The World’s Vanishing Languages

Language is the greatest cultural achievement of the human race. A language, any language, is a creation of immense sophistication which has taken millennia to evolve. Nothing else tells us so much about a culture as its language. There are about 6,500-7,000 distinct languages in the world today. By the end of this century up […]

October 17, 2011

National Poetry Day – and in Translation

Hugh MacDiarmid declared in 1923 that if there was ‘to be a Scottish literary revival, the first essential is to get rid of our provinciality of outlook and to avail ourselves of Continental experience.’ There’s no shortage of Scottish PEN members doing just that, of course, but we at the Scottish Poetry Library suspect that […]

October 3, 2011

Festival and Future on Arran

Festival and future It’s been quite a week, here on Arran. The annual McLellan Arts Festival has seen an Opera Gala, a performance of the Mozart Requiem, a night of archive film about Arran and a poetry get-together featuring Alexander Hutchison and five local poets. 12 post-grad opera students from the Royal Northern College of Music have […]

September 23, 2011

Six Degrees of Separation

Linda and I caught the airport bus from the Belgrade Continental Hotel this morning at 5.45am.  Bleary-eyed from last night’s farewells we roamed around the glare of the early morning terminal in search of coffee, trying not to think of the ten hours travel still ahead of us or how little sleep each of us […]

September 19, 2011

The Good Guys

  Larry Siems is one of the good guys.  He’s worked for PEN America and on Freedom to Write programmes for the best part of twenty years and, for me, he’s one of the moral touchstones of PEN International. And good company too.  The other night Linda, Larry and I went along with five Norwegians […]

September 19, 2011

Village People

So much happens in and around the Congress floor it’s impossible to capture it all in a short blog such as this.  One Brazilian delegate stopped me in the corridor and handed me a biography of a Scots-born woman called Maria or Mary Dundas.  Her first husband was a Scottish sailor / spy called Thomas […]

September 19, 2011

Business Unusual

It occurs that I haven’t yet written anything about the actual business of PEN Congress in these blogs, which might leave the impression we were simply on a jaunt.  Actually the sessions, occasionally fascinating, can be pretty gruelling as we work through reports and resolutions, and Linda’s experience with WWF1 really helped as we discussed, debated […]

September 19, 2011

Letting the words flow in Belgrade – Linda Cracknell

  “Good morning, Scotland”. The greetings begin as at 9.30am as delegates pass Drew and myself, crossing the border between Scotland and Sierra Leone, on their way to their country’s designated position. It’s the first day that we’ve gathered as an Assembly and this year the alphabetical order has been reversed so that Zambia sit […]

September 15, 2011

A warm bath

After a long, heavy day at the 77th PEN Congress I decided to forego the cultural evening laid on by our hosts – with no reflection on our Serbian hosts, who have been excellent – and go for a quiet dinner alone to be followed by some personal reading and, hopefully, some work on my novel.  […]

September 15, 2011

Cracked China

The business of a PEN Congress can be slow, ploughing through procedures required of a charity, receiving mandatory reports and so on, but within each day there are moments to treasure.  At the Writers-in-Prison Committee, where we play a very active role, there are messages from friends in the Independent Chinese PEN Centre thanking us […]

September 15, 2011