Friday, 6 June 2014

500 Words From Brian Stoddart

500 Words a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their newly-published books.  Here Brian Stoddart explains the background behind A Madras Miasma, published by Crime Wave Press.  

Brian Stoddart is a writer, blogger, commentator, and academic.  He is a former Vice-Chancellor and President of La Trobe University in Australia where he is now an Emeritus Professor, in addition to being a Distinguished Fellow of the Australia India Institute at the University of Melbourne. Brian has lived and worked all around the world, most recently in Phnom Penh and Damascus - he wrote about the city in A House in Damascus: Before the Fall, an account of life immediately prior to the present conflict. He has published widely on aspects of India’s modern history. 

A Madras Miasma is Brian's first novel. It introduces Superintendent Chris Le Fanu of the Indian Police Service, who heads a new investigative crime unit in 1920s Madras. He clashes with the city’s Commissioner just when the rise of Gandhi’s nationalist movement is making the European community fear for its future. Le Fanu thinks political change is inevitable, so he is considered almost a traitor by his colleagues. Meanwhile, his wife has left him, and he is now controversially involved with his housekeeper, a mixed race Anglo-Indian. When a young Englishwoman is found murdered, Le Fanu uncovers a drug ring led by the city’s leading European businessman, thus further upsetting the city’s elite and putting his career at risk.

So:  500 Words From….Brian Stoddart

Madras, now called Chennai, was the first non-Western city I lived in way back in the last millennium, and remains a favourite anywhere among many. I read about it extensively in my PhD research so “knew” it as an entity when I arrived. Crime fiction does that, too: I “knew” where to go in Venice when I arrived there, having read all Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti novels! My cultural knowledge of Madras, though, grew over years as the city, like most in India, changed greatly but somehow retained its distinctiveness.

My research on British India’s Madras Presidency revealed as much socially as it did politically, and introduced me to many characters whose real lives sounded like fiction. I mention in particular Arthur Galletti, an extraordinary Anglo-Italian who served as an Indian Civil Service officer in Madras from 1900 to 1934. I decided he was so interesting I wrote his biography. Click here for details.

My dissertation concerned the rise of Indian nationalism in the south, but I became just as fascinated by people like Galletti and their families who shipped out from Britain to find themselves hundreds of miles from a major centre, overseeing millions of people as the Raj clung precariously to power. What made these people tick?

Although my academic interests later varied, India always remained a focus. So did my reading of crime fiction. Much is now written about the genre, but one driving interest for me was always the interaction between characters, events and places with locations shaping stories. The Kiwi crime writer Ngaio Marsh set the pace when from the 1930s to the 1950s she had her main character relocate from London to New Zealand in several stories, but the real trend for linking crime and place came later. It is typified in the so-called tartan noir of Ian Rankin and his successors and in writers like Barbara Nadel (Istanbul), Andrea Camilleri (Sicily), Jason Webster (Spain), Michael Walters (Mongolia), Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Kenya) and numerous others. This is the social geography of crime, represented in Southeast Asia by writers like Colin Cotterill, Sharmini Flint and Tom Vater, to name a few.

Given my background, when I wanted to write about British India in a different way, an historical crime novel was the obvious choice - and that led to Superintendent Le Fanu. A little research will reveal three things: there was a nineteenth century Madras Indian Civil Service officer called William Joseph Henry Le Fanu; he was a relative of another Le Fanu who became Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia; and he was also related to the Irish crime/horror writer Sheridan Le Fanu. The name selected itself. Similarly, much of the context for A Madras Miasma is formed by the actual events of the early 1920s and some real historical figures appear, hopefully adding authenticity to the story.

A Madras Miasma is the first title in a projected series. The second Le Fanu novel is under way - he will return with another case later this year or early next. Once again, the story is as much about Madras as about him, the city is his marker.

A Madras Miasma is currently available as an eBook.  A paperback is forthcoming, the date to be announced. 

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Tiananmen 25 Years On

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. 

As reported last week Louisa Lim has just brought out The People's Republic of Amnesia, published by OUP.

Meanwhile Rowena Xiaoqing He has published Tiananmen Exiles, through Macmillan.

Both books include eye witness accounts of the events of 1989. Both have been extensively reviewed outside Asia - and seemingly not at all within Asia.  Follow the links below for a sample of international reviews.

The UK Daily Telegraph

The New York Review of Books

The Economist

Click here for journalist and author Mishi Saran's account of Tiananmen in the LA Review of Books.

For a full round-up of books on the Tiananmen Square massacre click here.

Friday, 30 May 2014

Applications for the M Literary Residency Programme, 2015-16, now open

Applications for the sixth M Literary Residency Programme, 2015-2016, are now open.  The Residency Programme funds residencies for two writers, one in India and one in China - a three month stay either in Shanghai or at Sangam House, outside Bangalore.  

Brainchild of M Restaurant Group founder Michelle Garnaut and award winning author Pankaj Mishra, the residencies are fully funded by M Restaurant Group, which has two restaurants and a bar in China: M on the Bund and the Glamour Bar in Shanghai; Capital M in Beijing.

Cultural events are a core part of the M Group's ethos: there are talks, concerts and events throughout the year.  The Group also hosts major annual literary festivals in Beijing and Shanghai - these have become highlights of the cities’ cultural calendars.

“The residencies grew from our literary festivals, as we heard from writers about what else was needed to nurture and produce the best writing in this region,” says Michelle. So what is Michelle looking for from applicants?  “First, and always, quality writing and a topic that will benefit from the location, and a writer whose work will fulfil the goals of the residencies, specifically to disseminate a broader knowledge of contemporary life and writing in India and China today and to foster deeper intellectual, cultural and artistic links across individuals and communities. Those are our ambitions for next year, and, really, for every year.”

The residencies are open to writers of fiction, literary nonfiction, dramatic prose, and poetry, writing in English.

Previous residency recipients include emerging and unpublished authors, as well as more established names. For bios and the writers’ thoughts on their residency experience, as well as application forms, guidelines and frequently asked questions click here.

Applications accepted until 20 June 2014

Results announced 24 October 2014

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Published Today: The People's Republic of Amnesia by Louisa Lim

On June 4, 1989, People’s Liberation Army soldiers opened fire on unarmed civilians in Beijing, killing untold hundreds of people.  A quarter-century later, Louisa Lim charts how the events of June 4th changed China, and how China changed the events of June 4th by rewriting its own history.

This book reveals new details about the fateful days in Tiananmen Square including how one of the country’s most senior politicians lost a family member to an army bullet, and uncovers the inside story of the young soldiers sent to clear Tiananmen Square.   Louisa Lim introduces us to the individuals whose lives were transformed by the events of Tiananmen Square. For example, one of the most important government officials in the country became one of its most prominent dissidents post-Tiananmen.

For the first time, Lim exposes the details of a brutal crackdown in a second Chinese city, Chengdu. By tracking down eyewitnesses, discovering US diplomatic cables, and combing through official Chinese records, Lim offers the first accessible, English-language account of a story that has remained mostly untold for twenty-five years.

Louisa Lim began her journalistic career in Hong Kong, and was later appointed as the BBC's Beijing Correspondent. She has reported from China for the past decade, most recently as NPR's Beijing Correspondent. She has made a very rare reporting trip to North Korea, covered illegal abortions in Guangxi province, and worked on a major multimedia series on religion in China, New Believers: A Religious Revolution in China.  

Early praise for The People’s Republic of Amnesia

“A deeply moving book—thoughtful, careful, and courageous. The portraits and stories it contains capture the multi-layered reality of China, as well as reveal the sobering moral compromises the country has made to become an emerging world power, even one hailed as presenting a compelling alternative to Western democracies. Yet grim as these stories and portraits sometimes are, they also provide glimpse of hope, through the tenacity, clarity of conscience, and unflinching zeal of the dissidents, whether in China or in exile, who against all odds yearn for a better tomorrow.”
–Shen Tong, former student activist and author of Almost a Revolution

“Astonishingly Beijing has managed to obliterate the collective memory of Tiananmen Square, but  a quarter-century later Louisa Lim deftly excavates long-buried memories of the 1989 massacre. With a journalist's eye to history, she tracks down key witnesses, everyone from a military photographer at the square to a top official sentenced to seven years in solitary confinement to a mother whose teenaged son was shot to death that night. This book is essential reading for understanding the impact of mass amnesia on China's quest to become the world's next economic superpower.”
–Jan Wong, author of Red China Blues and A Comrade Lost and Found

People's Republic of Amnesia is published in hardback by OUP, priced in local currencies.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Alice on Self-publishing: The Hong Kong Writers Circle

Alice Clark-Platts writes our monthly column on self-publishing. Here she discusses the work of the Hong Kong Writers Circle.

The world of self-publishing can be a tortuous and labyrinthine place to the uninitiated. For the less well-travelled writer, a comforting path to self-publication is sometimes offered by joining forces with a writers’ group.

Formed in 1991, the Hong Kong Writers Circle (HKWC) is one such organisation with writers of all levels, from all genres. Amongst its members are professional writers as well as those who work in the publishing industry, journalists and editors. Many members have themselves published books.
The Circle exists primarily as a social group with monthly meetings where authors can critique others’ work, but it also provides opportunities for writers to further their craft; to network and meet industry professionals; receive feedback on their work; and to take part in workshops. And once a year, it publishes an anthology of short stories, non-fiction and poetry.

Yearly elected editors are responsible for everything to do with the anthology - from theme conception to marketing the book once it’s been published. The theme of the anthology is chosen via consultation with a combination of those editors, the organising committee and the members themselves. The theme tries to be specific, but at the same time broad enough for members with different styles and interests to want to contribute. All members of the group are invited to submit to the anthology with the editors deciding ultimately which pieces are published.

The latest anthology published by the HKWC has the theme of Another Hong Kong – delving into an unknown side of the city where the writers live.  It explores aspects of the place hidden from the traditions and clich├ęs a reader may expect.

For the past few years Inkstone Books have printed the anthologies. This means that the group has had the same copy-editor, designer and printer for most of the anthologies. The current chair, Melanie Ho, says that because the editors change every year, it is helpful to have the same partners working with the production of the anthology year after year.

Melanie describes the publication process of the anthology as a learning experiences for editors and authors alike. It is the production of the book which floats their junk, rather than traipsing around bookstores and actively marketing its sales. Having said that, some of the writers involved produce blogs documenting the whole process and carry copies of the books wherever they go - in order to make sure they never miss a sales opportunity!

Most of the sales of the anthology are print copies in Hong Kong, although they also use print-on-demand through Amazon - as well as eBook sales. The group uses print runs conservatively – usually 200 or 300 copies at a time – although some of the anthologies are now into their second or third print runs.

The HKWC exists to provide opportunities for writers in the city to grow and develop their craft.  The yearly anthology is a large part of this and offers a safe launching pad for authors to experiment in the field.

Another Hong Kong can be purchased from Amazon or at

Monday, 26 May 2014

The Iraqi Christ wins the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim, has won the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Iraqi Christ is a collection of short stories that explore Iraq’s recent past, sensitively translated from the original Arabic by Jonathan Wright.

Publication of The Iraqi Christ was made possible by English PEN. Each year English PEN highlights global writing of exceptional literary merit and courage. It awards grants to fund both the promotion and translation costs of books from around the world to ensure they reach English-speaking readers

UK-based publisher Comma Press received a PEN Writers in Translation award in 2012 for The Iraqi Christ. Blasim’s previous collection of short stories, The Madman of Freedom Squarealso received a PEN award in 2009.

A poet, filmmaker and short-story writer, Blasim is the first Arab author to receive the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. The Iraqi Christ is also the first short-story collection to win the award.

A censored version of The Madman of Freedom Square was printed and published in Lebanon. The book was banned in Jordan, and refused display at book fairs in several Arab countries. The Iraqi Christ is yet to be published in its original Arabic. Hassan Blasim commented: ‘I now publish most of my stories and poems online and I have started thinking about publishing everything I write on the net in order to be done with the matter of censorship.’

Maureen Freely, president of English PEN said: ‘At English PEN we support work in translation on the basis of its literary merit. Where writers are marginalised, demonised, or suppressed, we do our best to rescue their words from oblivion. We do not seek prizes or fat sales, and there are days when we feel as tired as Sisyphus, but on days like today, when we see that one of our very favourite authors receiving recognition, it all seems worth it!’

Ra Page, publisher at Comma Press said: ‘Winning this award is an extraordinary vindication for everything English PEN does to support writers from the margins, and to give voice to authors who might otherwise remain unheard. Hassan's work is the perfect example of how the experiences of Iraqis, and of refugees generally, have to be smuggled in through extraordinary routes.'

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is administered by The Independent, a daily  newspaper in the UK. See here for the paper’s coverage of Hassan Blasim’s victory.

Seen Elsewhere / Review of Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival by David Pilling

Asian Review of Books has recently posted Ryan Brooks’ review of Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival by David Pilling, which was our new and notable title for April.  Click here for the review.