Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » Russia 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 EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 Reflections on Russia & EWWC Krasnoyarsk – Theresa Breslin http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/reflections-on-russia-ewwc-krasnoyarsk-theresa-breslin/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/reflections-on-russia-ewwc-krasnoyarsk-theresa-breslin/#comments Wed, 06 Mar 2013 15:44:50 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4052 Helmeted, gloved, mitted and down-jacketed I set off for Siberia to a unique encounter with Russian culture.

It was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life. Meeting young people, authors, readers, librarians, teachers and everyone connected with the Krasnoyarsk Festival of Culture made for a stimulating (and exhausting!) few days. We received an overwhelming welcome with a packed programme of events to enjoy and take part in. If there was any regret it was that I would have liked to have had more time for conversation and to explore the area.

I was greatly impressed by the young people I met: the range and depth of their knowledge of the classics of their own country, their energetic reading, and a willingness to question and enter into discussions. Praise to the teachers and librarians and organisers who facilitated our meetings.

It was huge honour to be asked to address groups of librarians and I was struck by their keenness to share best practice. I got the impression that more of this type of session would be welcome. The spin off from this was that I have since liaised with two separate delegations of Russian librarians who subsequently visited Scotland on fact-finding missions. Now I have continuing contact with individuals – not just librarians, but also readers and audience members – through social networking.

It was tremendously encouraging that the Russian / UK writers series of Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference talks were so well attended. In the case of my own Keynote I felt that the choice of writers matched the theme and gave an extra dimension to the discussion as we came from a variety of backgrounds and a mixture of nationalities, with more than one strong influence feeding into our personal lives. We all acknowledged how we are informed by landscape, culture, and events, historical and current. In addition to stimulating comment this gave rise to humour. An added point is how the themes interrelated with each other so the session on national literature embraced issues of censorship and the political.  It was enlightening to hear Russian authors speak of their work in both historical and modern context.

One of my lasting impressions is of the enthusiasm of the young Russians I met, and their eagerness to be exposed and have access to literature of all kinds. Speakers and members of the audience commented upon the crucial effect that books play in the formative years of your life.  As you journey through those adolescent years the fiction that you read is part of the process that makes you the adult you become. There seemed to me to be hunger for more: that young Russians would welcome stories that reflect their own situations – the narrative of their lives as Russians living in Russia today.

It’s one of the great features of EWWC, to give worldwide recognition to the power of fiction – of reading words which have the ability to make you think and feel at the same time.

Theresa Breslin

Browse the Russian EWWC events here.

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Alex Preston on EWWC Krasnoyarsk: “Mindblowing” http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/alex-preston-on-ewwc-krasnoyarsk-mindblowing/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/conference-blog/alex-preston-on-ewwc-krasnoyarsk-mindblowing/#comments Fri, 09 Nov 2012 15:43:44 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1719 We’d had a warm-up event for our Siberian adventure the night before we left for Krasnoyarsk. In an atmospheric Moscow night-spot, Solyanka, we’d taken on the subject of ‘A Hero of Our Time’ with Melvin Burgess, Theresa Breslin and the Russian author Dmitry Glukhovsky. We used Lermontov’s novel as the launchpad for a discussion of the presentation of heroism and its opposite – villainy – in the modern novel. I’d only just come in from Domodedovo, and still wore something of an aeroplane sheen, the faintly nauseating aroma of a mélange of aftershaves applied as I passed through Duty Free in Terminal 5. I was quickly swept up in the discussion, though, and the headlong, frenetic pace of that afternoon was a fitting preparation for the next few days, where every minute seemed filled with literature, mind-expanding conversation, inspiring debate.

The overnight flight to Siberia was distressingly brief: I’d scarcely retreated into a world of headphones and shut-eye before we were woken. Such are the brutal vagaries of Russian time zones that it was already seven a.m. and dawn was gathering itself on the eastern horizon. (Conversely, on the way back, you take off and land at the same time and a path to immortality reveals itself). We arrived at the conference hotel where the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair was taking place. It was here, in this city of a million people within spitting distance of the Mongolian border, that the latest outpost of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference would unfold.

We met up with the third member of the British contingent – Tibor Fischer – in the hotel. I should make clear than my own role was strictly one of interloper. I had been commissioned to write a piece for the New Statesman on the founder of the Krasnoyarsk Book Fair (and sister of the opposition leader), Irina Prokhorova. When the British Council asked if I’d like, since I was in situ, to play a small part in proceedings, I jumped at the chance.

The discussions were structured as chaired debates centred upon two keynote speeches, one from an English author and one from a Russian. The speeches and discussions were fed to us via simultaneous translation, which always makes me feel like I’m at the UN. I kept wanting to jump up and declaim: “But this is a clear infraction of international law!”

The first debate saw a remarkably chipper-looking (given the amount of sleep we’d had) Melvin Burgess discussing ‘Should Literature Be Political’ with the Russian author and philologist Andrey Astvatsaturov. I had my own run-in with this thorny question on my last trip to Moscow in September, when a speech I gave at the International Tolstoy Festival went down like a Pussy Riot gig in the Kremlin. I’d made a case that books can change the (political) world, using One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisavich, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ignazio Silone’s Fontamara as my evidence. There were no questions at the end, just a quiet but firm insistence by the chairperson that literature can never be political.

This was the most fascinating aspect of the Krasnoyarsk debates: the often diametrically opposed positions from which the English and Russian authors approached each subject. So often, when speaking at conferences abroad, you get the impression that authors are coming from identikit political positions, that they share similar stances on so many subjects, that we are all of the same flesh. Whilst this is comforting, it actually makes for a much more interesting and thought-provoking discussion when you have a situation like we saw in Krasnoyarsk. It often felt as if the British and Russian authors were from different planets, different species.

Melvin started off by arguing – quite reasonably, in my opinion – that politics defines every choice we make, that it shapes every exchange we have – the air we breathe and the water we drink, that even your shopping list has a political aspect to it. He also spoke movingly about what Walter Benjamin called “the tradition of the oppressed” – the need for writers to give a voice to those denied one by the superstructures of civilization. He saw this as the moral duty of an author, and spoke about the demands of being a writer for Young Adults. Interestingly, he viewed YA fiction as the grandchild of feminist fiction – that young people need emancipation now in just the same way that women did a century ago. He ended by telling us that to be unaware of politics makes us only half a writer.

Astvatsaturov’s response could hardly have been more different. My in-ear translator found himself fuddled a few times by the subtleties of the argument, but Astvatsaturov immediately disowned the terms of the discussion, claiming that the terms were fine in the 1960s (when the original EWWC took place) but that politics was now dead, overtaken by corporatism, that we now live in a post-political age. There is no subject to ideology, he went on, and the challenge of out times is not to be politically engaged, but to remain solitary. He held up Orhan Pamuk’s wonderful novel Snow as an example of this. He ended by telling us that, in 2012, politically engaged literature is impossible. What we make are gestures, rather than statements.

I couldn’t help grinning as I watched the British contingent’s response to this argument: baffled, incredulous. Irina Prokhorova, who was chairing the discussion, tactfully pointed out that the arguments perhaps bore more in common than might first appear. It was left to Tibor Fischer to point out the key issue here: that British authors have operated for centuries outside of state interference, that in Russia this was a relatively new thing. Until recently, to be non-political in Russia was, in itself, a political act.

That evening, we heard the Russian National Orchestra play Rachmaninoff in Krasnoyarsk’s magnificent concert hall. Diamond-bright smiles, long gowns, elaborate coiffures – and that was just Melvin. It was an extraordinary experience and one that will remain with me for the rest of my life. Then an early night interrupted by regular squawks and howls from the Playboy Karaoke Club directly below my room. I found these night-time noises strangely comforting, allowing me some snug nighttime hours to turn over the events of the day in my mind.

The next day’s EWWC discussion saw Tibor Fischer debating ‘The Future of the Novel’ with Konstantin Milchin, a literary critic. Milchin is a friend of mine (or at least the sloppy, lingering kiss he gave me as he left the conference the next evening made me feel as much). We’d met several times during my previous trip to Moscow, including one interview for television where he’d segued into French half-way through. Madame de Place, my schoolboy proffesseuse, would have been proud.

Tibor spoke first, taking us through the evolution of the debate, reminding us that, from Ortega y Gasset to David Shields (I think those are my examples, not his) the death of the novel has been proclaimed with numbing regularity over the years. Tibor spoke about the threat posed to the novel by the Internet, and the way that books were taking this on. He then talked about the death of the novelist, as opposed to the death of the novel – the way that it was no longer possible to make a living as an author alone, that one now needed to supplement one’s income through a portfolio of different careers. That writing has become, in Jonny Geller’s memorable phrase, a “passionate indulgence.”

Kostya responded by saying that it was not the Internet, but DVD soap operas that were a threat to the novel. That people were watching Mad Men rather than reading books. He was buoyed up by the democratizing power of the Internet, and said that electronic self-publishing was the future of the novel. Tibor winced. Astonishingly (to Theresa, especially, whose eyes were goggling at this point), Kostya went on to say that he felt a “gratification system” was the answer for novelists. That people should be given books for free and then pay what they believed them to be worth. He knew of an author who’d been sent £400 by one grateful reader. It is, perhaps, the greatest mark of the difference between our nations and their radically different approaches to the importance of literature and to the market economy that this is being raised as a serious model for artistic endeavor in Russia.

Theresa made an impassioned defence of the novel, where she said that there is no other artistic form that so neatly captures human experience, that it is impossible to separate one from the other, that the novel is, in essence, humanity’s art form. She then told people to read Alan Garner. I felt like jumping on stage and kissing her.

I missed Theresa and Kirill Kobrin discussing ‘Should there be a National Literature’ on the final day of the conference. I’d gone into a lawless downtown district of Krasnoyarsk in search of a story for From Our Own Correspondent and was briefly (if rather charmingly) kidnapped by a local gangland boss. From the testimony of those who were there, I missed an inspiring session.

The experience of this most remote of EWWC outposts was mindblowing. To be in a city described by Chekhov as “the most beautiful in all Siberia” (he also spoke of the local penchant for hunting hunchbacks), to be with three such intelligent, probing British authors, to meet so many great Russian writers and thinkers. I wrote after my last trip to Russia, also with the British Council, that as a person and as a writer I’d never be the same again. I can only repeat that to a factor of ten.

To finish, I come back to something I said earlier on. In an increasingly homogenized, globalized world, I find less and less comfort in knowing that people think and feel the same way as me. This kind of thing, I suppose, once offered reassurance to those living in caves, or in warring villages where the fact that the man across the valley with different coloured skin, or different gods had the same essential approach to life and love as you was somehow consoling. The most vital, energizing aspect of these EWWC debates was how different the writers were, how initially bizarre I found so many of the assertions of the Russian authors and how, over the course of the conference, I began to see my own peculiar prejudices and assumptions in this bright, uncanny light. I’ve never thought so much, or so deeply about literature as I did in Krasnoyarsk and in the days following it, and I’m delighted to have been involved – albeit tangentially – in the 2012 EWWC.

Alex Preston, November 2012

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Breslin in Russia – Keynote on A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/breslin-in-russia-keynote-on-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/breslin-in-russia-keynote-on-a-national-literature/#comments Sat, 03 Nov 2012 11:41:30 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1743

A National Literature

Keynote address given by Theresa Breslin

First presented at the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia

Theresa Breslin Keynote text: “A National Literature”

Hugh McDiarmid, one of the Scottish participants in the original Writers Conference that took place in Edinburgh 50 years ago, wrote this poem, The Little White Rose:

The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet—and breaks the heart.

For my part, as a child, I never found ‘me’ in a book.

When I was young I read everything I could lay my hands on, but the Scots in my storybooks spent their time fighting glorious battles, rowing across lochs, or escaping over moors of purple heather.

Even those Scots were hard to find. For at school , we recited poetry according to the set texts the teachers taught us. I can remember my father’s reaction when I came home chanting “Drake’s Drum”- a stirring homage to Sir Francis Drake, the great English Elizabethan adventurer and explorer:

Drake he’s in his hammock an’  a thousand miles away
Capten art tha sleepin’ there below?

My father’s antidote was to point me in the direction of Sir Walter Scott’s Border Ballads and the poetry of Robert Burns.

When I had to learn The Daffodils, by the Lakeland poet William Wordsworth, which begins:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;

my father retaliated with Sir Walter Scott’s, Young Lochinvar:

Young Lochinvar is come out of the West,
Through all the wide Border his steed was the best;
And save his good broadsword he weapons had none,
He rode all unarmed and he rode all alone.

In our house the favourite of these Scottish Ballad poems – because each of us six children could have a part to act – was Lord Ullin’s Daughter by Thomas Campbell which is about a certain Highland Chieftain’s (failed) attempt to elope with his true love. Fleeing from the wrath of the girl’s father, who has threatened to kill him, the Highland Chieftain fears his blood will stain the heather.

Now, no disrespect to Mr Wordsworth and his daffodils…. I grew to love Wordsworth’s Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections on Early Childhood and, also, when, as a teenager, I discovered that he was wont to trickle about the Lake District with his mate, Coleridge, ingesting mood-altering substances, I became quite interested in the old boy.

But… But… But… When you are nine or ten years old, there really is no contest between a bunch of daffodils – golden or otherwise – and blood on the heather.

It was the blood on the heather that caught my imagination.

My main source for books was through my local library, the William Patrick Library, which played a key role in providing me with reading material. And here I’d like to pick up on a point raised by a member of the audience in Edinburgh in August when a young lady from Argentina mentioned the difficulty for youth to access their national literature. The ensuing discussion highlighted the essential role of libraries. While I am here in Russia I am sharing experiences with librarians and teachers re book promotion. Ironically and deeply distressing for me, at home in Scotland, as I left, demonstrations were taking place outside our Parliament to protest against cuts to our library services, which, if they go ahead, will seriously impede the provision of books to the future generation.

In this local library of mine, in my youth, I read classical children’s stories by authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson whose works ranged from Kidnapped , to Treasure Island, The Strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.
I read J.M. Barrie who wrote about a tiny village in Scotland, and also created Peter Pan and the wonderfully expansive vision of a Never-Never Land.

I loved these books – but when it came to stories set in modern times I found nothing that related to me and the circumstances in which I lived.

When I was raising my own children the situation was essentially the same. I found it difficult to find books that reflected their lives. There were some by writers like Mollie Hunter, Renèe McOwen, Joan Lingard, – but these were very few.

In addition to exploring imaginative worlds I believe that young people should have access to reading material that validates their life, that gives them a sense of identity – to be able to read texts that chimes with their own world, corrals thoughts, and connects with the emotional conflicts of growing up.

In his book The Child that Books Built, – a fascinating personal memoir of the books he read as a child, Francis Spufford discusses how description becomes, faintly, complicatedly, an endorsement.  He writes:

‘The certainty of story that allows a child to add it – with delight – to the category of ‘things that are so’, also lends to its content the slight implication that this is how things ought to be. We cannot be told  “Once there was a prince” without also being told (on some level and in some part) that it was right that there was a prince. What knits together out of nothing, and yet is solid enough to declare that it is so, recommends itself to us, although we don’t receive the recommendations straightforwardly.

In this lies the power, and the danger, of stories’.

One of the reasons I began to write was because I wanted stories for my children where the characters spoke as they did, and had similar life experiences. Did my hearing those first voices – primary voices – mean that I am ‘informed by Scotland’ and thus as a writer ‘formed’ by Scotland’s people, culture, geography, history, landscape and literature?

The first children’s book I wrote, Simon’s Challenge, was filmed as a 2 part drama for television by BBC Scotland. The producer told my publisher it was like finding gold, adding quickly – ‘because there’s nothing else out there relevant to modern Scottish children’.

Since then, there has been an upsurge in the number of Scottish Children’s authors, with writers like  Cathy MacPhail, whose hugely popular gritty novels set in present day Scotland, explore the real dilemmas facing modern youth.
Cathy MacPhail says: ‘I enjoy writing about the young people in Scotland in a voice they will recognise.’

And Julie Bertagna – whose Young Adult novel Exodus is based on the plight of a tiny island in the South Pacific threatened by the rising oceans.

Talking about the book Julie Bertagna tells us:

‘The more I researched global warming, the more I was sure that, if true, this would soon be the biggest issue of our age. Exodus, (which is published in Russian), begins on a Scottish island at the beginning of the next century. Flooding and climate change have devastated the Earth and another storm surge brings the sea to overwhelm Mara’s island home. Like the real-life islanders today, Mara and her people must leave in an exodus of boats to look for a new home in a World that doesn’t seem to know they exist.

Julie Bertagna:

My characters always seem to grow out of the landscapes they live in. Being a Scottish writer, the landscapes I write about are Scottish. I couldn’t think of any futuristic YA novels with a distinctly Scottish setting so I felt it was quite a powerful thing to do to set the Exodus trilogy in a futuristic Scotland. All of Scotland’s literature, whether adult, children’s, or young adult, should be a distinct part of world literature.’

So – A story may be set in the landscape and couched in the language of a specific country, but express, in the particular, larger truths. It may draw upon what might be termed a ‘national culture’ yet illuminate what it means to be human.

Poet Alan Riach, Professor of Scottish Literature at the University of Glasgow, states:

‘Exploring  our literature is an introduction to a range of areas of human experience and is an irreplaceable basis for sympathetic understanding, individual confidence, a sense of social engagement and intellectual stimulation.’

My hope is for a literature that raises the language above the ordinary, makes words both functional and emotional, and to resonate at the frequency of the human spirit – the skill and insight of the writer lifting the parochial novel above the level of regional concern.

Making it personal, national, and universal.

Copyright: Theresa Breslin, 2012

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Kobrin in Russia – Keynote on A National Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/kobrin-in-russia-keynote-on-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/kobrin-in-russia-keynote-on-a-national-literature/#comments Sat, 03 Nov 2012 11:40:08 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1724 A National Literature

Keynote address given by Kiril Kobrin

First presented at the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia

Kiril Kobrin Keynote text: “A National Literature”

The phrase “national literature” consists of two words –”national” and “literature” where “literature” has a much more obvious meaning than “national” not only from the academic perspective but also from the point of view of common sense.  The adjective “national” can refer to both – to language as well as to nation. If we speak about language, then Kafka, for example, could be considered a genius of German national literature, while Joyce and Flann O’Brien, of English (and at the same time Myles na Gopaleen is a genius of Irish literature). The only thing is that Myles and Flann are two pen names of the same writer; two of his masks, one English, the other one Irish. That’s why when Myles started writing a column for The Irish Times in English it confused the whole thing even more.

The situation becomes practically insoluble if we suppose that “national literature” is called so because it belongs to a particular nation. In this case “national literature” could only emerge when there is a nation. However the concept of a nation developed only in the 19th century with works by Hegel, Fichte, etc. And what was there before the 19th century then? Was Voltaire for example representing any national literature at all? Or Swift? Or Shakespeare? If the answer is yes, it means that literature could be called national retrospectively, basing either on ethnicity or on language. Ethnicity smells of blood and soil and casts a slightly dubious light on our reasoning so far. Language brings us back to the very start of our discussion. Moreover it’s not only the bottom chronological lath which is put into question, but the top one as well. If “nation” is a concept of the 19th century (the age of nationalism) can we really speak about nations in the 21st century?  Is there any national literature today or having started with the Great French Revolution it finished with the Second World War? National literature existed just for 150 years, which is too short to be compared with the literature of antiquity or middle ages.

There is one more alternative though. “National literature” might only relate to those nations, which are trying to become the so-called “political nations”, in other words to obtain some sort of statehood, independence, budget, army, and Olympics representation. In other words it means that there is national Scottish literature, Welsh, Catalan, but there is no such thing as French or German literature. In this case “national literature” refers to a short and optional period in the history of different nations, and interest in such literature could only be very modest. And what does British literature mean then? Is it national? Does it exist at all?

If you ask me how to solve this task, I will answer that I don’t really know. However I can make some assumptions. I believe that literature should be attached to:
1)      language
2)      region (the place of residence – a factor determining usage and literary tradition)
3)      state

In that case Franz Kafka is a German Prague writer, who once was a national of Austria-Hungary and later of Czechoslovakia. Please, note that I have intentionally missed the ethnic marker, because even taking into account all the stir around Kafka’s being a Jew, the question is secondary.

Kiril Kobrin, 2012

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BRESLIN & KOBRIN – A National Literature? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/breslin-kobrin-a-national-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/breslin-kobrin-a-national-literature/#comments Sat, 03 Nov 2012 10:49:20 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1495 Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia
Saturday 3 November 13:30pm KRAT A National Literature? Keynotes: Theresa Breslin & Kirill Kobrin Theresa Breslin brought the Scottish view to the question of ‘A National Literature?’ drawing comparison and contrast with a country the size of Russsia, represented by Kirill Kobrin.]]> Breslin & KobrinKrasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia

Saturday 3 November 13:30pm KRAT

A National Literature?

Keynotes: Theresa Breslin & Kirill Kobrin

On the third and final day of the Conference, Theresa Breslin brought the Scottish view to the question of ‘A National Literature?’ drawing comparison and contrast with a country the size of Russsia, represented by Kirill Kobrin, along with participating authors Melvin Burgess, Tibor Fischer, Andrey Astvatsaturov and Konstantin Milchin. The event was moderated by Linor Goralik.


Author Biography:

Theresa Breslin is the critically-acclaimed popular award-winning author of more than 30 books for young people over a wide age range including YA / Adult novels. She won the Carnegie Medal, the UK’s most prestigious award for Children’s Literature. Her latest books are her YA / Adult novel, Spy for the Queen of Scots and the stunning Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales.


http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/breslin-kobrin-a-national-literature/feed/ 1 Fischer in Russia – Keynote on The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/fischer-in-russia-keynote-on-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/fischer-in-russia-keynote-on-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Fri, 02 Nov 2012 18:35:52 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1971

The Future of the Novel

Keynote address given by Tibor Fischer

First presented at the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia

Tibor Fischer Keynote text: “The Future of the Novel”

I’ve always wanted to be a prophet, and a shaman so I’m delighted to be invited here, to the home of shamanism to make some predictions.

I can see clearly, with the help of only a few mushrooms, that the future of the novel is safe. The novel, of course, will never have again the primacy it enjoyed in the past, when it was the premier artistic vehicle in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

But that the novel has lost ground, and I’m afraid will lose some more ground in the next decade is the truth.

I’m too young to remember the original Edinburgh Writers’ Conference, but I can just recall the late sixties when there was much talk of the death of the book and the death of the novel. This talk went on through the seventies, through the eighties, nineties, noughties and here we are.

The book, the paper book, will not die, and the novel won’t die either. The paper book may well become a rarity, but like vinyl, it will survive, because if for no other reason, there’s no point in reading Proust or Joyce if you can’t leave a copy lying around ostentatiously so that your friends know you’re reading them.

At the moment, most British highstreets have a bookshop. In ten years they won’t. The e-book.

I knew the e-book was coming, but I have been surprised by how soon it came and how quickly it has achieved popularity. It makes great sense for all sorts of reasons, particularly for reference works. I envy students today for that. The worst part of going to university for me was carrying large boxes of books – that your library can now fit in your laptop is a wonderful thing.

In ten years time there will be fewer publishers based in plush offices in the centre London. Ironically, the big publishers are keenest on the e-books. They don’t seem to have learned the lesson from the music industry. If it’s digital, you can kiss it goodbye.

The great enemy of all creative industries is the internet, because it’s free. It’s ironic that as the access to a global market has become easier, it’s become harder to make money.

There’s another problem with the e-book aside from its piratability. It’s close to being immortal.

One reason new books are bought is because old ones get pulped. They are destroyed in fires and floods. They get eaten by dogs, or gnawed at by mould. And if a paperback is really popular it can rarely go through a dozen pairs of hands before it disintegrates. E-books don’t get eaten by dogs, they don’t get dog-earred.

If I published a new novel today, it will be competing against let’s say two million digital titles. In ten years, that will probably be twenty million. And even today, Amazon offers some best-selling books for twenty pence and many more for under a pound.

The novel, as Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin pointed out, is an omnivore. Omnivores are good at survival. They can weather disaster.  The novel won’t die because its about a very basic impulse, story-telling, and it resides in the first and most essential form of communication, language. It will always have the ability to reinvent itself, to resurrect itself. I tried to think of a clever image, but I couldn’t, so I’ll stick with the Phoenix.

If you need proof we now have a generation of novelists who have grown up with all the electronic temptations of video and the computer, and they still want to write novels, and their novels are still being read.

So the future is fine for the novel, but it’s not so rosy for the novelist.

The chief enemy of the novelist is the Internet, not just because it’s free but because it’s very entertaining. I teach nineteen year-olds and, in general, they don’t read – although it has to be said English Literature students for some reason seem to be the most reluctant readers. We’re losing the mass readership, we’re losing the money and there’s no way back

Writing novels was never an easy path to wealth, but you always had a chance of a jackpot, and you also had a chance of a living wage. And while there’s still a chance of a jackpot, the odds are much longer. Most established novelists are now in the same position as the poets in that they can no longer expect to make a living from their writing, or at least from their novels. Like musicians, to make money now, they have to rely more on the live act, like this.

Copyright: Tibor Fischer, 2012

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Milchin in Russia – Keynote on The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/milchin-in-russia-keynote-on-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/milchin-in-russia-keynote-on-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Fri, 02 Nov 2012 17:01:05 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=3845 MilchinThe Future of the Novel

Keynote address given by Konstantin Milchin

First presented at the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia

Konstantin Milchin Keynote text: “The Future of the Novel”

Although the death of the novel has been discussed for the past 100 years, it has still somehow managed not to die. Both the 1920s and 1960s witnessed various experiments on the novel  - but still it exists, and not much about it has changed. One of the major experiments took place in France where a daring attempt to create a new type of novel was made. However, after the total flurry and failure to invent anything particularly new, French literature returned to embrace the traditional novel with Michael Houellebecq as one of its brightest representatives. Curiously the most important and well-known texts written in the last 10-15 years, from Jonathan Franzen to J K Rowling and Stieg Larsson, are all ‘traditional’ novels.

However, the novel is facing a very serious challenge at the moment which is to do with the expansion of the e-books market. The Internet is often labelled as a major enemy of the novel, but it’s not true. In fact, the Internet is a friend of the novel. The real enemies are new kinds of intellectual or pseudo intellectual entertainment such as documentaries or high-quality series. Having gained wide popularity only in the recent years these new types of entertainment pull the attention of potential consumers away from the novel. 150 years ago the novel had few rivals: in big cities there were the theatres, the ballet, the opera, and museums; in small towns there was hardly any competition for people’s free time at all. Since the end of the XIX century the new types of intellectual entertainment started pressing hard on the novel. Musicals, radio, movies – they haven’t managed to kill the novel, but they have been rather successful in getting the consumers’ attention.

The Internet on the other hand is something of a salvation for the novel; though it can change it dramatically. Yes, there is a lot of copyright violation online, but on the other hand the Internet lends opportunities to underground presses. Authors such as Amanda Hocking are successful self-publishers and sellers through Amazon.com. E-books are changing the way authors and readers connect. There are websites where readers transfer money to the author only after reading his book online for free. In fact this new era is all about removing the mediators between writers and readers. We are moving towards a world without literary agents, publishers, printers, and booksellers. Probably at first the novels in this new world will be far from perfect. But I am quite sure its masterpieces will show up with time. The most likely candidates will be short novels, or novels split into shorter stories, as the Internet gravitates towards conciseness.

Another option for a novel lies in its ‘multimedia-ization’. In the literatures of smaller counties a writer has long ceased to be just a writer, he is also a musician, an artist, a director, and a showman. A new kind of novel might even be built upon the wreck of the old world which will be a mixture of text, video, and music. The traditional novel will however remain;,but as an elite-exclusive entertainment. Like good whiskey.

Copyright: Konstantin Milchin, 2012

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FISCHER & MILCHIN – The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/fischer-milchin-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/fischer-milchin-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Fri, 02 Nov 2012 10:41:38 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1490 Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia Friday 2 November 13:30pm KRAT The Future of the Novel Keynotes: Tibor Fischer & Konstantin Milchin The second day of Edinburgh World Writers' Conference events in Russia explored ‘The Future of the Novel’ with keynotes from UK writer Tibor Fischer and the Russian author and critic Konstantin Milchin.]]> Fischer & MilchinKrasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia

Friday 2 November 13:30pm KRAT

The Future of the Novel

Keynotes: Tibor Fischer & Konstantin Milchin

The second day of Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference events in Russia explored ‘The Future of the Novel’ with keynotes from UK writer Tibor Fischer and the Russian author and critic Konstantin Milchin, along with participating authors Melvin Burgess, Theresa Breslin, Andrey Astvatsaturov and Kirill Kobrin. The event was moderated by Ilya Boyashev.


Author Biography:

Konstantin Milchin is a philologist and literary critic. He was born in 1980 in Moscow and graduated from the Russian State University for the Humanities, History and Philology Faculty. He’s been a literary critic since 2000. He worked in the ‘Book Review’ newspaper, the ‘Time Out’ magazine, hosted a program on ‘Radio Russia’, ‘Mayak’ and ‘Radio Culture.’ He is currently working in the ‘Russian Reporter’ magazine and the ‘Vedomosti. Pyatnitsa’ newspaper, and leads the ‘Cover’ program on ‘Style-TV.’

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Astvatsaturov in Russia – Keynote on Should Literature Be Political? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/astvatsaturov-in-russia-keynote-on-should-literature-be-political/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/should-literature-be-political/astvatsaturov-in-russia-keynote-on-should-literature-be-political/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2012 11:45:44 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=1729

Should Literature Be Political?

Keynote address given by Andrey Astvatsaturov

First presented at the Krasnoyarsk Book Culture Fair, Russia

Andrey Astvatsaturov Keynote text: “Should Literature Be Political?”

This topic was probably much more relevant to the conference of 1962 than it is today, 50 years later.  The sixties was a revolutionary and turbulent time for social and political change, a time of writers’ political engagement.

The trend actually began in the thirties after the global financial crisis and in presentiment of the Second World War.  In the thirties writers and intellectuals were obviously confronted with the demand to make a choice.  This choice was a very painful one, one you couldn’t avoid making.  Two opposite forces turned out to be active, relevant, and gripping the masses: Nazism and Communism; Hitler and Stalin. The destiny of the world and the path of Europe’s future were being shaped, it was the situation when one had to determine one’s own political views and become engaged.  Even if one was not happy with either political force he had to decide upon which camp to join. With little enthusiasm the conservatives concluded that the führer was a lesser moral evil while the liberals and the left wing supported the USSR and Stalin.

Romain Rolland visits Russia and meets Stalin. After the trip he publicly praises the building sites of socialism and writes about the USSR as a fascinating country. He simultaneously keeps his Moscow diary that would only be published 50 years later. The diary reveals his true impressions from the visit, saturated with the feelings of nightmare.  Romain Rolland got it perfectly well.  In the forties as well as in the post-war years the political nature of life intensifies even more.  History shows that progress is largely a myth which turns out to be destroyed for good. Writers try hard to communicate the ideas of individual guilt and inevitability of evil (Golding, Jones, Mailer). The political life in Europe and the USA is humming; there is a struggle between different ideologies, politicians, parties, and even participation of an individual in these processes can make a change.  The sixties was the time of non-conformism, of individual choice. That’s why the question ‘Should literature be political?’ asked at the conference in 1962 was more relevant than ever.

However it was already in the 1950s when a new type of writer who tried to keep away from ideals and political engagement, emerged. They were representatives of the “new novel” (Rob Griye); postmodernists whose aim was to strip literature of ideological content and eliminate the subject. Ideals and political ideologies were nothing else but forms of language.
The end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties were marked with political activism, confrontation and a clash of ideals here in Russia.  It was as if this time as called for literary political engagement. However this animation quickly turned into disappointment, because:

1.    Pluralism and freedom of speech turned out to be a simple collision of economic interests.
2.    Politicians who seemed honest and truthful turned out to be glory-hunters and careerists. The main one reminded us of a clown altogether. We have to note though that in spite of disappointing us they did go on fighting against each another, phrase mongering and confronting something, at least.

Modern politicians have never fought for power. They were appointed for their leading positions. They have never strived to win people over, it was the corporation which has been doing the work for them all along. There is no politics at the moment. There is only a corporate system.  This system never proposes people with ideals, views, or political will. The system operates by its rules and needs guards, not personalities, those who could be easily built into the system and have no will, in other words managers, conformists.

Basically literature should not be looking for ideals. Literature is a membrane resonating with public opinion and culture. That’s why in the contemporary world political literature is simply inappropriate.  Ideologies (liberalism, socialism, communism, Stalinism) are games of language that can’t be forced to create an illusion of reality. There is no subject either. Character is an object, a result of certain forces influencing it. The challenge of our age is to stay lonely.  Let’s take for example Orhan Pamuk’s “Snow”. The character with the ideals is lonely with only political shows around him.  Muslim fundamentalists, left-wing activists, statists, are all actors, not even suspecting they are actors.  Politics is a show, a performance, a backroom deal of the corporations.

Many of my fellow writers are politicised. Their texts are as if an eloquent refutation of my words.  Zakhar Prilepin is the author of a political novel called “Sanka” whose main character is a protester and a rebel.  However I believe that the popularity of the novel is rather caused by the fact that it’s a good and beautiful aesthetic gesture, and that the majority of readers, although worshipping Zakhar, don’t share his national Bolshevik opinions. His letter to Stalin could also be regarded as an aesthetic gesture. It’s rather the pose of an artist than a position. And I doubt Zakhar really believes in what he has written.

German Sadulaev is another author with a distinctive ideological position. He is left wing, socialist, democrat.  His novel “The Tablet” is a revealingly engaged prose. However he renounces radical pose and aesthetic enhancement effect which is characteristic of Zakhar’s prose.  He is more known as a political publicist.

Thus, in my opinion, political literature is impossible in current conditions. Only the game, the pose, and the aesthetic gesture which feeds the imagination is possible.

Andrey Astvatsaturov 2012

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