It’s been an EVENTful month
29 April, 2011
1) PEN Event on literary festivals and boycotts
First I toodled along to the PEN event at the Free Word Centre near Farringdon a couple of Sundays ago to hear a discussion about literary festivals and boycotts with a panel including Gillian Slovo (current President of English PEN) and Romesh Gunasekara (one of my favourite Sri Lankan authors). It was especially interesting for me because of the connection with the Galle Literary Festival which Gunasekara attended a couple of years back as did Slovo. But they didn’t only discuss the GLF but several other festivals including one in Palestine. This led to a discussion on freedom of speech and activisim with input from Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie in the audience. It was an interesting session, although I would have loved to hear Gunasekara speak more about his views and experiences. He felt literary festivals were good for the still burdeoning literary landscapes of developing countries. He also made a point that not all diasporic writers wanted to write about conflict. Slovo was cool and collected and I must say her opinions were very well thought out. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that before English authors head off to literary festivals in countries that have or had conflicts where there is a call for boycotts, English PEN does a briefing so that they are not caught unawares when asked questions at these festivals so that they do actually know what is going on. Interesting, no? My one gripe with PEN events is that although very interesting, as a lay person, you sometimes feel very left out and out of depth, but then I guess PEN events are mainly targeted at writers and people working in the industry.
2) Boris Akunin at Foyles
My second outing was to see Boris Akunin who writes the mega-bestselling Erast Fandorin mysteries set in fin de siècle Russia beginning with The Winter Queen. This event was at Foyles, Charing Cross and was free. Yup, you heard it, FREE. You have to reserve a place but the event itself was packed to the rafters with Russian expats and academics. Akunin himself was very self-deprecating and had a great sense of humour which instantly endeared him to the audience. He was interviewed by novelist Tibor Fischer, whose books I haven’t read but now have a mind to.
Akunin said he had all 16 volumes of the Fandorin series planned out to appeal to the 16 personalities that make up people. That’s right. Each mystery is written in a different style and content and by revealing which is you loved and hated he can apparently pinpoint which personality type you may be. Intrigued? I was. One other point of interest is that The She-Lover of Death and The He-Lover of Death should be read in tandem but the order isn’t important as they are set simultaneously. I love details like that. And his latest to be published in English, The Diamond Chariot, is set in Japan and is in two parts. The first is like a haiku, short and sweet. And the second tells the story between the lines. Now don’t tell me that doesn’t sound incredible. I’ve read four of the Fandorin mysteries so far, so I’d better start catching up.
When asked which style most closely resembled his own, Akunin paused and said none. Akunin is a nom de plume and as a translator of Japanese, he feels he has mastered many different styles but that his own is rather dry and boring. In his day job, he is a writer of serious literary non-fiction which, he says, probably no one reads.
He does an hour of writing in the morning, potters around and has lunch and maybe an hour in the afternoon. If only I could do that I’d be a happy bunny. But I’d probably need to be a genius too.
You can read an account of the event by Jost A Mon whom I met there.
3) Bookish tea at Waterstone’s
And last but not least, Mae of Mad Bibliophile stopped by London all the way from Melbourne on the last leg of her European trip and wanted to meet up with some bookish folk so Claire, Kim, Polly and myself met up for some afternoon tea at the 5th View Bar in Waterstone’s, Piccadilly. Lots of tea, coffee, scones, jam, clotted cream and some chips and of course lots of bookish chat. Lovely to meet you Mae! I was impressed that none of us actually bought any books even though we were in Waterstone’s!