Interview with a Literary Ninja: how Anna Burkey gets writers to talk to one another
How and why do you, as part of UNESCO City of Literature, get literary folk talking to one another?
Edinburgh has a really strong literary community – with an average of 90 events a week. The City of Literature is a hub for activity – we list all events at www.cityofliterature.com, help organisations work together, and promote all the great books and authors living and working in our city.
We’ve run a citywide reading campaign for the last five Februarys – this year’s wa Let’s Get Lyrical: Scotland’s first festival of song lyrics, with 86 great music, debates and spoken word nights.
The City of Edinburgh Literature Salon was recently quoted in The Guardian as one of the 10 best literary haunts in Edinburgh: can anyone come along? And why has it been so successful?
The salon is really just a fancy name for a night in the pub with like-minded folk: writers, storytellers, journalists, publishers, librarians – anyone who is active in the literary world is welcome. I’ve been running the salons for six years now, and I love learning about all the writing projects they’re all cooking up.
In your role as producer of Edinburgh International Book Festival’s Story Shop (which showcases new writers), what advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Get the submissions process right! Write a clear, concise covering letter, and include all your contact details. Think professionally about your writing, and the first audience to read your story, the editor or intern at the other end, will be impressed. And thankful.
I’d also tell writers to get out there and get involved. There are writing communities out there, running editorial evenings and spoken words nights – if there aren’t then start one up yourself, and others will join you. There’s a lot of opportunity out there if you take the time to search for it. Ideas Tap and Creative Scotland’s Opportunity website are good starting points for new writers.
My Story Shop programme does all of the above, and formed a community of writers who support each other as they make their Festival debut. You can listen to interviews about their writing careers here.
You brought over Australian Christos Tsiolkas to the EIBF last year (just before he was Booker-longlisted for The Slap): why is international cooperation so important for the industry?
We can learn so much from how others tackle cultural promotion. The Cities of Literature network is a place where we share ideas about great projects, frankly discuss what works and what hasn’t been successful and how we can engage and grow new audiences for literature. Other countries can have completely different attitudes and approaches, and it’s refreshing to see how others tackle similar challenges.
I know Christos found it enlightening to immerse himself in a different culture – I think that’s good for our organisations as well as our writers.
Can you think of one moment that’s distilled for you how powerful writers and writing can be?
Alasdair Gray told us to ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ Douglas Dunn, in a piece of poetry we projected onto Edinburgh Castle, told us to ‘look to the living, love them, and hold on.’
Both men were part of Poets for Haiti, instigated by Poet Laureate Carol-Ann Duffy, and which I co-produced. It was Scotland’s largest every poetry event, and raised £12,000 for the Haiti Relief Fund. It was a powerful, moving night, that reminded us that words have the power to make great change, and that freedom of expression is a privilege we must treasure.Catch up with Anna on Twitter as @AnnaNotKarenina or visit www.cityofliterature.com for more about literary Edinburgh. Go to www.annaburkey.com for updates on the festival as well as other thoughts and insights from Anna.