Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » Conference Blog http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 Favourite Themes: The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/favourite-themes-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/favourite-themes-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Wed, 16 Oct 2013 11:57:50 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5597 Favourite Themes: The Future of the Novel Highlights from what became one of the most popular themes of the Conference, The Future of the Novel, are collected together for you]]> WILL THE NOVEL REMAIN WRITERS’ FAVOURITE NARRATIVE FORM?

Has the dominant literary form of the 19th and 20th centuries grown stale? Is it no longer the best means of delivering stories in the 21st century? Or does the classic literary novel remain the form best placed to deliver innovative, memorable writing? The Conference events under this theme shed light on the questions surrounding the future of that narrative form known as “the novel”.

Some of the highlights from what became one of the most popular themes of the Conference, The Future of the Novel, can be found below:

China Miéville spoke in Edinburgh and Toronto on The Future of the Novel

Tibor Fischer & Konstantin Milchin spoke in Krasnoyarsk, Russia on The Future of the Novel

Li Er spoke in Beijing on The Future of the Novel

Denise Mina spoke in Lisbon on The Future of the Novel

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On: The Future of the Novel – Kirsty Gunn looks back at a year of the EWWC http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/on-the-future-of-the-novel-kirsty-gunn-looks-back-at-a-year-of-the-ewwc/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/on-the-future-of-the-novel-kirsty-gunn-looks-back-at-a-year-of-the-ewwc/#comments Fri, 11 Oct 2013 15:06:15 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5579 6-gunnkWhen I spoke at the end of the last session of the Conference in Edinburgh last year, by way of a sort of summary, I quoted those wonderful lines of Stephen Spender, that were published in Angela Bartie Eleanor Bell’s 2012 book about the original writer’s conference in 1962.

“I am not saying this maliciously at all” Spender said, refuting ideas that had been put about by Alexander Trocchi and others that the novel was finished with, “but everything that has been said was said in1905. It led to a completely dead end.” He went on to make a call for belief in the future of the novel, for its health and wellbeing. “The history of modern literature since 1914-1920 or so is the attempt to recover from this point of view” he finished with, fragmentation would glue itself up together and become the new.

This year, in Melbourne, addressing the same subject, but in a lecture this time, I talked about the idea of finding, in the novel, new ways to read, of attending to new approaches in fiction, being responsive and welcoming to new ideas of form. Without new forms, I said, no matter how forward looking its content, the genre will always cast itself back into the past.

I thought about both those conferences, opening and closing an extraordinary year of international literary debate, when I read this by Nabokov recently: When people ask me about me if I’m interested in the future of the novel, he said, I tell them that I am interested in the future of MY novel. When I read that – twice –  I laughed out loud! How I wish I had had that line playing around in my mind for the past twelve months, while the world Writers Conference conversation has been playing around the world…

Because really, of course, what all we writers have been doing throughout this most interesting initiative that has got us talking with each other and agreeing and disagreeing… Is describing, not ‘the novel “– but OUR novels. There’s nothing abstract whatsoever about the concept. Whether the novel is this kind of book or that, these kinds of words or those kinds of words…Fiction to a fiction writer is nothing like an idea, a theory, an extension of the imagination. It’s a made up thing that is real. It’s the stuff of our lives.

That’s why the debates became so heated sometimes. It was like a group of farmers arguing how they are going to divide up a field. Graze. Grain. All of us had different opinions. I say racehorses. I say potatoes. We had been differently educated, differently formed, with different skill sets, philosophies. For every field of wild flowers there was one of cash cows. Vineyards. Chickens. None of us were going to walk away.

The argument I presented in my lecture in Melbourne was very clear about what I wanted – and some thought it was interesting and some thought it was arcane and snobbish and out of touch. One writer, in Edinburgh, the year before, had told me that I may as well go and sit on the top of a mountain – that was how out of touch my thinking about the novel was, when I put the case for it being a form of art.

But that’s because that writer who makes money from his books, and has entered into a contract to make money from the books, has a market to attend to, and I don’t have anyone to attend to apart from myself. So yes, I may as well be on my own, I suppose, on some remote hill. But that’s ok, too. It’s all of it just a matter of perspective – and no one’s saying that I wouldn’t like people to buy my books any more than I would say that this writer or that doesn’t care about the quality of his writing or doesn’t want to write something that’s absolutely perfect and beautifully done.

We all care about what we do. We just care about different things. The truly wonderful thing about this year of debate and thinking about the novel has been reminding ourselves that we care so much, that we’re fully invested in our work of putting down words before us – whether or not the financial and cultural reward is there. It has been a mirror – this conference…And there we are, we writers, stuck at our desks on our own for most of the time, “typing” as Will Self puts it….Suddenly there we all are reflected in it.

It’s been a lot of fun seeing each other look back at ourselves, shouting and laughing and being cross and being delighted. None of this, this worldwide event, has been notional; we’ve not been talking about what’s made up, posited, invented.  The mirror has reminded us of that. That what we do, this living for most of the time in our imaginations…Is real.

Copyright: Kirsty Gunn, October 10 2013

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Favourite Themes: A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/favourite-themes-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/favourite-themes-a-national-literature/#comments Wed, 09 Oct 2013 13:20:32 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5564 Favourite Themes: A National Literature Highlights from what became one of the most popular themes of the Conference, A National Literature, are collected together for you]]> NATIONALITY AND IDENTITY IN THE NOVEL TODAY

Since the first Edinburgh Writers’ Conference in 1962, there has been a renaissance in Scottish literature, bringing the voices of Scottish people of different backgrounds into ground-breaking novels by writers such as James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Janice Galloway and A L Kennedy among many others. Over the past year, the Edinburgh World Writers Conference has asked the question: have there been similarly powerful developments in the ‘national literatures’ of other countries? The answer is yes.

Some of the highlights from what became one of the most popular themes of the Conference, A National Literature, can be found below:

Irvine Welsh spoke in Edinburgh on Nationality and Identity in the Novel Today

Anjali Joseph spoke in Cape Town on A national literature: reading and writing across boundaries

Sema Kaygusuz spoke in Izmir with a response by Panos Karnezis on A National Literature

Marlon James spoke in Trinidad and Tobago on A National Literature



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The Southernmost Edge of the EWWC – Margo Lanagan reports from an “exhilarating” Melbourne http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/the-southernmost-edge-of-the-ewwc-margo-lanagan-reports-from-an-exhilarating-melbourne/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/the-southernmost-edge-of-the-ewwc-margo-lanagan-reports-from-an-exhilarating-melbourne/#comments Wed, 04 Sep 2013 14:56:36 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5413 Last year I was immensely privileged to attend five days of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Edinburgh. What writers, what brains, what passions were brought to those five days! It was all very stimulating—perhaps slightly too much to digest in such a short time, on top of the normal adrenalin of a book festival and of being on the other side of the world, and in the beautiful city of Edinburgh for the first time, and I was glad that it was all recorded and put up online for later digestion and consideration.

Last Friday I managed to get along to two of the five sessions of a more condensed version of the Conference, presented all in one day in conjunction with the Melbourne Writers Festival. The sessions were held in the Deakin Edge, part of the Federation Square complex in the central business district and a great venue, bigger and airier than the Edinburgh marquee, with trams and Yarra Bank trees visible beyond the talking heads and bodies of the presenters and Auslan interpreters.

The first session I went to was Censorship Today, Censorship Tomorrow, where writer and lawyer Larissa Behrendt gave the keynote, and Ali Alizadeh then ran the discussion between Larissa and Scottish poet John Burnside, who had been a very vocal part of the proceedings in Edinburgh—and of whose poetry I’ve been a fan for several years. I took scads of notes for the purposes of this blog post. How to condense them into something meaningful?

Well, the difference from Edinburgh was immediately obvious with the acknowledgements of the original custodians of the land, and it was the many issues surrounding the silencing and marginalisation of Indigenous points of view that dominated the session. These are vital matters in Australia today, with many writers feeling a strong taboo around the use, and possible misuse, of Indigenous cultural material in their work.

Larissa talked about three powerful kinds of censorship: the first was the cultural erasure practiced by colonial and assimilationist Australia on Indigenous people in the past. Indigenous children still face stark disadvantages in education and career prospects, and it’s difficult for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) communities to maintain their cultures when they are denied tools such as literacy and numeracy and taught not to aspire to progress to tertiary education. Larissa applauds the ongoing drive in ATSI communities, despite this powerfully antagonistic history, to continue telling Indigenous stories in written (fictional and factual), visual art, craft, dance and film form.

The second kind of censorship was all the forces operating to keep non-Indigenous Australia steadfastly uninterested in hearing Indigenous narratives. She wished that past practices of child removal and cultural genocide could be told to Australian schoolchildren, so that more Australians could see what Indigenous people face, and echoed Tony Birch in urging white Australia to take ownership of its colonial past. In the face of strong assertions of the Indigenous experience such as the Bringing Them Home report and the movie Rabbit-Proof Fence, she said, which show us a history that’s difficult to face, we should not fall silent, or fall back on the contested statistics thrown up by the ‘history wars’, or distract ourselves with semantic arguments about the competing non-Indigenous narratives about our past.

In pursuit of a more healthy debate about Indigenous matters, and one that includes Indigenous points of view directly, Larissa urged non-Indigenous Australians, particularly writers, to get over the third kind of censorship, our self-censorship when it comes to including Indigenous characters and matters in their fiction. ‘Writers with talent can write from any perspective,’ she said.

The pursuit of absolute authenticity is important if we choose an Indigenous perspective, and in the light of our general ignorance about Indigenous history and culture it’s very difficult to get it right. But—and this to me was the most powerful message of the address—blowing it isn’t the worst thing we can do. Larissa talked about the effect on her of reading Thomas Keneally’s The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith. Though it depicted well a black man torn apart by exposure to the possibilities available to whites and the limitations imposed on him by his black skin, she felt it presented very one-dimensional Indigenous women—yet she was glad he had written and published it, because it gave her more to think about in terms of her gender and her race, more provocation to articulate her own views. It is better to have these gifts of brave, thoughtful, imaginative and uncensored writers out there, she said, than to present Australians, white and black, with a frightened silence.

‘Talented writers translate, interpret and hold a mirror up, and that is why they are so very, very threatening,’ she finished, and her clear implication was that we should get out there and be as threatening as we could.

During the discussion, which elaborated and extended this message (with John Burnside drawing parallels with the Norwegian Sami people and with his own working-class upbringing in Scotland) and explored ways in which non-Indigenous Australians might be engaged in listening Aboriginal stories, Larissa further suggested that writers shouldn’t sit down with a political agenda. The best writing would come from our trying to tell the best story we could. ‘Write for the story and passion; don’t try to…write propaganda,’ she said, just try to arrive at the particular truth the story is leading you to.

In response to Paddy O’Reilly‘s question about offensiveness (Is part of a writer’s role to not be afraid to offend people?), Larissa talked a lot about writers coming from ‘a position of good’. A greater debate can happen, she said, when you try to work out a situation from a position of good. She decried the ‘crippling of [non-Indigenous] people of goodwill’, the ‘concerning silencing’ of them/us. We shouldn’t deal ourselves out of debates about Aboriginal people; because we are the dominant culture, we have the greater responsibility to keep the conversation going, so self-censorship becomes almost an abrogation of responsibility.

Her goal isn’t to keep Australia as an ‘us and them’ society. All Australian people, she says, should see Aboriginal culture and history as our own culture and history. Honest questions shouldn’t be shut down because people find them offensive. The debate has become bland because a lot of good people have dealt themselves out of it for fear of offending.

This was an exhilarating session—particularly for a writer whose latest novel had mired itself in just this complex of issues. Both the keynote and the discussion went right to the heart of one of the most significant issues of censorship in this country today.

The other session I went to was the one I was a participant in, along with the brilliant Scottish writer Kirsty Gunn, with Francesca Rendle-Short doing a top job of steering us through the shoals that awaited us in the discussion of Style vs. Content. Kirsty’s keynote was a strong assertion of the primacy of form, form ‘which gives birth to style and content’, while I hummed and hawed about form and style being more or less the same thing, but operating on different scales in a work. It’s always fascinating to see how other writers think about what they’re doing, and how much you can’t actually glean from a reading of their work. It was stunning to me, for example, to hear Kirsty talk about the impossibility of dealing with character, of truly inhabiting another human’s consciousness, after having read, in the previous week or so, her novel The Big Music, whose characters live and breathe so believably on the page—or within the stack of files of which the narrative is built—that it becomes almost impossible to believe in the story as a fiction.

The audience questions kicked us along into other territory—the influence of editors, the making of sentences, what constituted tone and voice—but it all stayed within the realm of what was useful to a working writer in thinking about these different components of the writing. I still hold to my sense that they are mostly useful for diagnostic purposes when the writing falls over and I need to identify which part isn’t functioning, that when I’m in full flow, thinking about style and content, let alone style versus content can be not only pointless but inhibiting. But it was all fascinating to explore, especially in tandem with such an intelligence as Kirsty’s, and under such gentle but shrewd guidance as Francesca provided.

I had hoped to hear great things about the panel on A Post-National Literature, which I thought was a particularly crucial topic in an Australian context, but I heard from a friend who was able to attend it that not a lot was ventured in the way of general pronouncements, which was disappointing.

However, overall, the Australian EWWC did a pretty good job of giving some by now fairly well-worn discussions fresh flavour and juice, and rounded off the conference neatly.

Copyright: Margo Lanagan, August 2013

Were you at EWWC Melbourne? Have your say below!

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‘It was not only valuable, but historic’ – Junot Diaz on the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/it-was-not-only-valuable-but-historic-junot-diaz-views-on-the-edinburgh-world-writers-conference/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/it-was-not-only-valuable-but-historic-junot-diaz-views-on-the-edinburgh-world-writers-conference/#comments Mon, 19 Aug 2013 23:04:04 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5283 JunotDiaz_9611Junot Diaz is an early bird, it seems. He first suggests a call at 5.30am his time, which later gets changed for 8.30am due to our schedule, not his. But then, if in the last few years your literary output has been rewarded with, among many others, the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the Macarthur Fellowship (a no-strings attached award of $500,000 for “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction”), and the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award for ‘Miss Lora’ – the richest short story prize in the world – as well as holding down the day jobs (fiction editor at Boston Review and Professor of Writing at MIT) – you have a lot to fit in. His most recent book is the award-winning This is How You Lose Her. He will be taking part in the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference: Melbourne this Friday.

EWWC: You must be very busy. How come you’re keen to fit in a trip to Melbourne to take part in the EWWC there?

JD: Australia was one of the first places that I ever got invited to as a writer, so I have a lot of affection for the place. I met a lot of really interesting, smart people who were involved in a lot of activism around immigration, and they became real friends. Also, the literary culture both in Melbourne and Sydney is incredibly vibrant, and on the personal side, a lot of what is happening in Australia, vis-a-vis immigration and bizarre politics, feels familiar to me. There aren’t that many analogues – countries that are Western, democratic, ex-colonies – to the United States. So for me, that makes Australia an incredibly interesting model.

The other thing was that the first novel I ever attempted to write, when I was a senior in high school, was a ridiculous Stephen King pastiche set in, of all places, Australia. Though the Australia I described resembled in every detail the Dominican Republic I grew up in. So that’s a third nostalgic connection.

EWWC: You took part in the EWWC in Edinburgh last year. What did you make of the Conference?

JD: Given the kind of pressure that’s being placed on literary culture both local and international from corporate forces, I think there is an absolute importance and necessity in both encouraging and developing and practising literary culture at both a local and a global level. It almost becomes a human rights issue to make the arts available to people.

I think that the Conference was enormously successful. On a personal level I was able to meet and talk with this incredible spectrum of artists from all over; artists I’d grown up reading, artists who I knew and artists who I’d never met. For me the historical nature of those events cannot be overplayed, it cannot be over-exaggerated. For many, many of us – for me coming from the Dominican Republic – the whole theme of a national literature is not a minor question, not an irrelevant question. And to be able to thrash that out I thought was not only valuable, but historic – and really important.

EWWC: You’ve come from the margins, and you are generally interested, it seems, in representing unheard voices. Now with the accolades you’ve received in recent years, you’re part of the mainstream. Have the awards changed anything for you at all?

JD: I think we’re sometimes simultaneously mainstream and simultaneously not. So frequently magazines will list a top hundred contemporary writers and not a single one of those writers are Latino; in the last year I can think of three such lists and in every single one, all the Latino writers were left out.  As an immigrant writer we’re typically being reviewed by people who have literally no experience of or interest in the issues we’re exploring – it’s like reviewing a book on Freud and the reviewer having zero experience of psychoanalysis or psychiatry, it’s insane. On the other hand, as a writer I’ve been incredibly blessed and incredibly fortunate; but I also notice the gaps.

EWWC: In her keynote address last year in Edinburgh Ahdaf Soueif said: “In Egypt, in the decade of slow, simmering discontent before the revolution, novelists produced texts of critique, dystopia, of nightmare. Now, we all seem to have given up – for the moment – on fiction.”  Do you have any views on whether particular periods in history or current events tend to correlate with one form of literature or another?

JD:  Literary culture, from what I’ve studied, has never been static. Genres rise and genres fall. Today the novel is predominant in the US but perhaps tomorrow perhaps it will be spoken word poetry. Who is to say and more vexing, who can ever know? For me what matters is that we defend literary culture as vigorously as we can. Literary culture has been a consistent defence against tyranny, against solitude, against despair, against the wanton cruelty, stupidity and senseless of our species. The form matters less to me at the moment than the fact that I’d like to see literary culture, which I love so deeply, to survive and perhaps one day become more than just a minority interest.

EWWC: If there was a writers’ conference in 50 years time, what questions do you think it would address?

JD: Hopefully we will be in a better place as a planetary culture and we will be wrestling with how to cope with all our humane awesomeness but I doubt that that’s where we’ll be. I fear, the way we’re going, environmental degradation and its social costs will be at the top of the agenda. Unfortunately.

EWWC: If you had to move permanently to one of the EWWC cities – Edinburgh, Berlin, Cape Town, Toronto, Krasnoyarsk, Cairo, Jaipur, Beijing, Izmir, Brussels, Lisbon, Port of Spain (Trinidad), St Malo, Kuala Lumpur & Melbourne – which would you choose and why?

JD:  That’s a tough question. Let me visit all these cities first and then I’ll see what I can come up with. As an immigrant, as someone who always seems to roam, living anywhere permanently would be a mighty big challenge for me.

Thank you Junot!

Catch Junot Diaz at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference: Melbourne on Friday 23rd August.

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Grants to Participating EWWC Writers Announced http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/grants-to-participating-ewwc-writers-announced/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/grants-to-participating-ewwc-writers-announced/#comments Mon, 19 Aug 2013 16:58:14 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5277 Last weekend, as part of our celebrations at Edinburgh International Book Festival marking one year of the Conference, the British Council announced £5000 worth of grants to writers who have participated in the project, for work related to either the Conference themes or the countries it has visited.

The writers receiving grants of £1000 each are:

Selma Dabbagh (participated in EWWC Jaipur) to support the writing of her second novel, ‘We Are Here Now.’

Anjali Joseph (participated in EWWC Cape Town) for a writing project entitled “Does Not Accurately Represent National Boundaries?” which will look at how established and emerging writers in the northeast of India see their writing in the context of a national literature

Sindiwe Magona (participated in EWWC Cape Town)  to explore the context of A National Literature in South Africa by collecting and writing thirteen folktales, from the thirteen official languages of South Africa, and having those stories translated into all those thirteen languages

Preeta Samarasan (participated in EWWC Edinburghwho will use the grant to finance research for a second novel chronicling the life of a man whose father founds a pan-religious/utopian movement in Malaysia in 1969

Clare Wigfall (participated in EWWC Berlin) to help fund a research trip to Penang, Malaysia in connection with her next novel set in early 20th-century British Malaya.

Congratulations to all the successful applicants.

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Sema Kaygusuz, Turkish novelist: It’s a time to make things new http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/sema-kaygusuz-its-a-time-to-make-things-new/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/sema-kaygusuz-its-a-time-to-make-things-new/#comments Wed, 14 Aug 2013 11:04:55 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5265 Sema Kaygusuz, Credit: Muhsin Akgun

Sema Kaygusuz, Credit: Muhsin Akgun

Sema Kaygusuz was born in 1972 in Samsun, Turkey. Due to her father’s itinerant military career, she lived in various regions across Turkey. A wide range of folk tales, legends and stories remain her greatest sources of inspiration. She is the author of four critically acclaimed collections of short stories, three award-winning novels and a forthcoming play, ‘The Sultan and the Poet’. Her work has been translated into German, French, Swedish and Norwegian. Alongside Inci Aral, Denise Mina and Panos Karnezis, she was a keynote speaker at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference: Izmir in February 2013.

We spoke to Sema from her home in Istanbul, ahead of her participation in this weekend’s Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She’ll be discussing the Future of the Novel with China Miéville and Hari Kunzru this Saturday at 5pm. During the course of our conversation the noise from the demonstration outside Sema’s window interrupted us and forced a hiatus, so we begin with:

EWWC: How are things in Istanbul at the moment?

SK: Things are a little bit difficult, but exciting. The demonstrations taking place at the moment are very important; we’re trying to build a new Turkey. Every day people continue to meet together in parks all over Istanbul, working together in small groups to talk about the future of Turkey.

EWWC: You took part in the EWWC Izmir last March, delivering a fascinating keynote speech on National Literature. In your speech you said “the fiction that is ‘country’ is to me an inner trouble and an outer burden that increases day by day. I do not want to be represented by it, or to be its representative”. Have your views changed since you gave that speech?

SK: At the time I wrote that speech, I had no hope. I was a total pessimist. But after the demonstrations started my feelings changed – and I felt OK, I do have a country after all. And now I am feeling very optimistic, because in these demonstrations all the different classes of people are coming together. There is no homophobia or sexism; all rights groups are clinging together. It’s the first time I’ve seen this in Turkey. Before I always felt alone – I never felt that I had a country. I realise now that I can take a deep breath; it feels very modern, very democratic and very exciting. It’s a time to make things new.

From the West Turkey is often seen as a very exotic place, and viewed from a very clichéd Orientalist viewpoint. Of course the reality is very diverse. For example, 50% of the literature sold in Turkey is translated, and that’s across all genres. We have a very vibrant, diverse literary culture. But when I go outside of Turkey all I am asked about is political issues, women’s issues, Islam …

The Conference was very useful, it’s so important to talk together and to meet new writers. The student audience was very focused, asking probing and important questions. We felt very connected to each other.

EWWC: At the Edinburgh conference event last August, Ahdaf Soueif, in her keynote address on literature and current affairs, said: “In Egypt, in the decade of slow, simmering discontent before the revolution, novelists produced texts of critique, dystopia, of nightmare. Now, we all seem to have given up – for the moment – on fiction.”  Can you talk a little about how writers in Turkey are reacting and responding to the current unrest?

SK: In the 1950s in Turkey there was a very strong political, polemical strand to literature – not just novelists but from writers across the board. But now writers know to use allegory and metaphor; they know that if you make things directly political the literature will be flat. Sometimes, I know, a country needs to hear its reality from its writers. Right now in Turkey there are some books being published following swiftly in the wake of the demonstrations. They are interesting, sociologically- based texts – but these are the grapes; in the next five years we will be able to drink our wine.

EWWC: Do you feel there is such thing as a community of writers in Turkey?

SK: In Turkey there are lots of opportunities to talk to other writers – we have a lot of projects together and there are lots of conferences. So much so that it can sometimes be difficult to find an audience! Every weekend people have so many speeches and events to choose from, particularly in terms of commercial literature – people always want to talk to bestselling writers.

Literature is such an important vehicle with which to talk about sociology, history, and so on. Since this year’s demonstrations began, people’s confidence in themselves to speak and express themselves has increased – the atmosphere of Turkey has completely changed. When they’re speaking publicly people are less cynical and less prudent even, than before. And there is always a lot of humour.

EWWC: If there was a writers’ conference in 50 years time, what questions do you think it would address?

SK: Literature is changing. Some forms of literature are going to die. In some places like France for example, nobody wants to read short stories any more, it’s difficult to get them published. In Germany, it’s the same with poetry. Maybe in the next 50 years – when I’m a very old lady – I would make a case for short stories being very big art. I have written a play recently and found it to be a very difficult form – you only have dialogue and the stage and lighting directions at your disposal. The novel on the other hand is a very elastic form. I like the novel.

EWWC: If you had to choose one or two writers from the Turkish canon to recommend, who would that be?

SK: To choose just two is very difficult, but I can say the most important writers for me from the canon of Turkish Literature are Sevim Burak and Bilge Karasu.

Thank you Sema!

To buy tickets for The Novel: Tenacious as a Cockroach? EWWC event on 17th August at Edinburgh International Book Festival, with Sema Kaygusuz, Hari Kunzru and China Miéville, click here.

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Airborne: Anna Lea on her artwork commission for the EWWC http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/airborne-anna-lea-on-her-artwork-commission-for-the-ewwc/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/airborne-anna-lea-on-her-artwork-commission-for-the-ewwc/#comments Fri, 09 Aug 2013 13:08:01 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5242 bird box 3The Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference 2012-13 is a remarkable project, unrivalled in its scope and depth. I feel honoured to create an artwork to celebrate the conference at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where the conversation began.

My first thought was to capture the excitement I felt when I first came across the conference. Here were writers from around the world talking about what mattered to them, how it felt to be a writer today in South Africa, Russia, China, India… and on and on. The speeches, and the conversations that follow, are firecrackers – energetic, unpredictable, exciting. How could I recreate the joy of discovering them?

Most importantly, I wanted to work with the strengths of the material.The speeches are, of course, beautifully written – but they are also delivered with conviction. And when you listen to the recordings in succession, you begin to hear the chorus of voices that the conference is intended to be. As an audio producer, I have been spellbound by readings, drawn into another world just by the lilt and sway of a single voice. I found that again when listening to writers speaking at the conference. So I knew I wanted to use just the power of their voices to quickly engage and move audiences. I listened to the conference’s recordings and carefully selected clips from twenty two authors. I then constructed five short sound installations, each of them introducing listeners to a central theme of the conference.

The next stage was to think about how audiences would experience those voices. The site of the Edinburgh International Book Festival is Charlotte Square, a green and tree-filled space in the city centre. I wanted to respond to this space in a playful, enjoyable way – and to offer audiences a journey, the sense of ideas connecting across space and time, just like the conference itself. The result is simple and playful. The installation uses motion activated speakers housed in bird boxes, mounted in five trees around Charlotte Square. This way, audiences discover the voices of writers for themselves and the ideas, the words, which are at the heart of the conference, take flight. They are airborne.

Listen to ‘A National Literature’ by Anna Lea:

For more about Anna, visit her website.  To attend the EWWC event in Edinburgh on August 17, book tickets here.

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Shifting, questioning, fragmented: Suzanne Joinson on the ambiguities of a national literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/suzanne-joinson/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/suzanne-joinson/#comments Mon, 01 Jul 2013 13:20:33 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5090 Before talking at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Kuala Lumpur recently I had never particularly considered myself an ‘English Writer’. My family on one side are Irish, the other Welsh. I was born in the North of England and now live in the South. I spent many years in London and could confidently call myself British, but English is a more complicated matter, as is the idea of a national literature. I live a few miles from where William Blake wrote his love poem to England, ‘Jerusalem’. Not so far from Virginia Woolf territory, too, and I spend much of my time shuttling between the small coastal town where I live and London. Despite the atmospheric architecture of the city – Soho, Bloomsbury, Pimlico in particular – or the beauty of the coastline or the South Downs, the most emotive places for me are actually the points of exit: Victoria Station and Gatwick airport. It is as if I don’t fully belong either in the city or by the sea and am only happy in England if I can leave on an aeroplane, and I regularly do. I write in English, within an English tradition, but I’m unsettled within those confines and any sense of contributing to a literature that sits within the framework of national borders is as paradoxical and complex as my feeling towards home.

The mongrel English are islanders, much as they conveniently forget this. The sea is everywhere and the houses are small. It is a claustrophobic country and people cling to a regionalism to fend off the conflict or tension that comes with a national sensibility. Writers from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, London and the North of England are often fiercely territorial. They stake their ground with pride and dignity. They reference themselves within a context, emit a sense of community. Most of all, they seem to belong to a geographical collective. I happen to live in a scrap of land so over-shadowed by the metropolis of London that it almost has no regional identity of its own. It is closer to France than most of the rest of England, chalky, mild-weathered. Often people choose to come to this part of the country to fade away quietly in nursing homes, to watch seagulls, to feel rain or to drink tea while, as Auden said, ‘In headaches and in worry, Vaguely life leaks away’.

There are no specific prizes for English writing, no awards, no self-referencing colloquiums and certainly no Southern Writers Awards. Yet these are, if not corridors of power, certainly parks and side streets and corner shops of power, all operating within the language of the global coloniser. What is left of Englishness and the literature that sits within its contours these days? Following what we might call a melancholic withdrawal of empire and faith, there isn’t much left but a profound state of identity crisis, and the literatures arising from this are by necessity shifting, questioning and fragmented forms.

A London walk I take regularly is from Victoria Station to Soho, via St James’s Park. Four pelicans live in the lake in St James’s park, presumably they belong to the Queen, it being her front garden. There is a sign that says ‘Do Not Feed the Pelicans’ and I have observed that while three of the pelicans spend much time together, happily doing their thing on a small island in the middle of the lake, the fourth pelican is always ostracized. To be an ‘English Writer’ can feel a little like living the existence of that fourth pelican. You comfortably inhabit the Queen’s posh park. You are well fed amongst fountains and tulips and weeping willow trees. You are surrounded by stately buildings and the drumming of procession soldiers in rehearsal. You are at the heart of it: this (once) great nation! But you don’t feel so great. You’re not sure who you are and you regularly feel lonesome.

Nationhood is about identity, but the more one hunts down one’s own stories, the more fractured any sense of identity becomes. Writing, by virtue of what one chooses to write about and what one leaves in or takes out, is about creating narrative meaning from your life. Despite my inclination to dismiss the label ‘English’ I can see that my first novel, ‘A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar’ is in some senses an exploration of Englishness. It is about English missionaries in China in the 1920s, and it is true that I am drawn towards stories and narratives that explore a legacy between colonial histories and how they resonate today. In my writing, the islandness of England becomes highlighted: the sea around it, a compulsion to leave it, the isolation, all of that examined. Yet, I couldn’t possibly write with a consciousness of my national identity because what kind of writing would that produce? A writer can only tell the stories that haunt her, but hauntings are chaotic, slippery and contradictory. Writing is subversive and uncontainable, and if it so happens that a particular line of thought relates to or explores a specific question or theory relating to national identity then so be it, but it could only be accidental or, at least, not the central impulse behind the creation of the book.

Not many people think of Virginia Woolf as a travel writer but in 1906 when she was 24 years old she visited Constantinople. Sitting at a window looking down at the city she wrote in her diary, “And in all this opulence there was something ominous, and something ignominious – for the English lady at her bedroom window.” Framed by a window, an English lady at the fading end of an empire, she feels an obscure shame as she looks over a city that is as unreal – and yet real – as any city dreamt up by Calvino and it is clear that the unsettledness of her being English  comes into sharp relief.

I read novels in English, written by writers I am interested in, either in translation from other languages into English or written directly in English. The authors are sometimes English but more frequently they are from other places. I am lucky enough to operate in a language into which many books are translated and I am interested in the worlds the novels convey, the stories they tell and the way they use language. I don’t really believe in nationality, or a literature that confines to the edges of a rigid definition.

My grandmother, the Irish one, did not have very much money but she liked to travel. She would take a train from her home in Cheshire to the port in Holyhead and spend a day watching ferries go across to Ireland. Or she would visit Manchester airport, watch planes taking off and landing, and look at the departure boards flicking through the destinations. I have inherited her love of looking into the horizon, of wanting to be both on the move and stay still. One’s national identity does not feel meaningful when one is in the inside of writing, it is just one detail in a more universal story. Yet perhaps from another point of view – the other side of an ocean, the end of a train journey or with the passing of time – national signifiers may in the end seem relevant; I’m not sure. I do know that stories are more often than not born in the no-man’s-land of not-quite-belonging, in transitory existences or inbetween places and those zones and states of mind and landscapes tend to have no borders, but perhaps distance will show otherwise.

Credit: Cheem Photography

National Literature panel: Chuah Guat Eng, Suzanne Joinson, Alfian Sa’at, Pak Samad & Bernice Chauly. Photo by Cheem Photography

The #Word Cooler Lumpur Festival has been a fascinating experience. I spent time with writers from Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. Discussions ranged from colonial history to the politics of language to the terrible pollution drifting into the city from Indonesia. I don’t know if national borders and identities are the crucial signifiers of the world or not, but I do know that conversations such as those that happened in Kuala Lumpur are exciting and inspiring and that it was an honour to be involved in the ongoing dialogue.

Copyright: Suzanne Joinson

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Benjamin Markovits on Literature & Politics, Byron & the Longevity of Lists http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/benjamin-markovits-on-literature-and-politics/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/benjamin-markovits-on-literature-and-politics/#comments Fri, 21 Jun 2013 11:24:06 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4998 Benjamin Markovits, Credit: Charles GloverBenjamin Markovits, recently announced as one of Granta magazine’s Best Young British Novelists, has published six published novels including the highly acclaimed trilogy on the life of Lord Byron: Imposture, A Quiet Adjustment and Childish Loves. He was brought up in Texas, London and Berlin and was at one time a professional basketball player. Not afraid of stretching the form of the novel, his works are marked by dazzling, layered narratives and intense, gorgeously effective and affecting prose. Critic Mark Lawson, writing in The Observer, said “Childish Loves is a very, very odd book, although I mean this as a high compliment in a time when so many authors are content to write again a novel that either they or others have previously written.” He is taking part in EWWC Kuala Lumpur this weekend discussing ‘Should Literature Be Political?’.

EWWC: Have you been to Malaysia before?

Markovits: I haven’t been to Malaysia but I have been to a megacity before, São Paolo. I like megacities; that combination of mega corporations and high rises with wonderful little traditional areas scattered in between. I’m really looking forward to it.

EWWC: Do you think the experience of being a writer varies according to where you live or what your nationality is?

Markovits: I think writing seems to mean something very different everywhere. A few years ago I played in something called the Writers World Cup. We were playing against Hungary, and all the Hungarian writers were authors of books of literary essays, a form which basically doesn’t exist here anymore. They were thinking up complicated responses to Beckett and getting paid to have that published; and you could tell that what it meant to be a writer in Hungary was something very different [to the UK/US]. I raised this same question in Moscow [Markovits travelled to Moscow as part of the Granta / British Council Best of Young British Novelists global launch series] about how the idea of censorship can seem bizarre to an English writer because the best way of getting people to ignore a book is to publish it.

There are class associations with being a writer [in the US / UK]. I’m a product of the usual chain of events: my great-grandparents were immigrants; my grandfather’s family were in retail, and he then went to law school; my dad became an academic and I became the artist. You first get a financial foothold in a country, and once you feel confident you can produce kids who don’t need to overly concern themselves about making money and who can do what they want to do. There are writers who buck that trend but I don’t think mine is an unusual pattern.

EWWC: You’re going to be discussing Should Literature be Political? this weekend. As a writer steeped in the literature and lives of the Romantics, whose work famously intersected with politics in various ways, what kind of parallels do you see between that time and ours in terms of politics and literature?

Markovits: As you say, there was a political element to a lot of the Romantics’ thinking. Byron died fighting for Greek independence; Shelley could have been imprisoned had he returned to England and published some of his political essays. I like Byron’s politics actually; he’s a mixed figure and there are lots of unlikeable things about him, but there’s this wonderful line (in the Douglas Dunn edition of Selected Byron, quoting Disraeli) that people forget Byron’s sagacity, his shrewdness. He could play the buffoon and be completely ridiculous but he had a shrewd sense of human weakness and he was quite tolerant of it. Despite his political involvement he didn’t get too caught up in serious political theories. One of the things he said was: wealth is power and poverty is deprivation and this is true wherever you go. That’s what his political thinking came down to. And that seems persuasive to me.

He also thought about writing as an alternative to politics. He liked to sign himself as “Noel Byron” – “NB” because, even though he got the ‘Noel’ from a wife he didn’t much like, it gave him the same initials as Napoleon Bonaparte; he liked to think of himself as a sort of Napoleon of verse.

Sure, all writing is political in some way, but there’s something that I would say makes up a particularly ‘writerly’ kind of world view that’s different from a politician’s world view. Politicians don’t tend to be into moral ambiguity in the same way as writers. The politician’s response isn’t usually ‘I can see it from both sides, I’m not sure what to do about it. Maybe I won’t do anything.’ – that’s not their business. Even though there’s something political about that neutrality, it may not tell you things you want us to hear.

The other thing is that there is a distinction between Byron’s writerly political involvement and his human political involvement. When he was in Greece he wasn’t writing – he was organising people and weapons and munitions and making decisions; writing didn’t get in the way of any of that. But even in his day Byron was an outlier.

EWWC: Is there such a thing as a community or fraternity of writers? Historically we look at the Romantics as a movement with cohesion, common ground, form, linked concerns, complex personal relationships. What about now?

Markovits: We look back on the Romantics and see them as a group, a band of writers writing together in relation to each other. And that’s partly true, but the reason we see them like that is because the writers who have survived are the ones who were good at keeping their name alive. Byron and Shelley’s relationship is famous but they weren’t really that close, there were people he liked more. So I wouldn’t want to overstate the writerly intensity of their lives.

One thing which has changed since then is that there’s more gender equality now, definitely. And there’s also a big middle class. And the association with writing and men and a certain kind of privilege which was certainly significant in Byron and Shelley’s lives, just doesn’t work that way anymore. Writers nowadays are looking after kids and doing different jobs and living probably not very well.

Having said that it’s totally true that writers, like any kind of job, have common concerns and struggles. Bankers hang out with bankers and writers hang out with writers and I’m sure bankers sometimes think ‘I could do with a weekend not hanging out with bankers …’

EWWC: You were recently awarded the accolade of being one of the Best of Young British Novelists. What would Byron have made of this?

Markovits: If they were making lists of people whose writing counted, I think he would have been on that list. But the writers who make the list aren’t always the ones who count. That was true then and it’s true now. I think also the nature of the lists have changed, immensely. There’s a different publicity machine around it and it’ll mean a different thing in the future than it does now. But even in Byron’s day you needed a break to get attention; it wasn’t just the work, you needed something else. Scandal, fame, his looks – they all helped sell his books.

EWWC: The EWWC questions are the same as those discussed at the International Writers Conference in Edinburgh 50 years ago. What questions do you think a World Writers’ Conference in 50 years’ time from now might address?

Markovits: There are people who think that nothing ever changes fundamentally very much, and there are people who that that everything is changing fundamentally all the time. I tend to be in the camp that thinks nothing changes fundamentally, so I would suspect that in 50 years we’d be asking the same questions. But I could be wrong.

The big forms change. The novel in Byron’s day was a long poem – now the long poem is mostly dead. It’s possible that the evolution of e-books may play a part in that change. One of the things you can do in an ebook that you can’t do in a paper book is take people off in two different directions at once; but what’s really happening there is that you’re taking control out of the hands of the writer and putting it in the hands of the reader, and the reader won’t have thought about it so much. I think that will happen, but I don’t think it’ll become dominant because of the basic fact that you can still only read in one direction at a time. So there’s a limit to its uses, but it might be an interesting experiment.

I think the novel’s a really good form – it’s got a lot of life in it yet. So I suspect things won’t be too different where the novel’s concerned, but I could be wrong about that too.

EWWC: And finally … If you had to be exiled permanently to one of the EWWC cities – Edinburgh, Berlin, Cape Town, Toronto, Krasnoyarsk, Cairo, Jaipur, Beijing, Izmir, Brussels, Lisbon, Port of Spain (Trinidad), St Malo, Kuala Lumpur & Melbourne – which would you choose and why?

Markovits: I’d love to live in Berlin again. My kids could learn German properly.

Thank you Benjamin!

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