Category Archives: Creative & Knowledge Economy

Measuring the literature world: Being an author in 2012


“I hope writing won’t change through digital technology – that would be terrible,” said Daniel Kehlmann, sitting in the spotlight next to John Burnside on a blue couch in central Berlin.  

The best-selling author, who came to prominence with his 2005 book Measuring The World, said: “Digtial media is changing the way we relate to each other and the way we relate to literature.”   

Burnside, who published his first collection of poetry in 1988 and worked as a software engineer in the IT industry for ten years, pointed out that the idea of ‘multimedia’ had always been connected to creativity. “Most writers are multimedia people and we consume films, photos and books and other art. If we used digital media right, we could liberate creativeness in anyone.”

Daniel Kehlmann recently signed a petition to protect author’s copyright and said he believed that, in the digital age, authors and publishers should continue to get paid a fair share for their work. Burnside disagreed and said the copyright laws merely existed to protect the interest of the publishing industry, but were not necessarily of benefit to authors. He said: “Publishing houses are behind the ball in anything to do with digital media – the web is not just a sales tool but also a creative tool to engage people.”

The discussion moved on to immersive games and stories and plots in TV series. John Burnside said: “The Wire is art because it reminded people of Shakespeare in terms of the complexity of characters and plot. It looks like something we already know as art. New media needs to challenge our view of art and turn it into something new.”

Towards the end of the discussion, the Scottish writer talked a little about his recent work, writing in residence at the Literarisches Coloquium Berlin. He said: “I was walking around in Potsdam recently and there was a sign that said Ohne Sorge. For me the idea of Sorge was connected to Heidegger and I thought this is a really deep town!”

- This post picked up only a few points from the discussion. The full conversation will soon be available on our Youtube channel.

OSE Literature Seminar: Ahdaf Soueif in conversation with Robin Yassin-Kassab

During the seminar, Ahdaf Soueif has been chairing one to one session with all invited authors: I’ve already reported on her conversations with Inaam Kachachi and Jamal Mahjoub, and now you can read about her session with Robin Yassin-Kassab.

Robin Yassin-Kassab was born in west London in 1969 to a Syrian father and an English mother. With the exception of six months in Beirut, he grew up in England and Scotland. He graduated from Oxford University and travelled extensively. He has lived and worked in London, France, Pakistan, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Oman. Robin Yassin-Kassab taught English around the Arab world as well as in Turkey and worked as a journalist in Pakistan before moving to Oman. He has recently returned to live in Scotland with his family.
“My literary influences come from both East and West” sayd Yassin-Kassab, citing writers such as Saul Bellow, Naguib Mahfouz and Mahmoud Darwish. His first novel, The Road from Damascus, can be considered as a bildungsroman, “which can be natural for a first novel” says Soueif. “That wasn’t conscious,” says Yassin-Kassab, “I was writing about issues that were interesting me at the time.” He then goes on explaining that he has written three half novels: a Syrian, a Palestinian and an Iraqi. “This sounds like the beginning of a joke…” says Yassin-Kassab jokingly, “They all go into a bar…” Then he explains, more seriously, “I think about Syria at the moment. I’m not very good at plotting. And I don’t think like that, it’s about characters and ideas. I’d like to write a well plotted novel, but can’t do it very well right now.”

Ahdaf Soueif in conversation with Robin Yassin-Kassab. Photo by Stephan Röhl.

When talking about plots and ideas, Yassin-Kassab explains his interest in the intersection of the personal and the political. “I was interested about why the Arab world became more religious in recent times, and I think it comes from disappointment. Before this there were ideas of socialism, pan arabism etc…”  “Well,” says Soueif “the big national ideas were not allowed to succeed. We now live with the results of it.” Yassin-Kassab adds that “We now need a story, a narrative, bigger than the individual.” He says about the “Road from Damascus” that “writing about London and Damascus, both cities have huge effect on me.” Robin Yassin-Kassab has lived in so many places but explains that not every place feeds in what one does. “I wrote [The Road from Damascus] when I was in Muscat. I might end up writing about Muscat one day. Some places capture my imagination more than others.

Soueif asks him “Why set your novel in pre 9-11?”
“Everything is building up to an explosion-and here’s one,” says Yassin-Kassab, “I’m not psycholising it, it was a clear political issue. In the novel, I was trying to show the complexities, pressures, frustrations, and a space ready for conflict, and then BAM! it happens. This [pre 9-11] was a period when you had more choices on how you could identify yourself. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Maybe it has to do with my childhood, the idea of being rooted interests me but it stopped bothering me. I’ve constantly been moving. I wasn’t consciously examining myself when writing.”

Though not directly autobiographical in The Road From Damascus he and his protagonist, Sami, have been on journeys that share parallels. Robin Yassin-Kassab is currently working on his second novel. He is also a co-editor and regular contributor to PULSE, recently listed by Le Monde Diplomatique as one of its five favourite websites.

“Our Shared Europe” – Literature Seminar: “Faultlines, Fictions and Futures”

From 12 to 14 November 2010, I – Canan Marasligil, project manager Benelux region (British Council), will have the privilege to attend the Our Shared Europe Literature seminar and blog here about the sessions throughout the weekend.

The “Our Shared Europe” literature seminar is the British Council’s first event specifically aimed at exploring Muslim European interaction through contemporary literature, as part of the wider project of the same name. Adopting the well-established concept and format of the “Walberberg Seminar on Contemporary Literature from the UK”, colleagues from the British Council Berlin office have organised this exciting three-days seminar entitled “Faultlines, Fictions and Futures”. Chaired by writer Ahdaf Soueif and gathering writers Inaam Kachachi, Jamal Mahjoub and Robin Yassin-Kassab, the seminar will explore the writers’ work, their people, their times and their hometowns, and give the opportunity to a wide range of participants coming from the UK, Germany, Malta, the Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia, Portugal, Turkey, France, Greece and Belgium, to interact and share ideas.

Watch this space and twitter accounts @BCbrussels and @ayserin to follow the seminar activities.


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