How this retreat in Morocco aims to encourage writers to nurture their voices

19 October,2023 01:59 PM IST |  Mumbai  |  Nascimento Pinto

In their first retreat, the UK-based company that aims to host masterclasses for writers, will have Sri Lankan 2022 Booker Prize winner Shehan Karunatilaka and 2021 Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah guiding participants on the intricacies of writing

The writer`s retreat will be held in Marrakech in Morocco between November 12 - November 17, and November 19 to November 24. Photo Courtesy: istock


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Everybody wants to write but there are few that nurture that passion seriously into the hope of turning it into something bigger. Sensing this very passion through their love for writing, editing and publishing, four friends - Faiza S Khan, Alex von Tunzelmann, Nesrine Malik and Alexandra Pringle have come together to start a writer's retreat - the first of which will take place in Marrakech in Morocco this November.

Writers will get the opportunity to closely interact not only with the experienced team but also the likes of 2021 Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah and 2022 Booker Prize winner Shehan Karunatilaka.

Speaking to mid-day.com over a call from London, Khan shares, "We were really sorry to hear about the terrible earthquake that happened there recently. However, we are keen on continuing to support Morocco and its heritage, and the last thing we want to do is pull out of the economy."

Nurturing writers
The project is very personal to them on many levels. She explains, "All of us love travel, all of us love stories, and we are all storytellers and that is how we started Silk Road Slippers."

"We love stories and narratives, so we married our love for stories and narratives. We wanted to go to places that we love and that our participants would love and at the same time have cultural history there. Our idea with Silk Road Slippers as the name is obviously the silk and the metals traded, but also the narratives that connected the world, and the exchange of ideas of religion and philosophies that changed the ways civilisations operate," she adds.

Among the others, Khan has been in the publishing industry for some time now. While she formerly held the consulting editor's position at Bloomsbury UK, she is now a freelance editor. She explains, "I have been an editor and worked for many years with emerging voices. I have worked in India and Pakistan with new talent, and then in the UK too. I am still excited in finding new voices, especially those that regular avenues of publishing wouldn't recognise."

She is joined by Tunzelmann, who is an award-winning international bestselling historian, broadcaster, and screenwriter; Malik, who is a Sudanese journalist and author of 'We Need New Stories'; last but not the least, Pringle, who was the editor-in-chief at Bloomsbury Publishing for more than two decades.

Giving a voice to writers
With everything being from the Euro-centric point of view, Khan says personally she has a priority. She explains, "I have always been passionate about whose voice gets heard, whose voice gets prioritised as a publisher because we have always seen the Western perspective as the universal experience. All the rest of us get to report on our circumstances for a white reader, so that they can consume it in an anthropological and sociological way of our lives."

Interestingly, Khan has seen a diversity push in publishing, especially after Black Lives Matter. She explains, "That too in the beginning was explaining race to white people". The authors are not going to write about romance and thriller but about being the ‘other' but there is still a long way to go. "I want it to be like, we can write about anything, and that can be commercially viable too," Khan adds.

While the first one is in Morocco this November, they are going to host another one there in February and November next year with renowned speakers who are stars in their own right.

She reveals, "Next year we will be having Kamila Shamsie and Maggie O'Farrell - both women's prize winners." This time around, Gurnah and Karunatilaka will join participants for three days each during the retreat. It is these voices that she believes also what make the retreat unique to many around the world, along with the fact that there are only going to be slots for 16 people to be able to cater to everyone individually.

While the names may sound intimidating, the UK-based editor says that it is for everyone and a setup so that people can benefit from it at any stage of their career. "We have people who are distinguished writers who want to be able to write in a new genre. We have people who have never been published, and others who have never written over 1,000 words, but they want to know how to organise their thoughts and write a book, and how they should navigate the publishing world."

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