Monday 21 April 2014

Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival

Prize-winning novelists Hanif Kureishi, Kamila Shamsie, Tash Aw and Romesh Gunesekera plus award-winning BBC journalist John Sweeney are some of the key speakers at this year’s Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival, which takes place at Asia House in London from May 6 to May 21, 2014.
Now in its eighth year and with a new title sponsor, the Asia House Bagri Foundation Literature Festival is the only UK festival dedicated to pan-Asian writing.
With a range of events covering more than 17 countries, the Festival this year includes authors writing about China, Japan, Malaysia, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Nepal, the Middle East, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Britain.
This year’s theme is Changing Values Across AsiaForeign correspondent Peter Popham examines Burma two years after its milestone election, while Shereen el Feki, author of Sex and the Citadel, and Sally Howard, author of The Kama Sutra Diaries, take a serious but entertaining look at changing sexual mores in the Middle East, India and Pakistan.
Literary superstar Hanif Kureishi launches the Festival as he discusses his new novel, The Last Word, while award-winning Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie introduces her hotly anticipated novel of friendship, injustice and love, A God in Every Stone.
The best of Asian literature is further celebrated as new works by acclaimed Sri Lankan novelist Romesh Gunesekera, Chinese novelist and film maker Xiaolu Guo, and Pakistani-born Roopa Farooki are previewed in a special showcase event ahead of publication. 
The series Extra Words will introduce debut authors from Pakistan, Nepal and Thailand.
Award-winning BBC reporter John Sweeney, author of North Korea Undercover, joins Paul French, author of North Korea: State of Paranoia, to analyse the threat posed by that country, while historian John Keay introduces the first comprehensive history of South Asia as a whole with his new book Midnight’s Descendants.
Digital freedom in East Asia will be analysed with Thai blogger Giles Ji Ungpakorn, and Anja Kovacs from the Internet Democracy Project in Delhi. 
British Asian humour will be hotly debated by a panel including journalist Sathnam Sanghera, BBC head of comedy Saurabh Kakkar, comedian Shazia Mirza and writer producer of hit TV shows Goodness Gracious Me,The Kumars at Number 42The Office and Citizen KhanAnil Gupta. 

Brigid Keenan, author of Packing Up: Further Adventures of a Trailing Spouse, takes us on a wildly funny tour through her life in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Palestine.
Look out for further information on the blog, including details of how you can participate from Asia  via social media. 

Friday 18 April 2014

Seen Elsewhere: Death of Gabriel García Márquez

The death of  Gabriel García Márquez  is being mourned and reported around the world. Here are a few of the tributes, in English.

The Guardian (UK)

The New York Times

Sydney Morning Herald

RT (Russia)

Xinhua (China)

Al Jazeera (Qatar)

Thursday 17 April 2014

Questions & Answers with R. Ramachandran, Executive Director, National Book Development Council of Singapore

The National Book Development Council of Singapore promotes and encourages the local community of writers, publishing professionals, librarians, and booksellers working in all four of the country’s official languages: English, Mandarin, Malay, and Tamil.  Its aim is to establish Singapore as a hub for publishing and the literary arts. I spoke to the Executive Director, R. Ramachandran.

How far has The Council succeeded in developing Singapore as a regional centre of literary activity? What still needs to be done?

Our own programmes, in conjunction with those of the National Arts Council (NAC), have together made a good start. The NAC’s Singapore Writers Festival and our own Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC) have together established Singapore as an Asian centre for writers producing content for both adults and children.

Our awards for children's content, such as The Scholastic Asian Book Award, a joint initiative with the children’s publisher, and Asian Picture Book awards for both authors and illustrators, have been particularly successful.  Through our involvement with children's books we have directed the attention of illustrators to Singapore, thus helping to promote the City as an Asian centre for the visual arts.

What we have not yet become is a fully-fledged publishing centre. We still need trained editors and marketing personnel specialising in regional and international marketing. We need to develop literary agents and expertise in the selling of rights. We are addressing these needs and have established the Academy of Literary Arts and Publishing for training personnel in editing, book design, managing intellectual property, and the various other aspects of publishing.

Which other Asian cities do you see as rival hubs for publishing? What are they doing better, or not so well, as Singapore?

Actually we have no rivals. We are unique in publishing and promoting all four languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. Our diversity in language and culture makes us attractive to the literary arts community throughout Asia. Having an English-speaking population means we can publish in English for the world market.

Talking of which, Singapore itself has a small market for books, but it is excellently placed to be a bridge between east and west. What are you doing to grow international connections in the publishing industry?

Local publishers do not publish for Singapore alone. They publish for the region and hence what needs to be done is to connect them with distributors who will distribute the books for the rest of Asia. We need to emerge as a country which has good translators. Once we have a core group of translators, we can translate Asian books from one Asian language to the other. When that happens we will have a market of 700 million in ASEAN alone to reach out to.

Perhaps the even bigger challenge is reaching out to the West. The West wants to sell to the East but does not readily buy from the East. Such purchases, if any, are very limited. What must be done is that we must reach out to the West not through establishing contacts with the Western distributors but by developing our own network to handle distribution. Only then, through a coordinated effort, can publicity, marketing and sales be effective.

Already we are attracting writers and key industry players from the West to our festivals, enabling them to become familiar with our literary works. We want them to recognise our content is good, but not necessarily to take on the responsibility of distributing books published in Asia.

South East Asia lacks an international marketplace for rights. Do you have plans for an Asian books fair, as an Eastern equivalent of Frankfurt or London?

The AFCC is already acting as a marketplace for Children's content, and this is bound to grow. We intend to suggest to the National Arts Council that we should organise an Asian Book Fair for all content, in conjunction with the Singapore Writers Festival.

How do you promote writing and publishing in languages other than English?

The Singapore Literature Prize managed by us gives recognition to works published in all four official languages. All our festivals have a strong track record in presenting workshops and seminars in Chinese, Malay and Tamil. This we think is unique as most literary festivals are monolingual.

What do you do to promote translation between languages, especially of Chinese, Malay and Tamil into English?

In 2012, we held the first Asian Expressions, a conference conceived to focus on and promote literary translation, to celebrate writings and writers in Asian languages, especially Chinese, Malay and Tamil. The conference brought together translators, and authors from various language groups to enable cross-cultural exchange. Asian Expressions was a great success and we intend to hold it again, either bi-annually or once in three years.

In the meantime, we continue to encourage translation, and to run programmes to train translators, and this year alone Singapore will be host to two major events throwing a focus on translation: the Singapore International Translation Symposium 2014; the Singapore International Storytelling Festival, 2014. 

At the Storytelling Festival storytellers from Singapore, India, Korea and Italy will be telling stories translated from other languages into English.

Do local writers writing in Chinese, Tamil, or Malay have international connections?

Writers in each language group have strong associations and links with their own diasporas, as well as with writers in the country or countries where the language is a, or the, national language.

Do different genres (romance / sci-fi) or types of writing (prose / poetry) dominate in the different language groups?

All genres are popular but across all four languages poetry is most popular.

What currently are the major concerns of Singaporean writers?

Lack of sufficient support. Our writers need staff to manage their publicity and marketing activities as most are also fully employed. Writers need more exposure. They need to travel and take part in festivals throughout Asia and the West.

Leading commercial publishers in Singapore, by language

Epigram Books


Flame of the Forest

Marshall Cavendish International (Asia)

Monsoon Books

Candid Creation Publishing  

Shing Lee Publishers 

World Scientific Publishing Co 

Zenru Culture Communication 

Thangameen Publications (Goldfish Publications)

Kumaresh Enterprises

Casco Publications 

Pustaka Nasional 

Vision Publishing Enterprise

Singaporean writers you might like to try, by language.

Meira Chand
Amanda Lee Koe
Jolene Tan
Ng Yi-Sheng
Cyril Wong
Marc Nair

Yeng Pway Ngon
Lee Seng Chan
Tham Yew Chin
J.M. Sali Masilamani Anbalagan
M. Balakrishnan

Yazid Hussein
Ahmad Jaaffar Bin Munasip
Isa Kamari

Tuesday 15 April 2014

500 Words From Ezra Kyrill Erker

500 Words a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their newly-published books.  Here Ezra Kyrill Erker explains the background behind Salaryman Unbound, published by Crime Wave Press. 

Ezra Kyrill Erker was born in Germany and grew up in Europe, California and the South Pacific, before settling in East and Southeast Asia. The longest and most formative stint of his adult life so far was spent in central Japan. He now lives in Bangkok, working as a freelance journalist.

Salaryman Unbound  is set in a Japan of corporate intrigue, suburban loneliness and homicidal urges. Against this backdrop Shiro is having a midlife crisis. Unexceptional in his job, he works in the shadow of his charismatic boss. Unappreciated by his family, he has nothing to show for decades of doing the right thing - so he decides to try doing the wrong thing, and begins to plot the murders of strangers. His researches into methods of killing bring a dark structure to his life, and a black self-belief. Eventually, he targets Sayuri, a neglected housewife, and soon the would be killer falls victim to love. When a body is found, Shiro’s and Sayuri’s lives are thrown into upheaval, and the divisions between guilt and innocence are lost.

So: 500 Words From Ezra Kyrill Erker:

Salaryman Unbound began as a diversion while sitting in a café in Vientiane, a few months after leaving Japan. In an afternoon, an experimental paragraph had turned into a chapter. In three days, without plotting ahead, my longhand filled a small notebook. In three leisurely weeks I had a 20,000 word novella on my hands.

I wasn’t sure where it had come from, what dark recess of the subconscious could conjure such a disturbing tale. I’d just finished writing a collection of stories (which became A Bridge of Dreams: Asian Tales, published by Orchid Press) and a long, heavy coming-of-age novel (Embers, which should be out next year). Salaryman Unbound was a crime tale as far removed from those efforts as a book could get, and it had pretty much written itself. The question was: what to do with it?

Like many hastily written first drafts, it was a bit rubbish. Set in San Francisco, it had some flat dialogue and prose, and characters that didn’t leave much of an impression - but the main idea, of murder becoming an outlet for a mediocre man’s midlife crisis, seemed immediate and frightening. With the right set of circumstances it could be the story of my neighbour, a colleague or a friend. The difficult part was creating those circumstances.

The best fit was Japan, where a man’s company can become his purpose, his social life, his crutch, where it is harder to change careers or start over with a blank slate. Failure seems more permanent and more pervasive, and it makes sense that crime might become an outlet, a grasp at self-affirmation. I didn’t have to invent much - I knew provincial Japan very well from experience - and once I’d made the necessary cultural adjustments the story fit right in, like puzzle pieces fitting into place. I did some research into physiology and crime psychology, and the novel, now three times longer, with twists in the tail, was complete.

The novel is about how an everyman’s attempt at plotting the murder of a lonely housewife transforms his personality, so that suddenly everything seems possible. The new possibilities, however, include being more susceptible to suggestion, and the character becoming prone to a growing certainty that he is the ruler of his own destiny when in fact there are more variables at play than his awareness can take in.

We’ve all watched a heist film, or a television series about a rebel, a meth cooker, a gangster, a warrior, and caught ourselves cheering for the criminal, the outsider. There are elements of their situation we can relate to, and getting one over the system is something most of us at one point or another have secretly wished we could get away with.

In Shiro we have such an anti-hero. Told mostly through his eyes and mind, this is not a conventional crime novel but a literary and very personal drama, at the core of which just happens to be murder. I hope readers can find in its pages a story they both relate to and are frightened by. I was aiming to write a compelling and unpredictable page-turner. I hope Salaryman Unbound exposes some of the flaws and hopelessness of the human condition.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Seen Elsewhere: London Book Fair / Korean Market Focus and Cultural Programme

The London Book Fair 2014 is now over.  As noted in earlier posts, Korea was selected as the county for this year's Market Focus, and the accompanying Cultural Programme.  Here is a quick round-up of how both initiatives have been reported around the web. 

The London Book Fair - click around the site for updates on the Korean Market Focus.

The British Council  - click around the site for updates on the Korean Cultural Programme.

The Korean Blog - a Korean perspective on the London Book Fair.

English PEN  - an account of Shirley Lee challenging assumptions about North Korea through an examination of its love poetry, as part of the Korean Cultural Programme.

The Guardian (UK) - the ten Korean writers chosen to visit the London Book Fair discuss the problems of living in a divided country.

Publishing Perspectives (US) - New York agent Barbara Zwiter on bringing Korean literature to world markets.

Publishing Perspectives (US) - an account of discussion between Korean author Yi Mun-Yol, writer Marina Warner, and publisher Christopher Maclehose as part of the Cultural Programme. 

Moving away from the Korean focus: 
See here for  CCTV (China) reporting from London on the digital future of publishing, seen from a Chinese perspective. 

See here for Xinhua (China) reporting from London on why China's economic development is leading worldwide to growing interest in literature from China.

See here for The Straits Times (Singapore) reporting on Singapore's delegation to the London Book Fair.

Mexico has been chosen as the Market Focus country for the London Book Fair in 2015. 

Friday 11 April 2014

Incheon in London

World Book Capital is a title bestowed by UNESCO annually to a city in recognition of the quality of its programmes to promote books and reading.  

Incheon will be the UNESCO World Book Capital next year, so the city is exhibiting in the Korea Market Focus Pavilion at the London Book Fair to spread the word that it is preparing a variety of events to entertain the many visitors it expects from all over the world.

Mayor of Incheon, Young-Gil Song says: "Our city will spare no efforts to turn itself into an educational and cultural city by sharing culture through books and narrowing cultural gaps through latest technologies, which echoes UNESCO's ideology." 

Amongst other reasons, UNESCO runs the World Book Capital initiative to promote exchanges across borders and ideologies. Incheon is geographically well positioned to facilitate cultural exchange with North Korea. A spokesperson for the Korean Publishers Association says that having Incheon as the World Book Capital in 2015 will: “promote Korean citizens' cultural development and awareness, and connect with North Korea providing a foundation for the re-unification of the South with the North. Also, it will be a central city of international cultural exchange via books, and will continuously contribute to the global community even after this event.”

Incheon hopes to use its status as World Book Capital to demonstrate how a city's industrial and technological infrastructure can contribute to society.  Mayor Young-Gil Song says: “Incheon has some people who are isolated from cultural access and information as some people live on islands far away from the mainland, or due to other environmental reasons. Hence, the city has been managing a various number of cultural businesses such as the mobile library, which visits each island, and the Reading Incheon mobile application, which enables the 2.9 million citizens of Incheon to get access to an online library via their mobile telephone.”