Friday 26 September 2014

International Translation Day in Asia?????

Today is International Translation Day. If anyone knows if or how this is being marked or celebrated in Asia, please let me know. Thanks. 

Thursday 25 September 2014

Guest Post: Sam Perera on the Colombo International Book Fair

The Colombo International Book Fair (CIBF) is Sri Lanka’s leading retail book market, and an all-round celebration of the written word. Sam Perera is co-founder of the Colombo-based Perera-Hussein Publishing House, a company riding the crest of the new wave of Asian fiction, and committed to authors who inspire, provoke or entertain. Sam here writes about visiting CIBF, which he attended as a publisher-exhibitor, and which concluded last week.

"Noel tells me he visited every stall at the book fair but didn’t find anything unusual or exciting except with us. He congratulates me on our range of Sri Lankan authors and proceeds to buy Randy Boyagoda’s Beggar’s Feast – a rags to riches picaresque which he says might echo his own story. Fellow publisher Janaka Inimankada makes it a point to tell me that his daughter loved our children’s book Milk Rice 2 which he bought her the previous evening. A young man recovering from a boating accident and nursing 64 stitches on his arm tells us that he wanted to stock up his bookshelf and that ours was the only stall he visited. We remember him from the year before. A young lady announces that she bought and read our foray into hint (flash) fiction Short & Sweet from cover to cover, in one go, and that she is hungry for more. This is the imagined reading public we came to meet, and they do not disappoint us.

The month of September is devoted to celebrating literature in Sri Lanka; festivals and award ceremonies abound. The Godage Awards and State Literary Awards cover the most categories, but for writers, the most desirable is the Swarna Pustaka or Golden Book Award offered by the Publishers’ Association. The covetable jackpot of LKR 500,000 is bagged by the year’s best novelist (in Sinhala) and LKR 50,000 each goes a fair way to console the runners up. Following hot on the heels of this award ceremony, and easily eclipsing it, CIBF is a 9-day event (reduced to 7 days this year) organised independently by the Sri Lanka Book Publishers’ Association, without state sponsorship. The biggest such event in Sri Lanka, the Publishers’ Association claims it attracts a staggering one million visitors or one-twentieth of the Island’s population to Colombo and to the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) during that period. Verifiable entry estimates are based on ticket sales and exclude, according to its organisers, free passes to school children, clergy, and staff and stall holders.

We began exhibiting at CIBF ten years ago – in the cheapest possible stall, in the least desirable hall, with just 5 titles to our credit. Over the years, we have watched CIBF grow and luckily, we have been able to keep pace. Moving steadily from hall to hall, the Perera-Hussein Publishing House can now afford to exhibit in prime halls and we now have more than a hundred titles to our credit. This annual participation is the only time we have a retail presence which provides us with an opportunity to meet our readership.

As always, I get to the Fair early and have my pick of prime parking spots. But large though it might be, BMICH has inadequate parking to handle the crowds the Fair attracts. The parking lots fill up very fast, spilling over into adjoining streets. For once, the usually strict traffic police are indulgent with vehicles parked in no-parking zones. If you still didn’t find a spot, free shuttle buses ferry people regularly to the halls from designated parking areas. Reasonably priced tuk-tuks and even a stepped up public transport will drop you off just outside the BMICH premises. No one produces an excuse for not turning up. Leaving is another matter altogether as inconsiderately parked vehicles that block your exit will easily result in frayed tempers.

Once you have joined the line, bought your nominally priced ticket (LKR 20), and received a free map of the stalls, you will be amazed by the thronging mass of humanity who share your objective – that of picking up a book at a bargain price. More than 200 different exhibitors from all parts of the island compete to bring you that bargain and make their Sinhala, Tamil or English books available to this once-a-year extraordinary public. Of course the Sinhala language segment is the biggest, and non-fiction often trumps fiction. School books, science books, study aids, history books, collectible books, religious books, music books, art books, translations – if I didn’t list your preferred reading matter, rest assured that it can be easily found.  And yes, for general readers, those award winning books are available at lots of stalls. The publisher of a novel shortlisted for this year’s Swarna Pustaka award made me green with envy by saying that the nominated book had sold close to 7,000 copies by the 3rd day of the Fair. Who says no one is reading?

By 11am the fairground is full. If you brought the kids, and they need distracting, the children’s corner will take them off your hands. Reps from the British Council or Room to Read will keep them busy while reading them stories. For a few rupees you can have your portrait sketched or learn to draw at the art camp. Book launches, readings and discussions complement the main offering. Hungry? Want a break from browsing? Conveniently placed food stalls sell everything from noodles to pizza to ice cream. Mount Lavinia hotel offers more up-market restaurant food. Or if you prefer, you could bring your own picnic and eat in the shade of a tree. Tea, coffee and plenty of free filtered water keep you from dehydrating in the sweltering heat, not forgetting the air conditioned stalls! Towards evening, you will witness musical manifestations and mini theatre – for CIBF isn’t just any old book sale or exhibition, it is a major red circle on everyone’s cultural calendar.

Also by 11am, you are rubbing shoulders with an amazing cross section of Sri Lanka. If you missed the head of state, you will see presidential hopefuls, ministers, hangers-on, off-duty armed forces personnel, teachers, clergy, office-workers, housewives, collectors, architects, journalists, editors, film-makers, CEOs, junior staffers, doctors, lawyers and ambitious parents who want their children to improve their reading skills. In short, you will see anyone who can read or wants to in a nation with a 91.2% literacy rate. Colombo being what it is, you will undoubtedly run into old friends, close friends, new friends and various levels of acquaintances, for, during the space of this event, the book fair is THE place for chance encounters.

At the commencement of the fair, self-published authors with limited readerships tout their books around hoping an indulgent stall holder will exhibit their book. Prospective authors target publishers who suit their work, but given this is a retail rather than trade fair, I’m unsure of their success rate. Students came to our stall looking for books we published in 2006, and have already declared out-of-print, saying they are reading these titles in university.  I am thrilled, but unfortunately, small publishers like us can’t afford to keep an active backlist and we turn them away with regret. Blue a collection of naughty stories for a mature audience was also high on the asking list – again, it is a title we let lapse after ceding sub-continental rights to an Indian publisher. Students who are unfamiliar with our publishing profile ask for every old, established and outdated author from Charles Dickens to Erich Segal through Jane Austen (so that’s what they teach!) We direct them to the major bookseller stalls that do a rollicking and continual business in school texts.

Antiquarian books on Ceylon which are in the common domain are reprinted by an Indian publisher who does a steady volume of sales. They don’t have a corner on the market and aren’t the only ones selling reproductions. A slew of vendors carry reprints of obscure and famous writers who have commented on their week, months or years spent in Ceylon. Emphasising the international element, UK, Malaysian and Singaporean publishers are represented by local agents. Indian publishers come themselves. One of them expressed surprise not only at the number of stationery stalls, but at the long lines of people waiting patiently to buy stationery. In quiet moments, exhibitors troll the stalls themselves and quite often give each other trade discounts. This is also an opportunity for them to see what’s out there and strike new alliances. Walking through the bargain section with my partner Ameena Hussein, she spotted the first edition of her book Zillij, which has long been out-of-print. The vendor, who is unknown to us, greeted her warmly saying he recognised her from TV and media photographs.

School books and stationery are probably at the top of people’s wish list, followed by leisure reading. This is also the one time that the general reading public has access, in one location, to small publishers of esoteric works who don’t have the marketing muscle to place their books with major retailers. A fair number of people may have come just to check out the scene, but regardless of whether they came to browse or buy, you would have seen very few people walking around without any purchase whatsoever. More often than not, people carried multiple bags from multiple stalls. Given that I like to guess what people spend, I think that on average, everyone spends a minimum of LKRs 1,000 per visit excluding food and beverage. Multiply that by over one million entrants and you will be blown away by the money changing hands at the exhibition alone!

Small publishers like us exhibit more for visibility and goodwill rather than sales. Unlike major booksellers, we have no stocks to clear or sales targets to reach. For us, it is rewarding enough when people say they are familiar with our work or that they have no hesitation in buying books that we have published. This reassures us that we are on the right track. Our authors too enjoy coming to our stall and chatting to a new readership.  Retired senior consultant surgeon and established author, Dr Philip G Veerasingam who has written his third amazing memoir Tales of an Enchanted Boyhood dropped by from Avissawella and autographed copies for his fans. New entrant Ashan Jayatilaka presented his fantasy-adventure debut novel Knights of Olympus: Tristan’s Conquest to delighted visitors who snapped it up. School teachers were especially interested in our books that have been approved for school libraries.

This year China was the Fair’s guest of honour, and as can be expected, their pavilion carried unusual and interesting Chinese books. I was invited to attend a formal ceremony where, on behalf of Sri Lankan publishers, Mr. Vijitha Yapa, who is one of the foremost motivators of CIBF, signed an agreement with the Chinese Minister of Culture for a cultural exchange and mutual translation of works between our two countries, paving the way for Sri Lankan publishers to exhibit at the annual Beijing International Book Fair. As a memento, I received a book mark and a beautiful woodcut, inked before my admiring eyes.

Whatever difficulties exhibitors or the general public encounter, they are really minor annoyances considering that, arguably, CIBF is the world’s most interesting place to be in the month of September and it is easily one of Asia’s largest book fairs. Year-on-year attendance continues to show growth - this year was no exception, with more visitors than ever before. However, a victim of its own success, the CIBF has outgrown its favourite exhibition grounds. Due to a fire at BMICH some time ago, the space allocated for the book fair was reduced this year. As a result, the demand for stalls was high, and the price of stalls was higher. Unable to afford the raised prices, a few smaller publishers and organisations producing interesting materiel dropped out, as did a few state institutions. The number of days the book fair could run was reduced to seven. All of which should provide enough incentive for the Publishers’ Association to look for a new or alternative exhibition venue to host what is easily Sri Lanka’s largest and most vibrant exhibition." 

Indie Spotlight / Publio Publishing

After success in Hungary and the United Kingdom, indie outfit Publio Publishing is now launching self-publishing services in the Asia Pacific Region. Founder and publisher Alcser Norbert told Asian Books Blog: “Publio’s aim is to introduce self-publishing to more and more countries, thus creating the opportunity for talented individuals to publish their own books. From children’s stories to scientific works, we welcome projects covering any topic. In addition to selling books in electronic format as eBooks through both the largest online bookstores such as Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble, and also through country and region specific online bookstores, we also distribute printed books. Promotion forms a great part of what we offer. Thanks to our well-tailored marketing services we aim to make our books available to a global audience.”

Learn more by clicking here for a YouTube video, here for written information about Publio’s new Asian operation, and here for the company's so-called self-publishing creed.

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.