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.

Sunday 9 February 2014

Book Club: Nothing Gained and February's Pick

I assume you've read January’s book club pick, the financial thriller Nothing Gained, by Phillip Y. Kim, so I'm not going to give a detailed plot summary. If you need one see here to find an outline from the publisher, Penguin, China.

Since the West has nothing on Asia when it comes to naked capitalism, it is fitting to see an example of Trader Boy Lit set in Hong Kong not on Wall Street, or in London. 

I think it’s fair to say this is a novel where the most important element is the plot – which in this case can perhaps be summarised as: betrayed wife relies on her dead husband’s mistress to get her family out of a hole.  That, I thought, was an interesting idea, but I found Kim’s execution of it occasionally frustrating.

To give just one example, I failed to believe Todd would be so keen to help Cheryl – which is to say I failed to believe a thirty something, affluent, male Westerner in Hong Kong would fall in love with an expat Korean-American mother who was approaching forty and who was trailing significant baggage. Kim himself seems to have a problem with this aspect of his plot.  He surely admits his love angle is pretty unlikely when he says of Todd’s trip to the party district, Lan Kwai Fong: “The next several hours were spent hopping among the many bars frequented by young professionals, aspiring models, and Chinese girls looking to meet Westernized men to liberate themselves from cramped living quarters shared with parents, siblings, and other relatives.”  Yup, in reality, Todd would hook-up with assorted Asian female love entrepreneurs - Filipina, Chinese, Thai - not an expat mum. And is that liberate ironic?  It would be nice to think so, but I’m not sure. 

Later, Kim again reveals his nervousness about the newly widowed expat mum-expat man combo when he has Cheryl herself stress the improbability of Todd’s interest in her: “This is Asia a nice guy like you in your mid-thirties should either be married or have a harem of girls around you.”  Nice here of course means rich. Todd’s avowal that his life doesn’t have the “bandwidth” for it to me sounds contrived.

But that’s enough of what I think. What about others’ opinions? Des and JP both mentioned they work in finance, in Singapore.

Des stressed he enjoyed the novel but said:

I found the pace uneven. I thought the beginning and the end were rushed, though the middle section flowed better. I found some of the writing formulaic and stilted, and some of the locations and situations a little clich├ęd – karaoke bars, etc.  I though the plot was intriguing and believable up until the solution to the issues they faced, when I thought it “lost the plot.” I think there were too many loose ends or aspects not developed. For example, what were Dominique and Winston doing in Europe all the time? How did they get together again? I almost felt this was a script for a made for TV movie.

In defence of Kim, a book about shenanigans in the business world in Asia surely has to have a scene in a karaoke bar? I quite liked the description of Beatrice, the hooker-angel. I agree this novel had the feel of a script for a TV show. 

JP said:
It’s a sex, lies and Chateau Petrus whirlwind through high finance in the Asian boom times, mixed with a double shot of a Bernie Madoff type Ponzi scheme involving CDOs - what more could anyone want? The main characters are all well enough constructed to be believable, I would have liked a bit more detail on the life of the husband, Jason, who is central to the whole story and I found his demise a bit colourful. This novel has of course its selection of bad guys - mostly disgraced casino people and shady Indonesians, which is probably not far off the truth. Kim clearly shows his financial markets background with talk of side letters, position mismarking, CDOs, and so on, but this does not intrude on a good story for anyone who is not up on these issues. It’s a fast-paced, enjoyable read that would appeal to the banker or business man in-the-airport-crowd looking for something easy to read. 

I am certainly not up the financial issues.  Whenever I found the financial detail obtrusive, I skipped it, which would seem to prove JP’s point.  I agree this is a novel businessmen browsing in airport bookshops might consider buying.

February’s pick.

The pick is a bit late this month, because of Chinese New Year, but I suggest over the coming 3 weeks we read The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, by Fatima Bhutto. This begins and ends one rain swept Friday morning in Mir Ali, a small town in Pakistan's Tribal Areas close to the Afghan border. Three brothers meet for breakfast. Soon after, the eldest, recently returned from America, hails a taxi to the local mosque. The second, a doctor, goes to check in at his hospital. His troubled wife does not join the family that morning. No one knows where Mina goes these days. And the youngest, the idealist, leaves for town on a motorbike. Seated behind him is a beautiful, fragile girl whose life and thoughts are overwhelmed by the war that has enveloped the place of her birth. Three hours later their day will end in devastating circumstances.

The Shadow of the Crescent Moon chronicles the lives of five young people trying to live and love in a world on fire. Individuals are pushed to make terrible choices. And, as the events of this single morning unfold, one woman is at the centre of it all.

The Shadow of The Crescent Moon is published by Penguin, it is available in paperback and as an eBook, priced in local currencies. The Book Club discussion will be posted on Sunday March 3rd. Please get in touch with your comments.

Both Nothing Gained and The Shadow of The Crescent Moon are eligible for the ABB book of the Lunar Year in the Year of the Horse. See the post of Jan 30 for details.  If you would like to vote for either title please do so by posting a comment, or contacting asainboskblog@gmail.com.

Friday 31 January 2014

Asian Books Blog Lunar Year Literary Award

Gong xi fa cai! Kung hei fat choy!  Happy Chinese New Year!

Asian Books Blog  (ABB) is lunching its own literary award: The Asian Books Blog Book of the Lunar Year. The inaugural winner, for the Year of the Horse, will be announced during the festivities for the Year of the Ram, in 2015.

The Award will be for books of particular  interest in, or especially relevant to, Asia.  Authors can be of any nationality, and published anywhere. A book will be eligible if traditionally published in English by a commercial publishing house during either the Year of the Snake just finished, or during the upcoming Year of the Horse.

A book will  be eligible if, during the Year of the Horse:
  • It has been selected for the monthly ABB book club
  • The author has contributed to the ABB series 500 Words From...
  • The author has given ABB an interview
  • It has otherwise been featured in ABB, except as part of a round-up post, or as one of the monthly new and notable titles.
The blog covers so-called literary fiction, popular fiction of all genres except erotica, and narrative non-fiction. Hence books in these categories will all be eligible for the Award - it will cover both fiction and non-fiction. 

Self-published books will be eligible if they have been featured in the monthly column Alice on Self-Publishing, but only if they fit the criteria applied in the rest of the blog: they must be titles for adults, fiction except erotica, or narrative non-fiction - so no self-published poetry, children's titles, young adult titles, etc.

The shortlist will have six books. Throughout the year, if a book is eligible for the Award, I will ask you, the blog's readers, to let me know if you think it should make the shortlist. I will be responsible for drawing up the shortlist, but I will take your votes into account. The shortlist will be announced on the blog during the festivities for Western New Year, 2015.

Once there is a shortlist, I will ask you to cast votes for the title you think should win.  I will also canvass opinion from the blog's contributors, and people who have otherwise been involved with it through the year. I will take these opinions into account when choosing the winner, although I will make the final choice. In future years I hope to have a judging panel, although always to continue to ask you to vote, and to canvass opinion from contributors.

It seems unlikely there will be a cash prize in the Year of the Horse. Instead, this and every year, I will invite the winning author to write a guest post for the blog highlighting the work of any charity of his or her choice that is based in Asia, and working to promote the welfare of the people of Asia.  If he or she does not want to write such a post, this will not mean he or she forfeits the Award, instead, I'll write a post highlighting an Asia-based charity of my choice.  

Rosie Milne, Lunar New Year.

Indonesian Literature Abroad

Take a look at this, from the Jakarta Globe:
And at this, from the Literary Saloon:

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Alice On Self-publishing: The Chronicles of Oujo: Questalon

Alice Clark-Platts writes a monthly column on self-publishing. Here she speaks to an author and an illustrator who used a pre-orders platform to great success.

Joshua Chiang (illustrator) and Jeffrey Omar Lawrence (author), both based in Singapore, collaborated on the children's title The Chronicles of Oujo: Questalon, and used Publishizer to generate SG$5000 worth of pre-order funds before launching the book.

Lawrence describes Oujo as his and Chiang’s take on the fantasy genre: “It’s a fantasy world with all the fantasy staples - knights, dragons - but it’s also a world with our own twisted views on modern life. At its heart, Oujo is about overcoming adversity. That following what you believe in is often not an easy path and that the world often easily gives you reasons to quit, and part of overcoming that is overcoming your own doubts.

Talking of following what you believe in, I wondered whether Chiang and Lawrence had worked on Oujo full-time, or intended to go full-time? They both continued with other projects whilst working on the book, and have no plans to give up their day jobs yet - although Lawrence is constantly working on new concepts for television shows, films and books.

Why did they choose self-publishing?  Chiang said that in the case of Oujo, they wanted to produce something more interactive than might interest mainstream publishers, involving apps with narration and animation features, so choosing whether to self-publish or to do it through traditional routes was easy. Once they heard about Publishizer everything fell into place as there the interactive nature of the material could really take hold. Lawrence, however, admitted self-publishing was more work than he’d expected: “I don’t think new writers really know how much work needs to go into promoting a book. It’s a lot.

I could imagine that it would be. So how do you get people interested in your work when you don’t have a big publishing house behind you? “Begging.” Lawrence said. “Lots of begging! A lot of it was reaching out to the social network. Daily posts, continual reminders, reaching out to bloggers, parenting sites and then lots and lots of personal selling.”

Chiang and Lawrence said the most marketing support came from those who knew about the book long before it was published, and had seen early drafts. They recommend Freakonomics Radio's How to Raise Money without Killing a Kitten podcast as a guide on how to promote a crowd-funded campaign.  

Lawrence admits that the whole self-publishing process has put him on an emotional edge: "If you’re a natural introvert, it’s hard to put yourself out there." Chiang agrees, saying it was a relief and a huge surprise when sales shot through the roof during the last few days of the pre-order campaign: “Maybe there is a deity of on-line marketing that we can worship after all?

Chiang’s favourite novels are those which end on a hopeful note and which affirm the goodness in human nature. The publishing story of Oujo seems to have such an ending. Self-publishing it would seem, could be the beginning of an adventure for us all.

Alice’s next column on self-publishing will appear on Wednesday 26th February.  If you are involved in self-publishing in Asia, and you would like your work to be featured, please contact asianbooksblog@gmail.com.

Saturday 25 January 2014

The Second Irrawaddy Literary Festival

The second Irrawaddy Literary Festival is taking place in Mandalay from 14-16 February 2014 at the Kuthodaw pagoda, Mandalay Hill.
The Festival’s patron, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has confirmed to organisers that her attendance and personal participation will be on Saturday 15th February. She will spend several hours at the Festival, taking part in two of the Festival programme’s hour-long sessions.
As the Festival is a not for profit venture all sponsorship funds are directly used to produce the event. For the Mandalay Festival, generous sponsorship will enable state of the art LED screens to project the Festival’s highlights, live, to the public areas of the pagoda compound. Plans also include simultaneous interpretation of all of the headline events, as well as the vast majority of other sessions so that, whether Burmese or English speaking, audiences can enjoy the Festival to the full.
Individual readings, panel discussions, workshops, documentaries and movies will be complemented by several important exhibitions from abroad. An exhibition of early Burmese photography, depicting everyday life as well as officialdom of the day, is being brought to the Festival by a team from the British Library. The exhibition will remain permanently in Burma after the Festival. 
It is a central principle of the Festival that any Burmese writer who wants to participate is welcome to do so. There is still time to let the organisers know that you would like to take part. Please contact  Dr Thant Thaw Kaung at Myanmar Book Centre, or Nyi Sae Min at ludupress@gmail.com.
Entry to the Irrawaddy Literary Festival, Mandalay, is free, throughout the three day event. The ILF Mandalay promises to be even better than the inaugural Festival in 2013.

Friday 24 January 2014

A Tale for the Time Being shortlisted for the Kitschies Red Tentacle 2013

Ruth Ozeki’s  Japanese-American historical family mystery, cum exploration of Buddhism, A Tale for the Time Being, is on the shortlist for the Kitschies Red Tentacle Award.

Since its simultaneous release across all formats – hardback, paperback, digital and audio  – in March 2013, A Tale for the Time Being has attracted worldwide critical acclaim, including securing a shortlisting for the 2013 Man Booker Prize. 

The Kitschies, presented in the UK, reward the year's most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic. Now entering its fifth year, the prize offers the Red (novel), Golden (debut) and Inky (cover art) Tentacle awards, as well as the Black Tentacle, awarded at the discretion of the judges to a piece of work that doesn’t otherwise fit the Kitschies criteria.

The Red Tentacle is presented annually to the author whose novel containing speculative or fantastic elements best fulfils the criteria: intelligent, progressive and entertaining. This year’s finalists were selected from a record 234 submissions, coming from over fifty different publishers and imprints. The winner receives a cash prize of GPB 1,000 / approx USD 1,650, a hand-crafted tentacular trophy, and a bottle of the finest black rum, from the Kitschies' sponsor, Kraken's.

The 2013 judging panel for the Red Tentacle comprises author Kate Griffin, 2012 Red Tentacle Winner Nick Harkaway, Will Hill, author of the bestselling young adult series Department 19, designer Anab Jain, and Annabel Wright, editor and founder of publishing services provider, whitefox.

Harkaway said:"This was an awe-inspiring year. For the Red Tentacle, we could have built a shortlist composed purely of iconic names, and we had to reject at least one book which may be a work of genius because it did not entirely mesh with the Kitschies' cardinal virtues: intelligent, entertaining, and progressive. The debuts are pretty breathtaking, too: broad in scope, deft and compelling. It's been an education as well as a privilege to judge the prize, and a vast relief not to be in competition with these writers.”

The winners will be announced in a ceremony in London on 12 February.