Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Arriving in Malatya via the London Book Fair

I am writing this about 20:15 local time in the Hilton at Malatya. It has been a long two days.

Yesterday, Tuesday, I woke very early about 4:45am, and stayed awake knowing I'd have to catch the 8:16 from Wymondham to Olympia via Stratford, and then, after the London Book Fair, scuttle off to Heathrow. This actually entailed two separate trips. I won't go into detail but getting to Olympia involves a change at Shepherds Bush where the right trains are infrequent. I had to be there before 12:30 since I was doing a spot with the Mexican writer, Mauricio Montiel, known on Twitter as El Hombre de Tweed, and the English poet James Knight, also known as The Bird King and @badbadpoet.

Bird King, Hombre de Tweed and a character calling himself George Szirtes

I had never met either before but we had been in plenty of correspondence via Twitter, reading each other's work. This being Mexico's year at the London Book Fair, Mauricio was able to invite both James and I for a 45 minute reading and conversation at Author HQ, a very well attended spot in the ordered chaos that is LBF. My problem is that I was dragging my trolley fwith clothes and other stuff for the Turkey conference as well as wearing a raincoat as an in-case over the next four or five days. Controlling the trolley was like having a big red dog at one's heels, not easy to steer through great crowds.

Neither man looked exactly as I had imagined he would though elegant Mauricio was within in my imagined spectrum. I thought James would be more freaky, wild-haired or shorn-headed, an ear and nose-rings type but he was a tall, handsome young gentleman of impeccable politeness. He had kept his real identity quite separate from his Twitter persona or poet mask, as had Mauricio, the Man of Tweed (appropriately wearing a tweed jacket). Mauricio, it turned out, had already composed a novel of some 400pp in the Tweed voice and character, a novel that might stretch to as much as 650pp, entirely in Tweets. Mauricio'svery sweet friend Ana who worked with Book Fairs was with him too.

Our event came. We read and talked and answered questions from a large audience. The most interesting question came from our chair, Julio, who asked how far the internet, and in particular Twitter, had changed the way we - and people generally - think. That is a very big subject but we had a brief shot at it. I might write more about that later.

In the audience, poet Clarissa Aykyord and, on the way out, poet and writer Richard Gwyn whom I had first met in India. But there was time only for a few words as everyone was caught up in business and crowds.

Afterwards we went for a late lunch somewhere nearby (as Mauricio's guests) and continued a conversation that could have gone on far longer. I suspect it will.


This is dully written stuff just recording what happened. What happened next was the trains to Heathrow, hours of waiting at the airport for the 22:30 flight, writing a little in the main lounge, then the three and a half hour flight on a very comfortable modern plane the only difficulty being that they served an evening meal about midnight. Landing at Istanbul I had to transfer to an nternal flight, which was another hour and more of waiting with a distinctly non-international group of passengers in headscarves and fur caps, very old women in versions of village wear, men with not quite tidy  cultivated stubble, then onto a smaller but perfectly comfortable plane to Malatya.

By this time I had been up about 22 hours so was feeling the lack of sleep. I and others were at met at the arrivals lounge and driven quite a long way to the hotel. That was about 8 local time. The idea was that we would be rushed straight to the conference but I was exhausted and asked to have an hour or two to lie down. After a little concern that I would miss the first keynote lecture by the translator Ian Galbraith (I did in fact miss it), it was agreed that I should rest because it was perfectly obvious how exhausted I was by just looking at me.

So Berkan Ulu, the kindly writer who had invited me, called for me at the hotel at 12:30 and drove me to the university, which is where the account of the conference will begin in the next post.

What did I see of Malatya? Broad highways in hazy sun, much building-in-progress, little sign of inner city life. It was like the outskirts of Erbil in Northern Iraq or of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Raw, expanding, rural and only just urban. Malatya is a big apricot growing region and a major army base but I saw neither apricots nor military, only miles of highway and unfinished construction. Something sandy about the light too.

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