Monday, 4 November 2019

Festival Prologue: Marlon James on Language, Whose Story Is It, and Who Gets to Tell It?

The honour of giving the Festival Prologue at SWF 2019 this year went to Marlon James and as literary prestige goes, Marlon James gets top billing, as winner of the 2015 Booker Prize for A Brief History of Seven Killings, a sprawling novel with 76 characters, most of which are written in first person point of view. His fourth novel, Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Penguin Random House UK, 2019), comes equipped with self-drawn maps, and a similar long cast of characters, which was somewhat hyped in pre-publicity as the African Game of Thrones. What have come to characterise his novels are: cacophonous voices, the interweave of fantasy, African history, myths and folklore, a bold collapsing of genres (a flat-out thumbing of the nose at literary snobbery even), a healthy disregard for traditional plot-structures and an intrepid blend of Jamaican patois, language and syntax that is not standard English. Subversion ought to be Marlon James' middle name. 

That his prologue speech at SWF would be trenchant and witty comes as no surprise: starting off with the point 'whose stories get told', he said, "Colonialism. Nothing good came out of it," and the English language, well, that rose out of bad German. While not belabouring the point about how English as a language has been harnessed as, one could argue, a primary tool of British colonialism and even a weapon of combat (to use literary theorist Rey Chow's term), its dominance and how it is to be used in literary narrativising is surely an enclave-like protection of power, and this is what James sets out to knock down in his novels. On his second question: who gets to tell the stories, he spoke about trying to write his second novel, The Book of Night Women, in Standard English and it came across as stilted and false. Searching for language has involved acknowledging and then ridding himself of the shame that had been inculcated in the colonised mind about patois, dialects and local slang.  An apt resonance with the theme of the festival indeed. In the Q&A, I would have liked to have heard more about this process — the trials and errors, the mental back and forth —  in rediscovering, reclaiming and redeploying patois and dialects in fashioning his own literary voice, but I suppose there was so much ground to cover.  

Tsundoku #9

OK – I’m going to put it out there – Christmas is coming. That means two things – 1) getting through all the books you got last Christmas and 2) choosing books as presents (don’t worry – December will be a special gift giving tsundoku). But November offers some good fare. As ever let’s start with some new fiction...

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Indie Spotlight: Dollarbird - Monsoon ventures into hybrid publishing

Apologies for the late posting of the October Indie Spotlight. This month we're taking a look at an exciting new development from leading independent publisher of books on Asia- Monsoon Books who have recently launched a new imprint, venturing into a new business model - hybrid publishing. Over to publisher, Phil Tatham for the detail...

Monsoon Books launched its second imprint, Dollarbird, in late 2019 with half a dozen exciting new titles in the pipeline or already in stores. The first title to be released, The Scent of Frangipani by first-time Singaporean author Anjana Rai Chaudhuri, will be officially launched at Singapore Writers Festival 2019 at an event moderated by award-winning author Suchen Christine Lim.

Although Dollarbird continues Monsoon Books’ specialism in concentrating on books set in Southeast Asia, what differentiates it is the business model. Dollarbird is a hybrid imprint, a business model fast gaining ground amongst independent trade publishers in the UK and US. The hybrid model pays authors royalties of 50% of the publisher’s net receipts in return for an upfront payment to help subsidize the publisher’s production costs.

The benefit for Monsoon Books is that the financial risk of producing the book is mitigated, meaning we can afford to widen the net and publish quality manuscripts by new authors or in new genres that we would otherwise have rejected for financial reasons. Like most other indie trade publishers, Monsoon Books is constrained by financial resources and, with some exceptions, tries to publish what it hopes will become profitable for publisher and author. Monsoon typically publishes 12 to 15 new books a year and, increasingly, we are only accepting works in existing series or standalone books by existing authors. It is hoped that Dollarbird will enable us publish more books by new authors and in new genres.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

4 Edogawa Ranpo Horror Stories

Edogawa Ranpo is synonymous with Japanese horror and mystery fiction. Using a pen name based off of Edgar Allen Poe, (try saying it three times fast), Taro Hirai wrote many short stories and novels as Ranpo (sometimes Romanized as Rampo).

Monday, 28 October 2019

Sun Jung, author of Bukit Brown, chats with Elaine Chiew

Sun Jung received her Ph.D. from the University of Melbourne and was a research fellow at both Victoria University and the National University of Singapore. Prior to her academic career, she worked as a writer for media production companies and cultural magazines in Los Angeles and Seoul. During this time, she also collaborated with Korean film producers on script development. Ever since her first visit in 2012 to Bukit Brown, one of the largest Chinese cemeteries outside of China, she has been fascinated by the stories of those who were buried there. After leaving her academic career behind, she devoted herself to writing this novel inspired by some of these tales. Previous published works were her book of essays, The Letter, I Sent You (1991) and her academic book Korean Masculinities and Transcultural Consumption(2011).

Book Synopsis:

Bukit Brown follows the gripping journey of Ji-won, lonely and lost in modern day cosmopolitan Singapore, who time travels to nineteenth century British Malaya and finds her true self through experiencing the deplorable lives of migrant workers, the veiled enmity between Chinese secret societies and a lavish Peranakan lifestyle.

The novel begins with Hong-jo receiving an email from her old friend Ji-won, who ardently requests her to come to Singapore. However, upon arriving in Singapore, Hong-jo learns that Ji-won has taken her own life, three days prior. In addition, Julian, a friend of Ji-won, informs Hong-jo that she had time-travelled through a grave in Bukit Brown, the very same grave where Ji-won eventually hanged herself. Hong-jo and Julian learn that Ji-won had time travelled four times – Penang in 1862 and 1865, Singapore in 894 and 1959 – and they gradually uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. 

Friday, 25 October 2019

Margaret Kartomi talks about Performing the Arts of Indonesia

Margaret Kartomi is Professor of Music at the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University, in Melbourne. She is author of numerous publications on the music cultures of Sumatra and other parts of Indonesia.

She edited Performing the Arts of Indonesia: Malay Identity and Politics in the Music, Dance and Theatre of the Riau Islands, a new book exploring the artistic culture of Indonesia’s recently autonomous Riau Islands Province, Kepulauan Riau, colloquially referred to by its acronym, Kepri.  

Located in the centre of the Malay-speaking world of Southeast Asia, Kepri shares a border with Singapore and Malaysia and spans the Strait of Melaka and the South China Sea. Its 2,408 or so islands are sprinkled across its waters "like a shake of pepper" (Segantang Lada). Since the mid-19th century Kepri has widely been regarded as both the birthplace of modern Malay and its literature, and also as a centre of Islamic knowledge. Like Aceh, it acquired a reputation as "the verandah of Mecca", thanks to the large numbers of pilgrims who departed from its shores over the centuries. 

Margaret here explains how the book's contributors offer fresh new perspectives on Kepri's arts and artists.

Call for short stories on everyday life during Khmer Rouge era

The Khmer Writers Association is collaborating with the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam) to organise a short story competition on the topic of life under the Khmer Rouge, with the winner receiving the Sleuk Rith Literature Award.

To preserve the historical record of Cambodians during the Pol Pot regime and promote Khmer literature, the story must be about the everyday lives of Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge.

“Contestants wishing to enter should write an original composition about the daily lives of Cambodians in Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea. However, the story should not focus on genocide,” the Khmer Writers Association said this week.