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Tell us a bit about your work and background.

I knew I wanted to be a journalist from a very young age, so in my 20s I became a university tutor while working at different magazines. One of my first jobs was at a weekly news magazine in Colombia called Cambio (which means ‘change’), where the owner and editor-in-chief was Gabriel García Márquez. He was my first editor and I was very lucky to have him as a guide and mentor so early in my career. I worked there for many years before I left to work at different news outlets, but I always knew I wanted to be more of a narrative journalist. So I started reading Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe, writers who wrote narrative journalism based on scenes, characters and different structures.

My career took me to Paris and Madrid, and eleven years ago I came to live in Mexico City and started working at a magazine called Gatopardo, which is similar in style to magazines such as The New Yorker or Vanity Fair. We write about Mexico but we have writers from all over the world, publishing long features, combining journalism and literature, and I’m very interested in the ways in which the two are connected. When you’re writing non-fiction you have to look at the facts, but the narrative style allows you to work on it like you’re working on a literature piece. 

While I was working at the magazine I started writing books. My first book was a biography of Francis Bacon; I also have two collections of journalistic profiles with well-known people I have interviewed, such as Tim Burton and Clint Eastwood - people who are famous and eccentric. In 2016 I published a novel, The Art of Vanishing, which has been published in Latin America and the English translation is coming out next year. I am also the editor of a book called The Sorrows of Mexico (Maclehose) which is about events that have happened in Mexico in the last five years, and the complex situation with freedom of press and violence. I wanted to give a profound view of what is happening in Mexico today which would appeal to foreign readers.

 

What are you looking forward to about being the British Council Writer in Residence at the Hay Festival?

I have very high expectations! Firstly, it’s an honour to be chosen and invited to do the residency, I didn’t expect it at all. While I’m at the festival, I plan to do what I do as a reporter: go and see new things and try to understand them. Not only artists and events at the festival, but also people who are there watching and working. I’ll try to write a short narrative journalism piece each day, trying to mix all the information I get as a reporter and write a piece as I would for my magazine – like a profile or postcard, combining snapshots of what’s happening so people who read the pieces on the blog will have a clear image of the place, as if they were there themselves. It’s hard to say exactly what it will be, but I’ll know once I’m there.

 

Have you attended many literary festivals in Latca or around the world?

Yes I have. Nowadays being a writer is a very hard job, not only do you have to write, publish and edit, but there is also a lot of travel involved. I’ve received invitations from all over the world which, for me, is a wonderful way to get to know the world and meet other writers, editor and journalists. The downside is that you spend much of your time on the road and away from home. I go to a lot of festivals and book fairs to give talks and workshops, and every time it’s a different experience, and there is always an opportunity to learn a lot from being in a different place and seeing first-hand how people work in different parts of the world, in both rich and poor countries. I’m a traveller at heart and you get a good sense of what happens in the world through these festivals.

 

You have been part of Bogata39 – a list of the best Latin American writers under 40 organised by the Hay Festival. What has this meant for you?

It has meant a lot. Firstly to be considered one of the best young writers from Latin America, and secondly, because someone thinks I’m still young! Although, I don’t think the writers on this list are necessarily the best writers; there could be another list of 39 other writers and it would still be a good list as there are so many fantastic authors to choose from. This list is compiled by people who think we’re the best at what we do want to show the world what is happening in Latin American literature today. Latin America is a huge continent, so for me, it’s a fantastic honour to be chosen, to meet colleagues and to present my book. It means a lot to me because when you’re on a list like this more readers have a chance to learn about you, and take an interest in your work, which is one of the best things about it. People who didn’t know you existed learn about you, publishers take an interest and want to know what you’re doing. It is hard work bring a writer, there’s a lot of competition, so this is a very optimistic situation: that someone likes you and you’re on a list with other great writers.

 

Tell us about your story in Bogata39.

I didn’t write a new short story for the book; instead I submitted an excerpt from my novel as I thought this would be something readers would be most interested in. I think the excerpt is very representative of what the novel is and of the story I want to tell. The excerpt focuses on a very critical night for the protagonist, it’s a very important moment for him, a turning point, a time he makes a change. It’s also representative of the style, tone and narrative of the novel and how I build scenes. It was also a great opportunity to be translated by Daniel Hahn who is incredibly talented.

 

You work with narrative journalism, as well as fiction, which is a flourishing field in Latin America. Tell us more about this form.

I had the chance to work at Gatopardo magazine alongside a huge amount of Latin American journalists. Journalism is a very flourishing genre in Latin America. We live in countries where reality is much stranger than fiction, so we have very talented reporters all over the continent, looking for and telling stories. As a group, we’re trying to understand and represent what happens in our countries through narrative journalism, which is why I think it’s such a popular genre. I can’t say why this is happening in Latin America, specifically, but we live in such a diverse culture that we want to tell the world what’s happening here. Not only based on news, but on telling stories with voices which have a particular way of looking at reality – not a plain way, but with a lot of layers. As narrative journalists we try to go deep in these layers to see the complexity of it all.

Also, working within narrative journalism as an editor is exciting as it offers me a chance to work on various aspects of these stories. At Gatopardo we work on each story for six or seven months, we do a lot of research and fact checking and always ensure each story is well told.

 

You are currently the editor-in-chief of the acclaimed Gatopardo magazine in Mexico City – can you tell us more about what is unique about this magazine?

The magazine has just turned 18, which nowadays is a difficult age for a magazine. We’re very proud to have the chance to publish it as not many publications in the Spanish world provide this kind of journalism. In last 18 years we have received almost every prize a magazine can win in the Spanish world, so we have a lot of recognition and it’s an enormous responsibility to be the leader in such an interesting field. Publishing an independent magazine – as we don’t belong to a big group – gives us a lot of freedom, although the work is complicated and requires a lot of passion. I’m lucky to work in a team that believes in quality journalism and the value of independent press. We’re living in a time when journalism is being threatened and the powers that be don’t want the truth to be out there in print, but we believe in telling true stories and that is what we’ll continue to do.

 

Find out more about Bogota 39 events on the Hay website.

 

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We are offering the opportunity for a non-UK based writer to spend up to one week in Residence at the Small Wonder Short Story Festival at Charleston in East Sussex, UK. Small Wonder festival will run over the long weekend of Friday 28 September – Sunday 30th, and will feature stories, poetry, essays and monologues from a diverse range of high quality authors.

The role would suit a writer at any stage of their career who is interested in responding creatively to Small Wonder festival and the Charleston environment, and being immersed in the short story form. It is not suitable for writers who are solely seeking space and time to write; rather it is a professional development opportunity which we hope will boost your creativity and connections with the UK sector. We see the opportunities for the writer in residence at the festival to be:

  • to gain insights into the short form from leading UK and international practitioners
  • to make connections and network with participating writers
  • to connect with emerging writers from Sussex
  • to network with professionals from the wider UK publishing / arts world who attend the festival
  • the chance to contribute to festival blogs and to have a creative response to the festival published on the Small Wonder and British Council websites

The Resident at Small Wonder will benefit from a tailored programme according to their interests and need, including:

-      opportunities for working with UK writers and literary professionals

-      the option to attend creative workshops during the festival

-      the potential for some mentoring following the residency

The Resident need not be writing creatively in English, although a good understanding of English and ability to communicate in the language is essential.

The Resident is required to produce a story or essay arising from the experience which is a response to the setting or the sense of place of Charleston, or which springs from the writer’s experience there.

Rights will remain with the writer, but the work will be available for Charleston or British Council to use in its promotional literature, websites and social media platforms. 

About Small Wonder Short Story festival

This will be the 15th year of Small Wonder, the foremost dedicated short story festival in the UK. Small Wonder attracts a dedicated and vibrant audience to this annual celebration of the short form.  Writers featured at the festival over previous years include Mark Haddon, Lionel Shriver, Ali Smith, Kei Miller and Elif Shafak to name but a few. Small Wonder events take place in the newly renovated Barns, seating around 200, with an independent book shop on site. We programme a variety of types of sessions, most of which include more than one author.

Small Wonder takes place at Charleston in East Sussex, the former home of the Bloomsbury artists Vanessa Bell (sister of Virginia Woolf) and Duncan Grant. Charleston is a very atmospheric, culturally resonant and rural setting in the heart of the South Downs National Park. In Autumn 2018 Charleston will unveil its new gallery and exhibition spaces. This marks the opening of a major new cultural hub for visual and literary arts in the South East, with Small Wonder Festival at the centre of its launch season.

What’s included in the residency:

  • Entrance to the entire Small Wonder programme, plus fringe events and workshops
  • A personalised programme of local visits and meetings tailored to the resident’s interests; this will include networking with local emerging writers and literature practitioners
  • High quality Bed & Breakfast accommodation close to Charleston for 6 nights
  • All UK transfers, sustenance, per diems and hospitality
  • A £250 stipend

What’s not included:

We regret that we are not able to fund international travel to the UK, however we can advise on potential sources of funding support for this purpose if necessary.

Previous unsuccessful applicants are welcome to apply. Selection will be carried out by representatives from the British Council and Small Wonder, and will include interview by telephone or Skype. We will also require evidence of published writing.

Key dates:

Deadline for applications: 21 May

Skype interviews for shortlisted candidates: 7 and & June

Successful candidate must confirm, and submit photo and bio for promotional material by 15 June. 

How to apply

Applications should be sent in English to Rachel Stevens, (Rachel.Stevens@britishcouncil.org) Senior Literature Programme Manager British Council London by Monday 21 May, 2018

Applications should include:

  • A biography (up to 400 words)
  • Links to two pieces of published work (if available in English)
  • A letter of application which should address the following questions (in no more than 800 words):
    • Why are you applying for this residency and how will it benefit your work?
    • What are you particularly interested in exploring as part of the residency? (please describe any specific themes, new connections, research that you are keen to undertake)
    • Do you have any current connections to UK short story writers, festivals or publishers?
    • Have you taken part in any other professional international creative writing residencies before?
    • Please confirm that you are available during the entire period 25 September – 1 October 2018 and that you will be able to obtain funding to cover your flights, visa and accommodation.

Selection will be a competitive process, based on letters of application.  Final decisions will be made by a committee comprised of British Council and Small Wonder representatives.   Priority will be given to applications which demonstrate the greatest impact to the writer and their work.

 

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The Creating Heroines exhibition stall at WOW - Women of the World - Festival at Southbank Centre, London presented British Council activity with artists that took place in Colombo, Karachi and Kathmandu. It also displayed outcomes from a 3-day artists’ workshop in Kathmandu, Nepal, for which my role was facilitating UK artist. Participating in the workshop activity were:

Left to right back row: Daisy Leitch (British Council), Delphine Pawlik (British Council), Samya Arif (Pakistan, illustrator, designer) Dr Nicola Streeten (UK, illustrator, graphic novelist, comics scholar), Promina Shrestha (Nepal, researcher, educator and illustrator). Front Row: Isuri Merenchi Hewage (Sri Lanka, illustrator, children's and comic book artist), Bandana Tulachan (Nepal, illustrator) & Shraddha Shrestha (Nepal, illustrator, designer, street artist). 

Isuri Merenchi Hewage and Promina Shrestha designed and ran stalls at WOW Colombo and Kathmandu festivals respectively, which gathered ideas and inspiration from the crowds about heroines and the theme. I attended the WOW Kathmandu Festival and saw the enthusiastic response to Promina’s activity, inviting people - young and old -to draw their own heroines.

From right to left: Promina Shrestha, Bandana Tulachan, Shraddha Shrestha

Isuri Merenchi Hewage collated a delightful zine from discussions with the audience at WOW Colombo. We were pleased to have some of them to give away at WOW London.

“This is a box that I don’t fit into” Zine produced by Isuri Merenchi Hewage

At the artists’ workshop we interpreted our collective responses into some amazing artwork. This was gathered into The Creating Heroines Zine to which we all contributed.

The front cover of The Creating Heroines Zine. Image © Samya Arif

We produced copies to distribute at WOW London and Samya Arif’s eye-catching imagery on the front cover ensured they were received enthusiastically.

We explored other ways to showcase the images for the Stall. Promina Shrestha and Bandana Tulachan created short visual narratives. Bandana’s sequential story of the everyday heroism of her aunt worked well as a poster.

A Typical Traveller © Bandana Tulachan

Promina Shrestha developed 3 characters that worked perfectly as an enlarged cutout.

 

Characters © Promina Shrestha

One of Samya Arif’s designs also worked well as a large cutout

© Samya Arif

Shraddha Shrestha’s practice includes wall art. She agreed to treat an A0 size poster as a wall and her design was produced to stunning effect.

 

‘You can be anything’ © Shraddha Shrestha

Isuri Merenchi Hewage’s reflections on heroism as the commonplace activity of women in Sri Lanka also translated into striking a striking poster.

© Isuri Merenchi Hewage

I had originally had some ideas for display on the London stall which I thought were really great…but…

© Nicola Streeten

I had also wondered about typical representations…

© Nicola Streeten

So we decided to produce the collected images on a “saree” - printing on a length of cotton with saree dimensions. It would have been brilliant to have worn one of the final printed versions, but on this occasion, we used it as a backdrop to the stall.

The ‘Creating Heroines’ saree backdrop to the stall with Samya Arif’s cutout at the front

We were really pleased to be able to include the wonderful puppets created by Pakistani puppet artist Yamina Peerzada, Sara Nisar and Amneh Shaikh-Farooqui on the stall. These were originally created for WOW Karachi. The puppets in boxes were visual responses to written narratives. The audience was invited to listen to music relevant to each story whilst they read the text and looked at the puppets.

Audience engaging with the puppets at WOW London

On the Saturday morning I ran a short workshop open to everybody, as an introduction to the comics form. This gathered a keen group of people and we had a fun time, drawing and talking. My main aim was to show how anyone can begin to draw comics.

Southbank Centre was brought to life with a contagious energy throughout the WOW Festival. The ‘Creating Heroines’ stall attracted around 2,000 visitors over the three days and we had many interesting and thought-provoking conversations.

The zine is available online as a PDF available here.*

*(please note the zine contains mature content)

 
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The British Council is aiming to increase connections between the UK creative sectors and young creative professionals in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As well as building connections, we aim to expand knowledge of contemporary African art in the UK with a view to more work from Sub-Saharan Africa being seen and experienced by UK audiences.

With this in mind we are seeking expressions of interest from UK based arts organisations / curators / programmers working in any of the following art forms - Visual Arts, Literature, Music, Theatre, Dance, Architecture, Design, Fashion and Film to travel to Sub-Saharan Africa and conduct research through the ‘Art Connects Us’ grants. The trips should take place between June and December 2018.

Research may take the form of meeting with potential artists and partners; finding out more about your chosen art forms’ ecosystem in a particular country or countries; gaining an understanding of art trends in Sub-Saharan Africa; meeting arts organisations and/or attending events and festivals with a view to programming or curating work in the UK.

The countries covered under the programme (in which the British Council operates) are: Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Deadline for entries is 18:00 on the 11th May 2018

Download the full criteria  Call-for-Expressions-of-Interest-Art-Connects-Us-2018-F3.pdf

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What is the enduring appeal of Austen in South Asia? Georgina Godwin, the host of the British Council Literature podcast, interviews Austen fans at the Galle Literary Festival to find out.

We speak to authors from South Asia and the UK who have been inspired by Jane Austen and interview Laleen Sukhera, a British Pakistani writer, founder of the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan and editor of a new anthology of writing called Austenistan, that invites readers to reimagine Regency England in a contemporary South Asian context.

We speak to two of the contributors to the anthology, as well as to Sri Lankan author Ashok Ferrey and British writer Alexander McCall Smith, author of Emma - a modern retelling of one of Jane Austen's most cherished novels.

Austenistan: a Pakistani take on Jane Austen's work - SoundCloud
(2377 secs long, 269 plays)Play in SoundCloud

"We have a Facebook page with people from 45 countries" Laleen Sukhera talking about the Jane Austen Society of Pakistan

"Why is it that Austen is so particularly popular? Of course it is the humour..." Alexander McCall Smith

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Tell us about your writing and your literary background. What inspired you to become a writer?

In a way – London. It’s such a creative, vibrant place which makes you feel like the world is your oyster. I have an academic background in history of art and I was working as a foreign correspondent for arts and culture in London, then, at some point, watching how daringly people around me express themselves creatively, how unafraid they were to try new things, I started thinking – maybe this is the time to try and implement an old idea that had been fermenting for more than decade and was inspired by historical sources: that the colourful, multicultural, fascinating, present-day-resonating (but largely unknown) history of the former Polish-Lithuanian empire deserved a contemporary, literary novel.  It was quite a sharp turn for me, as I had never previously tried writing prose. It was the year 2008; I sent the first four chapters and an outline of all four parts to different publishers in Lithuania. They all said 'yes', a sort of informal bidding followed, I chose the best one and that was it... I was inspired by the amazing history of Lithuania, but that nudge to do it and to write a novel was given by the amazing 'you-can-do-it' London vibe.

 

What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?

The sense of empathy is important for a writer. It is a bit like the method acting – you have to get into the head, live in the skin of your characters, whether you write about a woman who has just lost her newborn child, a Holocaust survivor, a man in a mid-life crisis or a girl of sixteen who is taking the nun's habit and sees her locks being shorn off, so experiencing and living on the page with your characters through their most painful and intimate emotions sometimes can be quite emotionally exhausting. Another hard part is to have to stand up and go to collect your child from school when you still have a chapter in your head and could go on writing a further five or more pages. Sounds trivial, but any writer who is a mother would probably recognise this. And I have trouble to come up with the easiest part...

 

What is exciting about Lithuanian literature at the moment?

It is flourishing; new authors and new themes are emerging. The Lithuanian language and press was banned by the Russian empire during the second half of the 19th century, but we smuggled the Lithuanian books from abroad. We had the Soviet censorship for 50 years in the 20th century, and yet the Lithuanians survived and preserved their language and literature. Now we delight in freedom and in every word, there are no more forbidden subjects or genres, no sacred cows, socially or politically. Yet, because of our past experiences as a nation, we have a certain depth in our literature, mastery of the word and quite a philosophical outlook. We are finally healing our recent historical wounds – by reflecting on them and writing books about them, and I am convinced a lot of these experiences resonate in present times.

 

The Market Focus programme is an opportunity to work internationally and make connections with readers and writers from overseas. What interests and excites you most about this?

I have been working internationally on the Continent for a long time, but – despite that London has been my home for many years now – not yet in Britain, as the British publishing market is notoriously difficult for foreign fiction, especially from smaller countries and languages. In my opinion, British readers are truly missing out. Because of this, I am really excited that the Market Focus is an opportunity to show that there is nothing 'small' about the Lithuanian literature – after all, this is the land that gave to the world Adam Mickiewicz, the Nobel Prize winner Czesław Miłosz, twice Prix-Goncourt winner Romain Gary, and we have Lithuanian authors of world-class calibre, whose prose and poetry was previously considered impenetrable due to the language barrier. Therefore, the Market Focus brings opportunities for translation and attention to a number of fascinating books, which, due to our unique, multicultural, dramatic history at the centre of Europe and its turmoils, would definitely be interesting to the British readers. I would be very curious to hear their feedback, as the critics and the readers here have a truly refined literary taste, and I feel that they would not be disappointed. On a personal and absolutely selfish note – I would be excited to find a suitable British publisher for my Silva Rerum series of novels.

 

What other Lithuanian writer would you recommend? (And can you think of a UK writer to compare to?)

To start with, I could recommend three world-class novels from the Lithuanian literary canon. The Issa Valley (1955) by Czesław Miłosz, the Lithuanian-born Nobelist, is pure poetry in prose and captures the very soul of the country and its difficult history at the beginning of the 20th century. The Forest of Gods (1945) by Balys Sruoga is another masterpiece, an authentic author's memoir from Stutthof concentration camp. It is a triumph of a free human spirit and black humour. Had it not been banned (and later censored) by the Soviets for several decades after the war, it would definitely have taken its place among the world classics. Vilnius' Poker (1989) by Ričardas Gavelis has been described by international critics as 'Dostoevsky, Orwell, Kafka, Kundera and Bukowski in one'. It is the most authentic, rebellious and ruthless vivisection of the homo sovieticus mentality as well as a violent manifestation of liberty. I recommend these three writers precisely for the reason that they are absolutely unique and there is nothing similar to them (or the experiences they describe) in British literature. 

 

Regardless of country of origin, what's the greatest book you've ever read, and why? (If there is one!)

As a culture historian I must say that the two greatest books are the Bible and the corpus of Greek myths – those two texts are the keys to de-code our whole Western civilisation; its texts, images, its sensitivity and its way of thinking. This is what a Lithuanian shares with a Brit as a common heritage, that is what guides us both at drawing the line between good and the evil; reading the same pages we meet to believe, to repent, to fight our phobias, to seek our ethical and aesthetic ideals. My personal 'the greatest books' list changes with passing years and stages of maturity, but for the last decade I tend to prefer literary fiction written by academics, as there is always so much more to it than just excellent storytelling.

 

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Tell us about your writing and your literary background. What inspired you to become a writer?

When I’m asked how I became a writer, I usually tell one of two stories. The first one goes like this: I was already 35 years old and was therefore sad for not doing anything with my life felt like I wasn’t doing anything with my life. Everyone believed in me so much… My professors, my grandma, everyone. I asked myself who I was. “A writer,” I answered. And what have I written so far? “Nothing” was the reply. The worst thing about that is it was that not only had I not written anything, I haven’t hadn’t really read anything either. So I read A Hundred Zen Stories and wrote my first book Strekaza [Dragonfly].

The second story is wholly different: I was 35 years old, watching the a French absurd comedy, Cold Breakfast. At the beginning of the film Gerard Depardieu is sitting inside an empty airport at the beginning of the film, when suddenly Bernard Blier, an actor not really known in Britain, takes a seat next to him. Depardieu glances at Blier and blurbs “I don’t like you”. Blier states: “You’re wrong”. This was the perfect moment made me to realise I was a writer.

Which of these stories is more truthful?, I couldn’t possibly say.

After that, I wrote six books in 15 years. The better ones are about the following:
About several Catholic monks of different catholic confessions trying to convert three Chinese emperors.
About the way all these confessions dealt with China’s culture that’s, which is no less complex than the Christianity one. (Fishes and Dragons)
About the difficulty of preserving something that’s about to collapse, especially if that something is a remote branch of the Teutonic Order.
About the fact that saving it might result in the destruction of the surrounding world. (Blue Blood)

The worse ones focus on what’s important or interesting to me, tackling the processes in people’s minds which they’d like to keep to themselves rather than talk openly about it.

What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?

This path doesn’t have easy parts; just the difficult ones.

What’s exciting about Estonian / Latvian / Lithuanian literature at the moment?

The fact that it exists.

The Market Focus programme is an opportunity to work internationally and make connections with readers and writers from overseas. What interests and excites you most about this?

I’m mostly curious to see the cultural differences between foreign writers and British readers.

What other Estonian / Latvian / Lithuanian writer would you recommend? (And can you think of a UK writer to compare to?)

I tend to read books on neurology instead of fiction, hence the lack of recommendations. Well, I could suggest one Lithuanian writer – Balys Sruoga and his book Dievų miškas ([Forest of Gods)]. I won’t compare him to anyone since that would be an insult to the author. And there’s probably no chance that Brits also have a writer who spent several years in a German concentration camp and still kept his sense of humour.

Regardless of country of origin, what's the greatest book you've ever read, and why? (If there is one!)

Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot and Crime and Punishment.
Because the tension holds your breath.
Because you rush through these books even when there’s nothing happening nothing happens for 20 pages.
Because you can read these works of art many times despite our lives having a limited number of hours.
Because no one could make you read any other 650-page-long book, not even if they’d swear to marry you.
Because these books don’t age. And because I do.

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Tell us about your writing and your literary background. What inspired you to become a writer?

I started writing when I was 25, after graduating from university. The turning point for me as young author was my friendship with Latvian writer and translator Dzintars Sodums. He was exiled in America and spent almost all of his life translating James Joyce’s Ulysses into Latvian. Sodums became my real teacher in literature, he introduced me to British and American literature and he was the first critic of my literary works. In the final years of his life, he returned to Latvia after 60 years of exile, and I took care of him in my house in Ikšķile.


What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?

The hardest part is to distance yourself from your work, to continue life normally after being in the depth of emotions and passions of writing and language.


What is exciting about Estonian / Latvian / Lithuanian literature at the moment?

All three can offer a new path into world literature. These three countries have had a very complicated and common history. Our languages are very poetic and special and we have a rich storytelling tradition in folk song, fairy tales and legends. Latvia endured Soviet occupation and became one of the fastest developing countries in Europe. Our prose and poetry can stand side-by-side with the highest examples of contemporary world literature, and as small nations, we care not only about our own languages and literature, but are curious to learn about others.


The Market Focus programme is an opportunity to work internationally and make connections with readers and writers form overseas. What interests and excites you most about this?

The perception of our literature from other countries, and in other languages. Experiences that differ and those which are common. The special nuances of language. Stories of history that we can tell as witnesses.


What other Estonian / Latvian / Lithuanian writer would you recommend? (And can you think of a UK writer to compare them to?)

I would recommend Latvian prose writer Regina Ezera, she wrote her biggest novel titled Zemdegas (Smoulder) during the Soviet occupation, the same year Toni Morrison wrote Song of Solomon. Of course they did not know about each other's existence, but I feel these novels can be compared in many ways.


Regardless of country of origin, what’s the greatest book you’ve ever read, and why? (If there is one!)

Maybe it sounds bizarre, but for me it would be Dzintars Sodums’ Latvian translation of Ulysses. Sodums’ translation of this book opened new path for the Latvian language. When I was a student I even tried to make a handwritten copy of this book in the library.


Can you describe to us what writing Soviet Milk was like?

Soviet Milk is the most personal of all of my books. The writing process was very difficult and the time after the book came out even more so. When you touch upon such topics as life and death they don’t leave you. We have a saying in Latvian: “big ships make big waves.”


What do you, as an established and revered author, feel is your responsibility to the next generation of writers? Do you think we should initiate them into literature or leave them be?

Leave them be. Help if they ask. Do not push them to read or write. For me, after more than twenty years of writing, the best moments are those when I see the story and just let it go away. Life is more than literature.

 

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Tell us about your writing and your literary background. What inspired you to become a writer?

It all started when I realised that all books are written by somebody. That they were not just something that EXISTED the same way the birds exist or breakfast appeared on the table each morning, but rather something that was invented by SOMEONE, a real person. I was astonished. That image of “someone” inspired me – it was then I realised that if SOMEONE can write a book, I can write one too. I was a child then and I was not intimidated by the photos of the writers on the book back covers – they were all “old people”, adults.

The second thing that inspired me to write was boredom. I am truly grateful that such thing exists, because without boredom there would be no art in the world. Or, at least, parts of it wouldn’t exist. When you are bored, you have to find creative ways to get out of this state of mind. I found storytelling the best way to kill time – each time I was told to do a really dreary duty at home, for example, to hoe a cabbage field, a story popped up in my mind and took me somewhere else instead of a field of cabbage. You see, it was easy to become a writer, but it takes a lot of courage to remain one. What inspires me now are children that claim they do not read books, especially boys that tell me they absolutely HATE reading – it makes me want to write something they couldn’t wait to get their hands on.


What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?

One of the difficulties I face is that living life (going out, seeing friends, do the grocery shopping) takes away time that could be spent writing. And another difficulty is that writing takes away time that could be spent living. The most difficult thing is not to get carried away too much by the writing or the living, and still enjoy both. The easiest part is to get carried away by the writing and really, really enjoy it.


What is exciting about Latvian literature at the moment?

What is exciting about Latvian children’s literature are the talented illustrators with their own unique style, their ability to tell stories with their art and the freedom they are given by the publishers to express themselves. Personally I am happy that children’s books now sit comfortably next to books for adults and are not considered “less important”, on the contrary – raise a lot of attention.


The Market Focus programme is an opportunity to work internationally and make connections with readers and writers from overseas. What interests and excites you most about this?

A writer’s duty is to write. The best I can do is seek opportunities to get inspired by the people I will meet, come home and get back to work on a new story. That would be the best outcome. I have a feeling that children all across the borders are all the same and it will be my pleasure to connect to the things we all have in common.


What other Estonian / Latvian / Lithuanian writer would you recommend? (And can you think of a UK writer to compare them to?)

I would recommend Estonian writer Andrus Kivirahk with his humorous, absurd, but sensitive stories for children. He has the ability to sparkle magic and fun even into inanimate nature. I would also recommend Latvian poet Kārlis Vērdiņš and his poems for school-aged children. He talks about sore issues with comforting lightness and ease which reassures the readers that, even though the whole world collapses around them, it is worth a try to squeeze out a little smile about it.


Regardless of country of origin, what’s the greatest book you’ve ever read, and why? (If there is one!)

This would depend on what day of the week or time of the day it is, but there is a certain book by Astrid Lindgren that I can always tailor to my mood. Sometimes it’s The Brothers Lionheart when I’m melancholic, sometimes Pippi Longstocking when I want to break some rules. In my opinion, Astrid Lindgren is the best children’s writer that has ever lived.


How do books for children differ from books meant for adults?

Not much, they are just smaller books with a bigger weight of responsibility to their readers. Other than that, I don’t see much difference.


The events of your book Dog Town take place in the infamous Moscow District of Riga. Why is this location so special to you?

I wanted to write a story about a place that was doomed to failure, a place where no one expects good things to come out of. Maskatchka – the locally famed nickname for the Moscow District – is that raw, itchy bit on the skin of the city. Every city has one of those and every city tries to get rid of it. What I wanted to show is how full of life these places are, to depict the intensity of life for people living there – people who can both hate and love you. The pack of stray dogs from my story is real, the characters have their own, existing prototypes, Maskatchka is 100% real – not only in Riga, but certainly everywhere – and the struggle that not only the children, but also the issues their dads are experiencing in the story is definitely real in other parts of the city too. We are all the same. Sometimes it takes a talking dog (or a whole pack of them) to teach us compassion.

 

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British Council Nature Writing Seminar, Munich & Nantesbuch Stiftung, 7 – 9 June 2018

 

The British Council Nature Writing Seminar 2018: https://www.britishcouncil.de/uk-germany-2018/nature-writing-literaturseminar will bring together six contemporary British writers over three days in June for readings, discussions and workshops. The seminar offers academics, students, publishers, translators, journalists and literature lovers the chance to hear the latest nature writing from the UK and engage with the writers and their work first hand...

We are delighted that the renowned writer Robert Macfarlane will chair the seminar, which will also feature other eminent and exciting British writers: Nancy Campbell, Horatio Clare, Sarah Hall, Helen MacDonald and Helen Mort. The writers will read from recent works, discuss characteristics of nature writing and explore recent trends of the genre in the UK. The seminar aims to open out and diversify our sense of what 'nature writing' might be, to challenge and fracture the term itself, while remaining alert to its powers and possibilities, and to the historical existence of a tradition.

The seminar will take place in partnership with the Literaturhaus München and the Nantesbuch Stiftung, and happen in the context of the British Council’s UK/Germany2018 season. It starts in the evening of Thursday, 7 June, at Literaturhaus München and finishes in the evening of Saturday, 9 June, at Nantesbuch Stiftung. Bus transfer from Munich to Nantesbuch Stiftung and back will be provided.

Seminar fee: €100 (reduced €50). Participants will be responsible for the costs and booking of their own travel to and accommodation in Munich.

If you are interested in attending, please register here: https://www.eventsforce.net/britishcouncil/1436/register

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