International Writers’ Day 2004

This year’s International Writers’ Day opened with a lively discussion between the influential Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, and Maureen Freely, a childhood friend of Pamuk’s as well as the translator for his latest and most overtly political novel, Snow. Pamuk, frequently leaning forward in his chair, directed his feelings and responses straight out to the audience. His passion and defiance as a writer was incontestable. Indeed, there was more of a smile on his face than any hint of seriousness when he revealed that his publishers sent him into hiding at the time that Snow was released because they feared the consequences his truthful account of Turkey would provoke.

International Writers’ Day is also known for literary prizes. Sir Peter Stothard (Chair of the Judges for the Hessell-Tiltman prize for History) and Francis King (Chair of the judges for the J.R. Ackerley prize for Autobiography) both provided informative evaluations on all of the short-listed books before they announced their decided winners in each category. Tom Holland was awarded the Hessel-Tiltman prize for Rubicon, his book on the Roman Republic,

Rachel Billington & Nina Bawden
Rachel Billington & Nina Bawden

and Brian Magee received the J.R. Ackerley prize for his account of growing up in east London, Clouds of Glory: A Hoxton Childhood. Later in the day Rachel Billington, Chair of English PEN’s Readers and Writers Programme, awarded the S.T. Dupont Golden PEN award for a Lifetime’s Distinguished Services to Literature to Nina Bawden, who looked vibrant in a brilliant red suit.


Best-selling author Louis de Bernières seemed to


Louis de Bernieres & Adam Feinstein
Louis de Bernieres & Adam Feinstein

genuinely enjoy sharing his respect and enthusiasm for the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda with the audience. He dedicated his time on stage to giving voice to as many of Neruda’s translated poems as time would allow. Biographer Adam Feinstein, on the other hand, contributed the facts on Neruda, as well as performing poems in the poet’s own native language. 


Will Self
Will Self

Later in the day Will Self swooped onto the stage to give a satirical and vivacious characterised reading of Return to the Planet of the Humans, a short story drawn from his newly published collection, Dr. Mukti and other Tales of Woe.

The final speaker of the afternoon was Maggie Gee, fresh from being appointed the first woman Chair of the Royal Society of Literature (an announcement which sparked a supportive and congratulatory round of applause). She delivered an accessible and down to earth speech on ‘Why Writers Can’t be Told they have Responsibilities’. Her broad evaluation of the responsibility of the writer provoked a diverse and interactive debate amongst the audience during question and answer time. Click here to read a transcript of her speech. (You will need Adobe reader for this, a free download available for

English PEN would like to thank all the speakers who took part in such a varied and stimulating day, as well as the staff at the Regent Hall, Foyles Bookshop and our sponsors at S.T. DuPont.

Report by Alice Barnsdale


All photographs © Jo Paterson



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