Polish writer Ahsan Ridha Hassan soaks up Edinburgh's 'magic'

Polish writer Ahsan Ridha Hassan soaks up Edinburgh's 'magic'

Ahsan, rising star of the Polish literary scene and awardee of the inaugural Lord Provost's International Residency, gives us the lowdown on his residency in the capital

Based in Krakow, Ahsan Ridha Hassan is an acclaimed writer with two short story collections, his debut Wieża (2014) and follow-up Trupojad i dziewczyna (2017), and a host of articles to his name. He's currently visiting Edinburgh through the Lord Provost's International Residency, where he beat off stiff competition to clinch a month-long residency in the world's first UNESCO City of Literature.

It's the first collaborative residency between Edinburgh and Krakow City of Literature and Ahsan is excited to make the most of his stay and thrilled to explore somewhere he describes as 'a magical city with a unique, medieval atmosphere.'

His must see list includes Edinburgh Castle, St. Giles' Cathedral, Arthur's Seat, Dean Village, but he also plans to do some hiking in Pentland Hills and to visit the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. He thinks of balancing the desire to get to know Edinburgh and the need to write as his biggest challenge during the residency, and hopes to 'explore the city, meet different people, write my novel, read a lot and, at least, have few hours of sleep every night.'

He'll be working on a novel while he's here, a totally different beast to the short stories he's known for. He explains, 'writing short stories and novels are two completely different activities. When I write a short story I need to have planned everything and, after finishing the story I must be 100 per cent sure that there is not a single word more, than it should be. Mostly when I start writing a short story I know exactly how it will end. Usually writing short stories takes about a week or two.

'Writing novels is totally different. I try to plan the plot, characters, etc., but despite this, during writing, the novel changes itself. It "leads me" to totally different areas than I planned at the beginning. It's amazing but also annoying. I usually need about two years to write a 300 page novel.'

When asked for a few Polish writers we'd be wise to keep an eye out for, he was keen to highlight a few contemporary names – putting the emphasis on celebrating authors who're here and creating now. His top tips include Olga Tokarczuk, who won this year's Man Booker International Prize, Wiesław Myśliwski, Dorota Masłowska, Joanna Bator, Jerzy Pilch and Michał Witkowski.

As for what's on his bedside table right now? He's busy with 'Susan Sontag's Under the sign of Saturn, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge, George Saunder's Lincoln in Bardo, Wiesław Myśliwski's Windnokrąg and, of course a guide to Edinburgh.'

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