The history of the railway station novel dates back to the nineteenth century, when puffing steam locomotives grunted and squealed as they ground to a halt in brand-new stations. The ascent of the steam train and expansion of the railway network in the second half of the nineteenth century not only heralded a new era for passenger transport but also reading culture. At first, the train seemed like a big adventure, but for most travellers the novelty of the ride soon wore off. The scenery whizzed past too quickly to enjoy looking at it and the thundering of the wheels on the tracks made quiet conversation impossible.
Booksellers and publishers were quick to recognise an unmet need, which they rapidly met by addressing this new target audience with booklets specially made for train passengers: railway station novels. These new books had to meet the wishes and expectations of train passengers in every respect. They were small in size, making them easy to carry, and very cheap. Short journey times called for a light, bite-sized chunk of relaxing literature, mostly romances. A short story that you could finish in one trip.
Today, the smartphone has largely replaced the railway station novel. EUROPALIA and Behoud de Begeerte want to change this. We invited six contemporary authors, three Dutch-speaking and three French-speaking, all fans of train travel, to write a contemporary version of the railway station novel. Their starting point: the clichés and narratives surrounding trains and stations as quintessential places of meeting and parting, love and heartbreak. But these new versions also take today’s traveller and his/her travel conditions into account. The result is not easily digestible uniformity but six extremely different texts. The texts are published in six booklets, each foreseen in translation and on sale in many locations. This way, we enable all train passengers throughout the country to travel in literary first class.
Over the 2022 Saint Valentine’s weekend, the authors will read their texts live in Liège and Antwerp Central stations. In addition, during the same period, the authors will join the Saint Amour tour of Behoud de Begeerte. Besides love, the theme of travel will be central. During Saint Amour, the authors will also be joined by a number of international big names from the literary world.
Thomas Gunzig (1970) is a novelist and screenwriter. His debut short story collection Situation instable penchant vers le mois d’août, was awarded the prize for writer-student by the City of Brussels in 1994. Since then, he has written several short stories and novels in which social critique and black humour are central. He is also the (co-)author of theatre pieces, radio plays and scenarios for cinema and comic strips. As a columnist, he regularly works for newspaper (Le Soir), radio (La Première) and television (La Une).
Caroline Lamarche (1955) writes novels, stories, poems, theatre pieces and radio plays. One of those radio plays is L’autre langue, about a French-speaking woman who wants to learn Dutch to be able to read the poetry of Leonard Nolens. In her novels, she explores how people cross borders, ‘dare, don’t dare, and then dare anyway’ to enter a new dimension within themselves. Lamarche has won several literary prizes for her work, including the Prix Victor Rossel, the most important literary prize in French-speaking Belgium.
Lisette Lombé (1978) is a slammer, artist, poet and co-founder of Collectif L-SLAM. As an important figure on the Belgian slam scene, she fiercely defends minorities. Her own mixed heritage and experiences as a woman, mother and teacher influence her writing and chosen battlegrounds. Collages, performances, books and workshops are the result. Lombé was made an honorary citizen of Liège in 2017 for her work as an ‘artivist’ and ‘slambassadress’. In 2020, she received the Golden Afro Artistic Award for her novel Vénus Poética and the Prix Grenades/RTBF for her collection Brûler brûler brûler.
Erwin Mortier (1965) is a Flemish writer and poet. In 1999, Mortier made his debut with the highly successful novel Marcel, which won the Gerard Walschap Prize, the Van der Hoogt Prize and the Gouden Ezelsoor. In addition, the book was nominated for the Libris Literature Prize and longlisted for the Gouden Uil. Within one year of publication, forty thousand copies had been sold and the book was translated into English, German, French and Bulgarian. From 2005 to 2007, Mortier was city poet of Ghent. In October 2008, he published the widely acclaimed novel Godenslaap, which won the AKO Literature Prize 2009. In April 2020, Mortier published De onbevlekte, the long-awaited sequel to his prize-winning debut novel Marcel. The novel was nominated for the Libris Literature Prize 2021.
Lize Spit (1988) is a phenomenon. Her debut novel Het smelt sold over 200,000 copies. More than fifteen translations and a film followed. The book won the Bronzen Uil, the Dutch-speaking Book Trade Prize, the Hebban Prize for debut novel and was NRC book of the year. In December 2020, she published her second novel, Ik ben er niet. Spit is a columnist with De Morgen and works as a guest lecturer in creative writing for LUCA School Of Arts and RITSC.
Rob van Essen
Rob van Essen (1963) writes novels and stories that are highly appreciated for their distinctive themes and literary daredevilry. He is incomparable in the Dutch-speaking region. Visser stood on the shortlist of the Libris Literature Prize 2009, his short story collection Hier wonen ook mensen was awarded the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize. His most recent novel, De goede zoon, won the Libris Literature Prize 2019. His latest collection of short stories, Een man met goede schoenen, was published in October 2020 and shortlisted for the J.M.A. Biesheuvel Prize 2021.