Monday, 26 March 2012
Cardiff: Fiction Fiesta
A notion floating into a head – ‘What if . . .?’ – was what got the Free Verse poetry book fair of last September up and going (and there’ll be another this year). And, I guess, Peirene Press, which specialises in translating European novellas, and Any Other Stories, also strong on translation. These damn notions. (That seagull, above, at my hotel bedroom window on Saturday: out of the sky, found a foothold, and every time I shooed it off it came back.) Another one floated into the head of the Welsh writer Richard Gwyn, and the result was Fiction Fiesta, held this past weekend in Cardiff. What if you have a couple of Argentine writers over, mix in some writing colleagues and friends, add in Christopher MacLehouse and Boyd Tonkin, who have (I was going to write arguably, but scratch that) done more than anyone for literature in translation in the UK over the past decades, and gather them together? In a bar?
Andrés Neuman, whose most recent novel (Traveller of the Century, Pushkin Press, 584 pages) won Spain’s two top literary awards, is unstoppable (he’s also published three other novels, three books of short stories, several poetry collections, a book of aphorisms and a travel book, and he’s still only 35). Jorge Fondebrider: poet, editor, translator, and books on such matters as Argentines in Paris and werewolves in Western culture. Tiffany Atkinson’s reading of her poetry was, for me, electric; Philip Gross, Desmond Barry, Tristan Hughes and Zoë Skoulding also read. Amy Wack of Seren ran a mini-bookshop. Translation is an abstract noun and a vast, open-ended topic; on Sunday there was just the right number of individual experiences and angles to keep it, while suggestive of larger worlds, within bounds.
In the discussion of possible ways forward for next year, there was both a keenness to develop new events and anxiety about the festival becoming too large. Part of the joy of Sunday was that there was no clear distinction between speakers and audiences, between voices from the front and voices from the back. Even though many of us had never previously met, by the end of the day it felt like a class reunion.