Thursday, 20 February 2014

Korean Cultural Programme At London Book Fair

The London Book Fair (LBF) is an international marketplace for the publishing industry – an event for the negotiation of rights, and the sale and distribution of content across both print and digital formats.  Each year the Fair has a Market Focus. This throws the spotlight on the publishing industry in a given country, and encourages trade between it and the rest of the world. This year LBF, in April, will have South Korea as its Market Focus.

To run alongside the Korea Market Focus, The British Council, in partnership with The Literature Translation Institute of Korea (LTI Korea), has announced the Korea Cultural Programme. This will feature ten of Korea’s most prominent and exciting writers representing the depth and diversity of contemporary Korean writing across a range of genres and formatsThe delegation includes: Hwang Sok-yong, Vietnam War veteran, political dissident and novelist whose best known work is The Guest; Yi Mun-yol, known for his award winning novel, Our Twisted Hero; Kyung-sook Shin, the first Korean, and the first woman, to win the Man Asian Literary Prize for her novel Please Look After Mother; Kim Hyesoon, one of Korea’s most distinguished poets; Yoon Tae-ho, ground-breaking webtoonist; Hwang Sun-mi, author of the bestselling children’s book, The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly.

These writers will participate in a variety of events, some open to the public. They will explore themes including the literary imagination, change in Korean society, the role of the family in Korean literature, digital innovation in literature and Korean literary traditions.

In addition to the Korean writers, The Cultural Programme will involve UK writers, translators and editors. 

Taken overall, the Cultural Programme will provide an opportunity for UK audiences and publishers to meet and interact with Korean writers, who will in turn be able to engage with their UK counterparts in front of an international literary audience. 

Cortina Butler, Director Literature, British Council said: “The British Council anticipates that the Korea Market Focus Cultural Programme will have a lasting impact on appreciation in the UK of the strength and depth of contemporary Korean literature. We are delighted to be working with The London Book Fair and the Literature Translation Institute of Korea on this programme and believe that it creates a unique opportunity for the writing, publishing and reading communities in the UK and Korea to build understanding and make connections.”

Kim Seong-Kon, President, Literature Translation Institute of Korea, said: “The eyes of the world are upon the 2014 London Book Fair as the event will provide a collegiate place where different cultures and books from all over the world will meet in good will. The event will also play an important role in promoting cultural understanding between Korea and the UK.”

Amy Webster, International & Market Focus Manager, The London Book Fair said: “The London Book Fair is delighted to be partnering with the British Council on the Market Focus Cultural Programme. Along with partner LTI Korea, the British Council’s author programme promises to give expert access to a culture and a literary tradition which many of our audiences will be keen to discover in and around the fair. As publishers are now leveraging content across many platforms, it is exciting to see a number of this year’s featured authors have books that have been adapted for film, and also write specifically for the web, which adds an exciting new dimension to an already well-anticipated programme.”

If you want to begin exploring the energy and diversity of Korean literature in English, the LTI Korea has made a sample of work available to download for free here.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Seen Elsewhere: 2014 Irrawaddy Literary Festival

The Second Irrawaddy Literary Festival has just finished.  Here is a round-up of predominantly local press coverage.

The Myanmar Times - The Ministry of Culture forced a change in venue, read about it here.

The Myanmar Times - An interview with Ma Thanegi, one of Myanmar's best-known writers writing in English. 

The Myanmar Times - A discussion of Bones Will Crow, an English-language collection of poetry, edited by Ko Ko Thett and James Byrne, soon to be available as a print version in Asia. To purchase the eBook from the UK publishing house, Arc Publications, see here.

Myanmar Update - a very brief account of Aung San Suu Kyi's appearance at the Festival.

The Irrawaddy - from last month, an account of why some local poets apparently boycotted the Festival.

And whilst you're at it, you might take a look at the South China Morning Post's (Hong Kong) round-up of the best of 2014's literary festivals in Asia.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Ruth Ozeki Wins 2013 Kitschies Red Tentacle Award

Ruth Ozeki’s  A Tale for the Time Being has won the 2013 Kitschies Red Tentacle Award in the UK.

Unable to make the ceremony in person, Ozeki instead sent a message:“This is truly a fantastical honour, and one that surpasses my wildest imaginings. I have always wanted a tentacle of my very own, and now I have one! … The novels nominated for this award form a spectacular array, and I was as excited to see mine amongst them, as I am humbled now by this improbable but happy outcome.”

Her full acceptance speech is available at

Now in their fifth year, the Kitschies Tentacles include the Red (novel), Golden (debut) and Inky (cover art) 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. Presented last week at a ceremony in London, the prizes recognise the year’s most progressive, intelligent and entertaining works that contain elements of the speculative or fantastic. The 2013 finalists were selected from a record 234 submissions, from over fifty publishers and imprints. The winners received a total of approximately US$3,300 (£2,000) in prize money as well as Tentacle trophies, while all finalists received bottles of The Kraken Rum - the drink's producer sponsors the Tentacles.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Penguin India pulps The Hindus: An Alternative History

Penguin India has decided to pull American professor Wendy Doniger's book  The Hindus: An alternative history, after some people in the country alleged it defamed the Hindu religion.

Here’s a small sample of comment from around the web:

Arundhati Roy's reaction, reported in The Telegraph (UK)

The Times of India

The Economic Times (India)

Legally India

Publishing Perspectives (An American-based, on-line magazine of international news and opinion relevant to publishing)

The New York Times

The Guardian (UK)


Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

And so on and so forth. 

Here's  Wendy Doniger's response to having her book banned, reported in The Wall Street Journal.

Here's Penguin India's response to the outcry, reported by the BBC.

UPDATE: 20 Feb 2014, this is interesting from Publishing Perspectives, giving an account of the continuing fallout from Penguin's decision. 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

The Asia Pacific Writers & Translators 7th International Conference

The Arts House, Singapore
The Asia Pacific Writers & Translators 7th International Conference, co-hosted by the National Book Development Council of Singapore, and the Arts House, Singapore, in association with Yale-National University of Singapore, will take the theme: creative writing & literary translation in the Asian century.  It will run in the Lion City, from 17-19 July 2014

Published authors, authors aspiring to publication, translators, literary editors, publishers, agents, festival directors, and others
wishing to join the conference are now invited to send expressions of interest.

The focus will be on short, popular and accessible presentations, readings, and workshops intended to stimulate lively conversations amongst panellists, participants, and the audience.

Panellists should be able to make informed contributions related to the general topic of creative writing and the development of new cross-border readerships in Asia. Panels will be decided depending on topic descriptions received.
Presentations must be of relevance to writers, and aim to provide new pathways for the development of writing careers in Asia. Panellists will be asked to take into account the changing fundamentals for our region and the publishing industry, including: the global power shift towards Asia; the region’s ever-growing middle class, with its increased spending power and leisure time; new media and related publishing and translation opportunities; literature as a means of better developing cross-cultural dialogues, fostering cross-cultural awareness, and, perhaps, easing tensions in uncertain times.

Keynote speakers will include Australian author and translator Linda Jaivin whose work addresses culture, difference, (mis)understanding and its unpredictable consequences, in the context of China and the West.  Other keynotes will be announced in due course.

Workshops will include those on editing, publishing for new media, writing fiction, and writing poetry.

The Australia Council for the Arts is supporting the conference, so there will be a strong delegation from Australia, including a senior representative from the Australian Society of Authors, an editor from a top publishing house, and at least two established authors teaching creative writing.

How to participate as a panellist
If you want to participate as a panellist, prepare an abstract of no more than 200 words on your chosen topic, together with a brief  account of your qualifications to speak about it.  Published authors will be favoured. Although AP Writers is proud to have as its academic partner the Yale-National University of Singapore, the conference's organisers are not looking for academic papers. Panellists and a draft programme will be announced in April. To apply, email your topic description to by Friday 28 February 2014.  

Attending but not as a panellist
If you want to join this year’s conference as a member of the audience, to read from, or to launch, a new literary work, or to attend a creative writing workshop, then likewise email, by Friday 28 February 2014, but use Attending or Reading Only in your subject line. 

For now, expressions of interest will serve only as a guideline for the organisers when assessing numbers and the likely conference registration cost. Official registration will open at after the draft programme has been announced, at

Registration fees
Registration is likely to be free to the first 30 Singaporean residents who register, in recognition of NBDCS’s generosity. After the first 30 registrations, Singaporean residents may be charged at the rate for members of AP Writers - probably US$80 for the three days, or US$30 per day. For all others, the registration fee will probably be US$150 for three days or US$60 per day. Final registration fees will be confirmed once likely numbers have been ascertained. Workshops will have a separate registration fee, probably US$30 per person. Registration fees will not cover accommodation.

AP Writers can write letters of support on behalf of those seeking their own funding to attend this conference. It can sometimes find third party sponsors to support writers from developing countries in Asia, and less often authors from beyond Asia whose work is of exceptional talent or relevance. It is not a funding organisation and cannot itself offer sponsorship. 

For general enquiries email

Updates will be posted  at

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