Author Spotlights Georgia through British Eyes at London Book Launch

Katie is a prominent author, journalist and supermum. She’s an expert in many things, including vampires! - was Ambassador Tamar Beruchashvili’s affectionate introduction to Katie Ruth Davies’s talk at the cozy, semi-detached Georgian Embassy to the United Kingdom in London.

Our editor has embarked on a frenetic tour of the United Kingdom in order to promote her new Young Adult fiction book – Angel - to the UK market, and to stimulate interest in Georgia, not just as a holiday destination, but its history, institutions, and culture.

Her engaging talk on the country was a whistle-stop overview illustrated with photographs by Katie and GEORGIA TODAY’s Tony Hanmer. It came from a particularly authoritative perspective, utilising a wealth of stories and anecdotes amassed over eleven years by someone with her finger on the pulse of the country. Her work as Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper, author, editor of, and English teacher ensures that she is in a better position than most to understand how the diversity in climate, religion and culture cohere into what is a unified and proud nation.

She packed a lot of information into a 40-minute presentation, managing to touch on ancient history, citing Skull 5, the myth of the Golden Fleece, and St Nino who brought Christianity to the country, and praised the tolerance of modern-day Georgia by using a square kilometer in Tbilisi containing a church, a synagogue, and a mosque as a piquant example.

The most effective part of her talk overall was a distillation of conversations with taxi drivers who - by and large - cannot seem to fathom why a Brit would fall in love with Georgia, especially given the widely-held (and incorrect) belief that “the streets are paved with gold” in the UK. Katie gave examples of the food (“a minute on the lips, a lifetime on the hips”), the nightlife, and the outstanding beauty of the country as being just a few of many rebuttals to her taxi-driving archetype.

There was criticism too, with reference to the poverty in rural areas and the backstreets of the capital lying just behind its glittering façade. Factories are being built, but not at a sufficient rate, and both the Tbilisi traffic and pollution, we were told, are typical bugbears for locals and visitors alike. These were not the grumblings of a spoiled tourist; the criticisms were constructive and in a spirit of civil engagement from someone who truly does feel that her home is Georgia. Katie’s salient point was that economic progress has to be – and is being - made, and more alignment with the West is positive, but prosperity should not come - Macbeth-like - through sacrifice of the Georgian soul.

Trying to sell a country, whilst also selling your own young adult novel is quite a tall order but Angel (book one of the new Dark Wings series) is the first of Katie’s books to be set in Georgia and is written specifically for her Georgian fans. There is a glut of translated literature available but very little written specifically with Georgian teens in mind; as Katie said, “they’re reading American, British, French and German books which are very good, but they don’t have anything that they can relate to their own experience.”

So what’s it about? The story concerns Eliso, a 16 year old Georgian girl who was ditched by her British mother and raised by a distant Georgian father and a driver-cum-bodyguard. She has a guardian angel, who only she can see and all is well until a family of demons come to town and “everything gets turned upside-down”. As well as a supernatural tale in the manner of her other books, Angel features a number of familiar vignettes of Georgian life.

Whilst it is targeted at Georgians, the book works to introduce foreign teenagers to the fascinating Caucasian country. This, alas, is necessary; Katie made the point that most Westerners tend to mistake it for the American state whose name it shares, and I myself have had people ask how I came to be contributing to a Russian newspaper (yeesh!).

To that end, an event at Primrose Hill Community Library the following evening worked very well. Katie gave a pared down version of her talk at the embassy, before being interviewed by a (British) teenager who had read an advance copy of the book. She was asked pertinent questions about her career as an author, her inspiration and her technique, before the floor was opened to questions from the rapt audience.

Katie is continuing her tour of the UK and if these first two events are anything to go by, then I shouldn’t be surprised if Wizz Air notices a sharp rise in passengers travelling from London to Kutaisi, all clutching well-thumbed copies of this first book in the much-awaited new series by Georgia’s leading Young Adult fiction author.

Robert Edgar, London

12 March 2018 19:28