26 Apr 2023

Memories to Tulips

Experiences during the Wintertuin Festival in Nijmegen, the Netherlands - By Anna Beata Háblová, Writer CZ

Actually, I don't even want to know how many manuscripts arrive at the Host publishing house each week, which published my first novel last year. Every time, I wonder if anyone has time to open those emails and read the manuscripts of beginning writers. Writing a book is one thing, but publishing it is a higher level altogether. And translations of those texts? It's hard to even think about it. That's why the CELA project surprised me even more. CELA focuses on translating emerging authors and supporting the creation of a network of relationships between authors and translators in European languages. When I applied, I only had a few short stories in the book "Non-places of Cities," and I never expected anyone to choose me. I didn't even plan to write longer prose because I never felt like I was born to be a writer. However, with the opportunity in this project and the chance to write a longer short story, a whole novel unfolded. I'm still amazed by this coincidence. But it also follows that various forms of grants, scholarships, competitions, or projects can help emerging writers substantially. Because the uncertainty of whether someone will want to publish and read you is for beginning writers really big. Nevertheless, even if the CELA project didn't bring me the translation of the whole novel, it brought me a lot of beautiful relationships and memories. During all the meetings, the conversations always revolved around literature and sharing what is different across languages or personal perceptions. And it was good, damn good.

Right now, I'm attending the Wintertuin literary festival in Nijmegen, where Mirt Komel with translator Staša Pavlović, Sara Micello with Sandra Verhulst, and I with Blanka Juranová, who represents my translator Annette Manni, are scheduled to perform. When I arrive in the city by train, the panorama of the historic district with the cathedral on a small hill already greets me from a distance. It may be the first and last hill I see in the Netherlands. There is a strong, cold wind blowing, and yet the friendly sun is looking at me from the grip of the clouds. The Credible hotel overlooks the wide and slowly flowing Waal, not far from our first planned meeting place, Besienderhuis, the oldest house in Nijmegen from the first half of the sixteenth century, named after the toll collector who checked passing boats and collected fees from them. I look out the window. A cargo ship is sailing on the river. It has a completely different scale than all those tourist boats I'm used to. Cargo ships seem to carry a breath of the sea and unknown distances with them. I'm fascinated by their self-assured sprawl, on which even an entire panel house could be transported.

Dinner revives memories of a meeting in Madrid, where there were so many writers and translators that we only had time to briefly meet. I wonder about the stories and fates behind the faces that I haven't had a chance to explore yet, and won't have time to do so in just one day in Nijmegen. So I pay attention to the details - like how Staša strokes the back of her seven-year-old daughter, who quietly draws at the table.

As it grows dark, the conversation turns to tales of one of the ancient residents who lost three wives and a child here, and has haunted the place ever since - a fact apparently confirmed by some of the participants in the writers' residency. Memories flood back of literary works using the motif of ghosts. Of course - old houses carrying layers of previous lives are inherently mysterious. My gaze then fixates on the wooden decor of the low ceiling, resembling an animal's paw, before sliding to the blackened bricks of the former fireplace. I stand up and stroke one of the bricks, feeling its powdery dust on my hand.

We return to this place the next day to rehearse for the afternoon performance. The uneven window panes filter the light differently than I'm used to. Actually, it all seems enchanted here even in the daytime, I think. But Blanka and I are doing well in rehearsal, as if we were born to perform together.

In the afternoon, the vastness of the theater where the literary festival takes place surprises me, along with its backstage organized like a labyrinth. We are here like in the body of a complex organism that absorbs us and fills itself with our spoken words. Lotte Lentes, our coach, shows us care during the preparations, opening up each introvert like the warmth of a tulip for this performance. I realize I've never seen fields of tulips, even though I once lived in the Netherlands. And yet, this is their time.

And it's also time for a walk through the night city along the Waal river. The lights of distant bridges imprint on me, a bit uncertainly and fleetingly. A few days later, I receive a message that my novel "Shift" may be published in Serbia.

Photo Credits © Marco de Swart

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