For me, the trip has been very fulfilling, but also a little overwhelming. The Hague, which is not a familiar city to me, has surprised me by being a bit of a culture shock. As is usual in the Netherlands, one of the most popular modes of transport is the bicycle, with cyclists dashing around the city in all directions. I still haven't figured out the rules of the pavement (if indeed there are any!) and with every step I find myself looking wildly around to check I'm not about to get myself run over. A cursory glance to my right yesterday whilst shopping led to a second of panic as I was faced with at least 20 bikes speeding towards me and I had to dash out of the way again.
The language is also a mystery to me. I tried to pick up a few words of Dutch before leaving England, but although I have a bit of a head start as I speak German, I haven't been able to understand many words here at all. Although everyone here speaks amazing English, there isn't much written English around the city and I've had to depend quite a bit on the Dutch speakers in my group. Luckily at an international festival no one bats an eyelid if you start speaking English, but as a linguist I feel the shame of not even being able to attempt to talk to my hosts in their native language and certainly wish I'd got a bit further in my learning. Still, it's a great way of spurring myself on - next time I visit to this country I hope to have more success!
The festival began in earnest yesterday, and I attended readings and interviews with authors Kevin Barry and Annelies Verbeke, Thomas Glavinic, Nino Haratischwili, Karen Köhler and Saša Stanišić. Although I am not familiar with works by all of these writers, they are clearly all hugely successful and were also all incredibly engaging and funny. They all spoke excellent English - it is always even more admirable hearing these writers talk in depth about themselves and their work in what is often not their first or even their second language. It was fascinating to hear about how they write and what drives their stories (the general consensus seemed to be that the story writes itself, rather than being planned out rigidly by the writer in advance) and, as usual after attending these events, I now have another ten or so books that I'd love to read!
It has been exciting, if rather surreal, to be hanging out with very successful and highly respected authors and translators in bars and restaurants, bumping into literary agents in the lift and chatting to publishers in the breakfast room. I am new enough to the industry that I still feel slightly starstruck by everything going on around me, but I know that I can learn a lot from everyone here and am extremely fortunate and privileged to be here. Especially at a time when the world is being rocked by the shocking news from Paris, it is wonderful to be able to share a sense of solidarity with people from all kinds of nationalities. Everyone here has been a real pleasure to work with, and the organisation has been fantastic too. Tonight, our group of authors and translators will be interviewed on stage at the festival, then we'll cram in the last few readings and bands before we go our separate ways tomorrow. Although it's goodbye for now, I hope there will be more opportunities for us all to collaborate again in the future.