Eternal Struggle Between Good & Evil

Interview with Aleksandr Kontrovich, a well-known science fiction writer and LPR soldier, and Faina Savenkova, a young girl living in Lugansk, about their co-written children’s novel related to Donbass.

Aleksandr Kontrovich, how and why did you start writing together with Faina Savenkova?

“We met in 2019 – in Donetsk. At the first festival ‘Stars Above Donbass’. We sat together at the same table in the dining room, and there we talked. Word by word… and so it went. When the question arose about writing a collection of short stories based on the results of the first festival, for me the question about the co-author was obvious.”

But you and she are completely different authors. She writes short essays and theatre plays – and you, combat fiction…

“So everything new is born at the junction of different directions! Before us, at that time, and there was no task to describe military operations – there are enough experienced authors without us. The idea was to write a completely peaceful thing – kind, but not sugary. This is how the story ‘Teachers and Students’ was created. About ordinary boys – and about unusual cats. And it turned out completely unexpected – for everyone. If most of the other stories in the collection were criticised (mainly due to malice and harmfulness, due to the lack of real reasons for objective criticism), then this work somehow satisfied – there were no arguments.

I will say more – this story served, so to speak, as a prologue. And now Faina and I are already writing a fully-fledged novel on this material. So to speak, the continuation of our story. More than half of it has already been written. The working title is ‘Standing Behind Your Shoulder’.”

Why this name?

“So for each person, if you turn to the ancient legends, someone is standing. It can be not only relatives and friends, maybe even other entities … There are good forces, there are others… This is what the novel is about – the eternal struggle between good and evil. And about those who stand on both sides of this struggle.”

Do you find it difficult to write together?

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“Not at all. We complement each other perfectly.”

And who is your leader, if I may say so?

“First, we agree on who writes and what they write about. In what key – it’s everyone’s choice. We exchange pieces of text, then ready-made episodes, speculate and discuss further developments. Sometimes it is necessary to prescribe connecting inserts – this is usually done by me. Last year, at the next festival ‘Stars Above Donbass’, I read aloud a fragment of our story – no one even noticed that this fragment was written by two different people.”

You have a 50 age difference! Does it bother you?

“Not at all. I communicate with Faina exactly the same way as with any possible co-author, without taking into account age. And she understands perfectly.”

But she sees the world very differently than you do.

“That’s a good thing! It is useful for all of us to look at what is happening in this way. And here is such an excellent opportunity. And it is very good that it is there!”

Do your joint plans have any possible continuation, or is everything focused only on the novel that is currently being written?

“They have. There is already a draft of a new work. And for the new collection of short stories based on the results of the 2020 festival, we have already written another story. And it turned out quite different from the first one. Those who have already read it did not at first even know how to react to it – so different things turned out.”

And whose idea is this for a new novel?

“Faina’s, entirely. I want to say that I have not seen such a fully written synopsis for a very long time. We finish the first novel, and move on to the next.”

Faina, is it true that you are writing your first novel? You’re a playwright, you write short essays and short stories, why did you want to write a novel? Also fantastic, but in collaboration with such a famous author?

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“The story itself seemed interesting, but it is simply impossible to reveal some details or develop further plot in the story. When after the festival ‘Stars Above Donbass 2019’ participants were asked to write a story, Aleksandr Kontorovich and I decided that we would definitely write about cats and try not to touch the war. And, you know, it turned out to be very difficult. But we did it. Even then, Aleksandr Kontorovich said that this story could make a good children’s novel.

We discussed the characters and their story for a long time and gathered the strength to write. Well, it wasn’t us who gathered our strength, it was me. It was very scary to take on a big work, especially in collaboration with a famous writer. But the work is underway and soon our joint work will see the light of day.”

Why is this novel so important to you?

“There are several reasons for this. In addition to the fact that this is the first such big work for me, ‘Standing Behind Your Shoulder’ is an opportunity to look at the events in Donbass a little differently. So far, this war is mostly written about by adult writers and participants in combat operations.”

Tell me, how do you work as a co-author? Aleksandr Kontorovich demands a lot from you?

“From the time I started writing, my teachers rarely praised me, much less in vain. I was treated like an adult writer and playwright, and my work was treated the same way. Allowances for age are usually not made. I, of course, do not scold, but I have to explain something and help in something. It is very pleasant to work with Aleksandr Kontorovich. It’s possible to consult him, he knows how to explain difficult points for me. In some ways, we understand each other.”

How do you feel about success and fame at this age?

“I try not to pay much attention. Something is written, something is printed, but even more is not written and has yet to be printed. So we praised it – well, but we are moving on. More frustrating is the negative. As my teacher says, ‘Grow a thick boar’s skin’. I haven’t grown one yet, but I can claim the role of a small boar. Of course, it is very insulting when people write or speak badly about you, especially if they do not explain the reason. On the other hand, it is precisely the latter that should not be offended because a person cannot even explain what is wrong. And if a person explains what they do not like, while criticising the work, and not you, then this is a reason to think. You cannot please everyone, but sometimes you need to look at your work from the outside and such criticism can be useful.”

Back to the novel. What is it about?

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“I will not give it away too much, I will only say that it is about children and the struggle of good and evil for their souls. Now it is difficult to understand where good is, where evil is. Which side to choose depends only on us. This is what the book is about.”

Some of the characters are big cats – a snow leopard. Can you tell me who they are?

“The idea to make cats characters, first of a story, and then of a novel, appeared when we went to Saur-Mogila at the ‘Stars Above Donbass 2019’ festival. There, at the foot, a white cat, who had come from nowhere, walked around the vehicle. Like Aleksandr Kontorovich, I love cats, so I wondered where it came from and what it was doing. I don’t know its future fate, but it was that white cat, with which half of the writers were photographed, that became the prototype of the leopards. Our book cats are protectors that protect children. Since the action takes place in post-war Donbass, they have a lot of work.”

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