Tülin Erkan

Tülin calls language a place to live in, would rather go hiking in the woods with Ocean Vuong than sit at a bar with Oscar Wilde, and advocates for more stubbornness and less comparison in the writing world. Her debut novel “Honingeter” was released in late 2021.

  • Tulin Erkan Wouter Van Vooren
  • Honingeter tulin erkan
  • Tulin Stefaan Temmerman

Are you someone who started writing as a child and never stopped?

Ever since I can remember I have had a great hunger for language and writing, but during my studies in language and literature I felt totally blocked after reading great writers from history. I felt like I had nothing more to contribute to the works that were already there. That this work consisted mostly of writing by old white men and thus actually did lack a lot of voices, I realized only later (laughs). I effectively stopped writing for a while and went to work as an editor at a publishing house, but something kept grinding inside me. So I applied for the Writers' Academy and that's where the first version of Honingeter saw the light.

Did your view on writing change during those years?

Most of all, I realized how important it is to have peers during a writing process. People who are working on the same thing and support you, give you feedback and most of all: believe in you when you don't believe in yourself. I've thought so many times: this is rubbish, I'm not going to finish it. If I hadn't had people around me at the time who silenced that self-sabotaging little voice, I would have long since given up. Writing is a solitary activity, but you can't do it without a network and a sounding board.

You describe language as a place to live in. Do you find language more defining of one's identity than a physical location?

We use language to shape and comprehend the world we live in. Because of that, it has tremendous power and influence. Language also tells a lot about a zeitgeist and a culture. And it works both ways: you often hear multilingual people say they have a different personality or a different kind of humor according to the language they use. I find that very fascinating.

You grew up with different languages in your ears. Did that influence your writing style as well?

Yes, although I wasn't always aware of it at the time. For example, my thesis supervisor noticed that I was writing Dutch in French grammatical constructions. And while writing Honingeter, I was taking Turkish evening classes. The use of sounds in Turkish is something very peculiar, and as a result, my writing also became more vocal, more harmonious. Language can really influence you on a subconscious level.

Are there any recurrent topics in your writing?

I like to go from small details to something universal. I don't like navel-gazing; my writing really doesn't have to be about me. I do think it's important that readers can recognize themselves in the world I evoke, or that they can look at the world around them in a different way. As long as it links to something universal. I don't think I'll be writing about the polders any time soon (laughs).

Do you also feel curious about other art disciplines?

The funny thing is that everyone asks me about my next book since I released Honingeter. When they do, I can’t help but think that there are so many other ways to tell a story. I like to write because I think in visuals, but that cinematic thinking also triggers me to explore other art forms. For example, I love the body language of dancers. I really don’t see much of a distinction between a story in book form and on stage. Ultimately, every artist tells stories and I do find it inspiring that you don't have to limit yourself to one form.

Writing is a solitary activity, but you can't do it without a network and a sounding board.

This is the second time you teach the "Writing with your eyes closed" workshop at WISPER. Was the approach your idea?

Yes! Because writing and description often have a visual angle, I thought it would be interesting to shift that focus. Each session I gave writing assignments linked to one specific sense: hearing, smell, touch, taste. It's great fun to see a group immediately do their own thing with that. At one point there was a participant who was having trouble with an assignment. I just said: start with yourself, what is your first thought? And that person was launched again. All I did was ask a question. Sometimes in creative processes that's all you need when you are stuck: someone sitting next to you for a moment, asking you a simple question.

When is a course successful for you as a teacher? 

I get great joy from the interaction between participants, who create a supportive environment for each other and entrust each other with their pieces of text. People discovering without value judgment: what is my voice, and what is yours?

Can anyone learn to write?

I think everyone has it in them to tell stories. Writing is only one way to do that, and that form doesn't suit everyone. But I am pretty sure that people who take the step to a writing workshop have it in them. I think they registered for a course guided by a sense that language is their means of communicating their story.

How do you feel about the idea that every story has already been told by now?

That’s a paralyzing thought and we need to get rid of it, especially because it’s not even true. Maybe someone else has already talked about the same event or experience, but your story can only be told by you, with your very own unique voice and perspective. Representation does play an important role here: you are more likely to have your voice heard if you feel that people you identify with have already gone before you.

Did you find it difficult to find your own voice and style?

I think you need a certain stubbornness in that - the danger lies in comparing too much. Everyone has their own voice and style, and above all you shouldn't conform it to expectations or to existing genres or movements. As a beginning writer, the quest for you own voice is never easy, but at a certain point you feel like “fuck it, this is how I write and if people don't like it, that's totally ok”. It's that moment that you have to seize.

Which writer would you choose for a night at a bar?

Oscar Wilde, although I'm pretty sure that he was a jerk. Or Ocean Vuong! I'm such a big fan of his work. In fact, I'd rather go hiking in the woods with him than sit at a bar. And Oscar Wilde is allowed to walk a few feet behind us, in silence (laughs).

Do you have a literary tip for the Wisperlings?

Burnt Sugar, by Indian American writer Avni Doshi. I actually bought that book based on the cover image alone but was super surprised by it.

What is your ultimate weapon against writer's block?

To consciously open yourself up to childlike wonder. Even the most trivial facts or events can trigger something. But sometimes you can only fight writer's block by actively waiting. At times, I really do sit in my chair for hours and nothing happens... Until something does come up. But that takes patience, and the faith that your thoughts and associations will eventually bring you something. Associations really are the shit, provided you can let go of value judgment: no idea is too crazy when you let your thinking run wild.

Pictures: Wouter Van Vooren and Stefaan Temmerman

Got curious after reading this interview?

Check out the workshops with Tülin Check out Tülin's instagram
Tulin Erkan Wouter Van Vooren vierkant
Written on Mon 6 November '23