Wednesday, 24 September 2014

This week in the Asian Review of Books

Asian Books Blog is not a review site.  If you want reviews, see the Asian Review of Books.  Here is a list of its newest reviews:

Indie Spotlight

Alice Clark-Platts is no longer writing her monthly column on self-publishing. Instead there will  be regular Indie Spotlight updates on self-publishing.

For now, indie authors might want to click here for an  interesting piece from The Bookseller - the trade magazine of the UK publishing industry. It explains how The Bookseller is in future going to preview indie titles. 

Friday, 19 September 2014

Chu T’ien-Wen Wins Newman Prize

An international jury has selected Chu T’ien-wen (朱天文) as the winner of the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. Sponsored by the University of Oklahoma’s Institute for US-China Issues, the Newman Prize is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition, and is conferred solely on the basis of literary merit. Any living author writing in Chinese is eligible. A jury of five literary experts nominated the five candidates last spring and selected the winner on September 17. Chu T’ien-wen is the first ever female laureate.

Next March, Chu will receive USD $10,000, a commemorative plaque, and a bronze medallion at an award ceremony at the University of Oklahoma. The event will be hosted by Peter Hays Gries, director of the Institute for US-China Issues. “All five nominees are exceptionally talented and accomplished writers.” He said. “It is a testament to Chu T’ien-wen’s remarkable literary skills that she emerged the winner after four rounds of positive elimination voting.”

This year’s Newman nominees represented some of the most respected names in Chinese literature. As well as Chu T’ien-wen, from Taiwan, they included from mainland China Yan Lianke, Yu Hua, and Ge Fei, and from Malaysia Chang Kui-hsing.

Yan Lianke (阎连科) was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize and has won numerous awards in China and in Europe. He is known as much for his formal innovations as for his social commentary. Yu Hua (余华) is one of China’s most well-known novelists, garnering both critical and popular acclaim - his novel To Live was adapted into a film. Once known as a member of the avant-garde, Ge Fei (格非) now writes lyrical novels that have won him many fans.  Chang Kui-hsing (張貴興) sets his novels in South-East Asia, and is crafting one of the most distinctive bodies of work in world literature.

Meanwhile Chu T’ien-wen writes short stories rooted in Taiwan.  In 1990 she published Shijimo de huali (Fin-de-siècle Splendour) which pays homage to her home town, Taipei, over eight fluidly inter-connected but stand-alone tales. She followed up with Huangren shouji (Notes of a Desolate Man), whose gay narrator talks with thinkers, writers, and philosophers in a text which mingles story and metaphysical rumination. After a period of literary reclusion, Chu reinvented herself in 2007 with Wuyan (Words of a Witch), which probes the nature of writing. Chu T’ien-wen’s career as a screenwriter has been no less illustrious. She has collaborated often with Hou Hsiao-hsien, in a partnership yielding many of the films which helped turn Taiwan’s New Cinema movement into a global brand – Beiqing chengshi (City of Sadness), Ximeng rensheng (The Puppet Master), Qianxi manbo (Millennium Mambo), and others.

Chu T’ien-wen was nominated for the Newman Prize by Margaret Hillenbrand, Associate Professor of Modern Chinese at Oxford University. “Chu T’ien-wen is a multi-faceted cultural figure,” Said Hillenbrand, “a novelist, screenwriter, and essayist who excels at each of those different forms. But in recommending Chu’s short-story collection Fin-de-siècle Splendour for the Newman Prize, I was calling particular attention to the place she occupies in modern Chinese literature as a superb practitioner of short fiction, arguably that literature’s most triumphant genre. As any attentive reader of literature from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the diaspora over the last century can testify, the history of this literature is, to a degree perhaps unparalleled elsewhere, one shaped, driven, and dictated by brilliant short stories. And as a writer of short fiction, Chu is prodigiously talented. Texture, fragrance, colour, and taste leap out from her uncommonly crafted prose with such force that they suck the reader into the text in ways not usually associated with the short-story form – a genre which is supposedly too fleeting to be immersive. Chu T’ien-wen’s writing refutes this received wisdom. She has such a flair for carving crystal-cut literary moments, in which the constituent elements of a scene – air, light, mood, character – are each summoned up so precisely that they coalesce into a tableau that sears itself on the reader’s eye.”

DSC Prize Partners With Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is teaming up with the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF) to bring each year's winner to Bali.  

This year the Festival, running from October 1 – 5, will welcome Indian novelist Cyrus Mistry, winner of the 2014 DSC Prize for Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer.  Mistry will take part in three sessions: Siblings will explore the love, hate, ploys, plots and peer pressure that fuel sibling rivalry; Gandhi revisited will discuss the great man’s teachings on ahimsa; Caste vs.Class will unpick the implications and intricacies of both the traditional caste system and also the evolving class system in contemporary Indian society.  

Manhad Narula one of the founder members of the DSC Prize said: “We see a lot of positive synergy in this partnership. The DSC Prize is committed to encouraging conversations on South Asian writing. I feel this new partnership with Ubud Writers & Readers Festival will benefit both parties and will lead to sessions of immense interest to the literary enthusiasts who attend the Festival.”

Janet DeNeefe, UWRF Founder & Director, said: “I am very proud of our new partnership with the DSC Prize. I am a big fan of collaborations and believe that linking with our neighbors is an important step in reaffirming our identity as a significant Asian event and serious player in the global literary arena; and in highlighting the significance of South Asian literature at the Festival."

The US $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is the most prestigious international literary award specifically focused on South Asian writing. It celebrates the rich and varied literature of the South Asian region and showcases and rewards local authors. It aims to bring South Asian writing to a global audience, and all previous winners have achieved international publication.

Held annually in Ubud, Bali's artistic and cultural capital, the UWRF is Southeast Asia's largest and most renowned literary event. It celebrates extraordinary stories and brave voices; it tackles global issues and big ideas. This year, the Festival will honour Saraswati, the Balinese Hindu goddess of learning, with the theme Wisdom & Knowledge.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A Day In The Life Of...Pete Spurrier, publisher at Blacksmith Books

A Day In the Life Of...invites people involved in book selling and the publishing industry in Asia to describe a working day.

Based in Hong Kong, but selling into all the major English language markets, Blacksmith Books publishes China-related non-fiction: biography; business; culture; current affairs; photography; travel. Founder Pete Spurrier is the company's publisher.

One of the best things about working for yourself is that you can set your own schedule. I started Blacksmith Books 10 years ago, and two years ago I moved apartments from Sai Ying Pun, an old district in the city centre of Hong Kong, to a rural village in the New Territories. The office remains in Central though, so after getting up, checking messages and dealing with anything urgent, I walk down the hill from the village and catch an express bus into town, avoiding rush hour. The journey takes 40 minutes and ends by taking a raised highway around the edges of Victoria Harbour, a good start to the day.

The Blacksmith office is on the top floor of an old walk-up building on Hollywood Road in Central, which is a great location, very convenient for meeting people. As an older building it has large windows, high ceilings and more natural light than newer ones. We do have decent tea and coffee but if people would rather not walk up the five flights of stairs (it is hot and humid Hong Kong after all) I’ll go and meet them in a nearby coffee shop.

New authors in particular often want to come up and see our office, which is a good idea from their point of view, and our printer will sometimes drop in with blueprints or proofs for checking.

We publish about 12 books a year, at any given time each book is at a different stage of editing, design, production, launch, distribution or promotion, so there is always a lot to do. During the course of the day I’ll be talking to authors, editors, translators and designers on one side of the publishing process, and bookshops, shipping companies, distributors and journalists on the other.

Emails come in at a frightening rate, including manuscripts which I move to a separate folder for reading later and then completely forget about.

If I have time, I’ll write a blog post or put something on the Facebook page, but I still find that traditional media usually works best for promoting books. Sometimes I’ll accompany a writer to a radio interview, or go on air myself, and I’ll come back to the office to find that orders have come in just because of that.

One of our new titles is the Yunnan Cookbook, and this was a particular challenge to bring to completion, as it involved two authors, two sets of photographers, an illustrator, a designer and an editor – and because production went on for so long, everyone involved was living or travelling in a different country by the final stages. Of course email helps, but at the point when we were choosing photos and finalising layout, one of the authors was incommunicado in the mountains of Yunnan, buying cattle in an ethnic minority village. Then, when she came back to the nearest town with internet access, she found that her email provider had been blocked in China. We got it all sorted in the end.

Our niche subject is Asia but it’s been good to find that readers around the world are interested in it. As our distribution has widened – we have just started selling into Australia this year, for instance – I find I’m spending more time co-ordinating shipments of books overseas. Once or twice a week I’ll go to our warehouse, on the western side of Hong Kong Island, to organise boxes of books to be collected by a freight forwarder or sent to the Kwai Chung container port. If the quantities are larger, pallets will be sent to the port directly from the printer.

Our biggest overseas market is the US, and books take five weeks to sail across the Pacific from Hong Kong, through the Panama Canal and up to New York. Our American distributor needs all details of new books eight months before their launch, which is often quite difficult to supply. I have to work backwards, taking shipping and printing time into account, and always keeping this production schedule in mind. I also have to keep track of how quickly books in print are selling, and order reprints at the right time, while watching cash flow to make sure it’s not too early to do so.

Another equation I have to juggle is deciding how many books to print each time: trying to balance the number of pre-orders from bookshops in each market with how many books I can keep in store in the warehouse, while still getting a decent unit price for printing a high enough volume. The printer helps out by keeping some in the factory until they can be shipped elsewhere, but not for too long. I am envious of other cities where space is cheaper to rent.

Before leaving the warehouse I’ll also fill a bag with books to be posted out later to mail-order customers. Because it’s so hard to sell books in mainland China, we don’t charge postage to anyone who lives there, so a steady stream of mail orders come in.

Back in the office, if it’s Friday, I’ll try to devote a couple of hours to getting the accounts up to date. Long ago, before Blacksmith started, I was a partner in a previous publishing business that went bust, and that was an expensive but valuable lesson. Now I try to make sure that I’m always up to speed with which clients are paying on time, which aren’t paying at all, which books are making money and so on. I used to think accounts must be boring, but when it’s your own venture, they become strangely engrossing.

When all the columns add up, I punch the air in victory – everyone else will have gone home by then. And then I lock up the office and go out for drinks.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Singapore Literature Prize

The Singapore Literature Prizes, awarded biennially, are open to Singaporean and Singapore-based writers whose works of fiction (novels or short stories), poetry, and non-fiction have been published in any of Singapore’s four official languages: English; Chinese; Malay; Tamil.

The shortlists for most of the twelve 2014 prizes have just been announced.  They are:

English Fiction

The Inlet by Claire Tham
Love, or Something Like Love by O Thiam Chin
As the Heart Bones Break by Audrey Chin
Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe

Chinese Fiction

《丁香》流 Lai Yong Taw
《林高微型小说》林高(Lim Hung Chang aka Lin Gao
《金色的袋鼠》尤今(Tham Yew Chin aka You Jin
《双城之恋》李选楼(Lee Xuan Lou

Malay Fiction

Suzan by Abdul Manaf bin Abdul Kadir
Tenggelamnya Kapal  Prince of Wales by Anuar bin Othman
Selamat Malam Caesar by Hassan Hasaa'ree Ali
Kumpulan Cerpen Armageddon by Yazid bin Hussein
Cahaya by Yazid bin Hussein
Seking by Mohd Pitchay Gani bin Mohd Abdul Aziz

Tamil Fiction

Muga Puthagamum Sila Agappakkangalum by Jayanthi Sankar
Naan by Suriya Rethnna
Vergal by Noorjehan binte Ahmadsha
Maaya by Packinisamy Panneerselvam
Oru Kodi Dollargal by Krishnamurthi Mathangi
Moontraavatu Kai by Mohamed Kassim Shanavas

English Poetry

Cordelia by Grace Chia
The Viewing Party by Yong Shu Hoong
Circle Line by Theophilus Kwek
Tender Delirium by Tania De Rozario
Sonnets from the Singlish by Joshua Ip
The Pillow Book by Koh Jee Leong

Chinese Poetry

《你和我的故事》周德成 Chow Teck Seng
阅读蚯蚓的秘密》周粲(Chew Kok Chiang aka Zhou Can
《原始笔记》陈志锐(Tan Chee Lay
《夜未央》华英(Wang Mun Kiat aka Hua Ying
《心闲牵风》华萍(Hua Ping

Malay Poetry

Genta Cinta by Peter Augustine Goh
Aisberg Kesimpulan by Ahmad Md Tahir
Pasar Diri by Johar Buang
Suara Dalam by Hamed bin Ismail
nota (buat wangsa dan buanaku) by Yazid bin Hussein

Tamil Poetry

Malaigalin Parathal by Krishnamurthi Mathangi
Kaanaamal Pona Kavithaikal by Samuvel Nepolian Devakumar
Thagam by Chinnadurai Arumugam 
Thoorikai Sirpangal by Pichinikkadu Elango
Urakkach Cholvaen by Swaminathan Amirthalingam 

English Non-Fiction

The shortlist will be announced in October.

Chinese Non-Fiction

《医生读史笔记》何乃强 Dr Ho Nai Kiong
释放快乐》尤今(Tham Yew Chin aka You Jin
《父亲平藩的一生》何乃强(Dr Ho Nai Kiong
《心也飞翔》尤今(Tham Yew Chin aka You Jin

Malay Non-Fiction

No shortlist.  The winner to be declared at the award ceremony.

Tamil Non-Fiction

The shortlist will be announced in October.

The winning title in each category will be eligible for a cash prize of up to Sing$ 10,000. The award ceremony will take place in November.

This week in the Asian Review of Books

Asian Books Blog is not a review site.  If you want reviews, see the Asian Review of Books.  Here is a list of its newest reviews: