It’s the morning of Manchester Letters and having never been to an event within the Manchester Literature Festival before, I am wracked with curiosity. What will the event be like? What types of people go to these sorts of events? Will it be obvious that I haven’t been to these sorts of events before? The cogs begin to turn. My first objective is to arrive at the correct venue in a timely manner. Embarrassingly, I had never been nor heard of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation before and images of a grand building, clerical looking conference rooms and an unapproachable front desk service spring into my mind. Luckily, I couldn’t have been further off the mark, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation is a little dime; there are no sultry business men or revolving doors. For the most part the venue is rather obscure, for one, due to the present construction work; the building is almost entirely engulfed by scaffolding. Equally helping to waver any pretensions I once owned, I could not seem to find any intimidating, gold plated placards with The International Anthony Burgess Foundation inscribed; instead there was a piece of material strewn over the scaffolding which stated, ‘Café open as usual.’ Much better- I can begin to relax.
Once inside, I felt that I had been transported momentarily to the 60’s as the bold, shiny red surfaces and plastic looking furniture screamed at me from the confines of untouched brickwork. It was kooky and I liked it. The décor of the event room also refused to apologise for its inability to be categorised; it seem to revel in its own peculiarity. Five rows of red cushioned chairs were placed in front of the speaker’s platform and were split into two by a small central divide; it appeared like I had been invited to a last minute wedding. Although there would be no bouquet throwing or cutting of the cake, there remained a buzz of anticipation as we waited patiently to bare witness to a union. Manchester Letters is a union made up on literary grounds. The project involved two writers, Preston born novelist Jenn Ashworth and Turkish native Nermin Yildrim. The pair had been in correspondence to one another for three months wholly through the medium of letters, letters that can be found in their blog-like fashion online. The letters delve into the unknown territory of writing processes as well as other literary preoccupations experienced by the female novelists or as Jenn puts it plainly, ‘the meat-and-potatoes of writing and the writing life.’ After the small extract readings from their books, ‘Friday Gospels,’ by Jenn Ashworth and ‘Dreams are Untold,’ by Nermin Yildrim, the interviewer Cathy probes the women some more on the meat-and-potatoes. As the duo sit, casually and comfortably answering questions, it is hard to believe that this is only their second meet and the end to their project. However, through the answers given by both women there is a powerful sense of sisterhood which radiates around the room- one which transcends the temporality of any project. It is Jenn who accredits this sense of sisterhood with waking her from the feelings she felt whilst in a period of post novel gloom. Nermin too had just finished a novel based on sisterhood before starting the project, a novel which involves two sisters who write to one another from different countries. Spooky!
As Cathy got down to the nitty gritty part of the questioning the women were asked to talk more over the difficulties they face in terms of language in their writing. Nermin in particular is asked whether being a Turkish writer (whose work has not been translated into English) restricts her from having a wide readership or stops her from being involved in a greater literary canon. Although seemingly agreeable to the translation of her work, Nermin poignantly stated that she,‘likes to use the language that she dreams in.’ Jenn had also faced issues concerning language: in writing her recent novel ‘Friday Gospels,’ Jenn gives us access to the Mormon community through the mode of five voices. As Jenn retells a story over a tiff with a copy editor for the novel, she explains how to her dismay, she had to remove some phrases that were too ‘Mormon,’ and would not be understood by the common reader. The pair then discuss the strife involved in trying to stay true to language whilst still retaining a readership. The final notion that the women settle on is that relationships are two-ways. Though there may be differences in the language used by Jenn and Nermin, their relationship is manageable through their mutual willingness to work at it and their curiosity to dig deeper into their cultural differences. A reader must also have enough curiosity and interest to work at a novel, to gain access and to leave their comfort zone. Languages may at times be difficult, but it is all we have.