Süße Worte, I now know, is the German for sweet talk, or Sweet Talk (although I did like the alternative Haribosprechen offered up by a friend.) Having arrived late, on Tuesday, I followed through the scriptwriters’ dictum by leaving early, on Saturday morning. But my head was still very much in Vienna. So yesterday I processed my sound files (click here to hear a snatch from a walk in the Wurstelprater.) I edited my photos. I curated a selection of my photos and posted them on Facebook. I enjoyed reading and responding to comments on Facebook, accepting friend requests and having mine accepted in turn. Writing here is the last excuse I have not to let go.
So yes, I had a ball in Vienna. I didn’t contribute much to the conference, a bit like the ‘band member’ who stands at the back in a silly T-shirt, hand-jiving, while others get on with the serious job of writing and playing the songs. But I learned a lot that was new and relearned stuff I should never have forgotten. At Thursday morning’s panel ‘How To Read Short Stories’, Vanessa Gebbie reminded us of the need to give ourselves enough time to read a short story properly, to sip it slowly like a fine single malt and not neck it in one like a shot of vodka. Given that so much of any short story – ‘long’ or flash-sized – remains mute but alive in the ‘white spaces’, this can only be right. But there was plenty of talk during the week of the marketing potential for the short story as a quick, self-contained ‘fiction-hit’ for that short tube ride or time spent in the dentist’s waiting room – so the point is more counter-intuitive than it maybe appears. And when it comes to reading too fast – whether despite or because of what I do – I’m often as guilty as anyone.
In the same session, Tania Hershman – among other things – talked about the value of reading aloud to herself as an aid to self-editing and made some very kind comments about the work we do in radio. If her fine and disturbing flash ‘Like Owls’ – referred to in her talk – comes round for repeat again I’ll be sure to let you know.
I learned that surreal tales from Singapore (by Mei Ching Tan) and Austria (by Günther Kaip) could not only co-exist but reach out to each other and brush fingertips. I discovered Cate Kennedy. I took childish pleasure in riding on trams when I didn’t need to, recorded an U-Bahn journey from beginning to end on my Zoom, saw a showroom full of Steinways: second-hand, upright or grand. I ate spinach dumplings and chanterelles in cream (though not at the same time), and spent more time in cafés than was strictly necessary. Sadly, my search for Harry Lime ended at the Riesenrad. I discovered that while it’s possible to gain a brief glimpse of the city’s sewers on a ‘Third Man’ walking tour, it’s not possible to criss-cross under the city as they do in the film.
But best of all, I caught up with a few old muckers, introduced myself to a couple of Sweet Talkers for the first time (ridiculous we should do this in Vienna and not the UK) and met some lovely new people. All of them – even though I was clearly a hand-jiving impostor – were generous, inclusive and good craic, too. (Thanks – should any of you happen to read this, you’ll know who you are.)
Surrounded by all that creative energy it was impossible not to come home with some new ideas already simmering. And I guess that must be the same for almost everyone who went to Vienna. For me, it doesn’t matter whether those ideas take form as flash fiction, prose poems, novel constellations, long short stories or even – intake of breath – full-blown novels. As those well-known cultural commentators Pink Fairies once observed about another art form: ‘It’s rock and roll, and the message is: do it.”
And with that, it’s time I got back to work.