When women come together things happen. Big things. Significant things. To paraphrase an expression shared by a writer colleague over the weekend, in turn paraphrased from Mrs. Margaret Thatcher at the height of her powers: When something has to be talked about, call a man. When something has to be done, call a woman.
Women's Fiction Festival in Matera, in Basilicata in southern Italy. Founded by international translator, writing powerhouse and successful author Elizabeth Jennings, the Festival must first of all be described as the only one of its kind in Europe.
The Passion of Christ', but for Liz and many of the other people involved in the extensive organisation of the event, the dramatic setting has been casa dolce casa for decades. Add to this a keen understanding of the isolation of most writers, the current leaps and bounds of the publishing industry, and an ardent wish to bring experts face-to-face with both dilettantes and authors with numerous novels under their belts, and you have the ingredients that have spurred on Liz, Mariateresa, Maria Paola and Giovanni in their orchestration of this year's enriching experience.
By some quirk of the internet I have booked myself a huge apartment where I had expected a vaulted cave as most bed-and-breakfasts provide. I realise I will be living large. Marble, leather, gilt. A breakfast that ranges from potato foccacia to ricotta and chocolate cake. Bring it on! This porridge-eater with an empty family-ravaged fridge is not afraid!
Leggo di Gusto. A taste for reading - is perhaps one way of translating the Festival strapline for 2012. Food and wine experts are providing extra courses this year, and I know there are also pasta-making classes with a local expert. But the main event - Publishing is a Button - is what many writers are here to learn about. Digital publishing, digital rights, maximising Twitter, crowdsourcing, the importance of having an agent, self-publishing. Liz has assembled an impressive range of American, English and European speakers who keep the audience taking notes. Talks are in English and Italian, and offer glances at the publishing climate in different countries. Liz's expert translating colleagues also provide simultaneous translations from both languages - so that the vaulted ex-convent sala looks like something of a UN session!
The afternoon programme involves one-on-one appointments with international industry 'gatekeepers' - agents and publishers - to whom authors may pitch their projects. That means: ten minutes of trying not to ramble or shove your synopsis into a publisher's face or sweat too hard or go hoarse or lose your silly straw hat. I'm interested in finding European publishers for DLC before she flits off to the Frankfurt Book Fair. So many people have wailed Why isn't it published in Italian yet?.
On Saturday night I join a panel of two Italian authors (Paola Calvetti, 'Olivia' and Patrizia Violi 'Affari d'amore') and journalist Cinzia Leone in the stunning central piazza. Nervous, trying to hide behind my rich ruby Chanel lipstick, I gulp down some wonderful red wine beforehand. I wonder if Toni Morrison ever had to do that? Somehow, I manage to raise a few laughs in italiano. Did I really talk about whips and linguistics in the countryside? It's scary, what can happen between your brain tickling and that fuzzy-topped microphone. Fortunately, the town is dotted with bars to celebrate afterwards.