Virtual Book Festival: Final event, Farewell and Thank You #VirtBookFest #books #writing #reading @edbookfest @NayrouzQarmout @commapress

Thank you!  And one last mini-event …

Before closing the festival, I thought I’d like to add a mini-event of my own here by way of highlighting the positive motivation (as opposed to the frustrated ranting) behind doing the festival in the first place. And that was the importance of books and book festivals in giving voice to those who might not otherwise be heard.

I wrote in an earlier festival event post here about how the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) had restored a bit of my faith in traditional mainstream book festivals when it announced its 2019 programme.  Yes, it had its fair share of celebs, TV stars and way too many politicians but it also had actual authors of actual books. BUT as well as all that it gave a platform to some authors and issues that would normally struggle to get an airing.

Refugee and Migrant Voices

And one such author was Palestinian writer, Nayrouz Qarmout, who I wrote about seeing at last year’s EIBF here and who was invited back this year. So, having enjoyed listening to her last year, I went back to see her again.

Now, if you know me or my books at all, you’ll know that the situation in Israel-Palestine is one that’s close to my heart. It’s a part of the world I’ve visited several times, it’s where one of my dearest friends lives and I deliberately chose to highlight the situation there as part of Rachel’s story in my three part Skye-Israel series of three novels (two published and part three due out at the end of 2019. You might well be wondering what can possibly connect these two locations – but you’ll have to read the books to find that out J

But one of my aims in choosing that setting was to let my readers know in a non-preachy, non-confrontational, story-telling way the problems that are faced by the Palestinian people as they try to get on with their lives as refugees in their own land. And main character, Rachel, sympathises with their plight, not least because she is the daughter of a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany who arrived in Scotland as part of the Kindertransport.

This year’s EIBF event was called Home for Migrants and Refugees. It was hosted by Scottish crime writer Val McDermid and it featured Scottish novelist Ali Smith and Scottish folk musician Karine Polwart as well as Nayrouz Qarmout.

Karine Polwart opened proceedings by singing her song Maybe There’s a Road which she said had been inspired after a raid on a house near to where she lived which was being used by sex-traffickers. The lyrics of the song depict a victim of the trafficking longing for a way out of their situation.

Ali Smith spoke about a project she is patron of called Refugee Tales which amongst other things partners writers and refugees in order to record in writing the refugees stories. These stories have now been published in three volumes also called Refugee Tales. On hearing a sample of these stories, I know I wasn’t the only one with tears in my eyes. And having got the first of the books, I can recommend them as truly humbling reads.

You can find the Refugee Tales website here

And you can buy the book here

Nayrouz Qarmout, as she did last year, spoke movingly about her life in Gaza, the Palestinian territory in Israel which she described as the world’s largest prison. But she also spoke about her writing, about the telling of her story, of her Palestinian identity and about what home means to her. And she told us about her beautiful book, The Sea Cloak, which I can also highly recommend.

You can buy the book here. And you can read about the book’s awesome publisher Comma Press here.

The event finished with Karine Polwart singing Suitcase – a song inspired by an elderly gentleman she knew who had been a  Kindertransport refugee and who even into old age kept a suitcase packed in case he ever had to flee again.

This was a wonderful, moving and thought-provoking event and a fine example of a book festival that truly values the power of the written word.

And so that’s it …

The last event has taken place and we come to the end of the two month – 25 event-  virtual book festival here on Put It In Writing.

Creating the festival wasn’t something I’d planned on doing. It arose out of a bit of a rant I had here after despairing about the line-ups at various real world book festivals where books and authors were in short supply compared to politicians, celebs and soap stars – not all of whom had even written a book. Following my rant the wee voice in my head dared me to try to do better. So with no budget and a garden that’s too small for a marquee, I had the idea to run a virtual festival – no costs, no queues for the book tent, and no carbon footprint for visitors and contributors from far away.

In my (not so humble) opinion, it’s been a success and I’ve loved organising and hosting all the events.

The authors, book bloggers and other book professionals who agreed to appear at the festival have all been a joy to work with and I appreciate all the hard work and effort they put in perfecting their wonderful contributions and getting them to me on time.

And to all of you have visited, commented, and shared the events on social media – THANK YOU SO MUCH – the level of engagement from you all has been amazing and has made all the hard work worthwhile.

And I hope you agree that I met my aim of making it all about BOOKS.

The blog is now going on a bit of a break for a couple of months. I hope to see you back here in November.

 

Virtual Book Festival: Spreading the Word and Giving Voice: The Power of a Good Book Festival #VirtBookFest @NayrouzQarmout @valmcdermid @iamkp @edbookfest

The integrity and courage of the Edinburgh International Book Festival

I reckoned it might be a good idea for me to do an event of my own here at the Virtual Book Festival. And I also reckoned it would be good to base my post on why I was inspired to organise this festival in the first place. But over and above that I also wanted to highlight a real world book festival that continues to get it right and achieve great book-related things.

Book festivals should be about books

I was prompted to run my own virtual book festival here at Put it in Writing after being very disappointed by the line up at a local book festival this year – a festival that has in the past had an appealing line up of authors, but that now seems to have lost sight of what I see as a book festival’s purpose i.e. to be about books. This local festival had no authors of genre fiction (apart from a couple of children’s authors) on the programme which was made up primarily of television stars, presenters and other celebrities, several of whom hadn’t even written a book.

So I must say I had a bit of trouble getting my head round a book festival that wasn’t mainly about books and didn’t seem to want to attract book readers to attend. Hence my attempt to do better on the blog.

However, I’m happy to say my faith in the book festivals of the real world was restored when I saw the programme for this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival which will be taking place as usual in August. Yes, it has its fair share of famous names and and literary big-hitters and that’s understandable, but it also (despite some criticism) has genre fiction writers too. It offers writing masterclasses for aspiring writers, and it has smaller events with lesser-known authors too. It even has some events where those attending are asked to pay what they can afford rather than a set ticket price.

In other words it’s about BOOKS, WRITERS and READERS coming together, and it hasn’t lost sight of the fact that books and the power of the written word should be at its heart.

And by way of illustrating this fact I thought I’d recap on an event I attended last year especially as one of the authors from that event is back again this year and I have my ticket for her event already.

2018 Edinburgh International Book Festival Event

Nayrouz Qarmout is a young Palestinian writer from *Gaza. Her original event at last year’s festival had to be cancelled after the UK Home Office refused her the visa she needed in order to attend. After the ensuing outcry a visa was eventually granted and a new event was hastily organised.

It speaks volumes that the new event, although announced only two days before it was due to happen, was a sell out. The aim of the event was to give often otherwise unheard writers a voice and it was chaired by writer, Kamila Shamsie.

Besides Nayrouz Qarmout there were two other female writers taking part.

One was Brazilian philosopher and writer, Djamila Ribereiro, who said that one of her aims as a writer was to normalise not exoticise ‘the other’ and she shared with us how at the airport in Brazil on her way to Edinburgh she was spoken to in English – as it was assumed a black Brazilian woman couldn’t possibly be travelling abroad.

And the other was Hsaio Hung Pai a Taiwanese journalist who works on the Guardian newspaper and has written about the difficulties faced by migrant workers to the UK.

Both of the other writers were impressive but it was Nayrouz who left a lasting impression on me. She told us she was a writer had so far had only one short story about life in the Gaza strip published in a 2014 anthology called the Book of Gaza and that she was working on a book of short stories – The Sea Cloak & Other Stories due to be published in 2019. Yet here she was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

She told us she’d been born in a Syria to Palestinian refugee parents, but then as part of the Oslo Israeli-Palestine Peace Agreement in 1994 her family were sent ‘back’ to Gaza. She hadn’t been allowed to leave since. She spoke of her battle to get to Edinburgh, of the weeks it took to get a passport, then permission to travel, then eventually setting off, crossing into Egypt where she spent a horrendous night before getting to Cairo for her flight to the UK.

Nayrouz spoke with grace, humility and humour. She said she had no intention of seeking asylum – she has had enough of being a refugee. She said she was in Edinburgh to share her story – although this didn’t prove enough of a reason to meet the terms of a UK visitor’s visa. She spoke realistically about Gaza but described it as home. She didn’t get into the challenges posed by Gaza’s fractious and sometimes deadly relationship with Israel other than to highlight the practical difficulties that result for daily life.  She acknowledged the peace movement in Palestine is conflicted with the two religious/political sides of Hamas and Fatah. But she made a point of adding that most people there are, as elsewhere, ordinary people. They’re neither peace activists nor terrorists as they’re so often portrayed in the media. Most people just want to live their lives in a place they call home – as we all do.

It was both a humbling and impressive experience to listen to this writer. I also regard it as a privilege to have been able to there.

2019 Event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

So, I was happy to see that this year Nayrouz Qarmout will be back to speak at a book festival event on 12th August this year. She will be taking part along with fellow writers in a discussion of personal stories relating to the experiences of migrants and refugees – something she also writes about in her new book.

Not only that but the other writers at the event are two  of my favourite authors – Val McDermid and Ali Smith – and they’ll be joined by one of my favourite musicians, Karine Polwart as well. Safe to say, I wasted no time in getting my ticket.

Here’s what it says in the festival programme about the event:

HOME FOR MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES?

‘Hordes’, ‘swarms’ and ‘invasion’ – words used in recent headlines to dehumanise migrants. Guest Selector Val McDermid explores stories of individuals and families who’ve faced the decision to leave their homeland. Nayrouz Qarmout talks of her birth in a Damascus refugee camp and her subsequent move to Gaza; Ali Smith discusses those she encountered in her work on the Refugee Tales project; and singer-songwriter Karine Polwart shares some of her powerful, deeply-felt music and ideas about the migrant experience.

 (Click here to go to the event page on Edinburgh Book Festival website).

THANK YOU!

So, thank you Edinburgh International Book Festival – for having the integrity and the courage to go for an event like this, for keeping the power of the written word and of books at the heart of what you do and for bringing writers like Nayrouz Qarmout to the attention of your book-loving audience.

 

More about Nayrouz and her writing from her publisher, Comma Press’s, website:

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian writer and activist. Born in Damascus in 1984, as a Palestinian refugee, she returned to the Gaza Strip, as part of the 1994 Israeli-Palestinian Peace Agreement, where she now lives. She graduated from al-Azhar University in Gaza with a degree in Economics. She currently works in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, raising awareness of gender issues and promoting the political and economic role of women in policy and law, as well as the defence of women from abuse, and highlighting the role of women’s issues in the media. Her political, social and literary articles have appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines, and online. She has also written screenplays for several short films dealing with women’s rights. She is a social activist and a member of several youth initiatives, campaigning for social change in Palestine.

PUBLICATIONS BY NAYROUZ QARMOUT

The Sea Cloak – To be published on 22 August 2019 

A collection of stories from an exciting female Palestinian writer, translated from Arabic into English for the first time. The Sea Cloak is a collection of 14 stories by the author, journalist, and women’s rights campaigner, Nayrouz Qarmout. Drawing from her own experiences growing up in a Syrian refugee camp, as well as her current life in Gaza, these stories stitch together a patchwork of different perspectives into what it means to be a woman in Palestine today.

Whether following the daily struggles of orphaned children fighting to survive in the rubble of recent bombardments, or mapping the complex, cultural tensions between different generations of refugees in wider Gazan society, these stories offer rare insights into one of the most talked about, but least understood cities in the Middle East. Taken together, the collection affords us a local perspective on a global story, and it does so thanks to a cast of (predominantly female) characters whose vantage point is rooted, firmly, in that most cherished of things, the home.

 

ANTHOLOGY FEATURING NAYROUZ QARMOUT

The Book of Gaza

This anthology brings together some of the pioneers of the Gazan short story from that era, as well as younger exponents of the form, with ten stories that offer glimpses of life in the Strip that go beyond the global media headlines.

 

*Gaza is a self-governing territory of the Palestinian state. It is bordered by Egypt and Israel and life there is far from easy and has many restrictions. To find out more see Wikipedia here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaza_Strip

 

And Finally:

Do you agree that book festivals should be about books, readers and writers? Which book festivals do you enjoy and why? Please feel free to leave comments below.