Talking Italian

As editor and co-author of breach, Meike Ziervogel and I presented at the Babel Festival of Literature in Translation, held in the galleried Teatro Sociale of Bellinzona, Switzerland in September 2016.

Like its print offspring, Specimen Press, Babel is the creation of director and poet Vanni Bianconi. In London as a Second Language, Vanni walks the reader through the vocabulary and philosophy of  a life in translation, text juxtaposed with photos by Xiaolu Guo. This year’s festival theme – Greater London, appropriately – gathered poets, fiction writers, photographers and publishers: Ma JianXiaolu GuoLinton Kwesi JohnsonNadifa MohamedSulaiman and Saleh AdonisSpecimen and Adania ShibliDon PatersonChloe AridjisAlessandro Leogrande and Alganesh Fessaha.


The Babel team translated a section of the breach story “Ghosts” into Italian – my first (delightful) experience of hearing my own scenes and characters read aloud in that language. The audience had questions about Calais, migrants, commissioned fiction and the process of sparking imagination from experience. Olumide Popoola couldn’t be there and we missed her.


breach is not (yet!) available in Italian, but people bought respectable numbers of the English version and brought them for signing and discussion.



A good festival feeds one’s spirits – engaging with people who care about books and the world. Babel gave us the Alps as well as bonhomie, literary passion and lots of wine. (Read Meike’s blog for more from this angle.)

The next day, after plenty of good coffee, a group of us walked the hillsides and castles circling the town.

I still can’t say anything new in Italian – but grazie mille from the bottom of my heart – and arrivederci.