00:08 Prathap Nair
Welcome to the second season of Record of Change, a podcast that follows eight people to understand how covid 19 pandemic is shaping their lives.
I’m your host Prathap Nair.
Today we’re reconnecting with Didem Tali.
Didem who lives in Istanbul tells us how she’s been coping in the past two months since we spoke with her.
Turns out, despite the global pandemic, Didem has some good news to share.
Thank you so much for taking the time again.
00:45 Didem Tali
Thank you so much for calling me again.
I'm surprised you would be interested in hearing from me again, but I appreciate that.
00:56 Prathap Nair
We are definitely interested in hearing what's transpired in the past two months since we spoke.
01:02 Didem Tali
Has it been two months already.
So how is it going?
What are the updates?
01:10 Didem Tali
Actually now that you say it since the last time I spoke to you, there've been quite a few new things happening in my life.
I had sort of mentally given up on this year.
I thought this year was supposed to be just about survival and none of my pitches were or story ideas or projects were panning out.
So I thought, okay, maybe I can forget about everything, but suddenly so many things started to happen.
Mainly in my career, I was accepted into a program at the city university of New York.
I think it is called entrepreneurial journalism program, journalism creators’ program.
And I also got a full scholarship from Facebook to do my passion project and join them.
Something that I've been thinking and working on.
I've been quite busy with my coursework and catching up with my peer mentors, and I'm very pleased about that.
02:18 Prathap Nair
02:20 Didem Tali
And how about yourself?
02:24 Prathap Nair
Oh, nothing much has changed in my life.
It seems you have the exciting updates.
Uh, how are things in Turkey?
In Turkey, if you ask me, things are not looking very good right now.
So we also have an increasing number of infections and I'm beginning to be afraid that the so called second wave has come.
That'd be a bit tougher than our first phase.
Our first phase seemed quite controlled and people were adhering to the rules of social distancing and staying at home.
But I think millions of people have jobs and food on the line.
So I think millions of people are really fatigued and they don't want to just completely change their lives because of the pandemic right now.
Um, the case numbers are rising and rising and people don't really trust the government's data, which is a problem that we talked about previously.
So I am personally feeling very grateful that I managed to take a little bit time after summer.
I was able to go to the beach and spent some nice time and enjoy the lovely weather, but I'm mentally preparing myself for a tough winter.
A sense of complacency has set in among people, so it does feel like we are in for a harsh winter.
03:58 Didem Tali
Yeah, it sounds like it, it looks like it.
And, but in my case, I'm lucky that there is going to be a lot to keep me busy this winter.
One other positive development that I also want to bring up was that I finally signed up for that literary
agent, who's a wonderful person who will help me to do all of my book and champion my work as an author.
So from one perspective I’m preparing to have some really tough months in winter, but I was also
thinking, at least I have a lot to keep me busy and I didn't lose by jobs or lifeline or assignments.
So congratulations on signing up with an agent.
Can you talk a little bit about that?
I met him in a conference that I believe was the Boston writers conference.
And we had a 10-minute pitching session over zoom and he was immediately interested and I immediately had really good vibes about him.
He said, actually word to word, the sounds; your book sounds right up my alley, I really look forward to reading your book.
And then he asked for my writing sample and full manuscript and it went very quickly.
He was very prompt with his communication.
And he sent me an offer and I also was being considered by other literary agents.
But yeah, among I think about eight choices or so that I had, he was by some distance, the best choice, the most attractive choice.
And he was really excited about my background and my book.
And so, yeah, I decided to go with him and I'm just actually beginning to revise my book, working with my agent.
And I'm super excited about it and slightly nervous as well.
06:14 Prathap Nair
Okay, so now the next process would be, uh, for your agent to take your manuscript to a publisher.
So before that happens, we'll be revising the manuscript.
He made some suggestions and there are some things that I would like to work from my side.
Um, but yes, that's the idea.
Is there anything more you could tell us about your book.
So apparently I didn't know that, but my genre is called book club fiction, and some call it
women's fiction, but both my agents and I feel that women's fiction is not a very attractive title.
I think it's a bit better than chicklet, of course, but it tends to describe books that are driven by character
development and emotions, rather than plot driven, huge events, dramatic things like thrillers or a murder and so on.
These books are much more about the characters and their journey and I write book club fiction, upmarket women's fiction.
I don't exactly know where it stands.
I think a lot of contemporary fiction works are this way.
My book is set in contemporary Turkey and my protagonist is cosmopolitan and millennial.
Turkish women who are trying to find their places in the world, physically, professionally and romantically.
And I've always dreamed of becoming a career novelist.
And in this book that I'm working on right now, there are some autobiographical elements, of
course, but then it comes to her work and profession, but everything else is fictionalized.
And, I feel that I really can't wait to offer the female voices perspective, because there are hundreds of narratives, hundreds of books about
journalism written about journalists or written by journalists that feature western men in exotic and foreign lands, but there is next to
nothing that I know that feature a local person who happens to be a foreign correspondent and especially in Istanbul or in the middle east.
There is this dude bro journalist, you know, the kind of guy with his safari trousers and has satellite phones that he doesn't necessarily know how to use.
And has this hyper masculine aura.
I was very inspired by Ernest Hemingway and I want to be war correspondent – there are so many of them.
And I just want to challenge the side here in my book that you don't need to be a person
who wears a safari trouser, bullet vests, and so on and fits into that sort of narrative.
And you can have pink handbags, an Instagram profile - be interested and passionate about all these vain
things and fluffy things, but at the same time, be a bloody good journalist and be really good at your job.
Because for me, for a long time, I taught these would be big clashes that I had this
feminine side to me that I love, I don't know, handbags or go resorts and so on.
But I also had this very serious interest in developing a solid career in journalism, trying to understand this world.
And now I'm beginning to think why many people in the world are made to believe that these things clash so my books tend to tackle these issues.
And I do feel that fluff is important.
I think this was one English - French writer, John Harris, saying on her Twitter account that fluff, if it's used well, it can save you from freezing to death.
Fluff is good, especially in a year like this.
11:15 Prathap Nair
Yeah, so you're sort of trying to achieve a middle ground between smashing patriarchy and related stereotypes and radical feminism.
11:23 Didem Tali
Yeah, I guess.
I definitely don't have any problems with that interpretation.
11:30 Prathap Nair
So did the pandemic affect in any way, in you signing up, with this agent.
11:37 Didem Tali
I think it did actually, to be honest.
It's written in a very short time, the book.
And this was definitely something I recently wrapped up, but if I didn't have the
little fair space and time to think… I had a good chunk of time, suddenly I was free.
I had so many work trips and assignments cancelled and I needed something.
I had to have something.
And I had this book that has been chipping up in my mind.
I've written a good chunk of it earlier this year.
And then was able to finish it.
More free time than usual is definitely useful.
And at the same time, it of course had some negatives as well.
The agents and publishers, all the industry and economies are shrinking around the world.
So I think some publishers shut down and a lot of big publishers decided to close down and so on.
And obviously agents, a lots of agents have family to take care of and they have maybe some of them get ill and so on.
So the response rates are, I would say a bit lower than usual and a bit slower than average.
And I was very lucky in that sense.
But one positive I believe is that I met my agent during a conference that would normally take place in Boston and maybe I would end up querying him.
And you would work through the slush pile, who knows, but I feel that this conference happened over zoom.
And I don't know if I would right now be able to prioritize traveling to Boston to attend a conference.
And actually, even though the conference was physically based in Boston, my agent is from California and he was also dialing in from California.
And I was able to meet so many more people in the industry with the zoom conference.
And I think the agents were also really happy when I pitched my book, which is set in Istanbul.
I had very positive responses from professionals and agents.
Saying, oh, finally one book that's not from just another writing and writer in Brooklyn, you know, so I think it helped them too.
Just broaden their regular horizon, says, well, then get a more diverse set of submissions.
15:00 Prathap Nair
That sounds very interesting.
That's one of the positive ways in which this pandemic impacted you.
15:08 Didem Tali
I am very glad that the cultures are changing a little bit because as a freelance journalist and a writer, who's
based outside US that has been one big problem for me and for many other people that it's really difficult to network.
You always tend to be this faceless freelancer from a developing country behind an email.
And it's been changing slowly, I feel that that culture has been opening up even more, just network and meet over zoom and be able to discuss what
the world has offered has to offer to you rather than just hiring the next American writer or publishing the next American book set in Brooklyn.
Nothing particularly wrong with books written by American people and set in Brooklyn.
But it's also good to have all this.
COVID lit is already as a sub genre in dystopian literature.
I saw at least a couple of books released in India just a couple of days ago.
16:36 Didem Tali
I'm not sure how I feel about it, but interesting.
I'm most certainly not planning to write a Covid book.
16:48 Prathap Nair
So, when we were brainstorming for the second season, my colleagues wanted, us to talk about our friendship.
Has our friendship changed in any way during this pandemic?
If you ask me it has not changed in any discernible way, except that, you know, we despaired about the pandemic a lot in our conversations.
I had to say a friendship grows stronger in the shared pleasures of significant events in our lives.
So I feel like I was with you somehow in this journey of you getting an agent for your book.
Pandemic or otherwise, I do feel this has brought us a little closer to each other.
17:27 Didem Tali
I definitely don't disagree with that.
I considered you a good friend for a long time, but as you said, so there is an element, some
kind of a global synergy that made us bring closer to people that they were already close with.
You were one of the first persons I shared the good news when I got the scholarship to develop my journalism project.
And likewise when I signed up with my agents…
18:01 Prathap Nair
How is Seb doing?
So how are the both of you doing, are you still spending a lot of time indoors?
18:07 Didem Tali
To be honest we both spend most of our time indoors.
We avoid public transportation and go nuts traveling.
So it's a little bit more open than our full lockdown time.
So of course, every now and again, we'll go out and have an alfresco meal and take boats to the European side of Istanbul.
But we've been rigid to be honest, because I just want this to be over as soon as possible.
Someone like me really don’t have a lot of reasons to be out and about too much.
I understand people who have the core family obligations, so they can't stay at home all the time but I am the demographic who is benefiting this.
So I feel that it's my responsibility to be as strict as I can be.
In Istanbul is life continuing as normal?
Are there restrictions on bars and restaurants or how is the hospitality industry coping there?
19:26 Didem Tali
There are some tourists.
We are open to US visitors.
So I think they're open to Russia and Ukraine because we are desperate for the tourist dollars.
So at this point of history, unfortunately, and yeah, I think they're open to UK as well, but I'm not sure about the rest of Europe.
Yeah, it's pretty funny, but not whenever I go out if I take a boat, I usually see the tourists locals in my part of Istanbul at least they always wear a mask.
In my part of Istanbul from an anecdotal observation, but then the boat, you always see the tourists without a mask, so sometimes that makes me a bit angry.
I’m happy to say that Turkish people don't have much of an anti-mask or anti-vax thing going on.
20:27 Prathap Nair
How do you feel about flying Didem?
Have you, uh, any plans in the near future to fly?
20:32 Didem Tali
So for the time being, I don't have any big travel plans.
I feel that I'm unlikely to go abroad before I get vaccinated, but I'm probably going to travel to Ankara,
our ugly duckling capitol city in the next few weeks for a few assignments and I might be taking the train.
I took a train once.
I think this was back in like July.
And they had sold only half of the seats and it was very well ventilated and there was a train
conductor just walking up and down constantly and making sure everyone was just there in their masks.
So that was a very positive experience.
So your days now are spent on polishing your manuscript?
I actually just signed up officially with my agents yesterday and he immediately sent me some suggestions and some lists of resources that I can work on.
So it feels like I'm already knee deep in the revision process
21:59 Prathap Nair
I know you'll maniacally stick to deadlines and finish your manuscript.
It was lovely talking to you and we will talk to each other soon.
22:11 Didem Tali
Thank you so much for calling me again and for your interest in my life and my work and my creative process.
22:13 Prathap Nair
That was Didem Tali.
In the next episode, the Hongkong based couple Wenni & Dominic talk to Kecheng Fang and give us their updates.
Thanks for listening.
Follow us on your favourite Podcast provider and look for us on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or our website, recordofchange.com.
This podcast is implemented by and with members of the Bosch Alumni Network a community that brings together
former and current fellows, grantees and staff members of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and its partners.