Monday 23 June 2014

Q & A: Wendy Wong on eBooks In Asia

Tusitala's logo is a kitsune, a fox with 9 tails,
which features in Japanese, Korean and
Chinese folklore
Wendy Wong is Studio Manager / Creative Director of TusitalaThe name is Samoan for storyteller, or a teller of tales – fitting, since Tusitala is a digital publisher of indie authors. The company is based in Singapore, and is a huge fan of Asian content and Asian writers.  

I spoke to Wendy about eBooks in Asia generally.

Are eBooks as popular in Asia as in the west?
Not yet, since there are issues around availability and accessibility.

Can you expand on that?
One of the biggest barriers to eReading in Singapore and in Asia generally is that the larger providers of eBooks – Amazon and Apple iBooks – don’t allow for potential readers in Asia to buy eBooks directly. To make an eBook purchase on your Kindle, for example, you’d need an American address and credit card. If you’re especially dedicated, you’d find a backdoor entry, and the locally available service Kindle Concierge can purchase eBooks on your behalf, so you can bypass all the off-putting red tape, but most local eBook enthusiasts end up with libraries of pirated eBooks.

Google Play Books has recently entered Asia, and at Tusitala we hope that Amazon and Apple will follow Google’s example by expanding into the largely untapped Asian market, thus making eReading more commonplace.

Aren’t there any local eBook retailers?
In Singapore, local eBook stores come and go. Amongst those that survived are Booktique and M1 Learning Center, yet little is done to publicize their services to the general public. (Note, in Hong Kong, eBooks are readily available through Paddyfield.)

Given the problems of availability, how aware of eBooks are readers in Asia?
I think readers may be aware of eBooks, but local authors are often unaware of how easy it is to publish digitally and to access worldwide markets. At Tusitala, as digital publishers, we do our part to celebrate Asian content and to get Asian authors to try ePublishing. It isn’t always easy, but we believe that it is a necessary process that will end with a more vibrant and locally relevant eBooks scene, certainly in Singapore, and then more generally in the rest of Asia.

Do you think libraries have a role in helping raise awareness of eBooks?
Yes. In Singapore, National Arts Council data shows that eRetrievals at libraries across the island have recently seen a spike; in response the National Library has expanded and diversified its collection of eBooks to include more languages and titles. The National Library Board has also been quite vocal lately about their eBook borrowing campaign, and we hope that this encourages people to consider eReading as the convenient and hassle-free experience that it is.

What about the language issue?  Are eBooks available in languages other than in English?
Sure. In Singapore, local content in Chinese, Malay and Tamil is abundant. But while there is no dearth of quality Asian-language content, people here primarily read in English. I expect this aspect of eBook publishing in Asia varies market by market.

I see the main advantage of eBooks as giving me access to content that wouldn’t otherwise be available to me in Asia.  What do you see as the advantages?
Reading habits have adapted to the fast-paced lifestyles of developed Asia – increasingly, people consume news or articles on their phones. By comparison, reading books seems to be a choice that needs to be made (do I lug a novel through my commute?), not an option that is readily available on readers’ gadgets (let me scroll to my e-reader app), and eBooks can help level the field between surfing for information, and reading for pleasure. 

I sometimes find eBooks frustrating, for example, in non-fiction titles, flipping to illustrations, or trying to follow footnotes.  Do you think the format has any disadvantages?
This is not a disadvantage of eBooks per se, but in Asia I think the ecology of reading is such that academic reading is encouraged in young people, rendering reading a habit that doesn’t generally integrate with everyday life - there is a tendency to associate reading with passing exams, rather than reading for pleasure. 

What are your thoughts on the future of eBooks in Asia?
The eBook scene has potential for huge growth, and eBooks are surely set to become more popular, but, as I mentioned already, it’s a matter of availability.  At Tusitala we hope Google Play Books’ entry into Asia marks the beginning of burgeoning accessibility to eBooks in the region. We hope this encourages local writers in Asia to start telling their stories to an ever-expanding audience.

All in all, we are optimistic about the future of eBooks in Asia. When accessibility and awareness align, we hope that eBooks can change the perceptions towards reading for pleasure, and thus foster a more inclusive and pervasive reading culture that everyone can be a part of.

Do you have a message for potential authors?
If you are an author of a book with Asian content and you are looking for a digital publisher to get your existing printed edition made available as an eBook, or to publish a new title, we would be very glad to connect with you! 

Saturday 21 June 2014

Salman Rushdie awarded the 2014 PEN / Pinter Prize

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie has been awarded the 2014 PEN / Pinter Prize. The PEN / Pinter Prize was established in 2009 by English PEN, in memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a British writer or writer resident in Britain of outstanding literary merit, who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature speech, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze upon the world and shows a “fierce intellectual define the real truth of our lives and our societies’’.

Salman Rushdie was chosen by this year’s judges Michael Billington, Antonia Fraser, Simon Jenkins, Kamila Shamsie and President of English PEN and Chair of Judges, Maureen Freely.

Maureen Freely said: “This prize is English PEN’s way of thanking Salman Rushdie not just for his books and his many years of speaking out for freedom of expression, but also for his countless private acts of kindness.  When he sees writers unjustly vilified, prosecuted, or forced into exile, he takes a personal interest. I think he would be the first to say that it was Harold Pinter who set the example in this regard: the engaged writer never sleeps.”

Salman Rushdie said: "It's very moving to receive an award named after my friend Harold Pinter, whose literary genius was matched by his passion for social justice, and to follow in the distinguished footsteps of the previous recipients, Tony Harrison, Hanif Kureishi, David Hare, Carol Ann Duffy and Tom Stoppard. As a matter of fact, many years ago, I first met Harold and (his wife) Antonia through English PEN, and of course they, and PEN, were later active in my defence when I needed it. The work of PEN, both in promoting the best of world literature and in opposing abuses of freedom, continues to be vitally important, and I'm proud to have been a part of that effort in England as well as the United States."

The prize will be presented at a public event at the British Library on Thursday 9 October, at which Salman Rushdie will deliver an address. He will share the prize with an International Writer of Courage selected by him in association with English PEN’s Writers at Risk Committee.  The recipient will be a writer who has been intimidated for speaking out about their beliefs or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The co-winner will be announced at the prize-giving ceremony, and he or she will accept his or her prize alongside Salman Rushdie. 

Friday 20 June 2014

Heads up / Byron Bay Writers Festival

Following on from yesterday’s post about #Fast, in Malaysia, here's a heads up from Edwina Johnson, Director, Byron Bay Writers Festival, that this year’s edition will include plenty of Asian interest:  

From Australia, we have brother and sister combo Benjamin and Michelle Law, the long-suffering children of an Asian Mother, appearing in various panels to discuss their latest book, Sh*t Asian Mothers Say. Meanwhile, Australian / Indian writer and human rights lawyer Rabia Siddique will be on hand to discuss her memoir Equal Justice.   

From further afield we have: Indonesian travel writer Agustinus Wibowo; Tibetan writer, poet, and activist Bhuchung Sonam; Carina Hoang, a Vietnamese refugee, and editor of Boat People, an anthology of personal stories from the Vietnamese exodus; and British-Pakistani novelist and scriptwriter Qaisra Shahraz.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a festival without food events. Visitors will be able to travel the Indian spice route with author and chef Christine Manfield at a Literary Lunch drawing on recipes from her books, which include Tasting India, and Spice.

The Byron Bay Writers Festival will run from 1 - 3 August. Click here for full details of the programme, and information about ticketing and venues.  Closer to the time the blog will carry information about how you can join in via social media. 

Thursday 19 June 2014

#FAST @ Cooler Lumpur

The Cooler Lumper Festival of ideas kicks off tomorrow, in KL.

This year, the theme, #FAST, looks to the future, and the fastest way to get there. What will the future be like? What innovations in thought will shape Malaysian society, as well as societies elsewhere? What will education mean? How will the arts develop? What are the big ideas that will most shape our lives in the coming decades?

The Literary Director, author Umapagan Ampikaipakan, here talks about selected highlights of the literature programme he and his team have put together.

Opening Keynote: “F*** Censorship” by Miguel Syjuco
Friday, 20 June 2014
8.30 pm - 9.30 pm
Black Box, MAP @ Publika

I’m particularly excited about the opening keynote. First of all, I am a huge fan of Miguel’s work as a writer. His debut novel, Illustrado, was symbolic of what I felt to be a new literary voice in Asia. Confident. Self-deprecating. Unflinchingly honest. Furthermore, the topic of censorship has never been more relevant, not just to Malaysian society, but to all of us in the developing world. And one can never overstate the necessity (and difficulty) of speaking truth to power - especially through literature and art - in all those places where censorship is rife.

The Modern Malay Tongue
Saturday, 21 June 2014
12.30 pm - 1.30 pm
Black Box, MAP @ Publika

There is very little discourse with regards to the evolution of the national language in Malaysia. Given how institutionalised Bahasa Malaysia is, I wanted to have a discussion involving three generations of Malay language authors and speak to them about how they see the language progressing. 

Lost and Found in Translation
Sunday, 22 June 2014
11.00 am - 12.00 pm
Upstairs @ Ben's

I had this random notion that translation could be a key to national unity and community building. That the biggest hurdle we face as a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious society is that constant quest for understanding between one another. That’s where translation comes in. How better to understand your brother than to delve into his mind and soul? And what easier way to do that than through his words and through his art? So what role does translation play in helping us better understand ourselves and those around us?

Nay Phone Latt in conversation with Sharaad Kuttan
Sunday, 22 June 2014
4.30 pm - 5.30 pm
Upstairs @ Ben's

What is more current than a one-on-one with Burmese blogger, political activist, and prisoner of conscience Nay Phone Latt? His situation parallels many across the developing world and it will be fascinating to hear his views on what it means now that Burma has come out the other side.

WORKSHOP: So, You Wanna Be A Storyteller? by Kamini Ramachandran
Saturday, 21 June 2014
11.00 am - 2.00 pm
Interpr8 Art Space, Publika

I believe that the benefits of storytelling skills extend beyond mere entertainment value. I think a good storyteller makes for a better doctor, a better lawyer, heck, a better accountant. I think that the ability to tell a good story, the ability to communicate an idea with prowess, is something every Malaysian could be better at. And what’s more, it is a skill that can be taught, and one that can be learned.

#FAST Junior

Our literary programme for the young ones is also something we’re proud of.  Inculcating a reading culture must start from a young age. Parents need to read to their children. They need to expose them to stories. They need to encourage their kids to develop a love for literature and the vast world of ideas contained within them. Start them young. Get them hooked. And you’ll breed a new generation of thinkers.

If you can’t make it to KL to join in the Festival in person, follow along on the Facebook page: click here. Full information about the programme, venues, and ticketing is available at the Festival website: click here.

#FAST is co-hosted by creative media shop PopDigital and the British Council, Malaysia. 

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Alice on Self-publishing: Philip Chatting / Harbour Views

Alice Clark-Platts writes our monthly column on self-publishing. Here she talks to Philip Chatting, the author of Harbour Views, a witty and scathing comedy set amidst the glamour and chaos of Hong Kong. The city is now Philip's home, although he has lived in various places across the globe – in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. 

Philip published his first novel through Book Guild Publishing, an independent publishing house which has been publishing an eclectic mix of quality books for the last thirty years.

Harbour Views was published using their system of Partnership Publishing – a full publishing package closely allied to conventional publishing, except authors contribute towards the costs and retain both creative control and a high level of involvement. This system of publishing offers the author a higher royalty rate than industry standards – 30% of the full retail price of the book with each one sold. Mainstream publishing offers anywhere between 7-10%. Book Guild will also represent their authors for two full years after publication ensuring loyalty and relationship between author and publishing house.

Philip is hugely complimentary about the service he received from Book Guild, feeling that there were fewer hoops to jump through than he’d anticipated. He says the schedule Book Guild created was simple and, on the whole, everything worked like clockwork. He adds any issues he suffered came from elsewhere – for example, trying to trace copyright and get permission to reproduce lines from a pop song through a succession of New York lawyers – not the easiest job in the world! As a first time author, Philip feels he got all the support he needed. Perhaps an anomaly in the usually cutthroat world of publishing….

Book Guild are based in England, so they have been responsible for marketing and publicising the novel over there whilst Philip himself has taken on the same in Hong Kong.  At age 70, he appears to have the energetic thrust of a sprinter. He maintains a full-time job whilst at the same time handling the sales and marketing of the novel. 

Writing is by definition a solitary pursuit but Philip has a supportive family and he says this has given him the freedom to take his time: “When the mood is on me I can get up at dawn and work until late at night without eating or showering. The act of composition is all consuming as long as I have Wagner playing in the background and tea on the desk beside me.”

Carrying on from last month’s post on the Hong Kong Writers Circle, I wondered to what extent Philip engages with the vibrant writing community in Hong Kong? Whilst he has indeed made contacts amongst Hong Kong writers, he says that these are more social relationships than practical ones as it is the self-sufficient nature of writing that appeals to him.

Philip’s next project is a book of short stories. Added to which, he has two chapters of a second novel on his computer.  Perhaps Harbour Views will prove to be the first in a series of comedies set against the backdrop of the bright lights of Hong Kong?

Harbour Views is published by Book Guild Publishing and is available here

Alice on self-publishing will take a break over the summer; the next column will be in September.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival partners with DSC Prize

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2014 is to partner with the world’s leading literary award for South Asian writing, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. The partnership will see each year’s winner brought to Ubud, Bali.

In 2014 the Festival will welcome from India acclaimed author Cyrus Mistry, who won the DSC Prize 2014 for Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, a moving account of a tragic love affair involving the near invisible community of Parsi corpse bearers whose job it is to carry bodies of the deceased to the Towers of Silence.

Mr Manhad Narula, one of the founder members of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, said: “We are delighted that the DSC Prize is associating itself with the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Being one of the leading literary festivals in the region with its focus on South Asia we see a lot of positive synergy in this partnership going forward. The DSC Prize is committed to encouraging conversations on South Asian writing and already conducts an annual DSC Prize Winner’s Tour, has associations with literary festivals, educational institutions and cultural centres and has an active college program. I look forward to this new partnership with Ubud Writers & Readers Festival which I feel will be beneficial for both parties, and most importantly lead to sessions which would be of immense interest for the literary enthusiasts who attend the Festival.”

Janet DeNeefe, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival Founder & Director, said: “I am thrilled about this partnership which I trust will be a long and fruitful one, further strengthening the literary bonds in the region.”

The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

Held annually in Ubud, Bali’s artistic and cultural heartland, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has become Southeast Asia’s largest and most renowned cultural and literary event.

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

The US$50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is one of the most prestigious international literary awards specifically focused on South Asian writing. It celebrates the rich and varied literature of the South Asian region and showcases and rewards the best talent writing about this region. The vision of the DSC Prize is to bring South Asian writing to a larger global audience through a celebration of the achievements of South Asian writers, and thereby raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.

The DSC Prize is open to authors of any ethnicity or nationality but the writing must be about South Asia and its people. It also encourages writing in regional languages and translations; the prize money is shared equally between the author and the translator if a translated entry wins.

The prize is now in its 5th edition, and the last four years have had winners from three different countries in South Asia – HM Naqvi from Pakistan (Homeboy, Harper Collins, India), Shehan Karunatilaka from Sri Lanka (Chinaman, Random House, India), Jeet Thayil from India (Narcopolis, Faber & Faber, London) and Cyrus Mistry from India (Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, Aleph India). Thanks to the DSC Prize each of these winners has reached a larger global audience than would otherwise have been the case.  

Cyrus Mistry

Cyrus Mistry began his writing career as a playwright, freelance journalist, and short story writer. His play Doongaji House, written in 1977 when he was 21, has acquired classic status in contemporary Indian theatre in English. One of his short stories was made into a Gujarati feature film. His plays and screenplays have won several awards. He followed up his first novel, The Radiance of Ashes, with the prize-winning Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer.

Saturday 14 June 2014

M Literary Residency Programme - Deadline Extended

Click here for the post of May 29, giving information on the M Literary Residency Programme. The deadline for submissions has now been extended until Friday July 4.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Seen Elsewhere: Unlocking China's literary gems through translation / Chris Davis

Click here for Unlocking China's literary gems through translation, by Chris Davis, writing in China Daily, USA edition.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Book Club: On Such A Full Sea / June’s Pick / New & Notable

Asian Books Blog does not carry reviews. The book club is intended as another online platform where readers can offer comments on the month’s selected book, together with my responses - offered because otherwise there would be no sense of conversation at all. May’s pick was On Such A Full Sea, by Chang-rae Lee. This post assumes you’ve read it; if you want a summary see here, but be warned the discussion won't make much sense if you've read only the summary, and not the novel.   

Lisha from Hong Kong said: I enjoyed thinking immigrants from “New” China might have made such an impact on an America of the future, and also reading about how aspects of Chinese culture had transplanted and thrived.  But where is - or was - “New” China?  And how did it differ from China?  Also, I never really understood how the originals of the B-Mors came to take over the city. What had happened to the residents of Baltimore?  If a global catastrophe had struck, why hadn’t it wiped out the New Chinese, too? 

I agree Chang-rae Lee leaves many details of the origin, operation and political organisation of his dystopia sketchy. I too quite often found myself asking but why…? Or how….? How come the B-Mors have a life in so many ways similar to life in America today, when the global network that makes possible contemporary suburban life in Cincinnati, or wherever, has broken down?  How come the tourists from Denmark seem to treat the counties as another planet? Does future-Denmark (D-Mar?) continue much as it is today? How, against the dystopian backdrop, does tourism continue? Was the catastrophe that befell America reproduced worldwide, or not?  Is America’s dystopian political organisation reproduced worldwide, or not? For each of the last two questions, sometimes it seems the answer is yes, sometimes no.   For myself, I decided to attempt to ignore nagging questions, and to immerse myself as far as possible in Chang-rae Lee’s world, even when the nitty-gritty was neither nitty nor gritty, so to speak.

Alison from Singapore said: the cartoon violence was off-putting, and unnecessary.

I too was a little baffled by the almost unrelenting grimness. I am sure Chang-rae Lee is right, a post-apocalyptic world would be a miserable place where the humanity and kindness made possible by safety, security, and the provision of basic needs would disintegrate into selfishness, and brutal power struggles of various types, but the world he describes is one where basic needs are met, even for counties people: they are not starving; their children can read; they have electricity and even handscreens for entertainment; many of them have jobs in the charter villages. Granted, inequality is horrible, and a growing problem even within the rich world, let alone between the rich world and the rest, but does inequality lead relentlessly to unprovoked violence, “keeping”, betrayal and so on?  If this book were read in the slums of Asia, then how would it make the slum dwellers feel to read it?  Would they recognise themselves in counties people?  I doubt it. Then again, since the dystopia first evolved, wouldn’t strongmen have arisen in the counties to impose order? Wouldn’t there be some form of government?  And would charter people be so different from modern Americans they’d allow “keeping”? Modern Americans wouldn’t countenance slavery. Why would their descendants countenance keeping?

Des from Singapore said: Who was / were the we narrating the story?  Why were they so interested in Fan and Reg? To me, Fan and Reg seemed pleasant young people, but the only reason for anybody to be interested in Reg was that he was C-free. I can see that would make him very interesting to the Directorate, and to the novel’s big pharma, but was it enough reason for the narrator(s) to be so interested in him? Meanwhile, would the fact Fan had left B-Mor for love, and was carrying Reg’s child, have been enough to sustain people’s interest in her?

I think the we narrator, and the unknowability of Fan and Reg, probably went to the heart of one of the things Chang-rae Lee was challenging readers to think about: individuality; how it can be sustained in the actual world we live in; why it matters that we manage to sustain it; how we balance the needs of the individual against the needs of society, the voice of the individual against the voice of the community...and so on. 

June’s Pick: Song for an Approaching Storm / Peter Fröberg Idling  

June’s pick is Song for an Approaching Storm, a political thriller set in 1950s Cambodia by Peter Fröberg Idling,  translated from Swedish by Peter Graves, published in paperback by Pushkin Press, priced in local currencies.

In 1955 Cambodia is on the brink of its first democratic elections.

Sar, a quiet, likeable man in his early thirties, is campaigning for the opposition, but secretly working for an armed Communist takeover. Many years later, Sar will become known to the world as Pol Pot, but for now he is a man in love, thinking about his fiancée, Somaly:  the outcome of the election will determine whether they have a future together.

Vice-Premier Sary, Sar’s political rival, also notices Somaly, and tries to win her affection.

Meanwhile Somaly, young, bored, and beautiful, has an agenda of her own.

Discussion of Song for an Approaching Storm will be posted on Sunday July 13, so please get in touch with your comments by then.

Both On Such A Full Sea and Song for an Approaching Storm are eligible for the ABB Book of the Lunar Year in the Year of the Horse. See the post of Jan 30 2014 for details.  If you would like to vote for either title please do so by posting a comment, or contacting

New & Notable 

There is a constant stream of great books about Asia coming out, and the blog can't cover them all. With each month's book club, I highlight a couple of new titles that look particularly interesting. Last month I spotted Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China by Leta Hong Fincher, and North Korea: State of Paranoia by Paul French

Leftover Women uses personal stories to illuminate how the resurgence of gender inequality has impacted on the lives of women in China today. In the early years of the People's Republic, the Communist Party sought to transform gender relations. Yet those gains are now being eroded. Hong Fincher debunks the popular myth that women have fared well as a result of China's recent economic reforms and breakneck growth. Laying out the structural discrimination against women in China, she addresses broader problems with economy, politics, and development.

Leta Hong Fincher is an award-winning journalist who is now based at Tsinghua University.

North Korea is a major new history of the world’s most secretive and oppressive state, which includes intimate details of everyday life in the country. It provides assessments of North Korea’s relationships with other Asian countries, notably South Korea, Japan, and China, and also with America.  There is up-to-date discussion of Kim Jong-un’s leadership.

Paul French is an Asia expert and a best-selling crime novelist. He is based in Shanghai.

Both books are published by Zed Books, in hardback, paperback, and eBook, priced in local currencies. 

Friday 6 June 2014

500 Words From Brian Stoddart

500 Words a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their newly-published books.  Here Brian Stoddart explains the background behind A Madras Miasma, published by Crime Wave Press.  

Brian Stoddart is a writer, blogger, commentator, and academic.  He is a former Vice-Chancellor and President of La Trobe University in Australia where he is now an Emeritus Professor, in addition to being a Distinguished Fellow of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne. Brian has lived and worked all around the world, most recently in Phnom Penh and Damascus - he wrote about the city in A House in Damascus: Before the Fall, an account of life immediately prior to the present conflict. He has published widely on aspects of India’s modern history. 

A Madras Miasma is Brian's first novel. It introduces Superintendent Chris Le Fanu of the Indian Police Service, who heads a new investigative crime unit in 1920s Madras. He clashes with the city’s Commissioner just when the rise of Gandhi’s nationalist movement is making the European community fear for its future. Le Fanu thinks political change is inevitable, so he is considered almost a traitor by his colleagues. Meanwhile, his wife has left him, and he is now controversially involved with his housekeeper, a mixed race Anglo-Indian. When a young Englishwoman is found murdered, Le Fanu uncovers a drug ring led by the city’s leading European businessman, thus further upsetting the city’s elite and putting his career at risk.

So:  500 Words From….Brian Stoddart

Madras, now called Chennai, was the first non-Western city I lived in way back in the last millennium, and remains a favourite anywhere among many. I read about it extensively in my PhD research so “knew” it as an entity when I arrived. Crime fiction does that, too: I “knew” where to go in Venice when I arrived there, having read all Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti novels! My cultural knowledge of Madras, though, grew over years as the city, like most in India, changed greatly but somehow retained its distinctiveness.

My research on British India’s Madras Presidency revealed as much socially as it did politically, and introduced me to many characters whose real lives sounded like fiction. I mention in particular Arthur Galletti, an extraordinary Anglo-Italian who served as an Indian Civil Service officer in Madras from 1900 to 1934. I decided he was so interesting I wrote his biography. Click here for details.

My dissertation concerned the rise of Indian nationalism in the south, but I became just as fascinated by people like Galletti and their families who shipped out from Britain to find themselves hundreds of miles from a major centre, overseeing millions of people as the Raj clung precariously to power. What made these people tick?

Although my academic interests later varied, India always remained a focus. So did my reading of crime fiction. Much is now written about the genre, but one driving interest for me was always the interaction between characters, events and places with locations shaping stories. The Kiwi crime writer Ngaio Marsh set the pace when from the 1930s to the 1950s she had her main character relocate from London to New Zealand in several stories, but the real trend for linking crime and place came later. It is typified in the so-called tartan noir of Ian Rankin and his successors and in writers like Barbara Nadel (Istanbul), Andrea Camilleri (Sicily), Jason Webster (Spain), Michael Walters (Mongolia), Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Kenya) and numerous others. This is the social geography of crime, represented in Southeast Asia by writers like Colin Cotterill, Sharmini Flint and Tom Vater, to name a few.

Given my background, when I wanted to write about British India in a different way, an historical crime novel was the obvious choice - and that led to Superintendent Le Fanu. A little research will reveal three things: there was a nineteenth century Madras Indian Civil Service officer called William Joseph Henry Le Fanu; he was a relative of another Le Fanu who became Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia; and he was also related to the Irish crime/horror writer Sheridan Le Fanu. The name selected itself. Similarly, much of the context for A Madras Miasma is formed by the actual events of the early 1920s and some real historical figures appear, hopefully adding authenticity to the story.

A Madras Miasma is the first title in a projected series. The second Le Fanu novel is under way - he will return with another case later this year or early next. Once again, the story is as much about Madras as about him, the city is his marker.

A Madras Miasma is currently available as an eBook.  A paperback is forthcoming, the date to be announced. 

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Tiananmen 25 Years On

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. 

As reported last week Louisa Lim has just brought out The People's Republic of Amnesia, published by OUP.

Meanwhile Rowena Xiaoqing He has published Tiananmen Exiles, through Macmillan.

Both books include eye witness accounts of the events of 1989. Both have been extensively reviewed outside Asia - and seemingly not at all within Asia.  Follow the links below for a sample of international reviews.

The UK Daily Telegraph

The New York Review of Books

The Economist

Click here for journalist and author Mishi Saran's account of Tiananmen in the LA Review of Books.

For a full round-up of books on the Tiananmen Square massacre click here.