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Writers in Residence

Writer-in-Residence programmes are a wonderful opportunity for British readers to discover new Austrian, German and Swiss writing first-hand – and for the authors themselves to gain new experiences, readers and friends. Here, three former Writers in Residence share their experiences of their time in the capital.

On closing gaps

Back in London, end of May 2009. Many years ago I’d planned to come by train and ferry, but a train strike put paid to that. I notice the signs on the Tube platforms: MIND THE GAP, and later hear the station announcements warning of these gaps, lurking between trains and platform to catch out the unwary. Yet shouldn’t the waiting passengers be more wary of an even bigger divide – social differences perhaps, or other oppressive rifts? This uncertainty remains with me throughout my stay. A train arrives – I step across the gap. Guest of the Austrian Cultural Forum as Writer in Residence at the Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature, University of London, another gap that I have to get across is awaiting me, and I am a little nervous.
The people who welcome me to the Forum follow my adventures in London with interest and enthusiasm. Everywhere I notice invitations to my readings, from which my face smiles back at me, expectant. It’s as if I had been here much longer.
One evening in early June I give a reading at the Forum, and many people have come along. Gerald Davidson and I read in turn, in English and German, my text Spielarten der Ordnung from my collection Zimmerfluchten, translated by Peter Waugh. One of the audience surprises me with a drawing inspired by a short story of mine about an architect, and he is, I discover, an architect himself. Not only this, but I have long admired his avant-garde style, an example of which can be seen in Graz.
Later in June, standing at the tip of Docklands, gazing across the Thames, I feel unprepared finding myself confronted by that very view of Christopher Wren’s regal edifice Canaletto painted, and am overcome with happiness. I walk under the Thames and emerge in Greenwich. At the top of the hill, on the Greenwich Meridian point, I let go of my worries and reflect on the fact that tomorrow, the last day of my stay, I will be giving a final reading from my new book Von den Himmeln, to be published in September 2009. Amongst all the pleasures which London has offered me, I have prepared myself well for this afternoon.
I am met by the Forum’s Director. The event has been cancelled due to the Tube strike. A small reading is organised quickly in its place. And, after all, I will be coming back in July 2010, to visit the University of East Anglia in Norwich as Writer in Residence for the International Literary Translation Summer School. I’ll be stopping in London to introduce Von den Himmeln, Triptychon – and to close the literary gap that I had to leave open.
By Gabriele Petricek
Translated by Jamie Searle

Gabriele Petricek
was Writer in Residence at the Ingeborg Bachmann Centre in June 2009. She was born in Krems an der Donau in 1957, and trained as a fashion designer before moving into journalism and creative writing. She now lives and works in Vienna as author and journalist, with a particular focus on fashion and music. Petricek’s most recent book is the ‘triptych’ Von den Himmeln, a series of three interlinked short stories.
Every year the Ingeborg Bachmann Centre for Austrian Literature invites an Austrian author to spend two weeks at the Institute of Germanic & Romance Studies as its Writer in Residence. The programme offers writers the opportunity to make contact with English readers and publishers, and their stay includes a reading by the author, as well as a seminar at the institute. The programme was established in 2002, when the first Writer in Residence was Walter Grond, and others have included Evelyn Schlag, Bettina Balàka and Franzobel. Lydia Mischkulnig is the 2010 Writer in Residence.

Fast-Forward Amazement

I have been living on the campus of Queen Mary College, London, immediately overlooking the canal. You could not find a more tranquil place to write in …
…were it not for the rest of the city. The huge expanse of London, day and night, night and day. Greater London is quite a handful for someone who comes from one of the world’s remoter provinces, Germany.
What then is to be done when the place where you are Writer in Residence is one of the hinges of world history? The clatter of London, the soundtrack of an age whose presentness we never register with this intensity anywhere in Germany. Writing is quite impossible here. I am just dragged out and along by the pull of the city. I have been constantly on the move, restive as the rest and wanting only one thing: to keep going further and further.
I sit on a bus, from Mile End to Brixton, Brixton to Croydon, Croydon to Peckham, Peckham to Waterloo, and finally home, changing buses five times on a journey that takes 10 hours. The following day I travel by Underground into the West End, only to race back east, following the Grand Union Canal until I have left behind the estates of the well-to-do and the glass skyscrapers of Paddington and Regent’s Park. I want to get to the place where the global citizenry of the future is taking shape, a fascinatingly explosive mix of every colour, including a glitzy sprinkling -- economic crisis or no economic crisis -- of a nouveau riche jeunesse dorée that spills over from Canary Wharf. Onwards! Whatever you do, don’t stop!
This certainly is not the place to be working on a novel; there will be time enough for that on my return. But isn’t what I am doing the real work of a writer? Opening myself up to the world, without the protective thought of only really being at home in one particular place, and assuming elsewhere the stance of an onlooker. Are writers not condemned to the repetition of this painfully sobering compulsive research, with an eye to an account in the future where experiences, filtered and purified, might find their way into novels and poems as yet unseen? The transcription of a text occurs relatively late in the sequence of a writer’s tasks. Long before that, participation in the lives of others is called for, entailing all the vulnerability of someone who, having imposed openness on himself, is constantly torn between fervour and melancholy, euphoria and despair. That particular spiritual susceptibility we experience with special intensity when abroad is where literature comes from. Where it is transcribed is irrelevant.
by Matthias Politycki
Translated by Judith Köhler & Robert Gillett

Matthias Politycki 
was Writer in Residence at Queen Mary, University of London from September to December 2009. Born in Karlsruhe in 1955, he has been a freelance author since 1990 and lives in Hamburg and Munich. Politycki’s most recent book is Jenseitsnovelle (2009) and he is currently working on Samarkand Samarkand. His website includes the full German and English text of ‘Fast-Forward Amazement’:
The Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations at Queen Mary, University of London, established its Writer-in-Residence programme in 2005 (co-founded by the Deutscher Literaturfonds). The centre has since welcomed a range of contemporary and acclaimed German, Austrian and Swiss authors, including Tim Krohn (see review, p. 40) and Terézia Mora. Writers live at Queen Mary for 10 weeks and take part in readings, discussions and creative writing workshops. The initiative has developed in cooperation with Lincoln College, Oxford, Magdalene College, Cambridge
and the University of Aberdeen.

London seasons

When I arrived in the East End, it was springtime.
I sit at the window and watch the stream of veiled women accompanying their children to school. The parade of little ones, all dressed up as though attending a ball, is accompanied by grandfathers in Turkish harem trousers, and here and there by young men with closely cut hair. Indian, Pakistani, Bengali. The school bell rings, and even I adhere to its timetable. I begin writing. I forget where I am and immerse myself in the text. It’s starting to come together. I’m happy not to have to start from the beginning. Finding a beginning is not something I find easy, and I am busy enough with the new beginnings London has to offer. Look over my shoulder as I buy mangoes at the Whitechapel market. I can’t imagine living without mangoes now. I peek into other’s shopping trolleys, full of groceries. Fuel for life. We wheel our lives to the checkout. How young I feel. And how often I forget about my family. At the age of twenty four I spent a semester in Paris. I feel like I did then. It’s a different time. A different everyday life. A different life. Or, at least, the idea of a different life. Fundamentally, life here is the same. Just with a different backdrop. The only difference is what surrounds it, like phone calls, or people dropping by, the distraction of friends. Here, the city is the distraction. But it distracts you towards itself, or to yourself. You must, says the city. That’s why you’re here. I get absorbed by my sentences. Don’t look up. Sometimes I read back to myself what I have written. Sometimes a longhaired cat comes to see me, wearing a pink collar. I try to impress upon it the importance of taking care when crossing the street. Once on a walk I saw a fox. He came out of Mile End Park, stared at me surprised, but not shocked, and disappeared slowly into the tall grass.
When I leave, it’s autumn. I turn into Martha Street. My sister’s name is Martha. My first trip to London was with her. 1975. Every evening she counted out her money on the hotel bed. I don’t think she has been abroad since. A manuscript lies in my suitcase. It’s called Was uns blüht (‘What lies ahead for us’). It’s finished. It was always my intention to finish this text in London. Back at home, I read it all through once more. I almost know it off by heart. But whenever someone asks what it is about, I never know what to say.
by Theres Roth-Hunkeler
Translated by Jamie Searle
Theres Roth-Hunkeler
Swiss-born Theres Roth-Hunkeler was Writer in Residence at the Smithy Street Ateliers from April to September 2008. She lives in Zug, in central Switzerland, where she writes literary texts and cultural journalism and lectures on literature in Bern and Biel. Her most recent novel, Was uns blüht (2009), was completed during her time in London.
The Smithy Street Ateliers are the London home of the Zuger Kulturstiftung Landis & Gyr – a cultural foundation based in Zug, Switzerland – and have been hosting Swiss writers, artists, critics and musicians since 1987. Previous residents have included Sybille Berg and current Writers in Residence are Thomas Schlachter and Gertrud Leutenegger (April
– September 2010).