Writing beyond barriers

I first met Aydin at one of the ‘Writing Nicosia… beyond barriers’ workshops that the Literary Agency of Cyprus (LAC) has been organising since the beginning of October.

We left the old powerhouse of Nicosia on foot, early one afternoon. Map in hand, we were all aware of the route that lay ahead of us. As we roamed the streets of the old town in the south and crossed to north Nicosia, the birds chirping along the Green Line were an indication of the nuances we were about to be introduced to.

Precisely, each of the five workshops were facilitated to take place within the streets of the heart of Nicosia. “We are walking the streets of Nicosia and we’re not afraid of walking the streets of Nicosia,” Aydin Mehmet Ali, founder of LAC and the brain behind the Writing Nicosia workshops had said at the time.

“We are writing on the streets of Nicosia and we perform on the streets. Any passers by can join in and listen. We’re pushing the boundaries of being very safe in little rooms, it’s an interesting experience doing that on the streets,” she added.

In that respect, the barriers crossed through the workshops are multi-faced. As the title of the workshops indicated, going beyond barriers is at the core, crossing the divide perhaps being the most obvious one. Yet, the idea of promoting writers to share their work stretches into a movement which holds LAC’s vision at heart.

Part of the workshops attempts to identify certain locations of Nicosia, to write about them and to some extent externalise the presence of these locations which may disappear in ten years time.

“It may be a graffiti, it might be a building that is falling apart because we don’t actually take care of it, or it might be a building that is transformed into something else. It’s a sort of a record of the moment, of what Nicosia is at the moment,” says Aydin.

The five workshops, each facilitated by different LAC members and accompanied by special guests from various backgrounds, included two workshops carried out particularly for women. “Part of my work is to promote the work of women and as I always say, sometimes we have this thing that people say, that women cook but the men are the chefs or that women write poetry but the men are poets,” explains Aydin only to re-enforce another barrier which seems to be addressed through the workshops and furthermore through LAC.

On one occasion, and during the last workshop, female participants were invited to indulge in the walk at night time, to once again ‘break’ another barrier; that of making use of the starry sky but also to ‘reclaim Nicosia’, as Aydin says, during a time when women are perhaps less acquainted to indulge in or seen to indulge in walking the streets.

Although not a rule, the workshops and other activities initiated by LAC are carried out in the English language. These workshops focus on encouraging English Language Literature, one of the purposes of LAC in any case, but also to promote the English language writing from Cyprus on the world arena.

“If there are people who are winning prizes who are from Africa or the Caribbean or India, I think that it’s about time that Cypriot writers also win one of the major awards of the world arena because we have writers who are that good,” reflects Aydin.

The reality is that the local literary world is somewhat scattered; somewhat left in the hands of writers’ associations in the south and north and which individually, are predominantly preoccupied with writing in Greek and Turkish. The opportunity LAC is giving to writers in English is not only unique but also covers a field which had been left unsupported and to its own destiny.

“I think we should be even braver because it’s time to not operate on selective memory, or try to forget,” says Aydin. “Literature is somewhere where we can actually say things the way they are without being afraid… I would like to see that we start writing some things differently also. We should be writing science fiction, we should be writing fantasy… fairy tales. We should be going beyond, using different genres which maybe we’re not doing that much because we’re stuck in this whole lot of stuff that’s happening… post conflict societies and what we’re trying to come to terms with… in some ways it’s the writers who are actually pushing the boundaries by saying we need to project these things, we can’t just sweep things under the carpet,” says Aydin.

This is achieved through a number of events LAC has already began materialising. Aside from providing a platform for mentoring, advising, translating and sharing works and the support offered to local writers, LAC was invited to Kent University in Canterbury to participate in a post literature international conference, to name one example. Putting the works gathered from the Writing Nicosia workshops and assembling them in an anthology is another.

“This is almost like an ode to Nicosia, to the city that actually houses us, takes care of us, enables us to function as citizens, with all our pains and all our treasures, and this anthology will be a recognition of this,” explains Aydin.

And it’s because of Aydin’s experiences throughout the years that she is determined to make LAC achieve its visions through a multicultural, multilingual and antiracist attitude to the new societies and communities that we now have in Cyprus. “We have to recognise that, acknowledge it and change the approach both in education and in our literatures,” says Aydin.
Another important project by LAC is Whirling Words, a project for women writers in Cyprus and those with a connection to the island with eighteen women being part of the project at present; some living in Cyprus and others abroad.

LAC also organises concurrent readings with invited authors and poets and offers the opportunity to people who want to share their work alongside to do so. “We did a reading by the harbour of Paphos, with a beautiful background of an excavator,” laughs Aydin.

“We thought we were going to have this beautiful view of the castle and then they come and park an excavator there. But I think that’s great; maybe we should adopt the excavator as a sort of mascot, because that’s what we do in life, as writers, we dig, we look at, we think about, we shake about and I think some of the writers we have are quite fearless in doing that, whether it’s on a personal level or a political, sociological level,” concludes Aydin.

Literary Agency Cyprus
Founded in 2013 LAC focuses on writers in Cyprus and the Diaspora. As an agency, it uses English – the colonial language – to bring together our experiences, philosophies of life, creativities and passions. Members write short stories, poems, plays, memoirs, songs, travelogues, novellas and other creative pieces, at times crossing genres.
Their work is performed collectively and individually across the divide in Cyprus and internationally.
LAC aims to support and promote Anglophone literature of Cyprus in the world arena, irrespective of the ethnic or language origins of the writers. It also aims to provide services to support writers to bring their work up to publishing level and take the literature of Cyprus to the streets, to venues and audiences beyond the accustomed.
More information about LAC can be found by searching Literary Agency Cyprus on Facebook.

Founder of LAC
Aydın Mehmet Ali is an intellectual activist, writer and translator. Born in Cyprus, she now lives between Cyprus and London where she sought refuge from a war. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies, books and journals.
As a renowned translator of poetry, her work has been included in international publications and performed across the world. She has performed her work at international venues universities and community centres. She is an advisory editor of Cadences literary journal.
She set up and managed many empowerment projects in the UK and Cyprus focusing on young people, women, education and the Arts. The Way we are (2003-2004), a photographic project with children in Ayia Triada/Sipahi, Cyprus was targeted by the military. She is a passionate activist for justice and multi-cultural, multilingual communities and vehemently against the militarisation of communities and societies especially in Cyprus, the Diaspora and the Middle East. An intellectual activist, she contributed to the creation of multicultural, anti-racist, bilingual societies and cities across Europe. She has worked as a chief education officer, international education consultant, arts projects manager, and as adviser to the London Mayor, universities, schools and Local Education Authorities.
She is the author of Turkish Speaking Communities & Education – no delight and the editor of Turkish Cypriot Identity in Literature. Her latest publication is Forbidden Zones (2013).

***Written by Melissa Hekkers. Published in The Cyprus Weekly Newspaper, October 24, 2014

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About Melissa Hekkers

I am freelance journalist and author, who has frequently been featured in mainstream news outlets and other publications in Cyprus. Recently, I've been focusing on developing my writing, promoting my own books and teaching creative writing to children and adults. My most recent publication (2020) - Amir's Blue Elephant- pushes the boundaries of creative non-fiction, and recreates the moments that marked me the most, whilst volunteering in refugee camps in Lesvos, Greece, and during her ongoing involvement with the refugee community in Cyprus. In 2018 I published My Capre Greco Mandala which is the third in a series, an interactive colouring book about the biodiversity of the Cape Greco peninsula in Cyprus. My Akamas Mandala, the second in the series, is a colouring book inspired by the variety of endemic plants found on the Akamas Peninsula. In 2016, I published My Nicosia Mandala, the first of the above series, an innovative, interactive colouring book about the historic fortifications of the old town of Nicosia. I also focuses on silenced communities in Cyprus: I writes about migrants and refugees, both as a reporter and a features writer; I profile them and teach them creative writing skills. In 2007, soon after graduating with a Communications degree, I published my first children’s book in both English and Greek entitled Crocodile, which won the Cyprus State Illustration Award. In 2012, I launched my second children’s book Flying across Red Skies (in English and Greek), using an experimental approach to literature, for which I was nominated for the Cyprus State Literary award. My third, similarly well-received children’s book was Pupa (Greek and English), published in 2014. In between the last two books, I published my first free-verse poetry book entitled Come-forth. In 2019 she was contributing author to the anthology Nicosia Beyond Barriers: Voices from a Divided City, published by Saqi Books, London