|Festival organisers Katarina Brajdić & Roman Simić|
|Nama dept store|
|Tram on square by hotel|
We were welcomed, on Sunday, at a BBQ at a disused school on the outskirts of the city of Zagreb - there our hosts plied us with beer and wine, and lots of homemade food. I was on the tofu-courgette-pepper skewers. There was even an enormous strawberry 'n' cream cake. There was a football match (hosts vs guests) and I'm happy to say the guests won, due to the efforts of just-off-the-plane Dutch guest, Bas Pauw, who scored three goals. Go Bas!
|Volunteer Katja Knežević at Booksa|
|Volunteer Ella, leading our tour|
Monday morning we were brought on a walking tour by locals Ella and Josip, who volunteer at the festival. They walked us through the city and up into the old town, stopping along the way for ice-cream from Vinćek - I had a tiramisu one, delish! The old town is cobbled and peaceful with narrow streets and beautiful buildings. They brought us to the Museum of Broken Relationships which was fascinating, moving and funny. Afterwards, a gang of us trotted to Vegehop, a good value veggie restaurant, where we enjoyed great moussaka, salads, veggie burgers and strawberries.
On Monday evening we were back in Booksa to celebrate International Short Story Day with a varied panel talking about the writer and travel (a matter dear to most writers hearts.) James Hopkin from Manchester, Dilys Rose from Edinburgh and Dejan Tiago Stanković, were ably chaired by Jim Hinks (Comma Press) and Mima Simić. Jim spoke about lots of stories being about an encounter between two strangers and, when you think about it, many are.
Time was short as another event was to start at 7pm, so most of the time was given over to Dejan reading his story about an old Jewish man returning to Lisbon to search for the house his ancestors left. (Dejan lives in Portugal).
The events came thick and fast and the big reading that night took place on the other side of town in Studentski Centar. It included the well known Dutch author Cees Nooteboom and the German writer Clemens Meyer who read an extract from a wonderful story on burgeoning gay love.
|The Zagreb Mummy|
I had most of Tuesday free so took the opportunity to explore by myself. The beauty for me of being away is time alone, something I rarely get as I have three kids. So it was a real treat to whizz around Zagreb on the tram and walk in the sunshine and do as I pleased. I visited the Archaeological Museum to see the Zagreb Mummy - a tiny little woman with curled hair - fascinating and creepy.
I also visited the Cathedral on Kaptol (Croatia is a very Catholic country) and it was very beautiful. You see lots of nuns in rather old-fashioned habits around Zagreb. I saw one paring candles in the cathedral - very industrious. I went up through the old town from there and made my way to the Museum of Naive Art, which was adorable. I love naive art and Croatia has a strong history of it.
|Enjoying a drink in the sun in the old town|
|Writer Michelle Green on a Zagreb tram|
The story Michelle read on the night was set in Darfur. Next year Comma Press will bring out a collection of her stories, all set in Darfur where she worked some years ago. It was a wonderful, affecting story about the impact of HIV on two different people, set between Darfur and Canada. I can't wait to read her piece set on the tram in Zagreb.
|Mima Simić interviewing me before my reading|
I had my first reading that night, at Studentski Centar. I read with Jacinto Lucas Pires (Portugal), Dimitri Verhulst, Stanislav Habjan (Zagreb), Xabier Montoia (Basque Country), David Albahari (Serbia/Canada) and Neven Ušumović (Zagreb). All read wonderfully. I loved the variety of work, though most stories were pretty dark or uncomfortable - pure short story traits. I was interviewed by Roman and Mima (lots of fun and games over the pronunciation of my name) and I read 'Cri de Coeur' from the new book - a story about Assia Wevill, Ted Hughes's lover at the time of Sylvia's death. It went well.
OK, I have reached the end of my rope with writing this for the moment, so I am going to take a break and, hopefully, continue with it tomorrow. Meantime, you can check out writer James Hopkin's blog from the festival here on the Literature Across Frontiers site. Parts 1, 2 & 3 of his blog at least - more to follow once the Queen of England sends them all back to work tomorrow :)