The SILK Festival in Norway by Fflur Dafydd

FflurDafyddAt the end of the October, the International Hay Fellowship took me to the west coast of Norway, as part of the Comenius Project between Hay and Skudeneshavn. This seemed entirely fitting, as most of my Norwegian experiences to date are closely linked to the Hay Festival – in 2005, the Hay Festival organised a Norwegian translation of one of my short stories for the Molde Festival, and I also met novelist Gunnhild Oyehaug as part of a writers’ project run by Hay, who ended up becoming my closest writing confidante. Through her, I came to discover the Norwegian literary scene and learnt all about the New Norwegian language in which she writes, whose situation echoes some of the challenges facing Welsh language fiction.

The first part of the project involved an exchange of ideas between libraries in Norway and Wales, and then a school visit, where I was asked to perform and read to a congregation of very bright, informed, bilingual schoolchildren, who very much appreciated hearing the Welsh language for the first time. I was also asked to perform at the SILK festival at Skudeneshavn, a relatively new international literature and music festival. Crime-writing and the famous Scandi-noir brand was the main focus of the literary discussion (much as it had been in Hay Festival Segovia this year), and it was very interesting to hear writers such as Yrsa Sigurðardóttir talk about why crime writing holds such appeal in smaller countries. “There is not much crime in Iceland. Or if there is, it’s not very good – someone stabs someone in the kitchen with a knife and they’re still standing there holding the knife when the police comes. It’s nothing you want to write about, so you have to make it up.”

Other highlights of the SILK festival included a fascinating and frank talk between Rosie Goldsmith and Indonesian Ambassador Esti Andayani about women in public life, and a hilarious banter-filled session between Rosie and John Crace (of the Guardian’s Digested Reads fame) about condensing great works of fiction into bite-sized nuggets. It seems that John’s method has now become such an art form, some literary agents ask their writers to ‘digest’ their novels, in order to discover what they are really about.

The SILK festival is expertly run by John Rullestad, who, as it happens, was born in Wales (as everyone in the world seems to be), and his focus on small, intimate sessions and an eclectic combination of music, politics and literature seems to ensure sell-out audiences and a great ambience. I was amazed by the attentiveness of the audiences as I sang to them in Welsh, and their eagerness to learn more about Welsh culture. As I’m currently working on a thriller plot for a screenplay, I also found that being immersed in crime fiction had greatly fuelled my understanding of the mechanics of the genre, and had deepened my understanding of how to build and slacken tension, and how to create mystery around the simplest things. On the way home, we stopped off to buy trinkets at the Viking museum in Hagesund. John Crace and I bought what we thought were Norwegian (toy) sheep, which Yrsa Sigurðardóttir suggested were, in fact, Icelandic. I suspect that it was her crime-fiction imagination working overtime, desperately trying to find wrongdoing in the heart of peaceable Norway. But John Crace was willing to entertain the fallacy, adding his own twist. “Well, the sheep is unquestionably dead,” he said, “but the question is, was it murdered?”