Friday 30 May 2014

Applications for the M Literary Residency Programme, 2015-16, now open

Applications for the sixth M Literary Residency Programme, 2015-2016, are now open.  The Residency Programme funds residencies for two writers, one in India and one in China - a three month stay either in Shanghai or at Sangam House, outside Bangalore.  

Brainchild of M Restaurant Group founder Michelle Garnaut and award winning author Pankaj Mishra, the residencies are fully funded by M Restaurant Group, which has two restaurants and a bar in China: M on the Bund and the Glamour Bar in Shanghai; Capital M in Beijing.

Cultural events are a core part of the M Group's ethos: there are talks, concerts and events throughout the year.  The Group also hosts major annual literary festivals in Beijing and Shanghai - these have become highlights of the cities’ cultural calendars.

“The residencies grew from our literary festivals, as we heard from writers about what else was needed to nurture and produce the best writing in this region,” says Michelle. So what is Michelle looking for from applicants?  “First, and always, quality writing and a topic that will benefit from the location, and a writer whose work will fulfil the goals of the residencies, specifically to disseminate a broader knowledge of contemporary life and writing in India and China today and to foster deeper intellectual, cultural and artistic links across individuals and communities. Those are our ambitions for next year, and, really, for every year.”

The residencies are open to writers of fiction, literary nonfiction, dramatic prose, and poetry, writing in English.

Previous residency recipients include emerging and unpublished authors, as well as more established names. For bios and the writers’ thoughts on their residency experience, as well as application forms, guidelines and frequently asked questions click here.

Applications accepted until 20 June 2014

Results announced 24 October 2014

Thursday 29 May 2014

Published Today: The People's Republic of Amnesia by Louisa Lim

On June 4, 1989, People’s Liberation Army soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing, killing untold hundreds of people.  A quarter-century later, Louisa Lim charts how the events of June 4th changed China, and how China changed the events of June 4th by rewriting its own history.

This book reveals new details about the fateful days in Tiananmen Square including how one of the country’s most senior politicians lost a family member to an army bullet, and uncovers the inside story of the young soldiers sent to clear Tiananmen Square.   Louisa Lim introduces us to the individuals whose lives were transformed by the events of Tiananmen Square. For example, one of the most important government officials in the country became one of its most prominent dissidents post-Tiananmen.

For the first time, Lim exposes the details of a brutal crackdown in a second Chinese city, Chengdu. By tracking down eyewitnesses, discovering US diplomatic cables, and combing through official Chinese records, Lim offers the first accessible, English-language account of a story that has remained mostly untold for twenty-five years.

Louisa Lim began her journalistic career in Hong Kong, and was later appointed as the BBC's Beijing Correspondent. She has reported from China for the past decade, most recently as NPR's Beijing Correspondent. She has made a very rare reporting trip to North Korea, covered illegal abortions in Guangxi province, and worked on a major multimedia series on religion in China, New Believers: A Religious Revolution in China.  

Early praise for The People’s Republic of Amnesia

“A deeply moving book—thoughtful, careful, and courageous. The portraits and stories it contains capture the multi-layered reality of China, as well as reveal the sobering moral compromises the country has made to become an emerging world power, even one hailed as presenting a compelling alternative to Western democracies. Yet grim as these stories and portraits sometimes are, they also provide glimpse of hope, through the tenacity, clarity of conscience, and unflinching zeal of the dissidents, whether in China or in exile, who against all odds yearn for a better tomorrow.”
–Shen Tong, former student activist and author of Almost a Revolution

“Astonishingly Beijing has managed to obliterate the collective memory of Tiananmen Square, but  a quarter-century later Louisa Lim deftly excavates long-buried memories of the 1989 massacre. With a journalist's eye to history, she tracks down key witnesses, everyone from a military photographer at the square to a top official sentenced to seven years in solitary confinement to a mother whose teenaged son was shot to death that night. This book is essential reading for understanding the impact of mass amnesia on China's quest to become the world's next economic superpower.”
–Jan Wong, author of Red China Blues and A Comrade Lost and Found

People's Republic of Amnesia is published in hardback by OUP, priced in local currencies.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Alice on Self-publishing: The Hong Kong Writers Circle

Alice Clark-Platts writes our monthly column on self-publishing. Here she discusses the work of the Hong Kong Writers Circle.

The world of self-publishing can be a tortuous and labyrinthine place to the uninitiated. For the less well-travelled writer, a comforting path to self-publication is sometimes offered by joining forces with a writers’ group.

Formed in 1991, the Hong Kong Writers Circle (HKWC) is one such organisation with writers of all levels, from all genres. Amongst its members are professional writers as well as those who work in the publishing industry, journalists and editors. Many members have themselves published books.
The Circle exists primarily as a social group with monthly meetings where authors can critique others’ work, but it also provides opportunities for writers to further their craft; to network and meet industry professionals; receive feedback on their work; and to take part in workshops. And once a year, it publishes an anthology of short stories, non-fiction and poetry.

Yearly elected editors are responsible for everything to do with the anthology - from theme conception to marketing the book once it’s been published. The theme of the anthology is chosen via consultation with a combination of those editors, the organising committee and the members themselves. The theme tries to be specific, but at the same time broad enough for members with different styles and interests to want to contribute. All members of the group are invited to submit to the anthology with the editors deciding ultimately which pieces are published.

The latest anthology published by the HKWC has the theme of Another Hong Kong – delving into an unknown side of the city where the writers live.  It explores aspects of the place hidden from the traditions and clich├ęs a reader may expect.

For the past few years Inkstone Books have printed the anthologies. This means that the group has had the same copy-editor, designer and printer for most of the anthologies. The current chair, Melanie Ho, says that because the editors change every year, it is helpful to have the same partners working with the production of the anthology year after year.

Melanie describes the publication process of the anthology as a learning experiences for editors and authors alike. It is the production of the book which floats their junk, rather than traipsing around bookstores and actively marketing its sales. Having said that, some of the writers involved produce blogs documenting the whole process and carry copies of the books wherever they go - in order to make sure they never miss a sales opportunity!

Most of the sales of the anthology are print copies in Hong Kong, although they also use print-on-demand through Amazon - as well as eBook sales. The group uses print runs conservatively – usually 200 or 300 copies at a time – although some of the anthologies are now into their second or third print runs.

The HKWC exists to provide opportunities for writers in the city to grow and develop their craft.  The yearly anthology is a large part of this and offers a safe launching pad for authors to experiment in the field.

Another Hong Kong can be purchased from Amazon or at

Monday 26 May 2014

The Iraqi Christ wins the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim, has won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Iraqi Christ is a collection of short stories that explore Iraq’s recent past, sensitively translated from the original Arabic by Jonathan Wright.

Publication of The Iraqi Christ was made possible by English PEN. Each year English PEN highlights global writing of exceptional literary merit and courage. It awards grants to fund both the promotion and translation costs of books from around the world to ensure they reach English-speaking readers

UK-based publisher Comma Press received a PEN Writers in Translation award in 2012 for The Iraqi Christ. Blasim’s previous collection of short stories, The Madman of Freedom Squarealso received a PEN award in 2009.

A poet, filmmaker and short-story writer, Blasim is the first Arab author to receive the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Iraqi Christ is also the first short-story collection to win the award.

A censored version of The Madman of Freedom Square was printed and published in Lebanon. The book was banned in Jordan, and refused display at book fairs in several Arab countries. The Iraqi Christ is yet to be published in its original Arabic. Hassan Blasim commented: ‘I now publish most of my stories and poems online and I have started thinking about publishing everything I write on the net in order to be done with the matter of censorship.’

Maureen Freely, president of English PEN said: ‘At English PEN we support work in translation on the basis of its literary merit. Where writers are marginalised, demonised, or suppressed, we do our best to rescue their words from oblivion. We do not seek prizes or fat sales, and there are days when we feel as tired as Sisyphus, but on days like today, when we see that one of our very favourite authors receiving recognition, it all seems worth it!’

Ra Page, publisher at Comma Press said: ‘Winning this award is an extraordinary vindication for everything English PEN does to support writers from the margins, and to give voice to authors who might otherwise remain unheard. Hassan's work is the perfect example of how the experiences of Iraqis, and of refugees generally, have to be smuggled in through extraordinary routes.'

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is administered by The Independent, a daily  newspaper in the UK. See here for the paper’s coverage of Hassan Blasim’s victory.

Seen Elsewhere / Review of Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival by David Pilling

Asian Review of Books has recently posted Ryan Brooks’ review of Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival by David Pilling, which was our new and notable title for April.  Click here for the review. 

Tuesday 20 May 2014

Brave New Worlds: Digital Freedom in East Asia by Nathalie Olah

Jo Glanville with Gigi Alford, Giles Ji Ungpakorn, and Gus Hosein
Photo: Rebekah Murrell
The Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival in London has just hosted Brave New Worlds: Digital Freedom in East Asia.  Nathalie Olah reports.

If surveillance is a major sticking point of political debate in the West, it’s a reality for thousands whose lives have been transformed at its hands in South East Asia. Far from being a hypothetical threat - the subject of column inches whose affects are rarely felt - governments in China, Vietnam, Thailand and of course, North Korea, are using surveillance software not just in the name of upholding national security, but to police and doctor freedom of expression.

Last week, the Asia House Literature Festival brought together three pivotal spokespeople to discuss the issue of spy software and surveillance in East Asia. Giles Ji Ungpakorn is a former professor at the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, who was forced into exile after staging a protest in opposition to the military coup of 2006. Today he works as an administrative clerk at a hospital in Oxford, while writing extensively on the injustices of the Thai political system and rallying resistance to the country’s oppressive censorship laws amongst its student population. Gigi Alford of Freedom House, a US-based NGO advocating freedom of expression, democracy and human rights, joined him, as well as Gus Hosein of Privacy International. The talk was chaired by Director of English PEN Jo Glanville.  

For the audience whose knowledge on this subject seemed varied, Alford began by outlining the ten possible forms of surveillance: firewalls; attacks against regime credits; lawmaking to prevent political speech online; paid pro-government commentators; physical attacks; take-down requests; forced deletions; blanket blocking of domains; campaigns to ‘clean the web’ and the threat of shutting down mobile Internet services. All ten techniques are being used in China where conformity to the government’s ethos is so pervasive that it has engendered a climate of self-censorship as widespread and as damaging to transparency as that which is imposed.

And while the suppression of feeling contrary to a government agenda is a flagrant assault on democracy, more shocking are instances of entrapment. As in the case of Vietnamese human rights lawyer Nguyen Bac Truyen, who gave free legal assistance to victims of land grabs, and campaigned for multi-party democracy before realising too late that his private correspondence with clients had been hacked. Bac Truyen was attacked on his way to the Australian embassy in Hanoi and his house subsequently surrounded by the city’s Dong Thap police.

Vietnam is second only to China in the number of bloggers targeted in one form or another by authorities. Since Decree 72 came into effect last year, citizens have been banned from discussing current affairs online.

To Alford’s initial list, Hosein added three more techniques that are currently being developed by software companies in the West and exported to Asia.  These included National surveillance centres, capable of monitoring information being shared within and across a country’s borders; as well as IMSI-catchers – wearable, fake mobile towers that act between the service providers’ own and target devices to collect data. At just over US$ 8,400 it is one of the more widely available forms of surveillance hardware on the market.

Finally Hosein cited FinFisher, the software made notorious by Wikileaks and developed by Lench IT solutions, with a UK branch Gamma International based in Andover. It enables users to access calls, as well as switch on the microphone and camera of target mobile phones. That the use of this software is being justified by governments as a means of chilling dissident speech is frankly absurd, given users remain entirely oblivious to the fact they are being targeted.

While the UK has granted asylum to activists such as Ungpakorn, its role in the widespread use of surveillance technology not just on home turf, but in the East, is considerable. And the same goes for other Western states. After all, it is here that most surveillance software was pioneered and continues to be developed, and it is here that the precedent of questionable surveillance policies is being set. Think back to Nokia issuing the Iranian government technology to monitor phone calls in 2009 and you’ll be reminded of how Western techniques have been exported to the detriment of innocent civilians across the world.

At the present moment, few solutions exist to the problem of surveillance. Amazon web services offer users the possibility of privacy with their ‘https’ service, although this is only permitted while the company does not have a physical presence inside a given territory. With the arrival of Amazon’s first China-based office later this year, it’s safe to say that the services availability inside the country will soon be diminished.

“Nobody’s a good guy anymore.” Gus told us. “Intelligence agencies in the UK, in America, and soon elsewhere, can now mimic the user interface of companies such as Facebook and Linkedin without users knowing."

Then there’s the worry of tech-savvy activists eventually applying their expertise to exacerbate the situation further. Let’s not forget, that many of those who set up the Stasi, went on to create the sorts of companies that they once fought to resist.

With the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests now upon us, anti-government feeling is expected to arise in a big way across China. Blocks are inevitable and the feelings of many will be suppressed, hidden and deleted from the annals of micro-blogging sites. Awareness can get people so far, but the systems at work to prevent freedom of expression are becoming increasingly impenetrable. In 2011 Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim said during a CNN interview days before President Mubarak was toppled, “If you want a free society just give them Internet access.”  

Make that a free Internet, for the web is becoming a form of incarceration whose long term effects can likely be predicted by observing the activity that is already taking place across so many Eastern states.

Follow Nathalie @NROLAH

Wednesday 14 May 2014

500 Words From Ann Bennett

500 Words a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their newly-published books.  Here Ann Bennett explains the background behind Bamboo Heart, published in paperback today by Monsoon Books.

Ann Bennett is a UK-based novelist and lawyer. 

Set in South East Asia both in the present and before and during the Second World War, Bamboo Heart captures the suffering and courage of prisoners of war of the Japanese. It tells the story of Tom Ellis, a prisoner enslaved on the infamous Death Railway in Thailand, and charts the journey of his daughter, Laura, who turns her back on her comfortable lifestyle in eighties London to investigate her father's wartime experience.

So: 500 Words From Ann Bennett

At the end of the Second World War allied intelligence services surveyed newly-released prisoners of war with so-called liberation questionnaires. My novel, Bamboo Heart, started life when I discovered my father’s liberation questionnaire in Britain's National Archives. It was an amazing moment when I first saw it; written in his perfect copper-plate hand, it answered so many questions I would like to have asked. From that moment I knew I had to write about his experiences as a prisoner-of-war on the Death Railway in Thailand.

This discovery was the culmination of a lifetime’s quest to find out what had happened to my father during the war. He died when I was only seven, and growing up I became increasingly interested in his past. He hardly spoke about the war, having started a new life with my mother on his return to England in 1945. I was interested enough to travel to Kanchanaburi to see the railway in 1988. On that trip I fell in love with South East Asia, but found out very little about what had happened to my father there.

I took the tragic events Dad described in his questionnaire as the basis of Tom’s story in Bamboo Heart. I wanted to write about those events from the perspective of one man, within the framework of a fast-moving narrative. My aim was to bring those events alive without it feeling like a history lesson.

The events I was describing were harrowing. So to lighten the mood, I broke it up with flashbacks to Tom’s pre-war life in colonial Penang, where he fell in love. I also introduced a parallel modern plot, the story of Tom’s own daughter’s search for the truth about the war. For Laura’s story I drew upon my own life as a disaffected young lawyer in the eighties, and upon my memories of those times. The novel touches on the Wapping Riots, famous in the UK, which I remember well. Co-incidentally the first day of serious rioting was 15th February 1986, the anniversary of the Fall of Singapore.

I tried to tell a story of hope and survival, to examine the reasons why some survived the worst of ordeals and others sadly did not. I also wanted to show what an important role history plays in all our lives; how powerfully our family’s past affects our own choices and values.

My research for Bamboo Heart taught me so much more about the war in the Far East than I had expected. I had not previously known how civilians suffered; about starvation and massacres, about bravery and sacrifice. It inspired me to explore those events from other angles and through other peoples’ stories. 

Bamboo Heart is the first novel in a planned trilogy. I have just finished writing Bamboo Island, about Juliet, a plantation owner’s wife, who has lived a reclusive life since the war robbed her of everyone she loved. The sudden appearance of a stranger disrupts her lonely existence and stirs up unsettling memories.

I’m also working on a third novel: Bamboo Road, about of the daughter of a member of the Thai resistance which tells how the influx of prisoners-of-war into that remote jungle region affects her life.

Click here for Ann’s website.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Published Today: Singapore Noir edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Akashic Books in New York publishes a series of City Noir books, each a multi-author anthology of crime short stories. Today, the Singapore-based company, Monsoon Books, is publishing for the local market the latest title in the series, Singapore Noir.
Beneath Singapore’s sparkling veneer is a country dark with shadows rarely revealed in literature.  Singapore Noir explores the city-state’s forgotten back alleys, red-light districts, gambling dens, and kelongs  - floating, off shore fishing platforms with a shady reputation.  The anthologised authors include: US-based director, writer and illustrator Colin Goh; UK-based author of novels depicting the experiences of gay men, Johann S. Lee; Bangkok-based author Lawrence Osborne; Hong Kong-based author of the Feng Shui Detective series, Nury Vittachi.  Of the Singaporean authors, three are past winners of the Singapore Literature Prize: Simon Tay; Colin Cheong; Suchen Christine Lim. Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, the editor, is a US-based Singaporean.
The anthology is divided into four sections: Sirens; Love (Or Something Like It); Gods & Demons; The Haves & The Have-Nots.  Each story is set in a particular location in Singapore, so, for example, Colin Goh’s Last Time is set in Raffles Place, and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s Reel is set at Changi
Singapore Noir is published in paperback. It is available from all leading bookstores in Singapore, and the South East Asia region.  Priced in local currencies.