Tallinn HeadRead Festival
Yesterday I arrived back from the small and very beautiful city of Tallinn. I'd spent five days there as the guests of the HeadRead literature festival and came away with a sense of Estonia as a country that loves books and writing and sees all forms of art as a means of developing an outward-looking and tolerant community. After all, their resistance to the former Soviet Union during their fight for independence took the form of singing! Estonian folk songs had been banned under the regime, but nearly a third of the population - 300,000 people - came together at an impressive amphitheatre outside the city to sing them. As one of the people present told me: 'they couldn't arrest us all.'
Authors from the UK sometimes have the sense that book sales define them; the pressure to sell seems more important than the stories we have to tell or the quality of the writing. In Tallinn that was very different. All the invited writers had been translated into Estonian and the festival was organised largely by our publishers, but the population is very small and the event certainly wasn't about getting people to buy our books. It was about bringing people together to talk writing and ideas.
We spent a lot of time together - on a bus trip to a pretty village on the north coast, on a city tour and at various Embassy and official receptions. We ate together, drank (quite a lot) together and we laughed together. There were poets from the US and Galicia, a French cartoonist and a Dutch literary prize-winner. The Brits included a celebrated historian, two children's authors, a Booker nominee and a writer of horror and fantasy. And there were the Estonians, warm, welcoming and determined that we would all have a great time. I made firm friends and I can't wait to go back.