It’s been a quiet morning here in Sofia. The coffee pot is bubbling away on the little electric stove-top, outside there are sparrows cheeping busily, and I’ve got the entire guest-house to myself. The last time I stayed here was in 2007. Back then, the guest-house was busy: there was an alarmingly fierce six-and-a-half foot actor who strode around in his underpants, and who was apparently playing the part of a mafia hoodlum in a TV drama; there was my Russian guitarist friend (and lover of P.G. Wodehouse) Dmitri — who I last spoke to online a few weeks ago, who has more recently taken up the harp, and who played me O’Carolan tunes via Skype all the way from Nizhny Novgrod; and there was a serious German sociologist who spoke excellent Bulgarian, and who was carrying out research on corruption amongst the political classes. It was a heady mix. But now it is low season here in Sofia and the guest house has only recently reopened after a few months closed for business over the winter — so at the moment I’m the only person here. Although I admit that I’m somewhat nostalgic for the varied company that there was back then in the summer of 2007, at the same time it’s nice to have what is effectively my own private apartment here close to the centre of Sofia, all of which is giving me a chance to sit and brew coffee and do a bit of writing and thinking, and get ready for the next week or so of events.
This morning I took a walk into Sofia, stopping off for banitsa and coffee in the Central Sofia Market Hall, and then heading into town to see if I could get my bearings after so long away. Some Bulgarian friends have told me that things have changed around here, that I would not recognise the city since my last visit, and that Sofia is not what it was; but it seems reassuringly not that dissimilar from how I remember it. And to my delight, as I was wandering past the bookstores down on Graf Ignatiev (there seems to be a flourishing of bookstores in Sofia at the moment, as this article on Radio Bulgaria’s website points out), I was pleased to come across the first sighting of my novel in the window of a bookstore, which reassures me that the book does in fact exist.
Seven years ago, when I left Bulgaria with the first draft of The Descent of the Lyre in my hands, I did so with two aspirations. The first was to get the book published in English, which eventually — after a lot of redrafting — happened in 2012. The second aspiration I kept closer to my chest: it was to one day see a Bulgarian edition. This, I thought, would be the true test of my success when it came to striking the right notes in my attempt — reckless foreigner that I am — to spin and respin myths and histories from Bulgaria. It is largely thanks to the efforts of my friend Annie Pecheva (see Annie’s blog here, it is in Bulgarian, but Google translate has a good stab at it), and the enthusiasm of the wonderful and dynamic publishing house, Enthusiast, that this has all eventually happened. And so it was a strangely moving experience to see that book sitting there in the shop window.
This afternoon, I’m taking it easy and meeting up with an old friend. Tomorrow is also more or less free. Then on Tuesday, things really start in earnest, with a busy round of press, radio and TV interviews, and the launch event in the evening at Greenwich Book Center, on Bulevard Vitosha (a free event — see the Facebook event page here). After that, I’m heading east to Varna, where I’ve got a packed schedule of readings, events and workshops thanks to the wonderful Lecti Centre. And so whilst I feel a little nostalgic for the mayhem of 2007, it is probably good to have a bit of time to gather my strength for the coming week or two…