November 2012 was a special month - it was the first Open Central Asia Book Forum and Literature Festival, held to promote the writers from Central Asia and also those who write about Central Asia. Never before had such an eclectic group of talented writers met to discuss the important topics of writing, publishing and promotion.
There were experienced writers, aspiring writers, published authors and a few stars from the world of politics (Rosa Otunbayeva the former interim President of Kyrgyzstan opened the event) and local films. I was delighted to have been invited to not only represent Open Central Asia magazine under whose umbrella the festival was being organised, but also to be able to use this event as the launch of my first book, Friendly Steppes.
I had never written such a weighty tome before, let alone had it published and be available for critical review from global audiences. But the setting was perfect - I was back in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where I had been 6 years earlier on my Silk Road travels. In many ways the place remained very similar to how I remembered it but I could also see how the place was changing post the 2010 riots that led to regime change and the introduction of the first democracy in the region.
The festival was full of hope and aspiration, filled with wonderful characters keen to engage in discussion. Events were organised thick and fast - author talks, roundtables on how to promote Central Asian literature new and old, a performance by Orzu Arts of a new play, awards ceremonies and dinners. It was three wonderful days that felt like I was at home in many ways, meeting friends old and new.
My book launch itself was wonderfully intimate - 40 people packed into the room, the video camera rolling, a flurry of questions about my impressions, experiences and thoughts on the region. At the end a queue of people kindly asking me to sign their newly purchased copies of my book, with photographs for their albums. New friends made, laughs had and ideas exchanged.