At the British Council, one of the many things we do is connect UK writers with their readers and fellow writers at festivals overseas. One of the best parts of my job, especially on a dreary Monday morning, is to send an unexpected email invitation to a writer with the prospect of an exciting encounter abroad. But once you’ve imagined sunnier climes and blocked out your diary, the idea of travelling somewhere unfamiliar to meet audiences in a different context can seem daunting. I often support writers who haven’t had much experience working overseas and love to see the benefits it can bring in increased confidence, or new creative directions for work. Here are my top five tips for making sure you get the most out of a trip abroad:
- Our invitations are usually the result of weeks of conversation with the host overseas, deciding on the best person for the job. Finding out why you’ve been invited in particular, can help you understand the context of the event, anticipate the way your work is being presented and think about the kinds of questions you might receive. Is it a thematic interest, has a translation just been published or have you been personally recommended?
- Ask about interpretation. What language will your event be in? It can be helpful to meet your interpreter in advance so they can anticipate particular words or topics, or ask you about your work. Remember to speak clearly and allow pauses – even if your audience doesn’t require interpretation it can be hard work listening to someone talk about complex concepts in a second language!
- Make sure you know who is meeting you when you arrive, and most importantly have the name and mobile number of your local contact in your phone. Nothing ever goes totally to plan.
- Thinking time. A couple of weeks before you go, take a moment to check the details on your tickets and do a bit of research on your destination. You may have questions that need to be resolved before you pack your suitcase and head out the door. Check the FCO travel advice pages. What will the weather be like? Has anything happened in the news recently that you should know about? Have you got the right adapter to charge your mobile phone and at least one copy of the book you plan to read from?
- Most importantly, get out and about! Ask to be introduced to other writers, or to meet students at the local university. It’s great way to understand more about the place you’re visiting, and you have the potential to make lifelong friends along the way.
Rachel Stevens is the Senior Programme Manager for Literature at the British Council. She is responsible for programmes in Europe and major UK partnerships. Rachel joined the British Council after graduation and previously worked for Counterpoint, the cultural relations think tank. Her specialist interest is literature in translation, and she is on the board of Modern Poetry in Translation.
The British Council is the United Kingdom’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. Find them on twitter as @LitBritish