Friday 31 January 2014

Asian Books Blog Lunar Year Literary Award

Gong xi fa cai! Kung hei fat choy!  Happy Chinese New Year!

Asian Books Blog  (ABB) is lunching its own literary award: The Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year. The inaugural winner, for the Year of the Horse, will be announced during the festivities for the Year of the Ram, in 2015.

The Award will be for books of particular  interest in, or especially relevant to, Asia.  Authors can be of any nationality, and published anywhere. A book will be eligible if traditionally published in English by a commercial publishing house during either the Year of the Snake just finished, or during the upcoming Year of the Horse.

A book will  be eligible if, during the Year of the Horse:
  • It has been selected for the monthly ABB book club
  • The author has contributed to the ABB series 500 Words From...
  • The author has given ABB an interview
  • It has otherwise been featured in ABB, except as part of a round-up post, or as one of the monthly new and notable titles.
The blog covers so-called literary fiction, popular fiction of all genres except erotica, and narrative non-fiction. Hence books in these categories will all be eligible for the Award - it will cover both fiction and non-fiction. 

Self-published books will be eligible if they have been featured in the monthly column Alice on Self-Publishing, but only if they fit the criteria applied in the rest of the blog: they must be titles for adults, fiction except erotica, or narrative non-fiction - so no self-published poetry, children's titles, young adult titles, etc.

The shortlist will have six books. Throughout the year, if a book is eligible for the Award, I will ask you, the blog's readers, to let me know if you think it should make the shortlist. I will be responsible for drawing up the shortlist, but I will take your votes into account. The shortlist will be announced on the blog during the festivities for Western New Year, 2015.

Once there is a shortlist, I will ask you to cast votes for the title you think should win.  I will also canvass opinion from the blog's contributors, and people who have otherwise been involved with it through the year. I will take these opinions into account when choosing the winner, although I will make the final choice. In future years I hope to have a judging panel, although always to continue to ask you to vote, and to canvass opinion from contributors.

It seems unlikely there will be a cash prize in the Year of the Horse. Instead, this and every year, I will invite the winning author to write a guest post for the blog highlighting the work of any charity of his or her choice that is based in Asia, and working to promote the welfare of the people of Asia.  If he or she does not want to write such a post, this will not mean he or she forfeits the Award, instead, I'll write a post highlighting an Asia-based charity of my choice.  

Rosie Milne, Lunar New Year.

Indonesian Literature Abroad

Take a look at this, from the Jakarta Globe:
And at this, from the Literary Saloon:

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Alice On Self-publishing: The Chronicles of Oujo: Questalon

Alice Clark-Platts writes a monthly column on self-publishing. Here she speaks to an author and an illustrator who used a pre-orders platform to great success.

Joshua Chiang (illustrator) and Jeffrey Omar Lawrence (author), both based in Singapore, collaborated on the children's title The Chronicles of Oujo: Questalon, and used Publishizer to generate SG$5000 worth of pre-order funds before launching the book.

Lawrence describes Oujo as his and Chiang’s take on the fantasy genre: “It’s a fantasy world with all the fantasy staples - knights, dragons - but it’s also a world with our own twisted views on modern life. At its heart, Oujo is about overcoming adversity. That following what you believe in is often not an easy path and that the world often easily gives you reasons to quit, and part of overcoming that is overcoming your own doubts.

Talking of following what you believe in, I wondered whether Chiang and Lawrence had worked on Oujo full-time, or intended to go full-time? They both continued with other projects whilst working on the book, and have no plans to give up their day jobs yet - although Lawrence is constantly working on new concepts for television shows, films and books.

Why did they choose self-publishing?  Chiang said that in the case of Oujo, they wanted to produce something more interactive than might interest mainstream publishers, involving apps with narration and animation features, so choosing whether to self-publish or to do it through traditional routes was easy. Once they heard about Publishizer everything fell into place as there the interactive nature of the material could really take hold. Lawrence, however, admitted self-publishing was more work than he’d expected: “I don’t think new writers really know how much work needs to go into promoting a book. It’s a lot.

I could imagine that it would be. So how do you get people interested in your work when you don’t have a big publishing house behind you? “Begging.” Lawrence said. “Lots of begging! A lot of it was reaching out to the social network. Daily posts, continual reminders, reaching out to bloggers, parenting sites and then lots and lots of personal selling.”

Chiang and Lawrence said the most marketing support came from those who knew about the book long before it was published, and had seen early drafts. They recommend Freakonomics Radio's How to Raise Money without Killing a Kitten podcast as a guide on how to promote a crowd-funded campaign.  

Lawrence admits that the whole self-publishing process has put him on an emotional edge: "If you’re a natural introvert, it’s hard to put yourself out there." Chiang agrees, saying it was a relief and a huge surprise when sales shot through the roof during the last few days of the pre-order campaign: “Maybe there is a deity of on-line marketing that we can worship after all?

Chiang’s favourite novels are those which end on a hopeful note and which affirm the goodness in human nature. The publishing story of Oujo seems to have such an ending. Self-publishing it would seem, could be the beginning of an adventure for us all.

Alice’s next column on self-publishing will appear on Wednesday 26th February.  If you are involved in self-publishing in Asia, and you would like your work to be featured, please contact

Saturday 25 January 2014

The Second Irrawaddy Literary Festival

The second Irrawaddy Literary Festival is taking place in Mandalay from 14-16 February 2014 at the Kuthodaw pagoda, Mandalay Hill.
The Festival’s patron, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has confirmed to organisers that her attendance and personal participation will be on Saturday 15th February. She will spend several hours at the Festival, taking part in two of the Festival programme’s hour-long sessions.
As the Festival is a not for profit venture all sponsorship funds are directly used to produce the event. For the Mandalay Festival, generous sponsorship will enable state of the art LED screens to project the Festival’s highlights, live, to the public areas of the pagoda compound. Plans also include simultaneous interpretation of all of the headline events, as well as the vast majority of other sessions so that, whether Burmese or English speaking, audiences can enjoy the Festival to the full.
Individual readings, panel discussions, workshops, documentaries and movies will be complemented by several important exhibitions from abroad. An exhibition of early Burmese photography, depicting everyday life as well as officialdom of the day, is being brought to the Festival by a team from the British Library. The exhibition will remain permanently in Burma after the Festival. 
It is a central principle of the Festival that any Burmese writer who wants to participate is welcome to do so. There is still time to let the organisers know that you would like to take part. Please contact  Dr Thant Thaw Kaung at Myanmar Book Centre, or Nyi Sae Min at
Entry to the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, Mandalay, is free, throughout the three day event. The ILF Mandalay promises to be even better than the inaugural Festival in 2013.

Friday 24 January 2014

A Tale for the Time Being shortlisted for the Kitschies Red Tentacle 2013

Ruth Ozeki’s  Japanese-American historical family mystery, cum exploration of Buddhism, A Tale for the Time Being, is on the shortlist for the Kitschies Red Tentacle Award.

Since its simultaneous release across all formats – hardback, paperback, digital and audio  – in March 2013, A Tale for the Time Being has attracted worldwide critical acclaim, including securing a shortlisting for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. 

The Kitschies, presented in the UK, reward the year's most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic. Now entering its fifth year, the prize offers the Red (novel), Golden (debut) and Inky (cover art) Tentacle awards, as well as the Black Tentacle, awarded at the discretion of the judges to a piece of work that doesn’t otherwise fit the Kitschies criteria.

The Red Tentacle is presented annually to the author whose novel containing speculative or fantastic elements best fulfils the criteria: intelligent, progressive and entertaining. This year’s finalists were selected from a record 234 submissions, coming from over fifty different publishers and imprints. The winner receives a cash prize of GPB 1,000 / approx USD 1,650, a hand-crafted tentacular trophy, and a bottle of the finest black rum, from the Kitschies' sponsor, Kraken's.

The 2013 judging panel for the Red Tentacle comprises author Kate Griffin, 2012 Red Tentacle Winner Nick Harkaway, Will Hill, author of the bestselling young adult series Department 19, designer Anab Jain, and Annabel Wright, editor and founder of publishing services provider, whitefox.

Harkaway said:"This was an awe-inspiring year. For the Red Tentacle, we could have built a shortlist composed purely of iconic names, and we had to reject at least one book which may be a work of genius because it did not entirely mesh with the Kitschies' cardinal virtues: intelligent, entertaining, and progressive. The debuts are pretty breathtaking, too: broad in scope, deft and compelling. It's been an education as well as a privilege to judge the prize, and a vast relief not to be in competition with these writers.”

The winners will be announced in a ceremony in London on 12 February.

Sunday 19 January 2014

Cyrus Mistry wins the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014

The Jaipur Literature Festival, January 18. Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer emerges as the winner from a shortlist of six to take the US$50,000 DSC Prize

Cyrus Mistry has won the 2014 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his novel Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer. Cyrus Mistry is the second Indian to win the US $50,000 DSC Prize. His novel is a harrowing tale of star-crossed love that takes place in the little-known community of Parsi corpse-bearers in Bombay. It is a moving account of tragic love which brings to life the degradation experienced by those who inhabit the unforgiving margins of history.

The six shortlisted authors and books in contention for the DSC Prize were Anand: Book of Destruction (Translated by Chetana Sachidanandan; Penguin, India), Benyamin: Goat Days (Translated by Joseph Koyippalli; Penguin, India), Cyrus Mistry: Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (Aleph Book Company, India), Mohsin Hamid: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, India), Nadeem Aslam: The Blind Man’s Garden (Random House, India), Nayomi Munaweera: Island of a Thousand Mirrors (Perera Hussein Publishing, Sri Lanka)

The DSC Prize Secretariat had received close to 70 entries this year with participation from publishers in South Asia, the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia amongst others. The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, which is specifically focused on South Asian writing, is driven neither by ethnicity nor by geography: it is open to any author belonging to any part of the globe as long as the work is based on the South Asian region and its people.  The last three years have seen winners from three different countries in South Asia, reflecting the vibrancy of South Asia’s rapidly expanding book market.

The fourth edition of the DSC Prize 2014 was judged by a diverse and distinguished jury comprising eminent members from the international literary fraternity: Antara Dev Sen, editor, writer, literary critic and chair of the DSC Prize jury; Arshia Sattar, translator, writer and teacher; Ameena Saiyid, the MD of Oxford University Press in Pakistan; Rosie Boycott, British journalist and editor; Paul Yamazaki, a veteran bookseller and one of the most respected names in the book trade in the US. 

On announcing the winner, Antara Dev Sen said: “Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer is a deeply moving book, exquisitely drawn on a small, almost claustrophobic canvas. It takes a tiny slice of life, the life of the Khandhias or corpse bearers of the Parsi community, and weaves a powerful story about this downtrodden caste we know so little about. A fantastic storyteller, Mistry offers a beautiful novel rich in historical detail and existential angst, gently questioning the way we look at justice, custom, love, life and death.”

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Jaipur Literature Festival

The 2014 Jaipur Literature Festival opens on Friday, and runs for five days. The Festival, the largest free literary festival on earth - last year it had 250,000 visitors - brings together some of the greatest thinkers and writers from India, South Asia, and the world.

Namita Gokhale, co-director of the Festival with William Dalrymple, has put together the Indian programme. She picks as one of this year's highlights a strand of readings and conversations on the survival of local minority languages. This set of discussions will examine India’s linguistic diversity, and the challenges with which endangered tongues must contend in the modern world. Jaipur is in Rajasthan. Namita Gokhale says this area: “has an incredible diversity in its linguistic range, including the tribal border areas adjoining Pakistan, the vast expanses of the Thar Desert, and the Aravalli ranges habituated by agricultural and nomadic communities.”  The Festival will see the launch of a book coming out of a survey of this great multiplicity of languages, carried out under linguist Ganesh Devy. He will lead a session examining the diversity of South Asian languages, dialects, scripts and grammars.

Namita Gokhale points out that with so many languages, India exists in a continuous and ongoing state of translation, a circumstance that will be explored at the Festival: “With twenty-four official languages, innumerable mother tongues and dialects, and a tradition of many languages, many literatures, translations are key to a conjoined literary heritage. In 2014, we are fortunate to have as speakers many eminent translators from India and around the world, including Carlos Rojas, Arshia Sattar, Rahul Soni, and Geeta Krishnankutty.”

Bollywood and popular culture are an intrinsic element of India’s national narrative. Gokhale draws attention to a series of sessions, Crime and Punishment, which will dissect detective fiction with special reference to Bollywood villains.

Of the discussions with international writers, after a quick glance down the programme, I’d be particularly interested to attend Behind the Veil: Women Writers of the Islamic World, in which Nadifa Mohamad, Bejan Matur, Sahar Delijani, Shireen el Feki and Fariba Hachtroudi, five women who have found their literary voices in different parts of the Islamic world, talk about writing about modern Muslim women. The blurb explains: “Outsiders are quick to objectify Muslim women as oppressed and silent onlookers of a conservative, patriarchal and male-dominated civilization. The reality is often very different.”  It would be interesting to learn in what ways different.  The conversation will be led by Urvashi Bhutalia,

Away from the main programme, the Festival will host the first Jaipur BookMark, an initiative to develop and promote the Indian publishing industry, including self-publishing, eBooks, digital content and distribution. In publishing in the English language sector, the industry in India ranks third behind the US and the UK.  India is also an outsourcing hub for a range of print and pre-publishing services. Namita Gokhale helped bring the event to fruition.  She said: “The Jaipur BookMart is a natural progression of the interest shown in the annual publishing sessions at Jaipur. This is a modest beginning, and I am convinced that it will provide a welcome and much needed haven for informal interactions within the publishing industry.”

As noted in the last post, the winner of the 2014 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature will be announced at Jaipur.  All in all it promises to be a challenging, stretching, wonderful festival – not to mention a lot of fun.  What a pity we can’t all be in Jaipur this weekend.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

The annual DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, carrying an award of US$50,000, aims to bring South Asian writing to a global audience, and to raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.The shortlist of six books for the 2014 prize was announced in London in November. It is:
Anand: Book of Destruction (Translated from Malayalam by Chetana Sachidanandan; Penguin, India)
Benyamin: Goat Days (Translated from Malayalam by Joseph Koyippalli; Penguin, India)
Cyrus Mistry: Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer (Aleph Book Company, India)
Mohsin Hamid: How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin, India)
Nadeem Aslam: The Blind Man’s Garden (Random House, India)  
Nayomi Munaweera: Island of a Thousand Mirrors (Perera Hussein Publishing, Sri Lanka)
I put it to Manhad Narula, Steering Committee Member of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, that writers from India and Pakistan are already doing well in reaching international audiences. So did South Asian writers really need a specific prize? “Yes. We instituted the Prize in 2010 because we felt that there was a need for an international literary prize specially focused on writing about the South Asian region, its people, and its cultures. Over the last decade or so, South Asia has significantly gained importance in the global scheme of things, be it on the political, economic or cultural front, and more and more writers from all over the world are writing about the region. The DSC Prize is not limited to showcasing and rewarding Indian and Pakistani writers, or writers from other South Asian countries, but is open to any author from any part of the globe as long as the writing is about the region.”
Given The Prize’s commitment to South Asia, it seemed to me oddly lacking in confidence that the shortlist was announced in London.  Why so cautious? “Of the three key events of the DSC Prize, two are held in South Asian cities and one in London. We announced the longlist in New Delhi, then announced the shortlist in London, and we will be announcing the final winner in Jaipur later this month. In addition we have the DSC Prize Winner’s Tour where the winner is taken to South Asian cities for readings and interactions. So there are a lot of Prize-related initiatives and activities happening in South Asia. We do the shortlist announcement in London as there is a significant interest in South Asian literature in the UK and also as an international prize we get close to 30% of our entries from publishers based in the UK, US, Canada and Australia.”

South Asia is defined in the eligibility criteria as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Burma and Afghanistan.  But bar one from Sri Lanka, and one set in rising Asia, all the books on the shortlist are from India. Were there no worthy entries from elsewhere? If so: was it a language issue? Are books from beyond India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, simply not translated into English? “We do receive entries from Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan and Burma, but the larger share at present comes from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It would be incorrect to say that there is any dearth of talented authors in the other South Asian countries - we have had authors from Nepal and Bangladesh on both the Prize’s longlist and its shortlist in the past. The literary landscape and the publishing infrastructure is now evolving quite well in these countries, where the Prize is encouraging more writing, both in English and translation, so that writers from all over South Asia should become increasingly visible.”

Four of the six books on the shortlist were originally written in English. So is writing in English an advantage when it comes to winning the Prize? “Encouraging writing in regional languages, and encouraging translations, are key objectives of the DSC Prize. I do not think that there is any distinct advantage if the book is originally written in English; the essence and nuances of the narrative can be brought to life to the reader through a good translation as well. We really give a lot of importance to the role of the translator; if a translated entry wins, the prize money is equally shared between the author and the translator.” 

Last year's winner, Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis, was already heralded in the West. Is being so heralded an advantage?  Or to put it another way, is Mohsin Hamid odds-on to win this year? “There is no such advantage. We have a five-member esteemed international jury panel which cannot be swayed by an author’s fame. Being well known in the West is no criteria at all for judging an entry, no advantage in the adjudicating process. The shortlist over the years has had a healthy mix of established writers as well as newer writers – in fact the three winners so far have coincidentally all been debut writers.”

The winner of the DSC Prize 2014 will be announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is also sponsored by DSC. The announcement will be made on 18th January – look out for a post giving the result. 

Sunday 5 January 2014

Book Club: The Valley Of Amazement and January's Pick

Happy Western New Year, here's to 2014.

I assume you've read December's book club pick, the historical novel The Valley of Amazement, by Amy Tan, so I'm not going to give a plot summary. If you need one see here for details from the publisher, HarperCollins.

Since much of The Valley Of Amazement is set in Shanghainese courtesan houses it is often concerned with sex - you might be tempted to flip through for the clean bits - but it's not a sad, wish-fulfilment fantasy, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, and nor is it titillating. Rather, to me, in our age of Internet porn where every teenager with access to a computer and a modem can be assumed to have seen stuff that only 5 or 10 years ago would have been considered shockingly transgressive, it all seemed sweetly innocent, and old-fashioned. It made me feel nostalgic for the days when what Tan’s courtesans tweely call Two Scholars of the Night was considered outrageously decadent, whereas now I bet One Scholar of the Night is regularly demanded by porn-addled boyfriends of girls who think they must ape porn stars to have any hope of keeping a man - although perhaps two scholars must still be purchased from professionals?    

Again since it is about the world of courtesans, the novel is deeply concerned with money.  In Asia, the no money no honey continent of assorted male and female love entrepreneurs, we are of course familiar with the notion that men are meal tickets, women have no value unless they are young and pretty nymphs, romantic love is a luxury only the lucky few can afford, and so on and so forth.  Accordingly, Tan’s strong emphasis on the courtesans’ attitudes to love and money struck me as old hat - although I suppose they might be an eye-opener to some readers in the West? As to whether treating yourself as a commodity is a good idea, Tan of course pays lip service to the important pieties - and they are important - but try persuading a Thai tart, or a Hong Kong tai tai sincerity is more important than a healthy bank balance, and surely you deserve the mirthful scorn she's likely to heap upon you?

Once this novel moves away from sex and money, what’s left? Eve from Hong Kong thinks not much:

This is overly familiar Tan territory: a tale of difficult mother-daughter relationships.  I found I have grown bored of this plot.

I have not grown bored of the plot, but I have to say I thought it ploddingly handled in this particular novel. Nor do I mind predictability, but I thought Tan laboured so hard to an obvious dénouement of her Lucia / Violet / Flora tangle that it felt sometimes as if she were delaying the inevitable just for the sake of filling a few more pages. Along the way, I found many of the incidents incredible, in particular the manner in which Violet and Lucia became separated.  

Devika from Singapore was not happy either:

I didn't like or respect the characters. They never seemed to grow or mature.

I don't mind spending time with characters I don't like, but Tan's failed to get under my skin. I agree Violet seemed to retain an adolescent attitude to Lucia well into adulthood, even after she had herself become a mother, but I felt this was an aspect of keeping the plot going to fill the pages, as mentioned above.

Cathy from Denpasar was more enthusiastic:

Tan provides a wonderful insight into the world of the courtesan, her descriptions are vivid, rich and detailed.  The pace is leisurely, slowly familiarising the reader with the courtesan houses, rather than rushing her. Those who enjoyed Arthur Golden's Memoirs of a Geisha will probably enjoy this story too.

The courtesans’ costumes, the luxurious interiors of their houses, and their habits, customs and jealousies are certainly rendered in meticulous and interesting detail. I enjoyed Tan’s lingering accounts of these things, and I never felt her evidently careful historical research overwhelmed other aspects of the novel.      

January’s Pick

Next month I suggest we read Phillip Y. Kim’s Nothing Gained, another novel much concerned with money. Phillip Y. Kim, a banker who lives and works in Hong Kong, has twenty-five years’ experience of the international financial industry, and Nothing Gained draws on his insider knowledge.

Nothing Gained zooms in on the global financial crisis. A thriller, it is set in Hong Kong’s glitzy business restaurants and boardrooms, it offers an insight into the human cost of life in the fast lane, and shows how easily wealth and excess can slip away. 

After a prominent Hong Kong expat banker drowns in what appears to be a fluke accident, his wife, Cheryl, must confront the harsh reality that the man she loved was leading a double life, and that the rarefied world she moved in was a sham.

Forced to protect her family from unscrupulous business associates, Cheryl begins both to unravel the mystery of her husband’s death, and to unpick his complicated business affairs. Her friends prove to be as volatile as the stock market, their promises worthless now the money has dried up, but even as they desert her she doggedly pursues the truth. She discovers fraud on a scale that threatens to topple a prominent player in the financial industry.  This brings her into danger.  Will she be able to track down the one person who can save her?

Nothing Gained is published by Penguin China, in paperback, priced in local currencies.  Discussion of Nothing Gained will be posted after Chinese New Year, on Sunday February 9.  Please do get in touch to share your thoughts.