, was written in about 6 months. I am not counting the prep or the further reviews. I am only having in consideration the process of writing the first draft, what I would call the actual writing.

7. Do you have any writing routines? What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

I have a lot, a long list of routines; I am an animal of habits and rituals. Say I am writing a novel. I’d first compose a roadmap and then just fill it. In the course of the actual writing, there is certainly a margin for surprises or unexpected events. I don’t detain total control of the story, characters, etc. All I own is the structure, the frame. The rest is a combination of what am bringing into the story and its self-reaction. Neither the author, nor the story elements can claim full autonomy, and I suppose that’s one of the undeniable beauties of creation.

8. Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

That’s a good question. How we actually perceive things, the surroundings, our own emotions, how we digest our thoughts? In the midst of that chaos, there is something I can easily point out as a starting point, whether it's information, idea or inspiration; though there isn’t such thing as inspiration, only work filled with inspiration and inspiration shaped by hard work. So, that thing is where I am based. For instance, a couple of months ago I was living in Budapest and inclined to write about the city bridges or a tram route and its stops. Since I moved to Cork and settled in the former Jewish district, I am all about the Jewish diaspora. In essence, all the writers have their own constraints. Mine is for sure the fact that I have had the fortune of living in different countries. It took me time, but I believe I got to terms with this too.

9. Who is your favorite writer? Book?

Another good question. I am currently mentored by Michel Houellebecq. Fun fact that he mentioned Bret Easton Ellis (or Bret mentioned him, I can’t recall), who was my literary idol twenty years ago. They are both coming from very different backgrounds, but they certainly have a lot more in common than it may seem at first sight. Book, well I’d say “Lanzarote” or “Serotonin” from Monsieur Michel; in short, it contains so much, but so much about human nature and the travel motives/expectations.

10. What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your stories?

That I suffer from that Woody Allen issue; I’d say a pain shared by all skilled and genuine comedians. As Woody Allen said, his biggest tragedy is just being able to compose comedies. You see, even how he describes it is comic.

11. One out-of-the-blue question: If you’re on a sinking ship and you have to swim to a nearby deserted island, what are 3 things you will take with you? Why?

My cat, his food and plate. He is picky and I can’t picture myself failing to satisfy his needs. Going back to Jordan Peterson, he points out that people tend to prioritize their pets' needs ahead of their own. I guess that’s related to our inner-built instinct to give. Pets would rather be thankful for our gestures; at least in a manner that not all humans will. So, we can fulfill that innate duty by serving our four legs friends. And that’s rewarding and such an enormous source of positive emotion.

12. Well, can't agree more on that. Do you have any suggestions to help others to become better writers? If so, what are they?

You can’t become a good writer until you are not a good reader. That’s step one. The second is to write until you listen to your personal voice in midst of the echoes you may replicate out of your massive reading. The third is to set aside some time for writing. It may sound an exaggeration, but you need to book time for it as you do it, or hopefully you do, for your daily shower. Now the difference everyone would appreciate you having a shower, but not all would react positively towards your writing time. The latter, doesn’t really matter. Those who matter will notice how you become a better person after your writing time. And that mutual sentiment would naturally help you become a better writer, as you won’t feel guilty for your own time and how you with merge it with the rest of your professional, practical or leisure activities. Think about writing as playing music. Writing is silent; though its silence can be heard by your housemates or even by your friends wherever they are. And it should sound harmonious. Isn’t it harmony what we are all aiming for? Isn’t living a life no different than taking part in an orchestra?

Thank you so much, Vitor for joining us. If you'd like to know Vitor more please check the following links:

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