Record of Change

For the first time in a long time, it feels like all people on Earth have something in common. An exploration of what unites us in a time of social distancing, we visit and re-visit people in Hongkong and India, Greece and Gaza, among other places.

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episode 10: Istanbul: I just want this to be over [transcript]


Didem Tali returns with updates and talks about finishing up her book during the lockdown and finding a literary agent. She's not writing a pandemic book, she assures.

This episode was recorded on October 22, 2020.

Guest Didem Tali, Istanbul, Turkey

Didem is a multiple award-winning journalist, documentary filmmaker and multimedia producer based in Istanbul. She is currently working on a novel.

Other episodes with Didem:

  • Istanbul: Embracing Imperfection
  • Istanbul: Survival Mode
Additional Shownotes

More about Record of Change and this episode, including a transcript, in the post for this episode on our website: recordofchange.com

Follow Record of Change or subscribe to the podcast on:
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or wherever you find podcasts.

Credits
  • Thomas Reintjes (Post Production)
  • Prathap Nair (Host, Producer)

An Huy Tran, Matthias Jochmann, Kecheng Fang and Stephanie Raible also helped make this episode.


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 2020-11-01  22m
 
 
00:00
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.
00:16
I’m your host Prathap Nair.
00:21
Today we’re reconnecting with Didem Tali.
00:24
Didem who lives in Istanbul tells us how she’s been coping in the past two months since we spoke with her.
00:30
Turns out, despite the global pandemic, Didem has some good news to share.
00:34
Let’s find out.
00:44
Thank you so much for taking the time again.
00:45  Didem Tali
Thank you so much for calling me again.
00:49
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.
01:05  Prathap Nair
Yeah.
01:08
So how is it going?
01:09
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.
01:19
I had sort of mentally given up on this year.
01:22
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.
01:32
So I thought, okay, maybe I can forget about everything, but suddenly so many things started to happen.
01:38
Mainly in my career, I was accepted into a program at the city university of New York.
01:48
I think it is called entrepreneurial journalism program, journalism creators’ program.
01:56
And I also got a full scholarship from Facebook to do my passion project and join them.
02:03
Something that I've been thinking and working on.
02:06
So that was fun.
02:09
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
Congratulations
02:20  Didem Tali
Appreciate that.
02:22
And how about yourself?
02:24  Prathap Nair
Oh, nothing much has changed in my life.
02:27
It seems you have the exciting updates.
02:29
Uh, how are things in Turkey?
02:33  Didem Tali
Thanks.
02:34
In Turkey, if you ask me, things are not looking very good right now.
02:38
So we also have an increasing number of infections and I'm beginning to be afraid that the so called second wave has come.
02:46
That'd be a bit tougher than our first phase.
02:49
Our first phase seemed quite controlled and people were adhering to the rules of social distancing and staying at home.
02:58
But I think millions of people have jobs and food on the line.
03:04
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.
03:15
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.
03:27
So I am personally feeling very grateful that I managed to take a little bit time after summer.
03:33
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.
03:45  Prathap Nair
Yeah.
03:46
That's right.
03:48
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.
04:06
And, but in my case, I'm lucky that there is going to be a lot to keep me busy this winter.
04:13
One other positive development that I also want to bring up was that I finally signed up for that literary
04:21
agent, who's a wonderful person who will help me to do all of my book and champion my work as an author.
04:31
So from one perspective I’m preparing to have some really tough months in winter, but I was also
04:41
thinking, at least I have a lot to keep me busy and I didn't lose by jobs or lifeline or assignments.
04:49  Prathap Nair
Yeah.
04:49
So congratulations on signing up with an agent.
04:53
Can you talk a little bit about that?
04:54  Didem Tali
Sure.
04:55
I met him in a conference that I believe was the Boston writers conference.
05:01
And we had a 10-minute pitching session over zoom and he was immediately interested and I immediately had really good vibes about him.
05:10
He said, actually word to word, the sounds; your book sounds right up my alley, I really look forward to reading your book.
05:22
And then he asked for my writing sample and full manuscript and it went very quickly.
05:28
He was very prompt with his communication.
05:30
And he sent me an offer and I also was being considered by other literary agents.
05:43
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.
05:55
And he was really excited about my background and my book.
06:00
And so, yeah, I decided to go with him and I'm just actually beginning to revise my book, working with my agent.
06:10
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.
06:19
That's it?
06:20  Didem Tali
Yes.
06:21
So before that happens, we'll be revising the manuscript.
06:26
He made some suggestions and there are some things that I would like to work from my side.
06:31
Um, but yes, that's the idea.
06:35  Prathap Nair
Okay.
06:35
Is there anything more you could tell us about your book.
06:44  Didem Tali
Sure.
06:45
So apparently I didn't know that, but my genre is called book club fiction, and some call it
06:58
women's fiction, but both my agents and I feel that women's fiction is not a very attractive title.
07:05
I think it's a bit better than chicklet, of course, but it tends to describe books that are driven by character
07:12
development and emotions, rather than plot driven, huge events, dramatic things like thrillers or a murder and so on.
07:22
These books are much more about the characters and their journey and I write book club fiction, upmarket women's fiction.
07:34
I don't exactly know where it stands.
07:37
I think a lot of contemporary fiction works are this way.
07:44
My book is set in contemporary Turkey and my protagonist is cosmopolitan and millennial.
07:51
Turkish women who are trying to find their places in the world, physically, professionally and romantically.
07:58
And I've always dreamed of becoming a career novelist.
08:03
And in this book that I'm working on right now, there are some autobiographical elements, of
08:13
course, but then it comes to her work and profession, but everything else is fictionalized.
08:23
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
08:37
journalism written about journalists or written by journalists that feature western men in exotic and foreign lands, but there is next to
08:48
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.
08:56
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.
09:13
And has this hyper masculine aura.
09:18
I was very inspired by Ernest Hemingway and I want to be war correspondent – there are so many of them.
09:27
And I just want to challenge the side here in my book that you don't need to be a person
09:39
who wears a safari trouser, bullet vests, and so on and fits into that sort of narrative.
09:44
And you can have pink handbags, an Instagram profile - be interested and passionate about all these vain
10:00
things and fluffy things, but at the same time, be a bloody good journalist and be really good at your job.
10:08
Because for me, for a long time, I taught these would be big clashes that I had this
10:17
feminine side to me that I love, I don't know, handbags or go resorts and so on.
10:26
But I also had this very serious interest in developing a solid career in journalism, trying to understand this world.
10:34
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.
10:51
And I do feel that fluff is important.
10:54
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.
11:11
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.
11:25
I definitely don't have any problems with that interpretation.
11:30  Prathap Nair
Great.
11:31
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.
11:41
It's written in a very short time, the book.
11:46
Yeah.
11:46
And this was definitely something I recently wrapped up, but if I didn't have the
12:03
little fair space and time to think… I had a good chunk of time, suddenly I was free.
12:09
I had so many work trips and assignments cancelled and I needed something.
12:14
I had to have something.
12:20
And I had this book that has been chipping up in my mind.
12:24
I've written a good chunk of it earlier this year.
12:28
And then was able to finish it.
12:33
More free time than usual is definitely useful.
12:37
And at the same time, it of course had some negatives as well.
12:41
The agents and publishers, all the industry and economies are shrinking around the world.
12:47
So I think some publishers shut down and a lot of big publishers decided to close down and so on.
12:53
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.
13:03
So the response rates are, I would say a bit lower than usual and a bit slower than average.
13:11
And I was very lucky in that sense.
13:37
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.
13:50
And you would work through the slush pile, who knows, but I feel that this conference happened over zoom.
13:59
And I don't know if I would right now be able to prioritize traveling to Boston to attend a conference.
14:09
And actually, even though the conference was physically based in Boston, my agent is from California and he was also dialing in from California.
14:19
And I was able to meet so many more people in the industry with the zoom conference.
14:27
And I think the agents were also really happy when I pitched my book, which is set in Istanbul.
14:36
I had very positive responses from professionals and agents.
14:42
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.
14:53
Just broaden their regular horizon, says, well, then get a more diverse set of submissions.
15:00  Prathap Nair
Oh, wow.
15:00
That sounds very interesting.
15:02
That's one of the positive ways in which this pandemic impacted you.
15:08  Didem Tali
Absolutely.
15:11
I am very glad that the cultures are changing a little bit because as a freelance journalist and a writer, who's
15:20
based outside US that has been one big problem for me and for many other people that it's really difficult to network.
15:33
You always tend to be this faceless freelancer from a developing country behind an email.
15:42
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
16:07
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.
16:16
Nothing particularly wrong with books written by American people and set in Brooklyn.
16:22
But it's also good to have all this.
16:25  Prathap Nair
Yeah.
16:27
COVID lit is already as a sub genre in dystopian literature.
16:31
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.
16:47
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.
17:01
Has our friendship changed in any way during this pandemic?
17:05
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.
17:14
I had to say a friendship grows stronger in the shared pleasures of significant events in our lives.
17:14
So I feel like I was with you somehow in this journey of you getting an agent for your book.
17:19
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.
17:30
I considered you a good friend for a long time, but as you said, so there is an element, some
17:38
kind of a global synergy that made us bring closer to people that they were already close with.
17:46
You were one of the first persons I shared the good news when I got the scholarship to develop my journalism project.
17:55
And likewise when I signed up with my agents…
18:01  Prathap Nair
How is Seb doing?
18:03
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.
18:19
We avoid public transportation and go nuts traveling.
18:23
So it's a little bit more open than our full lockdown time.
18:30
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.
18:37
But we've been rigid to be honest, because I just want this to be over as soon as possible.
18:46
Someone like me really don’t have a lot of reasons to be out and about too much.
18:54
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.
19:08
So I feel that it's my responsibility to be as strict as I can be.
19:14  Prathap Nair
Okay.
19:15
In Istanbul is life continuing as normal?
19:18
Are there restrictions on bars and restaurants or how is the hospitality industry coping there?
19:26  Didem Tali
There are some tourists.
19:28
We are open to US visitors.
19:30
So I think they're open to Russia and Ukraine because we are desperate for the tourist dollars.
19:36
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.
19:47
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.
19:58
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.
20:03
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?
20:29
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.
20:39
I feel that I'm unlikely to go abroad before I get vaccinated, but I'm probably going to travel to Ankara,
20:48
our ugly duckling capitol city in the next few weeks for a few assignments and I might be taking the train.
20:57
I took a train once.
21:03
I think this was back in like July.
21:07
And they had sold only half of the seats and it was very well ventilated and there was a train
21:19
conductor just walking up and down constantly and making sure everyone was just there in their masks.
21:26
So that was a very positive experience.
21:28  Prathap Nair
Okay.
21:31
So your days now are spent on polishing your manuscript?
21:37  Didem Tali
Yes.
21:38
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.
21:54
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.
22:06
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.
22:15
In the next episode, the Hongkong based couple Wenni & Dominic talk to Kecheng Fang and give us their updates.
22:21
Thanks for listening.
22:27
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22:37
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22:43
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