Kikinda short story festival
Vanishing Polish girls
In 2008, authors Clare Wigfall (winner of the 2008 BBC National Short Story Award), Peter Hobbs and Paul Ewen were invited to Serbia by the organisers of the Kikinda Short Story Festival to read from their work and meet local writers.
They had a great time and they ate a lot of meat.
Once they had returned to the UK, the organisers asked them some questions about their experience. We are pleased to publish Clare's answers below.
What is your opinion about the idea and the organisation of the Kikinda Short Story Festival?
The Kikinda Short festival is one of the most fun literary festivals I've had the pleasure to attend. The festival had an amazing vibrancy and energy, perhaps because the majority of the authors are from the younger generation of writers, but also I believe because it treats literature like a living, breathing thing, not something that should be put up on a pedestal. I'm thinking, for example, about the ‘Buy an Author a Beer’ afternoon, which was a great idea. There was also a wonderful blackly comic and crazy element to the organisation of the festival (the vanishing Polish girls, the miniature minibus we all had to fit in, the threatened thunderstorms that almost called the whole thing off, the Turbo-folk band in the Kikinda pub, the MAMMOTH...), we never knew quite what to expect, but that was all part of the fun.
Did any of the other participants' stories appeal to you the most?
It was fascinating to hear all of the other participants' stories, I think especially for us British authors because unfortunately so little translated literature is published in the UK, so we get very little exposure to the writing of other European nations. While the stories highlighted how very different our life experiences have been, spending time with the other young authors also showed us how much we share in common. That was really exciting.
What are your impressions of Kikinda and Serbia?
The festival gave me a great impression of Kikinda and Serbia, and also of the warmth of the Serbian people, but I don't think I've ever eaten so much meat in my life! Serbians certainly like their meat. Good thing none of us were vegetarians! Kikinda was truly a charming town. The ancient mammoth was definitely something I’ll never forget, and I thought the hotel was also amazing – it should be preserved by the World Heritage Organisation as an example of communist decadent architecture.
I hope that our British contingent also managed dispel a few myths about British people. One Serbian student I was chatting with over a beer told me that he was really surprised we were all friendly and down-to-earth as he had thought us British writers would be 'snobs who would think themselves better than everyone else' – I think that's why intercultural festivals such as Kikinda Short are so incredibly important as they help to improve social understanding.
How promising is writing short stories nowadays?
I'm very passionate about short stories – I love to write them and I love to read them. As a literary form, I think the short story is very special and unique. There's an intensity you can get in a short story which wouldn't be possible to sustain in a longer work. I think I also enjoy them because they can be very intellectually demanding and despite their brevity they can haunt you long after you’ve finished the last line. So it saddens me that so many readers and publishers are resistant to short stories. I don’t know why, really. I think they’re missing out. But it does make you aware that you’re creating something that will have only a limited readership, although knowing that doesn’t stop me writing short stories.
What do you think about the status of the short story genre in Serbia, especially in comparison with the situation on your country’s literary scene?
It struck me that there is less prejudice in Serbia to the short story form, and perhaps for that reason more younger writers interested in writing them. Certainly in Britain, it’s almost impossible to publish short stories if you’re a first-time writer, and therefore young short story writers are few and far between. I was impressed also by how large and enthused the audiences were, especially in Kikinda (in Belgrade we had the unfortunate luck of clashing with some important matches for the European Football Cup which understandably cut down our audiences!). It seemed to me that there were people from all walks of life – young and old – all of them keen to listen to the stories the authors were reading. The amount of media coverage the festival received was also notable – coverage both in the press and on national television. That was refreshing to see because in England I’m afraid a short story festival would be deemed of such limited interest it would be largely ignored by the media, which is a shame.
What are you working on these days?
I’m writing more stories. My editor at Faber would like me to do another collection and I’m happy to oblige. I also have some larger projects in mind – novels maybe, we’ll see. And I’ve just finished doing a children’s picture book which will be published next year – it’s about a chihuahua!