Tuesday 11 February 2014

Jane Camens / AP Writers

The Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association (AP Writers) is a regional, Hong Kong-based network of authors, translators, editors, agents, other publishing professionals, and emerging writers. It aims to create world-wide publishing opportunities for authors who are based in, or are from, the Asia Pacific region. Its core activity is its annual conference which includes forums, creative writing workshops, author readings, and meetings.

Jane Camens, the writer who founded the network, was recently in Singapore in advance of this year's conference, which will be held in the Lion City in July. I met her to discuss the role of AP Writers in furthering the careers of authors in Asia.

Since Jane is based in Australia, I started by asking whether hers wasn’t really just another organisation for well-resourced and supported Australian authors?  Jane strongly denied this, pointing out that most of the board of directors, including the chair, Nury Vittachi, are based in Hong Kong, that their webmaster is based in Thailand, and that as well as the upcoming conference in Singapore, their 2013 and 2014 conferences were held in Bangkok. Earlier conferences were held in New Delhi, with workshops in Shimla, in Hong Kong, with workshops in Guangzhou, and in Perth.

We next discussed the way in which writing in English dominates the small amount of international attention devoted to work emanating from this region. “We're aware that in English speaking parts of the world, books written in English about Asia have been treated as shorthand for literature from the region."  Said Jane. “It's important, I believe, that the points of view of writers from different Asian cultures are heard.  So we're working with others to develop a network of quality literary translators. We seek to promote the careers of writers in our region whether they work in English or not.”

While Jane strongly supports writing in an author's mother tongue, she does not feel writers from this region should feel obliged to write in local languages. “Plenty of Asian writers are interested in writing in English. In India and Singapore for instance, a writer's education was quite possibly in English. Their parents might speak English at home. Such writers are likely to feel they write with more authenticity in English. The important thing is that Asian writers’ voices are heard, whichever language they choose to write in, so yes, we aim to promote quality literary translation as part of the development of a wider literary culture from the region. We want this culture to become known internationally.”

Does this inclusivity extend to helping Western expats living and writing in Asia? “Yes.  AP Writers aims to help anyone who wants to write and publish – to build in the Asia Pacific a network of likeminded people, irrespective of race.”

We then discussed the extent to which we are currently witnessing a cultural shift from the West, to Asia: “As economic power shifts to Asia, people in the West are becoming more interested in this part of the world, and in writing originating here. Readers in the so-called Western world want books about the things that matter in Asia, about the lives and concerns of people living here. It’s part of the revelation of what was once called The East, with the implication of mystery, and exoticism. Publishers are of course picking up on this shift.  They want new voices, new stories, new settings that help reveal this part of the world to the readerships they serve.”

What about completely new readerships? “Yes of course, publishers - and writers – always want new readers. Everyone wants to share their own agendas with the world.”

As already mentioned, the Asia Pacific Writers and Translators 7th International Conference will be held in Singapore in July, 17-20. The Association's local hosts are the Arts House and the National book Development Council.   More details will be given in the next post.