My Sunday morning at the Nottingham Festival of Words was thought provoking and an eye opener to the diverse literary culture that exists in this multicultural city that, for the majority of the year, we students call home. I went to various events with emerging writers and established authors who have all faced challenges in getting published because of their content, their language and even their own race and heritage.
The ‘Asian Writers Book Launch’ was the first event I attended. Kavya Rang is a global association of poets and writers. Gathered in the room were the friends and families of recently published authors of Indian heritage. It was a very proud moment for them all as their works are written in Hindi, Urdu, Gujarati and Punjabi whilst living and working in the United Kingdom. These writers are working hard to preserve their culture in their new home. For many it is a hobby alongside their daily jobs in the medical profession but it is developing into something a lot bigger.
David Belbin, a University of Nottingham alumnus and author of the Bone and Cane crime fiction series spoke to local playwright Michael Eaton. The sometimes synonymous link between crime and Nottingham is explored in his novels. Interestingly, he called Nottingham ‘a character’ in his stories. He has been met with some criticism in the past from Nottingham councillors who believe that he should be more of a tourist PR for the city and not advertise crime, however he utilises Nottingham as real city with real issues to write about the politics and scandals.
David was really honest about the difficulties facing authors of young adult fiction. Publishers of this genre of fiction are scared of the controversial content. Topics like student-teacher relationship, which David writes about in his 2009 novel Love Lessons and is indeed a reality, has to be published responsibly. Young adult fiction is in a ‘boom period’ right now especially with the fantasy genre (Twilight, Hunger Games etc).
I also went to the keynote speaker, Bali Rai. Rai is a Leicester based author who has written young adult fiction and most famously (Un)arranged Marriage. Like David Belbin, Bali uses the city in his novels as a concept to explore the themes of identity in a multi-cultural society. Whilst the diversity in the cities is a reality for his young audiences, diversity in publishing is something that is lacking and this clearly frustrated Bali and surprised me.
It is a battle facing a lot of authors writing about different cultures and especially inner city life that exists in Britain today, because, it would seem, that publishers are scared. It frustrated him that his books are categorised in Waterstones as ‘Writing from Black and Asian Britain’ and under the syllabus heading, ‘Writing from other cultures’, when he, himself grew up in Leicester and wasn’t part of ‘another’ culture but was part of Britain. It worried me that the publishing industry of this country in 2013 is so lacking in diversity and is reluctant to accept multi-cultural writing as part of our culture.
Whilst many writers that I met on the day have been met with reluctant publishers, whether it be because of the language, content or who the author is themselves, many advocated self publishing or DIY. With Kindle and the internet allowing fiction to be more accessible to a wider audience, the author themselves can put their work out there without the need for obstacles placed by publishers.
The Festival has made me very proud of Nottingham. There are people like the Kavya Rang association who are working really hard to incorporate their culture and heritage into literature that can be enjoyed by all. And whilst things are just beginning to happen for them, for David Belbin and Bali Rai who are successfully published authors, they still face challenges when trying to write about the multicultural inner city life that we at the University of Nottingham are part of.
Images by Debbie Davies www.debs-photography.co.uk
For more info on the Festival of Words go to: www.nottwords.org.uk