Review: The 10th European Festival of the First Novel

11.07.2012 |

Weatherproof guests, debating authors and a relaxed atmosphere - The European Festival of the First Novel celebrated a successfull 10th anniversary in Kiel/ Northern Germany from 10 to 13 May 2012.

For the tenth time in a row the Literaturhaus Schleswig-Holstein and the Institut Français / Centre Culturel de Kiel convened representatives of new European prose in Kiel and find themselves highly satisfied after this anniversary year's realization. From May 10th to May 13th 2012, eleven authors and their publishing houses' representatives ended up debating intensely on the introduced literary debuts, on different options of promotion and sponsorship as well as on writing and publishing itself.
Once more the success stated clear:  This project offers a unique opportunity for authors, publishers, and literature enthusiasts to loose themselves in Europe's new narrating voices.

A cheerful opening against all wet and windy weather odds

Kiel, Thursday night: Heavy cloudbursts with squalls and a thunderbolt. The weather god seemed to send his personal birthday gift to the opening Lesefest of the 10th festival, whose relaxed atmosphere proved to be resistant to the adverse circumstances. About 150 guests gathered either inside the house or in the transmitting tent. Protected from Kiel's famous weather scenery they could follow the reading within a perfect festival atmosphere. The thunderbolt played its own part in the setting and accentuated the historically or emotionally dramatic passages. At that time, six of the eleven authors had already taken the chance to test their novel's impact on Kiel's audience. In the afternoon they visited philological seminars at the university to talk with the students about their novels in the original language.

Enriching discussions during the conference

Personal experiences, shared difficulties, individual creative processes, and questions eager for knowledge have been exchanged among the festival's participants and further conference guests during the following three days. Within this intimate setting, they talked honestly and passionate about the genesis, reception and motivation of the novels. In workshops and during breaks they compared their experiences as writers and editors with those of the other participants from abroad. They deliberated on challenging cases, learned about local particularities of different literary markets, and discussed their understanding of terms as literature and writing as a profession. After those days, the participants did not only take along many new novels but also enriching suggestions and not yet answered questions. "Thank you for the Festival and the inspiring discussions! I am still thinking about them", wrote Silja Hiidenheimo of the Finnish publishing house Teos.

Framework Program 2012: A door to Berlin and Europe

Procreative and connective has also been the anniversary's framework program of the festival. On Friday morning, cultural managers from 13 European countries worked together to achieve an overview on the status quo and future perspectives of multilateral European literature promotion. The discussion itself had been a small cooperation project between ARS BALTICA, the Literaturhaus Schleswig-Holstein, and the European network of literary centres HALMA. After the discussion, the network's members went on to Sylt to hold their annual meeting and came to important decisions concerning their future.

Meanwhile, the European Festival of the First novel put out its antennas to France and Hungary. During an open discussion round on the question "A debut novel – and what next?", which took place Friday night, promising connections to the debut novel festivals in Laval and Budapest have been established.

Subsequent to the days in Kiel, a door to Berlin has been opened for the authors and they had the grandiose chance to present their novels to a further audience. Another 250 guests poured into the representation of land Schleswig-Holstein in Berlin to listen to the multifaceted sound of the different literary voices. What a fulminant ending of this year’s festival!

Promising interim balance

The authors of 2012 can face their future careers as writers of good cheer. At least, if they look at the careers of former participants and novels of the festival. Alone 20 of the 65 presented novels from other countries have been translated into German – and many of them plus others into several other languages as well. Hopefully, the participants of this year will find a publishing house abroad for their novels – maybe even as quick as Damien Luce whose novel "Le chamrioleur" has been presented at last year's festival and will already be published in Germany this year.

All these results would not have been possible without the financial and logistic support of our contributors and promoters: the state of Schleswig-Holstein, the Bureau du livre of the French embassy, the Cultural Foundation of Schleswig-Holstein, the representation of land Schleswig-Holstein in Berlin and the agencies for literature of various partner countries.

After this exceedingly successful anniversary year we'd like to wish our participants all the best and hope to be able to welcome them for a reading of their translated novels in Kiel again, as we did with Gianrico Carofiglio and Gerbrand Bakker last month. In the end, we subscribe to the feedback of Ursula Timea Rossel, the Swiss author of 2012:

"It was great to meet you all. Even if there wasn't enough time to get to know everyone, I felt very strongly that we are working together on the same realistic-phantastic-utopian project: European Literature."

Lucas Dymny                                                                                   Dr. Wolfgang Sandfuchs
(Centre Culturel Français de Kiel)                                           (Literaturhaus Schleswig-Holstein e.V.)

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