Isabel Wolff
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British Council trip to Russia

Isabel has been with the British Council on a trip to Russia.


Calendar of Events

A wide range of events and activities in the arts, education, science and culture are taking place September - October 2004.


Fashionable Reading: Modern British Writers in St Petersburg 7-11 September 2004

The British Consulate in St Petersburg, The British Council, Amphora Publishers and Bukvoyed Bookshops has brought Isabel Wolff, Irvine Welsh & Dougie Brimson to the cultural capital of Russia.

The programme of events includes:

  • Readings in English for the English-speaking audience (students, teachers, researchers, critics)
  • Master classes for young writers
  • A round table with British and Russian authors
  • Meetings with readers in bookshops
  • Club events
  • Internet chats

Isabel writes:

My trip to Russia was fascinating – although it was, of course, a very sad time to be there because of the recent atrocity at the school in Beslan. I spent the first afternoon at the Moscow International Book Fair, meeting readers, and was quite overwhelmed by the response.  I had no idea, before I went to Russia, that my books had been successful there, but thanks to my Russian publishers, Amphora, it seems that they have.  Even so, I was extremely touched – if not downright amazed - to get such a warm welcome.  I was asked to give a press conference, and was interviewed by newspapers such as Izvestia.  I also appeared on a radio programme with one of Russia’s most famous writers – Alexandra Marinina who writes ironic female detective fiction.  Marinina’s last book sold a staggering seven million copies in Russia – so I’ve got a very long way to go!

I then flew to St. Petersburg with Dougie Brimson, and we met up with Irvine Welsh , the third writer to be invited by the British Council and the British Consulate-General to take part in the Week of Contemporary British Literature.  After a guided tour of this beautiful and historic city – there are no 20th century buildings in sight - we began a very busy schedule of discussions, masterclasses, readings and book signings.  What struck all of us was not just the warmth of the welcome we received, but the passion that the readers had for our books.  But as someone said to me, ‘in Russia, if you are a writer, you are more than a writer’.  Even so it was very strange being stopped in the street for my autograph, as happened once or twice - and I'm glad I don't get this anywhere else!  As this was the first ever event of this kind in Russia, there was massive media interest in us, and I was interviewed for a number of TV stations and magazines, including Russian ‘Elle’.  A party was hosted for me at the very fashionable F.C.Lounge club where I met a hundred young businesswomen, female journalists – women movers and shakers from the city – I had to keep pinching myself that this was all real.

The schedule was a very full one – the days were packed - but it was all so stimulating that I didn’t find it exhausting.  One of the events I enjoyed most was my Masterclass, in which I discussed the writing process with a group of young writers.  There was also an internet chat and a very interesting round table discussion with a number of Russian novelists on the subject of ‘What is a writer?’  One thing that exercised us all was that whereas a great deal of British writing is being published in Russia, the same is not true in reverse, and that British readers’ knowledge of Russian writing is still confined largely to Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekhov.  We hope that after this exchange, which is to be an annual event, the awareness of Russian contemporary writing in Britain will greatly increase.  Two modern Russian writers who I have since been reading and who are doing well in the UK are Victor Pelevin, whose ‘Life of Insects’ is a marvellous book about a group of people who exist simultaneously as humans, and insects.  It’s a surreal fairytale, beautifully written and utterly intriguing.  I’ve also been reading Yuri Buida’s, ‘The Zero Train’, a dark, powerful love story, again wonderfully well written, and with a surreal edge to it. 

The British Consulate General looked after us so well – especially the ‘Three Graces’ – Elena Mishkiniuk, Anna Myslova, and Irinia Makarenkova – who first dreamt up the idea and who looked after us for the week, shepherding us tirelessly from event to event.  I would like to thank them – and everyone at Amphora – Oleg, Vadim, Luba, Irina, Antonina, Aleksandr and Maxim - for such a rewarding and unforgettable experience.

Click here to see photos of the trip to Russia


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