My wife and I flew to Amsterdam for a combination chilling out and travelling by train to Groningen in the north of Holland for my book launch. Hot Air is a thriller I dashed out several years ago and became entered in an international Arts Academy competition run by WUACADEMIA. With unclear knowledge of how winners were selected I found that Hot Air came second with silver for the best unpublished novel category. First, with the critical two votes advantage, came Gustavo Florentin with his ‘In the Talons of the Condor.’ The Award Ceremony in late 2007 was well organised and the venue was the prestigious University of Groningen Arts Theatre. The place bulged with up to 200 spectators and competitors. The latter regaled us with readings and performances the most memorable and loud being the dancing African drums – amazing.
The ceremony this Saturday was to launch our books and again an arts festival. Sadly, the university arts theatre was being refurbished so Jean-Marcel had to secure a new venue. It was Silo in a small street behind the railway station. We didn’t know this until nearly too late since the only announcement was on the wuacademia website. Luckily I was able to play around with hotel and flight bookings. We arrived a day early to do a dry run in finding the new venue and I’m glad we did. Local people including the curator of the nearby Grafisch museum in Achter Weg, either didn’t know of a Silo nearby or directed us a mile away where a converted grain silo is now a restaurant. Luckily, a waitress there did know of another Silo where local arts functions are held. An unassuming building looking like Huckleberry Finn’s falling down shack held exciting music and a handful of poets, novelists, sculptors and painters.
The organiser, Jean-Marcel Bikouta Nkaoulou, is friendly, though his command of English isn’t as proficient as his ability to rack up a blood-shivering beat on his powerful drums. My Silver and Special Awards in 2007 were for my thriller, Hot Air. It seems there were only nominated awards for 2008 and Hot Air received another – this time my adventure won the Prix D’Or (Golden Prize). To be fair, I wrote Hot Air fairly lightly, with a feisty female protagonist, some literary feel on Mallorca and in France, but largely it is a murder mystery spread over Europe. Maybe that is what attracted it to this European competition. I read out a short sample and was afterwards expecting to be presented with the first print copy. Sadly, the printing went awry so both Gustavo and I were disappointed to be told the actual launch is delayed. On the other hand we were told a film company may be interested to convert our words to film! It wouldn’t surprise me too much because the Arts Festival is part funded by Stichting arts foundation. The festival had a great international atmosphere. I was also presented with a small African figurine. It is deep in thought, the African Rodin’s The Thinker?
Our books will be published later, and there’s talk of films being made from them, so from what was a nearly ‘throw away book’ and written from the crazy notion of shooting down a hot air balloon, to publication and film – who knows?
What I do know is the infection of positive vibes from the African dancing, drums and the passion of participants even in this year’s small venue and smaller attendance. I hope Gustavo keeps in touch and that he wasn’t too disappointed with the not-quite-Hollywood scale of the event.
And what about my wife? She came along to support me, to enjoy a break from her university and school-visit-mentoring work and to glimpse an insight into the rather esoteric world we writers and artists inhabit. I’m doubtful she was convinced that the scene is for her, but that I am imbibed with exuberance at them. She is sure I shouldn’t be alone in Amsterdam’s redlight district on my own – mainly because there are shops too, and my natural navigation system fails in retail environments.
The room was dark, candlelit, so my camera struggled to capture me. Also Gustavo Florentin, who had travelled from the US for the Festival.
I enjoyed the trip - no book launch – but exhilarating all the same.
Although the Wuacademia festival and (nearly) book launch was in Groningen, we’d spent two days wandering the streets of Amsterdam. If I’d known Andrea from UKAuthors lived there I’d liked us to have met up! Mind you we’d have had to navigate away from the higgedly-piggedly lanes inhabited by the many ‘brown’ coffee shops. We didn’t enter them – you didn’t have to. The aromatic smoke pervaded the street so that after half an hour pedestrians like us were so much more relaxed than when we started!