Friday, June 17, 2011

Kikinda surprise

Oh dear. More than a year has passed since I last updated this blog. In that time I've had the immense good fortune of getting married, have written half of a novel (on which more later) and managed, with help, to get a major charity book project off the ground. However, for this first post of 2011, I want to write about a literary festival devoted to short fiction - a particular love of mine as writer and reader - which I will be attending at the end of the month.

My invitation to Kikinda Short 2011 came out of the blue, as far as I was concerned, from the pioneering Manchester-based publisher, Comma Press. Comma describes itself as a "not-for-profit publisher promoting new fiction and poetry, with an emphasis on the short story". Their authors include the award-winning Adam Marek and David Constantine - the latter perhaps one of the finest exponents of the short story in the UK, and a fine poet and translator in the bargain. So it was rather an honour to hear from Ra Page and Jim Hinks that they'd suggested me, alongside Bernard MacLaverty, to represent Scotland in the Kikinda line-up of writers. (The fact that, on the nationality front, I'm an Anglo-French hybrid and Bernard M is from Northern Ireland seems not to trouble anybody.) Being the sort of fellow who likes attention, I enthusiastically accepted the invitation.

Serbia may not, yet, be a mainstream tourist destination for west Europeans, but I have particular reasons for looking forward to the trip. My grandfather, Harold Norminton, taught at the British Council in Belgrade in the 1950s, where he became a friend of the poet, Miodrag Pavlovic. I heard many anecdotes, over the years, about those years under Tito, and my grandfather's volitional faux pas when it came to the ideological sensibilities of his hosts. Also my father, who was at boarding school in England at the time, spent his holidays in Yugoslavia and the country, as it was then, made a real impression on him. Finally, given Serbia's unhappy recent history, I'll be very interested to meet people who have experienced life under dictatorship and are now, as writers and artists, trying to reimagine a democratic and tolerant society.

The festival, for those of us invited from across Europe, will begin in Belgrade on 27th June, followed by a trip north to the border town of Kikinda, where we will be hosted for several days of readings and other events. It's always a pleasure to meet fellow writers (we're not all conceited gits) and I'll be intrigued to experience the Pannonian Plain, which has been compared by someone who knows it to the Russian steppe - a flat, agricultural land with sayings like, "If you want to see the next village, stand on a pumpkin". Also, as a bad birdwatcher, I'm hoping to glimpse the odd black stork or Syrian woodpecker.

I have to confess to knowing few of the writers with whom I will be sharing a platform. This isn't surprising, given the low status of short fiction and the virtual non-existence of literature in translation in the UK. Who knows: perhaps, language permitting, I may make some discoveries!

* Please note: the image is of Kikinda's coat of arms - a charming representation of a Turk's head impaled on a Serbian sword. This does not represent the blogger's attitudes towards the former rulers of the region, but it does remind him of an anecdote told him by his grandfather: that, in 1950s Yugoslavia, each nation spoke in whispers of its immediate eastern neighbour as 'Turks'. Thus, to Slovenes, the Croats were Turks; to Croats, the Serbs were Turks, etc. Perhaps, with the seemingly inexorable rise of Erdogan's Turkey, these sorts of emblems and slurs may have to be revisited, as trade always wins out on stereotypes - or at least sweeps them under the profit carpet.


Blogger woodworth said...

Hi Gregory! Hope you are enjoying the kikinda trip. Good to hear about your doings. Re Turks impaled on Christian swords, the Spanish do this too, as you surely know -- Saint James, patron of the so fashionable Camino de Santiago, is often described as 'the Moorslayer' and portrayed with his foot on an unfortunate Moslem's head. Moorish Spain had often been more tolerant than Christian Spain was to be, and of course brought a great deal of science and classical learning to benighted Europe. How different our history -- and that of Islam -- might have been if Moorish civilisation had survived and evolved in Europe -- they were already far close to enlightenment ideas in 1100 than the Christians would be for many centuries. Enough! Best, Paddy Woodworth

7:33 AM  

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