You've heard the advice to write what you know. That doesn't mean that you restrict your prose to your personal experiences, of course. Anyone can go to a reference library and research a topic, and gain knowledge to write on a particular subject or period of time. Through study, you could even write about a different country, one you've never set eyes on.
That's what Asne Seierstad did. She wrote "The Bookseller of Kabul" after examining letters of Afghani women who spoke of their lives and the things going on around them. At the Cuirt Festival in Galway, her credentials came under fire.
A member of the audience called out Ms. Seierstad, who happens to be Norwegian, and claimed that the author wrote from a Westerner's perspective and therefore had no business writing about Afghanistan. Not exactly the sort of thing one would care to deal with on a book tour, to be heckled from the crowd.
Ms. Seierstad fired back, explaining the use of documents to gain knowledge that would be turned into a story arc. Things must have gotten heated, because at some point, the novelist asked her questioner if she'd even read the book at all.
It's no surprise that things would get so testy at the literary festival. Galway was packed with the politically bent, from novelists to poets, all speaking out against the injustice that they document in their words. Novelist Ronan Bennett took Salman Rushdie to task for accepting a knighthood, and then he proceeded to criticize Martin Amis for making comments against Muslims. Poets from South Africa read verses that arose from apartheid and imprisonment, while memoirists sought strength to fight HIV and breast cancer.
Just when things were getting increasingly glum and morose, former stand-up comedian Dave Gorman injected a dose of humour with an excerpt from his latest novel. The young people need something, don't they? With all that doom and gloom, it's no wonder that they aren't flocking to the Cuirt Festival.
Throw in some short stories, and every segment of the literary world had its time on the stage, to present the state of the world and decry the politics of the age. History's written in novels as well, isn't it?