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Story Behind The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

It all began with a short story, and it all began on one particular day, the 16th of October 1985.

 

I was 26 at that time, student at the University of Stuttgart and supposed to study aerospace engineering. But instead, I spent a lot of time in a literary group, where students of all faculties met every week to present their writings to the others in order to get critizised by them. I was writing since I had been 12 years old, had spent my school years more or less behind a typewriter, and the reason I was studying aerospace engineering was because of what everybody had been telling me for years: Writing is a hobby, but nothing you can ever hope to make a living from.

Another member of this group was a certain Michael Matzer who one day, after I had presented a short story that met criticism by the group as being „rather entertaining“ (which meant: no art at all), took me aside after the meeting and explained that he was an editor of a small literary magazine called „Flugasche“ (engl. „fly ash“), specifically responsible for everything around science-fiction. And he wanted to know whether maybe I had him a science-fiction short story for publication? He had four pages at his disposal.

„Yes“, I said. „Of course I have one.“ 

But that was a lie. Or let’s put it mildly: I was wrong. (At that time, I was a wanna-be writer. You recognize wanna-be writers easily: They ask themselves all the time why they and their outstanding talent aren't discovered by the world, while in fact they have not very much to produce that could be discovered.) Being challenged this way, I had to realize that the drawer I imagined being about to spill over was, in fact, empty. 

But the prospective to be published electrified me. I couldn't literally find no sleep that night. Give me anything, I will print it! This was what Michael had told me. I simply couldn't let this chance pass by.

So I scanned my ideas notebook. (Since ever I jot down all my ideas, the good ones and the bad ones, and keep these notes carefully. Meanwhile it has become an impressive collection of mostly bad ideas – but here and there I find some treasures. You don’t need more than that to build a career upon – one good idea out of hundred.) I stumbled upon a few scraggy scribblings about carpets made from women’s hair, so subtle and fine that a handcrafter couldn’t make more than one carpet in his whole lifetime. In that moment and state of mind, that looked like something one could make a decent story of.

I started to write the next day while sitting in the lecture. It was Wednesday, 16th October 1985. I must have staggered around that day like a sleepwalker. I have no idea what else happened around me, because I was totally immersed into my writing. I was scribbling phrases, paragraphs, drafts on paper, while everyone else was copying mathematical terms and diagrams from the blackboard. I wrote during lunch, and afterwards I hid myself in the library to write even more, longhand, on any piece of paper I had with me. The whole day was one continuous „flow“ experience, and in the evening, the story was finished. All I had to do was to type a fair copy, and it was published in December 1985 in the „Flugasche“.

Writing it had been nothing less than an ecstatic experience – seeing my words in print for the first time in my life was rather not. The issue stood under the overall title „children“, the whole magazine was sprinkled with children’s drawings, and my story had been put in a place that did it no favor: You had to search for it in order to find its beginning and end, and the whole thing looked downright disappointing. 

But to my surprise it happened quite often that someone mentioned the story, even more surprising given the fact that the literary magazine sold, as usual, only a few hundred copies. The most impressive encounter happened in December 1990, when I met the chief editor of the „Flugasche“ while attending the small book fair of Stuttgart, the „Stuttgarter Buchwochen“. When I was presented to him, he shook my hand, nodded gently, obviously all routine – but then he paused for a moment and asked: „Ehm … Wasn’t it you who wrote this story about the carpets made of hair?“ 

I was stunned. Somebody who compiled a literature magazine every two months, somebody who must be reading and evaluating manuscripts ceaselessly, remembered a particular story he had published five years ago? That was the moment I realized that the story „had something“, that it touched a string deep inside of readers.

Had it really been me who wrote it? Sometimes I can hardly believe it. Thinking back it is as if a strange, powerful spirit took possession of me and my writing hand on that day. A spirit from another world, where a lot more stories demanded admission to ours. By and by, this peregrine cosmos grew in background and substance. One day I began to write down all the stories that surged from this source, and it was in doing so that this vast, almost untellable tale emerged that connects them all.

It finally ended up as my first published novel in 1994. It did sell modestly in the beginning, but to my big surprise it won the prestigious German SF Award (Deutscher Science Fiction Preis) 1995 straightaway – a surprise not least because until the moment I received the announcement letter, I wasn’t aware at all that such an award existed. My publisher was impressed. And believe me, it is a good thing for a first time author to have a publisher who is impressed! 

Since then, „The Carpetmakers“ have been my entry to a lot of language areas. The novel was translated into French in 1998, my first translation at all and, by the way, the first translation of a German SF novel into French since 18 years! Afterwards, a lot of other languages followed – Italian, Czech, Polish, English, Spanish and so on, and the novel has won other literary awards in other countries. Other novels followed as well. Today I am writing fulltime and make, indeed, a living from it – and all started 28 years ago on a day I was living in another world.


Andreas Eschbach
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