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10 Nov 2010 In the Bend of the River

10 Nov 2010 – In the Bend of the River

VojvodinaIts arrived! 500 copies of In the Bend of the River – finding Vojvodina are now neatly stacked beside the bookcase in my study. This is the fate, I suppose, of all self-published works; if I prove unable to resist writing another one, on Serbia “proper” next time, it will have to go in the bedroom with the bed elevated 4 feet off the ground. But I have to report that there is already a tiny hole in this book quarry thanks to enthusiastic demand from loyal friends.

VojvodinaWe lived the best part of 7 years in Novi Sad, and latterly a couple of them in the ethnic Hungarian village of Stara Moravica where we are the proud and happy owners of a village house. When you live cross-culturally, a rare privilege for the otherwise sane and relatively wealthy Westerner, you are banished from your comfort zone. In fact you live in a permanent state of surprise, oft confusion, frequent joy, as you discover the bedrock of being human. An old Serb theologian pointed out a verse in Proverbs that says “the wise man speaks with the heart”, and this is a wonderful truth. When you stumble in humiliation over prepositions and innumerable cases you can only reach out a hand of human fellowship that says 'I care about you and want to hear your story'.

For the sake of friends whom we love, the neighbours we shall always remember, and for the unknown poor, fine, honourable, beautiful, intelligent people of this extraordinarily diverse province of Vojvodina I was compelled to set down something of what I saw and loved. So it is for them, and I can claim to have written the first English language book in the memoir cum travel writing genre about Vojvodina. Who has ever heard of Vojvodina outside SE Europe? Our own little Marches market town has Hungarians and Poles, not to mention Indians and others from far away, working here and learning all about us, but none of us knows anything about the Balkans or what I call Old Europe. It is full of history and respect for old fashioned ways. I hope some copies will kindle adventurous hearts into discovery for themselves.

VojvodinaThe process of writing the book, with a happy and comfortable routine in the village, plied with tea and entertained by the sparrows or interrupted by passing cranes, was surprisingly enjoyable and straight forward. Trying to get it published was horrible work. One or 2 friends went through the manuscript cliché spotting. Others hunted for typos, none entirely successfully even now. I am just glad I am not a professional author. The idea of having to “market” yourself is a gloomy prospect. Equipped with the Artists' and Writers' Handbook I wrote to dozens of literary agents but to no avail. Some tried to like it but gave up. One, my favourite, replied eventually long after I had decided on a different course, to say 'I am very sorry but I am aftaid your manuscript got trapped under a pile of things on my desk last year and I've only just realized....”!

Tu radi nepoznat autorA perusal of the travel section of a book shop makes me realize that my book is irredeemably eclectic and perhaps a bit quirky. I follow my passions without restraint, but hopefully not overwhelmingly so, and alas pausing lovingly and often amongst Vojvodina's wild places, its landscapes and its birds. I did overhear my “dear acquaintance” advising a friend to 'skip the history chapters' which she finds, like any normal person and not least the people of Vojvodina, very confusing!

So I offer it the way it is, and if you send me £10 I shall put one in the post to you, and a pound in the kitty of KLEEN, our environmental group. Trish did some brilliant illustrations; if I had known how brilliant she was I might have got her to fill the whole book. And especially I must thank Kornelia and Miroslav Ćeran, our friends who run Bookstream in Novi Sad, for publishing it and doing it so beautifully. It is to be found in all good bookshops in Novi Sad and Belgrade, and in a book quarry in my study. Books 'do furnish a room' but in this case, please, not for ever!

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