Thursday, 9 July 2015

Hong Kong Gothic / Edmund Price

In March, the Hong Kong Writers Circle (HKWC) launched Hong Kong Gothic, the tenth of its annual anthologies of members’ writing. Edmund Price, the lead editor, gives more details.

Hong Kong Gothic features the work of twenty-two local and expatriate writers, from first-time contributors through MFA graduates to published authors. As with all HKWC anthologies, all the stories are either set in Hong Kong or involve predominantly Hong Kong-related characters.

Each HKWC anthology is united around a common theme, in this case the Gothic literary genre. Past anthologies have ranged from ghost stories, to the goings-on at a fictional hotel, to a retelling of ancient myths and legends. The Gothic genre was chosen in part for its freshness and in part because several members expressed a desire to write about the supernatural.

Although the genre might seem better suited to ruined castles on wind-swept European moors than to Asia’s self-proclaimed World City, in fact Hong Kong proved more than capable of rising to the challenge of portraying the darker side of human nature and desires. In particular, in the final stories, vengeance and justice proved popular themes.

There were several murders, in the fashionable, gentrifying district of Sheung Wan, on the hiking trails of the New Territories, or in the sweltering heat of the 1967 riots. Avenging spirits of the mountains or woods terrified a Balinese wife and a Chinese-American father. An old doll stood as witness to the murder of a child. Chinese religious holidays were celebrated, including the Hungry Ghosts Festival and the less well-known Waking of the Insects Festival, in which people may employ a villain-beater to punish someone that has done them wrong. There were also some quiet but powerful stories of the righting of private wrongs: a wife beaten by her husband, an old man forced out of his small bakery by a wealthy landlord and a woman protesting at the changes and commercialisation of the city.

Deciding which stories to include in an anthology can sometimes be difficult. Partly this is a matter of space and partly, particularly for a group of predominantly amateur writers, there is the need to balance giving new writers exposure with maintaining a certain level of quality. For Hong Kong Gothic, the editors wanted, if at all possible, to include every contributor’s story. In the end, this was achieved, although several stories required additional editing, something the contributors supported very constructively. The effort was worthwhile as the book received positive reviews. Time Out described it as ‘a compelling read’ and the South China Morning Post called it ‘entertaining’ and ‘fine holiday reading’ that ‘lifted several writers to their true potential.’

It would be unfair to pick out specific stories when each was so different, but the collection overall was a pleasure to put together. Indeed, the editors, who are all volunteers and who change every year, made a small story of their own by grouping the submissions into themes of comeuppance, mystery, uncertainty and closure and heading each of these: a door slams, a stair creaks, a casement sunders and the candle snuffs.

The HKWC was set up in 1991 by a number of the city’s literary luminaries including Nury Vittachi, author of the Feng Shui Detective series of novels. It currently has about eighty members and runs critique groups, workshops, social evenings and other activities. It takes its role to encourage, support, and promote creative writing in Hong Kong very seriously and its anthologies are a key part of this. Not only are their stories anchored locally, but the layout and printing are done locally as well. In addition, starting three years ago, local artists are commissioned to produce customised cover art for the books. For Hong Kong Gothic, this was a stark image created by Michel Guy of a moonlit Hong Kong dominated by a local landmark, a skyscraper in the financial district, rendered as a Gothic cathedral spire.

Hong Kong Gothic is stocked in most English language bookshops in Hong Kong, and through the local online book supplier, Paddyfield.com. Beyond Hong Kong it can be purchased through Amazon. It is available in paperback, or as an eBook. Priced in local currencies. 

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