How to be smart after winning the lottery? – interview with Boldizsár Fehér

“Around the millennium, the cleaning lady once peeped in the keyhole and saw my father dancing naked in his study. My father was 42, way too old for something like that to be accepted. She didn’t even find the dance the most peculiar but the lack of music. After that, my father became an on-off patient to the psychiatry like a cuckoo in the clock. Sometimes they let him out, then he cuckooed, so they locked him back. He had better and worse days. We all have better and worse days.”

This is how a young gentleman, an ex-millionaire and ex-husband, explains his story in the Hungarian novel Vak majom (Blind monkey). He runs from the police and lands in a Parisian hotel where he becomes part of a bizarre human experiment. The writer Boldizsár Fehér received the prestigious Margó Prize for this debut novel already, and we can meet him in the Müpa on the 26th October at his literature night with discussion, reading and music. Until then, I posed him a few questions…

Have you counted on winning such a great prize with your first book of prose?

No, I haven’t. Many people praised the book before, but I always thought they were simply polite to me.

Your novel has a first person singular storyteller. How did he build up the character and his voice?

Many times we hear about people who win the lottery and then mess up their lives. I noticed that most people believe they would know better. They have some instant ideas about where to invest, how to let the money work for them and not the other way around. I thought, what to do with the money is only one side of the story. The other side is what we do with ourselves.

Like the protagonist, I recently finished university when I started to write, and I had no interest in things I had to do to earn money, which meant that sometimes I had to pretend to be enthusiastic about things I absolutely wasn’t. I was thinking about how a person in such a situation would process if they were extremely lucky. I think I would be smarter than my main character, but everyone thinks that.

How much have you been “sitting” on this text before it was published?

Maybe two years – one year was writing, and the other year was “sitting” indeed! For me, writing is the smaller part of creating a text. A much bigger part is walking around, up and down in the room, hanging my head over the paper, and I also spend more time with editing than with any of the previously mentioned actions.

You will give a literature night in the Müpa soon. What can we know about the programme and the contributors?

It will be a 2-hour event; I’m going to discuss with writer Lajos Jánossy, and actor Gábor Hevér will read from my work, sometimes joined by me. Dj Arab will be responsible for the musical contribution. Müpa takes the health precautions very seriously, so I hope the virus won’t scare away too many people.

Have you ever received a really surprising or memorable feedback from readers at a literature event like this?

Sometimes they say they don’t agree with me in anything, but they still like my writing. I appreciate this opinion very much.

Nowadays you have a series in the Hungarian Booker Magazine, and previously you also wrote theatre plays and screenplays. What is your favourite genre, if there is any?

I like prose, because its result doesn’t depend on other people’s work, profession, talent, interpretation or means. In prose, the written sentence is the end result, which is the biggest challenge, making this the most difficult genre. In all other cases, the written text goes through a whole process of production, the characters evolve at the rehearsals, the scenes change, some adaptation is created from the original writing which is therefore not more than a simple sketch. The end result is sometimes totally different.

Are you working on a new book? If yes, what can the readers expect?

I’m working on more things at the same time, and everything will be published in their own times. I don’t have a tight schedule, I want my writing to be good enough, and fortunately, readers can choose from many great books in the stores while they are waiting for me to get ready.