Monday, 23 September 2013

Edinburgh World Writers' Conference

The Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, presented jointly by the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council, was a year-long series of events that brought together writers from around the world to discuss and illuminate how writing is, or can be, an essential component of society.  The conversation began in August 2012 at the Edinburgh International Book Festival where 50 world-renowned writers initiated discussion of the five themes: censorship and freedom of speech; the future of the novel; nationality and national identity in the novel; novels and their relationships with current affairs; style vs. content. The closing debates took place at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival last month.

In between Edinburgh and Melbourne, the EWWC visited Berlin, Cape Town, Toronto, Krasnoyarsk, Jaipur, Brazzaville, Izmir, Brussels, Beijing, Port of Spain, St Malo, Lisbon, and Kuala Lumpur, giving writers in different countries and on different continents the chance to add their voices to the global debate about literature and its relationships to contemporary life. By the time it closed, the Conference had provided 67 hours of live discussion, relayed all around the world via social media, from 281 authors representing 61 countries.

I asked Tanya Andrews, consultant, British Council literature, and project manager for the EWWC to reflect on this exciting and ambitious programme.   

I asked her which she considered the EWWC's most important achievements? "Many participants said the chance to discuss the issues facing writers and writing in a rigorous, open context as international peers has been invaluable - that’s something we’re very proud of having been able to provide. Through hosting the Conference, we aimed to build the most complete picture of writing and its relationship to our lives ever attempted - and I think we can say we’ve achieved that."

Which, in her opinion, were the most electrifying moments? "In Edinburgh Ben Okri reading the Authors’ Statement in reference to the State of Arizona’s law effectively censoring works by Latino authors, as brought to the Conference’s attention by Junot Diaz;  in Beijing Sophie Cooke reading a poem by imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波); the huge crowds and energy of the audiences in Jaipur, the intensity and engagement surrounding the final sessions in Melbourne. It’s been quite a journey."

Which of the themes generated most discussion worldwide? "Overall the theme a national literature was taken up by the greatest number of countries, 11. That to me is fascinating, and indicative of the thirst for conversations about national identity, and about the power of literature as a mirror people hold up as a way of looking at themselves from the outside, from the inside.  To be immersed in the very real, contemporary concerns of writers discussing national literature from a Bosnian perspective, from a Turkish perspective, from a Malaysian perspective, from a Russian perspective - that’s been a privilege, and an important, eye-opening one for me." 

In Asia, regimes often try to promote a so-called national literature to support their positions.  Was there any explicit discussion of this at the Asian events? "It was discussed at length in Turkey, in Sema Kaygusuz’ keynote address and the ensuing discussion. It was also discussed, more indirectly, in Malaysia. Velibor Colic also talked about it in reference to Bosnia."  (See here for EWWC discussions of national literature.)

Censorship is another live issue in Asia.  How did Tanya think the EWWC helped writers in countries where free speech cannot be assumed? "The Conference’s role was to foster engagement and interaction between writers and readers across boundaries - so the fact that we were able to work with partners in 15 different countries and that issues of censorship were widely and forthrightly discussed is an important end in itself." (See here for EWWC discussions of censorship and free speech.)

Was Tanya pleased with responses to the EWWC in Asia? "Delighted. Our Asian editions between them covered all five themes and generated some lengthy and highly engaged debates. I’m thrilled that the voices, opinions and words of outstanding writers from the region were able to be shared on this world platform."

How did the EWWC guarantee each edition had its own local integrity? "In each city, participants were selected by the host programmer, working with the British Council locally and with input also from Edinburgh Book Festival and the British Council in London. That way each event was rooted in the host country’s concerns; so for example in Malaysia the main programming impetus came from the Cooler Lumpur Festival, with input from British Council Malaysia, and the UK EWWC team."

Are there plans to repeat the EWWC? "Not any time soon - it was a major undertaking and feels like a once in a generation concept."

Well, if it were to be repeated, what might be new themes? "This Conference, there was much discussion at Edinburgh of the issues writers face in the digital age in terms of copyright, a statement was circulated there, which continued to be discussed at events around the world, and to which authors are still adding their names. I think in future we'd probably discuss technology, and the way it is influencing literature and writers’ lives. The way we access literature, how much time readers allocate to it, how market forces impact on it in the digital age - they’re all big questions."

Physical, printed books might represent an old technology, but it's hard to beat them. Is there a book in the pipeline, pulling together the main discussions generated by the EWWC? "This has always been an aim for the project. We hope to be able to make an announcement soon."

I'll keep you posted.  

For more information, including keynote speeches, the EWWC blog, and links to Twitter and Facebook see

British Council:

Edinburgh International Book Festival:

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Listings / book club / self-publishing

As I said in August, I am starting to run listings of literary events across Asia, excluding West and Central Asia, but extending west to east from the Indian Sub-continent to Japan, and north to south from Mongolia to the southern tip of the Indonesian archipelago.

If you do want to submit listings, I will accept them up to three months before the event takes place.  I will assume the language of the event is English, unless otherwise stated.  If you would like to have an event included please e-mail details to  Please make it as easy as possible for me to extract information, and follow the format below as closely as you can. The two examples are both real listings, not invented, so make a note, should you be interested in attending.

What?             Short Story Boot Camp: a series of creative writing workshops on how to create and craft short stories, led by Felix Chong and Verena Tay
When?            Sat 28/9 and Sun 29/9, 10 am – 5 pm
Where?           The Living Room, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane
Singapore 179429
Cost?               SG$ 120. Concessions apply

What?              Book reading from Kampong Spirit: Gotong Royong - Life in Potong Pasir, 1955 to 1965, by Josephine Chia
When?             Sat 21/9, 3:00 pm
Where?            Select Books, 51 Armenian St, Singapore 179939
Cost?                Free           
Booking           Not required

I am working on creating a proper listings page, until then I will post listings weekly at the bottom of more general posts.

Just a reminder that I have also launched a book club.  The first selection is Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan, published in paperback by Doubleday.  I will post my thoughts on Sunday 29th Sept, so if you’d like to read it before then, and post your own opinions that would be great.

Since self-publishing is becoming so accepted, and important to those of us living outside of, and feeling excluded from, the big centres of commercial publishing, ABB is going to provide a monthly round-up of five or six interesting looking self-published titles from around Asia. 

Alice Clark-Platts will write the round-ups.  Alice is a human rights lawyer with a passion for literature, high, low and trashy. She is the author of Warchild, a political thriller, and she is currently working on her next novel, The Weir.  In 2011, Alice founded The Singapore Writers Group, which currently has over 350 members. The Group is involved with others across the world in an exchange of ideas and information. Alice blogs on life and writing at, so take a look!

If you are a self-published author, and you would like to have your book considered, please e-mail  No children’s / young adult, erotica, self-help, religious titles, cookery, autobiography, so-called lifestyle titles, true crime or anything else Alice or I decide to take against.

The ban on erotica is not a ban on books with sex scenes, even ones where you have to flip through to find the clean bits, just an attempted ban on boring books.  All other genres of adult fiction are fine: chick lit, lad lit, sci-fi, and so on are as welcome as lit lit.  All narrative non-fiction is likewise welcome. All books should have something to do with Asia, or with Asians.

The first of Alice’s round-ups will be posted in mid October. 

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Lisa Dempster / Director, Melbourne Writers Festival

Melbourne Writers Festival, the city’s annual, two-week celebration for writers, readers and thinkers, has just closed.  I asked Lisa Dempster, its director, to reflect on this year's achievements.

I commented that the program seemed to suggest the Festival was intended, in part, as a bridge between East and West. Was that correct? "Yes, it's very important to me that the Melbourne Writers Festival creates a dialogue with our neighbours in Asia. So much of the publishing industry is focused on the US, UK and Europe, but as we live in the Asia-Pacific it's vital that we take part in conversations about the politics and literature of our region also. When planning the program, we think about the conversations that are happening around us and curate topics and speakers that we know will provoke discussion or further the conversation about a particular issue. Given our geographical position, some of these naturally promote dialogue between East and West."

Global Voices was one event clearly focused on encouraging an East-West conversation. It brought together Iranian-born Australian writer and poet Ali Alizadeh, American-Taiwanese Tao Lin, and Australian writer-performer Laura Jean McKay to talk about how they represented, or evaded, different cultures in their writing.  I thought it sounded great, and I wondered how Lisa and her team came up with the idea of bringing together these three writers? "It was a natural fit. Although their writing styles are very different, all of their most recent books are about the intersection between the East and the West, and how people navigate increasingly globalised lives. The discussion was fantastic, and each author brought an interesting perspective to the panel."

Like #Word, Kula Lumpur, (see the post here) Melbourne hosted a chapter of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference - a global enquiry into contemporary writing that has spanned the world from Edinburgh to Beijing, and beyond. One of the EWWC's themes was censorship - a problem in much of Asia. How did Lisa think writers' festivals in countries where free speech is allowed help writers in countries where it isn't? "We can help simply by contributing to the dialogue around writing and censorship. I think in democratic countries we need to be aware of the challenges facing authors working in more restrictive conditions. At the Melbourne Writers Festival we ensure there are empty chairs on stage during events, highlighting authors who cannot be at the Festival because their circumstances don't allow it." 

Ruth Ozeki was one of the big names attending the Festival.  Her novel A Tale For The Time Being is on the Man Booker shortlist(See the post here).  I wondered how she was received in Melbourne, and which other Asian writers, or writers of Asian descent, the audiences wanted to see? "Everyone loved Ruth. In addition to being a brilliant novelist, she's a very interesting woman and a great presenter. Tao Lin also made waves. His work is quite divisive in a lot of ways - he has fans but he also has detractors. A lot of people were curious to come along and meet the man behind the work."

The Festival closed with Marina Warner, an expert on the magic and metaphor of fairy tales, talking about her latest book, Stranger Magic: charmed states and the Arabian Nights, an exploration of the wide-ranging influence of Scheherazade's life-saving tales. Lisa moderated the event.  Had she enjoyed herself? "It was a real treat. Stories are vital to the human condition, as evidenced by our desire to tell and retell stories across centuries. Musing on that idea at the end of the Festival was the ideal way to close a huge eleven days that celebrated stories and storytellers of all kinds!"

Monday, 9 September 2013

Wayan Juniartha, Indonesian Program Manager Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary, brings together Indonesian, South East Asian and international voices.  I spoke to Wayan Juniartha, Indonesian Program Manager.

I wondered what she thought UWRF had achieved for Indonesian writers? “The Festival has played a major role in the birth of a new generation of promising Indonesian authors. Ours is the only literary festival dedicating significant resources to ensuring that emerging Indonesian writers, those producing quality work, but having limited or zero exposure at the national level, receive fair attention. Selected writers receive sponsorship to attend the Festival and the works they present are translated and published in our annual bilingual anthology, making their works accessible to English speakers. Since 2008 we have showcased 75 emerging Indonesian writers.  This year more than 600 young writers from across the archipelago submitted applications to attend. The chance to speak alongside established authors, from Indonesia and elsewhere, provides chosen writers with valuable networking opportunities.  Separately, we have established links with literary communities right across the archipelago; the Festival is now the primary bridge connecting Indonesian authors, particularly those living outside Java, with the international literary community." 

How did Wayan hope to build on these achievements in the future? “UWRF wants to establish better international links. One of our dreams is to introduce an exchange programme which would enable emerging Indonesian authors to stay in Australia, and Australian authors to stay in Indonesia.”

Moving from emerging writers, to more established ones, UWRF hosts many book launches.  Of the books by Indonesian authors being launched this year which was Wayan most looking forward to reading, and why? “Renditions of My Soul, by Balinese author Desak Yoni. I met her a couple months ago and she struck me as a different kind of Balinese women: outspoken and passionately opinionated. She told me that her book touched controversial issues and might get her into trouble with mainstream Balinese thinkers.”

Renditions of My Soul, published by Saritasku Editions, certainly does sound interesting. Returning to Bali after years abroad, Desak Yoni experienced at first hand the multiple challenges facing Balinese women struggling in a patriarchal world. Renditions of My Soul, a fictionalized memoir that morphed into a novel, is apparently an antidote to consumer driven fantasies of Bali as a hedonist’s paradise, and as such it ought to be well worth reading.

UWRF has few events in Bahasa.  I put it to Wayan that this was perhaps a little odd, but she disagreed: “We are essentially an international festival with English as the main language. We provide interpreters for Indonesian authors who need them, but rather than holding a majority of events in Bahasa we opted for a different approach: inviting as many Indonesian writers as possible, translating and publishing the works of selected Indonesian emerging writers, and ensuring that all our invited Indonesian writers get exposure through panel appearances and media interviews. At the moment, our audience composition is about 70% foreigners and 30% locals. The foreigners have varying degrees of fluency in Bahasa, and many of them hail from English-speaking countries.  Meanwhile, most members of our Indonesian audience are fluent in English. Given these facts it would be counter-productive for us to use Bahasa as the main language of the Festival.”

What did Wayan hope the 30% of local readers attending the Festival would take away from it? “UWRF is about exchanging ideas. Indonesia is a young democracy  - a nation in transition - which has to deal with huge new issues: gay rights; multiculturalism; terrorism; free markets; women’s rights; environmental conservation. The Festival sees a multitude of writers from various countries, diverse political ideologies, and different belief systems, gathering at one place discussing these critical issues. I believe that exposure to such diverse viewpoints and experiences must benefit Indonesian readers by expanding their horizons of thought and, by offering insights on how they might speed up the transition process and steer the country onto a correct course.”

UWRF runs from 11 – 15 October. Visit for more information.

This year, in conjunction with The Asia-Europe Foundation, UWRF ran Long Way Home, a short story contest. Leroy Luar, from Malaysia, won the Asian section, with The Evidence of Us. Special mention went to Maltese-French author Nadia Mifsud for Made in Bangladesh, and to Kathrina Haji Mohd Daud, from Brunei, for I am a Bird.  You can read all three of these stories, and others, by following links either on, or on the website for The Asia-Europe Foundation

Friday, 6 September 2013

Sushmita Banerjee

On 4th September, Indian author Sushmita Banerjee was shot dead by turbaned men in Kabul, where she was involved in health care, and in documenting the lives of local women.  Her killers were probably the Taliban.  She was widely denounced by fundamentalists in Afghanistan for her work promoting women’s rights, and she had attracted the fury of the Taliban after she wrote the memoir Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou  (A Man From Kabul’s Bengali Wife). It told of Banerjee’s love marriage to the Afghan businessman Janbaz Khan, her moving to Afghanistan in 1989, the adversities she faced under Taliban rule and her eventual escape back to her native Kolkata.  She had only recently returned to Kabul when she was shot. Her publisher, Swapan Biswas, told The Times Of India she had informed him about her plan to return to Afghanistan in February to start work on another book: "She was determined to go back for the book which she wanted me to publish."

Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou detailed the harsh life inflicted on women in rural Afghanistan.  In 1998, Banerjee talked to Outlook India about her book.  She explained it told how the Taliban forced her to close down her business: "They also listed out dos and don'ts. The burkha was a necessity. Listening to the radio or playing a tape recorder was banned. Women were not allowed to go to the shops. They were even prohibited from stepping out from their houses unless accompanied by their husbands. All women had to have the names of their husbands tattooed on their left hand. Virtually all interaction between men and women outside the confines of their own homes was banned."(See

Banerjee followed up Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou with  more volumes of memoir, and general commentary: Talibani Atyachar, Deshe O Bideshe  (Taliban Atrocities In Afghanistan And Abroad), Mullah Omar, Taliban O Ami (Mullah Omar, Taliban And I) Ek Borno Mithya Noi (Not A Word Is A Lie) and Sabhyatar Sesh Punyabani (The Swansong Of Civilisation).

According to India Today, Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou initially sold seven lakh copies, including “over one lakh copies of a somewhat amateurish English version.” 1 lakh = 100,000. I haven’t been able to track down a mainstream, easily available English language translation of Kabuliwalar Bangali Bou, or translations of Banerjee's other titles but I hope her work does now find an international publisher, able to distribute her books, and to promote them. This butchered woman sounds like an author we all should read.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Listings / Book Club: Crazy Rich Asians / Kevin Kwan

I've decided to try to offer listings of literary events across Asia, excluding West Asia / The Middle East, but extending west to east from the Indian Sub-continent to Japan, and north to south from Mongolia to the southern tip of the Indonesian archipelago.

I will accept listings up to three months before the event takes place.  If you would like to have an event included please e-mail details to  Please state the month of the event in the subject line, and specify that this is a listing, e.g. September / listing.   Please provide the following information:

Date of event
Nature of event and a brief description. E.g. book launch plus a 100 word description
Venue for event with both a complete real world address, and a link to the venue's website  / details of its Facebook page if these are available
Cost of event, if any, plus details of discounts, if any
Language of event
For booking and further information please contact...followed by relevant information

For a series or a course of events at one venue, or for literary festivals at multiple venues within one general area, please supply the start and finish dates.  For literary festivals, I will  give only the over-arching venue, e.g. Jaipur, Hong Kong, or wherever.

I have also decided to launch a book club.  I will select a book at the beginning of each month, and request that people post comments through the month.  I will then summarise these at the end of the month, plus give my own thoughts.

My first book club selection,  for September, is  Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan, a comedy about three super-rich Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occur when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his American Born Chinese girlfriend.

When Rachel Chu agrees to spend the summer in Singapore with Nicholas Young, she envisions a humble family home, long drives to explore the island, and quality time with the man she might one day marry. What she doesn't know is that Nick's family home looks like a palace, that she'll ride in more private planes than cars, and that with one of Asia's most eligible bachelors on her arm, she might as well have a target on her back. Initiated into a world of dynastic splendor, Rachel meets Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore society; Eddie, whose family practically lives in the pages of the Hong Kong socialite magazines; and Eleanor, Nick's formidable mother, a woman who has very strong feelings about who her son should - and should not - marry. Crazy Rich Asians is an insider's look at the Asian JetSet; a depiction of the clash between old money and new; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese. 

Crazy Rich Asians is published by Doubleday, in hardback, paperback, audio, and e-book formats. Color Force has acquired movie rights so it should be coming to a big screen near you sometime soon. 

So: what do you think?  Please do post with your opinions, and I'll share mine at the end of the month.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Commonwealth Short Story Prize

In 1949, as the British Empire began to fade into history, The government of the UK and those of seven former colonies came together to form the modern Commonwealth, an association of free and equal members co-operating in the pursuit of peace, liberty and progress.

Today, the Commonwealth has 54 members and the Commonwealth Foundation, a UK-based development organisation, works towards a world in which every person on the planet is able to participate in, and contribute to, the sustainable development of peaceful and equitable societies.

Commonwealth Writers is a cultural initiative from the Commonwealth Foundation. Commonwealth Writers both develops the craft of individual writers and also builds communities of emerging voices, so that, individually and collectively, writers can work for social change, and influence, directly and indirectly, the decision-making processes which affect their lives. Commonwealth Writers wants the writers it unearths to inspire others, especially in their local communities, and it challenges selected authors to take part in on-line residencies, and on-the-ground literary activities.

Commonwealth Writers runs the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. This aims to identify talented emerging writers and to promote the best new writing from across the Commonwealth, thus developing literary connections worldwide.  

The Short Story Prize is awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction, of between 2000-5000 words. The language of the competition is English. Writers can submit stories translated into English from other languages.

Entries can be submitted from five regions: Africa, Asia, Canada and Europe, the Caribbean, and the Pacific. The regional divisions are intended to give writers in countries with poor publishing infrastructure a fairer chance to compete with those in countries where there are more opportunities. Within Asia, you are eligible to enter if you are a citizen of one of the following countries: Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka,

There will be five winners, one from each region. One regional winner will be selected as the overall winner. The overall winner will receive £5,000 (approx US$7,750) and the remaining four regional winners £2,500 (approx US$3,785). Translators of winning stories will also receive prize money.  If the overall winner is a translation into English, the translator will receive £2,000 (approx US$3,100).  Translators will receive £1,000 (approx US$1,150) for regional winners.

The 2014 judging panel will be chaired by Ellah Allfrey, deputy chair of the council of the Caine Prize for African Writing, formerly deputy editor of the UK-based literary magazine Granta and senior editor at Jonathan Cape, Random House, in London. She will chair an international judging panel; this will make the final selection. The regional judges will be announced on 1 October. Experienced readers will assist the named judges in selecting the long lists.

The 2014 Short Story Prize will open for entry on-line on 1 October 2013 and close on 30 November 2013. Entry will be via where you can view the eligibility criteria, and the entry rules.

So new Asian writers: Get writing! Tell the world what great stories, and what great storytellers, we have on this continent! If you need inspiration,  click about on, it’s a great website, with a mix of interesting tips and advice, discussion, and constructively provocative comment.