Monday, 19 September 2011

Village People

So much happens in and around the Congress floor it’s impossible to capture it all in a short blog such as this.  One Brazilian delegate stopped me in the corridor and handed me a biography of a Scots-born woman called Maria or Mary Dundas.  Her first husband was a Scottish sailor / spy called Thomas Graham and her second seemed to be the first king of Brazil following its independence from Portugal around  1810 (or maybe she was his mistress, this was all pretty difficult to follow).  I have to admit I’d never heard of her before but it sounds like a remarkable story, so any of our members who reads Portuguese please get in touch and the book is yours – so long as you tell me what happened!

A conversation with a Dutch delegate about child abuse in the Catholic church led to our exchanging short stories we had each written on the subject.  Fortunately Manon Uphoff’s story was beautifully translated into English so I could enjoy the tight, dark prose and strange, blank story, disturbing undertones notwithstanding.  It is times like this my linguistic limitations – i.e. an ‘O’ grade German from thirty years ago – make me feel more than a little ashamed.  Most here write and speak so fluently in English, and while I appreciate the incentive is greater when your native tongue in not the lingua franca of the world, I can’t help feeling the mind-expanding benefits of learning another language are lost to so much of our population that we are in many ways poorer for it.

These encounters illustrate one of the many things PEN International Congress is: the Global Village at its annual storytellers’ fete.  Writers from all four corners coming together to debate, discuss, exchange and argue, to play, talk, think and just enjoy each other’s stories.  We all come away opened up to broader horizons and new ways of looking at the world, usually leaving the host city a little enriched for the experience.

This year Scottish PEN indicated our interest in hosting this incredible gathering of the global village in Edinburgh, a world city of literature, and spiritual home to so many characters of worldwide renown: Clarinda, Ivanhoe, Sherlock Holmes, Dr Jekyll, Rent Boy, Rebus, Mme. Ramotswe, Harry Potter and many, many more.  Everyone we spoke to expressed enthusiasm for the idea, and we were overwhelmed with kind words for Edinburgh, Scotland, Scottish history and Scottish literature. 

So, in 2014 or 2015, we want to bring the global village to our home, invite them to sit around our fire to drink and sing and argue and tell wonderful stories of life past, present and future. It will be a huge undertaking, but we can do it.  We should do it.  More than that – we owe it to ourselves.

Drew Campbell

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