Interview to Stavros Stavrou Karayannis, Dean, Associate Professor, School of Humanities, Social and Education Sciences, Department of Humanities, European University of Cyprus. The interview was published online in 2021 (in Greek), as part of Cadences: A Journal of Literature and the Arts in Cyprus. It was translated in English by Gavriella Papayianni.
Dr Nicoletta Demetriou runs the “Writing Room” creative writing workshops in Nicosia. Registrations for 2022/2023 are open. Classes start on October 4.
Most people know Dr Demetriou as an ethnomusicologist, due to the important work she has done through her publications on Cypriot music and tsiattista [oral extemporaneous poetry in the Cypriot dialect], but also due to her documentary The Cypriot Fiddler. However, in addition to ethnomusicology, Dr Demetriou studied creative writing and taught on the Master of Studies (MSt) in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford from 2012 to 2019. In 2018 she served as the programme’s acting director, in addition to her teaching duties. Apart from her writings on ethnomusicology – which are all written in a narrative style – Dr Demetriou has also published non-fiction at the University of East Anglia Creative Writing Anthology and in The Guardian Weekly. In 2015, she was invited to speak about creative writing as a means of introspection at TEDx University of Nicosia.
You have made a name for yourself in Cyprus mainly as an ethnomusicologist with an important contribution to the music culture of our country. How did creative writing come about?
I first studied music and specialised in ethnomusicology. Around 2006-2007, while I was writing my thesis in London, I realised that I was more interested in doing fieldwork and the stories I was gathering and later presenting. I understood that knowing how to tell a story, thinking about how to structure and present all the data I had collected and make it interesting for any reader was more important and certainly more interesting for me. So, while writing my thesis, I started looking into creative programmes in England, where I was living at the time. Until my PhD in London, having studied first in Salonika and then in Vienna, as well as finishing public school in Cyprus, I had no idea that one could study creative writing! Most programmes I found focused on fiction. At that stage of my life, however, I did not have a portfolio of fiction stories, which was necessary to get into graduate programmes. However, I had a portfolio of non-fiction stories, which was mainly what was of interest to me at the time. So, I applied to the University of East Anglia (UEA) Creative Writing Programme, and was accepted for a Master’s degree. So in 2009, having completed my PhD in 2008, I started a new MA in Life Writing and graduated in 2011.
Ethnomusicology and life writing is an unusual but fantastic combination. How did you combine the two, along with an academic career as an ethnomusicologist and writer?
I was lucky because at Oxford there were people who appreciated this combination. In 2011, I was awarded the Alistair Horne Visiting Fellowship at St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford, which allowed me to continue writing for another year. At the time I was working on a non-fiction book, which was based on the research I had done for my Master’s degree. The same year, the Oxford Centre for Life Writing was established at Wolfson College. The president was the well-known biographer Dame Hermione Lee. I applied and in 2012 I became research fellow, a position I held until 2019. The same year I received a proposal to teach on the MSt in Creative Writing at Oxford, so from 2012 to 2019 I was a tutor in narrative non-fiction.
How did these two disciplines, ethnomusicology and creative writing, influence your work?
As I had already discovered, what interested me was to tell real stories of people I met in a creative way. Also, I was interested in recreating and telling the stories of people I did not know personally, but I could “get to know” through their writings and the stories that others had told about them. As part of my PhD research, I had already done a lot of work with old traditional musicians – fiddlers, lute players, and singers. With this fresh approach I acquired through creative writing and also by marrying ethnomusicology with oral history and everything I had learned about how we can tell personal stories creatively, I was able to turn this material first into an ethnographic documentary entitled The Cypriot Fiddler and later into a book with the same title, which will be published by Psifides, a Thessaloniki-based publishing house, in late 2022. The Cypriot Fiddler marries all these disciplines and approaches and this is reflected in its structure; on the one hand, we have the first-person stories of the fiddlers in the Cypriot dialect, and on the other hand, we have the third-person “essays” by me, where I touch on some of the more general issues related to their stories. Additionally, in the very first chapter of the book, we have my voice in the first person, where I recount the story that led me to the fiddlers. However, oral histories play the main role in this book and I simply “pull the strings” behind the scenes.
You organise creative writing workshops in Cyprus. What classes are you going to offer this year?
This year I will offer three classes in the form of workshops: a workshop for beginners and/or for more experienced writers who would like to resume writing again after taking a break, or generally for those who want to experiment with words and don’t know where to start; a non-fiction writing workshop, with an emphasis on memoir writing; and a workshop for people who are already writing and want to be in a safe environment with other writers to discuss their work and receive feedback. The classes are open to everyone irrespective of background and experience and they take place on weekdays, after 18:00, in Nicosia, beginning Monday, October 4.