British Council Literature Seminar

Experience new British literature, up close and in person

The British Council Literature Seminar brings together an impressive group of contemporary British writers over three days in January for a mixture of readings, discussions and workshops. It offers students, academics, publishers, translators, journalists and literature fans from across Europe the chance to hear the latest writing from the UK and engage with the writers and their work at first hand. 

The theme of the 2016 seminar is "Brit Crime – A New Golden Age of Crime Writing?" and the participating writers are:

  • Val McDermid
  • Philip Kerr
  • Sophie Hannah
  • Jake Arnott 
  • Bethan Roberts and 
  • Kate Summerscale 

The seminar will be chaired by John Mullan, Professor of English at UCL and chair of the Guardian Book Club. 

Brit Crime – A New Golden Age of Crime Writing?

Every country seems to love its fictional crimes and has its own special conventions of crime writing, both for the page and for the screen. Is there something distinctively British about British crime writing? (And perhaps something distinctively Scottish about Scottish crime writing?)

 A special place at the heart of British literature

Crime writing has always been a highly commercial pursuit, yet some of the most literary novelists have always dabbled in crime. Why does this genre seem to have a special place at the heart of British literature? The seminar will examine how contemporary writers draw on the traditions of British crime writing, reaching back as far as the whodunits of Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers, or even the dark, glittering mysteries of Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins.

How is British crime writing changing?

And we will find out where British crime writing is now. How is it changing? In what ways is it influenced by powerful and popular TV dramatisations? Does this kind of fiction tell us about the society that produces it? As the nature of crime itself changes, is this reflected in fiction?

As this most established of genres evolves to tell new stories and take on new subject matter, do we find ourselves in a new golden age of crime writing?

Registration

The seminar will begin with a public reading on Thursday 28 January and will finish on Saturday 30 January. There is a seminar fee of €150 (reduced fee of €90 for students). 

If you are interested in attending, please download and complete the registration form, and return it to the British Council by email to literature@britishcouncil.de.

For questions or further details please contact Eva Rhiemeier at literature@britishcouncil.de.

History of the Literature Seminar

The British Council Literature Seminar in Germany has brought new literary voices from the UK to Germany for 30 years.

The beginnings

The British Council Literature Seminar was founded by Malcolm Bradbury in 1986. His aim was to establish a platform of debate for publishers, translators, journalists and other creative professionals in Germany. Originally named the Walberberg Seminar after the monastery in Nordrhein-Westfalen where it was held, the seminar established itself as a regular fixture in the German literary calendar. Since its beginnings the seminar has introduced in total about 200 contemporary writers from the UK to an audience of some 2000 participants.

The authors

Over the years, the list of writers has included Ian McEwan, Graham Swift, Angela Carter, Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson. Following on from Malcolm Bradbury, chairs of the seminar have included Christopher Hope, Valentine Cunningham, Caryl Phillips, Marina Warner, A S Byatt, Michèle Roberts, Paul Muldoon, Andrew Motion, Ali Smith and Glenn Patterson, Patricia Duncker, Blake Morrison and Professor John Mullan.

The themes

In its early years the seminar addressed generic themes of contemporary literature such as translation and the literature of today. Following this, the seminar concentrated on introducing new ideas to the teaching of Creative Writing in Germany.

Over the last few years the strategic themes of the British Council in Europe have been instrumental in defining the seminar’s way forward, e.g. ‘Whose English?’, ‘Rooted Realities and Maps of Migration’, ‘Changing Literary Climates’ and ‘Literature and Health’.

Transition

In January 2012 the seminar was devoted to the novelist, journalist and social critic Charles Dickens. The event, ‘What would Dickens write today?’ for the first time included public readings and discussions for a wider audience, alongside the seminar for an invited specialist audience.

2012 also marked a change in location, moving from its previous residential settings in Walberberg and the Akademie Schmöckwitz, to a central location at the heart of Berlin. These changes have helped to broaden the appeal of the seminar and make it accessible for a wider literary audience.

British Council Literature Seminar 2015: 'Form in Tension'

The 30th seminar took place in January 2015, chaired by poet and novelist Lavinia Greenlaw. Authors Philip Hoare, Frances Leviston, Deborah Levy, Helen Oyeyemi and Will Self examined the theme Form in Tension. The topics discussed ranged from sperm whales, novels in care homes, hotel doors, "serious" fiction and Berliner Currywurst. You can now re-watch the individual sessions and discussions on our YouTube channel. We've also collected the most inspiring quotes and tweets from the seminar in our #BritLitBerlin Storify. If you are a fan of podcasts, we recommend you to listen to Radio New Zealand's feature that includes interviews with Will Self, Lavinia Greenlaw and Frances Leviston. 

British Council Literature Seminar 2014: 'Shakespeare – Our Contemporary?'

In January 2014 the British Council devoted its annual literature seminar in Germany to William Shakespeare, arguably the most significant and pertinent English writer, whose legacy continues to inspire and intrigue us. To mark the 450th anniversary of his birth, we brought together UK authors Naomi Alderman, A S Byatt, Howard Jacobson, Tom McCarthy, Alice Oswald, Mark Ravenhill and Polly Stenham to discuss their work and reflect on Shakespeare’s relevance today.

The seminar was chaired by Professor John Mullan, professor of English at University College London and host of the Guardian Book Club, and was held at Bertelsmann Unter den Linden 1 in the heart of Berlin.

Watch the Sessions Online

Are you a Shakespeare fan? Do you enjoy reading new literature from the UK? Then catch up on the sessions of the seminar on our YouTube channel or by clicking on the individual links below:

Panel Discussion 'Shakespeare – Our Contemporary?'

Howard Jacobson reading from Zoo Time and in discussion with John Mullan.

Polly Stenham in conversation with John Mullan and reading from work in progress.

A S Byatt reading from Ragnorak and in conversation with Tobias Döring.

Naomi Alderman reading from The Liar’s Gospel and in conversation with Tobias Döring.

Tom McCarthy in discussion with John Mullan.

Mark Ravenhill reading from his work and in conversation with John Mullan.