It was good to talk

Marcus Tanner

“It’s good to talk.” So goes a well-known British Telecom advertising slogan. BT is quite right: it is good to talk. This was the first year in four years of editing the Fellowship that I actually traveled to the region to meet and talk to the writers in person before editing their projects.

What a difference it made in clearing up all those misunderstandings about lines that had got “lost in translation”. One five-minute conversation with an author was worth about 20 emails firing back and forth across cyberspace. “So, is this the same woman as in paragraph one? She is? Aha, I get it.” Problem solved.

As well as giving me an opportunity to meet the Fellows for the first time since Berlin, this innovation in the way we did things gave me a chance to take a look at two cities I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

The centre of Belgrade was unrecognizable. How flash and Western it suddenly seems, with all its funky bars and cool cafés. When did fusion-Asian cooking hit Serbia? I used to avoid smart places in Belgrade, because only the mafia crowd seemed rich enough to patronize them. Now the cafes and bars seem full of new kind of people, the emerging upper middle class. I know not many people in Serbia live like this. But doesn’t every city deserve to have a small oasis of glamour?

Skopje was a different revelation; the city seems like a giant building site, with vast statues of Slavic saints and national heroes going up here, there and everywhere. The fashionable view among the intelligentsia is that the government is blowing far too much money on vulgar nationalistic projects. And, yes, it is all a bit reminiscent of Mussolini’s Italy. Does Macedonia need an “Arc do Triomphe”? Triumph over what? The template, in Paris, commemorates Napoleon’s historic victory at the Battle of Austerlitz? What similar victory is the Macedonian government celebrating?

On the other hand, the city desperately needs some kind of makeover. There is just too much space between all those tired, communist-era concrete buildings. Maybe putting something up is better than nothing.

Meanwhile, the editing goes on. It’s always a surprise what comes through the email. Remember that Fellow who back in Berlin seemed half-asleep and completely incapable of articulating what they intended to write about? Yes, the one [the first of several] that you mentally filed away under the label “Hopeless Cases”.

Needless to say, “Hopeless Cases”, one, two and three, all send in crackers of stories, each one of which has a good chance of winning the prize, while the guy or girl who seemed so in command of their agenda in Berlin has totally missed the mark, or wandered wildly off the topic.

Lesson one for my successor as editor [another well known phrase in English]: Never judge a book by its cover.


Topic 2010: Taboo

Taboos change – rapidly. Homosexuality was once a taboo in Western Europe, as was “living in sin”, [i.e. outside marriage], abortion, childlessness, physical disabilities, atheism and suicide


07 Oct 2010 / 12:33

It was good to talk

Marcus Tanner
06 Oct 2010 / 10:20

Strange Times in Skopje

Jeton Musliu
01 Sep 2010 / 11:20

Completing the B Ring

Mircea Dan Opris
23 Aug 2010 / 13:35

Ten Intros later...

Jeton Musliu
16 Aug 2010 / 16:23

My last stop

Georgiana Ilie
13 Aug 2010 / 10:09

The hardest thing in my research

Majlinda Aliu
02 Aug 2010 / 10:20

Two months of silence, so much info

Mircea Dan Opris
27 Jul 2010 / 14:54

Now is the time to write

Jeton Musliu
16 Jul 2010 / 11:13

Heat Follows Me Everywhere, Even to London

Mila Popova