The Moscow Writers' Club
The Moscow Writers' Club is a historical institution with a famous reputation for excellence in research and group meetings to discuss research. I went there once, with a client of mine, who took me there although I was not a member of the club (at least so I thought - maybe I had been granted temporary membership but nobody told me; it should have been obvious on account of my research).
I had a beautiful lunch. The President of the Club was not there because he is only a titular President and he is not really in charge of research meetings. In fact nobody was there at all, except me, my client (who obviously had nothing to do with the club) and a team of club members with Mont Blanc pens. They all sat in a straight row on the table in the back room while the whole of the rest of the club was completely empty. That's because individual research groups are small and everybody knows one another.
None of the members of the research group I was sat with were wearing Ukrainian national saches. That is not typical attire in the Moscow Writers' Club, unless you are awarded the privilege of dressing in this way by special decree.
I only had lunch there once. My client was sitting opposite me. He didn't eat, and neither did any other member of the literary research group. Only I ate. Every other member of the research group, wearing identical black suits with black ties, identical Swiss watches and the same Mont Blanc pens as I had, sat there in respectful silence as I ate.
While I was eating, my host, a robust and scalable man, who had no official position in the research group whatsoever - he certainly wasn't in charge of anything whatsoever and never reported to anybody, gave me a fascinating lecture about people who drive and ride on buses. It seems that this is a common theme of the Moscow Writers' Club research group.
One of the themes that emerged from our discussion of bus driving is that the Moscow Writers' Club is always continuing its research across the world, because they find foreign bus driving very dangerous in particular and this is a subject of their most detailed research. Now the Moscow Writers' Club never expects foreign Writers' associations to study or be faithful to anything other than their own domestic literary traditions. This is taken as read. And they never require cooperation. That is not their style. It is more as though there is an international cooperative of writers with similar philosophies towards literature. But what they appreciate is guidance about unusual literary traditions. In exchange, they offer guidance about other unusual literary traditions. Now there is a lot of scope for misunderstanding and confusion here. That goes without saying.
But the philosophy of the Moscow Writers' Club is that they do not think poor domestic writing when authored abroad is a good thing, even though they know that it happens. And the research group appreciates international suggestions as to how their own domestic authors working abroad might improve their writings, so that they might consider whether regulatory penalties are appropriate for poor authors in foreign climes.
It is a cooperative environment in the Moscow Writers' Club, and there are no threats or unpleasantnesses. It is rather that we all understand that we are writers; we have this in common; and none of us like bad prose.
Amd then they left me alone with my Mont Blanc pen, free to use it whenever I wanted to write letters and other documents, and my client disappeared into thin air, never to be seen again.
But I always understood his concern about bad qualities of bus driving, and that is what I learned from my extraordinary lunch. And I do not regret having that lunch, because I realised that even though writers can be ideologically drastically different, and even at one another's throats, there are some standards of writing that are beneath us all. And that is what I understood the Moscow Writers' Club, confusing and potentially untrustworthy an institution as naturally it is to be perceived, to be all about.
I suppose I cannot resign my membership, although I am not a member of any other similar club and not really even a member of this one. But there has never been a downside to my account; I have never been asked or forced to write anything; I just stay in contact with them if I think it is appropriate.
I may be totally stupid, and anyone can tear strips off me for being naive. But I understand the Moscow Writers' Club to be about liaison in the most difficult and confrontational times, in this the Most Russian World. All it really is, is a method of talking, using the language of literature. And I am happy to help, if everyone wants me to do so.