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On the sofa with The Signature Hunter, The Translator and Abdelkader Benali

Three and a half hours streaming video From a seating area at The Hague's Winternachten festival. I won't blame you if you didn't follow everything. I wasn't quite there myself at the end. Still, it was a success. If only because it has not been done here in the country before. Blab is so new that no one actually knows it yet. It is free, we have no shares, but it is getting big, in my opinion. The fact that such a marathon won't happen again any time soon doesn't change that. After all, it is now a download of a few gigabytes, and that is not convenient in this mobile first times.
Winternachten, also known as Writers Unlimited, is one of the most enjoyable literary festivals I know. It is low-threshold and because of its focus on writers from exciting areas such as the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, and because Karl Ove Knausgard is already there, it appeals to broad layers of the somewhat better-educated population.
What of that came along times that three gigabyte marathon?

The signature hunter

It started off right away. We had actually expected a chat with Ahmed Aboutaleb, but it turned out to be a gentleman from Castricum in Groningen who has 8,000 books at home. A considerable number of which are signed. The man is a reader, sure, but his great love, it turns out, is mainly collecting autographs of famous writers. His greatest pride is an autograph of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesental. Engaging man, who appears to be known at all book festivals in Europe. He appeared to have come on the bonnet, but had managed to talk his way back in. To the doorman, and to us. And he has the secret number of former prime minister Dries van Agt.

The Reading Club Man (at 13 minutes)

She pushed in right after the autograph hunter, and turned out to be one of those other types of literary festival-goers you can't escape: the reading club girl. All love of books, and entering that phase of life where books and reading clubs define your entire social life. Good thing they are there. Nice person. She has read Marsman. I didn't ask her about Ziggy Stardust.

Layla (at 1 am)

The great thing about Blab is that anyone can join online. Now this is not so easy from an ipad, because blab is still so new that they have only managed a desktop version and a rudimentary iPhone app. Meanwhile, because of the supposedly international audience of both festival and blab, we had switched to English as our working language. And we had our first online guest: Layla from Amsterdam. So with whom I had an animated conversation, in English. Wasn't about anything else, but it was fun to pass the time until the next break in the festival programme.

Andrei Kerkov (at 1 hour and 17 minutes)

Ukrainian writer and poet Andrei Kurchov joins us. He has come from Kiev to chat with Alaa al Aswani about the two squares that have been the scene of bloody revolutions in recent years: Maidan in Kiev, and Tahrir in Cairo. Wonderful man, Kerkov. And he can narrate beautifully, too. He also recited some beautiful Russian verses. Our spectator in the hotseat enjoyed it. So did I.

Baba Charawadi (at 1 hour and 35 minutes)

Baba Charawadi was programmer of the Winternachten festival in 2012. His task was to make the festival more 'African'. He describes it as a successful action to make the atmosphere warmer. He made sure there was plenty of food. A festival without food is not a festival, according to the author who is now devoting himself to his second novel, to be published later this year. He further trains foreigners in dealing with the Dutch. His main lesson? 'Make sure you are seen. Be a success. Only then will the Dutch find you worth investing in.' Something in which he says we are different from, say, America, where people are much more inclined to appreciate the effort, and are more likely to help you succeed.

Abdelkader Benali (at 1 hour and 50 minutes)

He just emerged from a lively debate with Kristien Hemmerechts on evil, and whether it is male or female. He took the position for the occasion that violence is not so much down to men, but that women also influence male violence. He brought in that passive aggression within relationships is a powerful weapon in the hands of women. The debate had no winner, and according to Benali, that was not the intention.

Rodaan Al Galidi (at 2 hours and 15 minutes)

Engineer Rodaan al Galidi, who once fled from Iraq, developed into an acclaimed and lauded Dutch poet and now novelist in recent years. His book describing the horrors of the Dutch bureaucracy you have to deal with as a refugee was published during the festival. The experienced diplomat manages to avoid any loaded answer during this short conversation. But because he does so in such a charming way, it is still a pleasure to make me. His lesson? 'If you need help but don't ask for it, Dutch people will help you. If you ask for help, they kill you.’

Harrie Lemmens (at 2 hours and 27 minutes)

He translated Jose Eduardo Agualusa's latest novel. That book, The General Theory of Forgetting, came out in December. Lemmens is a great lover of the Portuguese language and literature, but can talk about much more. He says great things about the profession of translation: that you have to transfer the melody, the music and the content from one language to another. 'You have to invent a new language.'

Nelleke Noordervliet (at 2 hours and 42 minutes)

She is here for the first time not as a director of the festival, but as a visitor. She has, at this late hour, when the flame is slowly extinguishing at your host's house, a few racy comments on the festival theme (Hello Darkness): 'Writing is a dark process. You have to seek out the scariest darkness in yourself in your imagination, to give substance to your story.

After that, the lights slowly went out for me too.

Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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