New Pan-Asian Fiction Event – Asian Literature Festival

New-Fiction-Event-
It`s not very often you get to feature a wonderful gamut of writers with their own literary DNAs, a troika of literary talent.

Dilettantes of Asian literature attended the recent pan Asian Fiction event held recently as part of the Asian Literature Festival. Curator Adrienne Loftus Parkins commenting on the festival said “The 2014 Festival was host to some of the best discussions we`ve had in the history of the Festival.Over the two weeks of the festival, we visited 17 Asian countries, explored British Asian humour, discussed Changing Sexual Mores, engaged in political and social discussions of North Korea and profiled two outstanding novelists making their UK debuts, Omar Shahid Hamid from Pakistan and Tew Bunnag from Thailand, as well as Prajwal Parajuly`s first novel. Overall, the theme of Changing Asian Values as discussed in most of our events stimulated understanding of the issues in developing Asian societies.”

Left-Right Interviewer Paul Blezard,Roopa Farooki,Romesh Gunesekera,Xialou Gua
Left-Right Interviewer Paul Blezard,Roopa Farooki,Romesh Gunesekera,Xialou Gua

It was a wonderful opportunity to get a sneak preview of novels from three established novelists, including authors Romesh Gunesekera (Noontide Toll), Roopa Farooki (THE GOOD CHILDREN) and also Xia Guo (I am China) and deliver an under the hood look at just what was involved in the mechanics of writing a novel. Interviewer Paul Blezard proved to be something of a Michelin trained chef who sliced and diced the respective authors` novels and gave us an insight into the germ of the novel`s idea and delivered a personal vision of the author behind the book. Rather then simply give us a dry academic review, he treated the audience to an intimate portrayal of the author and how their experiences shaped their own writing. It was refreshing to see an interviewer far from simply being obsequious, actually challenging the authors to give us a glimpse into the creative process, their own personal makeup and how it informs their writing.

Author Roopa Farooki - The Good Children
Author Roopa Farooki – The Good Children

Author Roopa Farooki was born in Lahore, Pakistan and brought up in London. She graduated from Oxford and worked in advertising before turning to write fiction. Bitter Sweets, her first novel, was nominated for the Orange Award for New Writers 2007. He other works include, The Way Things Look to Me, Half Life and The Flying Man. Interviewer Paul Blezard spoke to her about her novel THE GOOD CHILDREN set in 1940s Lahore. It involves two brothers and their two younger sisters who are brought up to be ‘good children’, who do what they’re told. Beaten and browbeaten by their manipulative mother, to study, honour and obey.THE GOOD CHILDREN is the universal story of discipline and disobedience, punishment and the pursuit of passion and how the “game-changing generations” break with the ties that have previously bound them across generations.The novel has been described as “a landmark epic of the South Asian immigrant experience.”

Author Roopa Farooki`s latest novel
Author Roopa Farooki`s latest novel
According to Farooki, international fiction is far from just a category.”we are keen to put them [Asian literature novels] on the syallabus.. What`s different, whats exotic.Its about what we share as our world becomes a smaller place, I think its input through literature is what is common between us… so we take Asian literature as a microcosm of that…. We write about universal themes.Its not about putting it in a box.Its about opening it out and understanding about who we are and what we share” According to author Romesh Gunesekera it is about focussing on the writing.”It`s the idea of national literature.. Its more interesting to look at its genre. It`s not bound by nationalities ..its not bound by genre.” Is the term Asian literature a misnomer asked interviewer Paul Blezard. Author Xiau Gua seemed to chime with Romesh`s comments “As a good novelist you go beyond that.”

Roopa Farooki was asked just what were the seeds for the novel ? “I was literally writing a story and another thing comes to me. do good children do what we are told and that was the seed for the novel. Children are manipulated over the generations about being good to authority [there are also] game changing generations, what do you do when you break rules, what do you do loose? How do they stand up and say no rather then yes.” Just what was she like as a child? “I hope I was a good child.I was super academic. And what about her children ? Are they rule breakers ? “I think my children are good but they break out [from the norms].I admire the rule breakers and the game changers.”

I saw undeniable political parables, whether intentionally or unintentionally, considering the backdrop to the novel. There were the rule breakers and game-changers set within Pakistan`s own political scene. 1940`s Lahore was a time of dramatic political change where you had the creation of The Lahore Resolution which was a formal political statement adopted by the All-India Muslim League called for the creation of ‘independent states’ for Muslims in north-western and eastern British India.
Lahore_Resolution_News_BurhanAhmed The constituent units of these states were to be
autonomous and sovereign.The resolution was presented by A. K. Fazlul Huq, the Premier of Bengal. It was later interpreted as a demand for a separate and single Muslim state, called Pakistan.

Author Romesh Gunesekera
Author Romesh Gunesekera
Interviewer Paul Blezard then spoke to author Romesh Gunesekera. 1992 saw his first collection of stories, Monkfish Moon, which was one of the first titles in Granta’s venture into book publishing and shortlisted for several prizes and named a New York Times Notable Book for 1993. His widely acclaimed first novel, Reef, was published in 1994 and was short-listed as a finalist for the Booker Prize, as well as for the Guardian Fiction Prize. He is certainly no stranger to receiving accolades, having received the inaugural BBC Asia Award for Achievement in Writing in 1998.

Romseh Gunesekera`s latest novel.
Romesh Gunesekera`s latest novel.
Blezard asked just how did the novel take flight “I started out to wanting to write a short story or a couple of short stories but then one just went onto another and I just liked the company of this guy [Vansantha].It became Vasantha`s story as well.” Does he have a responsibility in how he portrays Sri Lanka in his writing? “As a writer, when you open the book,you don’t want to close it. So my responsibility is to do with language, the place or politics and the two come together acutely [in the new book] Do you consider yourself a writer or a storyteller? asked Paul Blezard “Hopefully I`m a writer who tells stories. Stories have come back into novels due to Asian writers..The story is important to me.” Gunesekera reveals the wonderfully paradoxical nature of the reader`s experience. He commented “You want a novel where the story will want you to turn the pages but the writing will want you stay on the pages.” One could ask that in times gone-by successive generations were bestowed with knowledge through the storytelling of their elders. Yet as the world lives and immerses itself in the digital age has the art of story telling died? It is definitely a question that has you chewing the colloquial fat over.

Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China
Author Xiaolu Guo : I am China
Next in the literary line up was author Xia Guo. With a number of capstones to her name, Xiaolu Guo is both writer and film-maker. She has published seven works of poignant and witty fiction, including ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’ which was shortlisted for the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction 2007, and ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’. She was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2013. Her film ‘She, A Chinese’ won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno film festival 2010 and her ‘UFO in her Eyes’ is a compelling and funny satire on contemporary Chinese consumerism.

Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel
Author: Xiaolu Guo`s latest novel
What was the germ of the novel? “It was an enclosed story and I am always interested in the dislocation of the individual. Iona [female protagonist] is living another space and time even though she is living in London.” What was it like to find out you had won the Granta award? asked Paul Blezard.”I was not familiar with Granta. What is this Granta ? and I was then told that it was a big thing. Far from someone who yearns for literary recognition, she reveals herself to be a very different kind of literary animal. She commented “I had no ambition to be someone on a social list but [had] a big ambition as a writer, as intellectual as a thinker.”

I AM CHINA Xiaolu Guo

THE GOOD CHILDREN Roopa Farooki

Noontide Toll Romesh Gunesekera

New Pan-Asian Fiction Event – Asian Literature Festival

Guardian Book Club: Nordic Noir Author Jo Nesbo discusses his novel Redbreast

JN_c_Niklas-R_-Lello- credit. Jo Nesbo
JN_c_Niklas-R_-Lello- credit. Jo Nesbo
Jo Nesbo is a man with many benisons, a former footballer who played for Norway`s premier football team who by his own admission says that when people recall his footballing days, his ability gets exaggerated every time. Just when you start to whoop with surpise and are overcome with forgivable envy, you find out he is a demi-god in a rock band.The plaudits just keep rolling like a tickertape parade and a veritable list of desirable capstones.

The Redbreast- Jo Nesbo
The Redbreast- Jo Nesbo

GloBooks was fortuitous enough to attend the recent Guardian interview with Jo Nesbo, Norway`s literary firebrand and something of a literary pop celebre, who has sold over 23 million books worldwide and rising as you read. The author behind the successful Harry Hole series with book titles; The Bat, Snowman and the Leopard and more recently his stand alone novel The Son has received rave reviews. He has been called the king of Nordic Noir and whilst this might be up for debate, he certainly ranks as a serious contender. Yet Nesbo is a self effacing man with a quiet reserve, an astute observer of humans and human emotions and an undeniable gift for story telling, an essential must-have for any great crime fiction writer. His self deprecating manner would probably have him guffawing at the very idea. Nesbo is quietly confident and rather then being precocious, was generous in allowing the audience access all areas to the corners of his mind.

RedBreast is Nesbo`s third novel in the series. Asked just what makes a successful crime fiction novel?, he replied “As a writer you try to manipulate the reader. You will feel really happy and make them invest emotionally in the characters. Just what are the rules to be followed? According to Nesbo, timing is everything. “I don’t think of it as rules. I once asked a comedian just what is timing? Timing is delivering the punch line before the audience know the punch-line is coming and its the same with the crime novel and if you can get the audience to think they have got there half way to the conclusion then that’s the only rule I follow and it wont work with all the readers all the time.”

So how and when do you decide to do the big reveal? Just like the twist, the guts of any decent crime fiction novel, knowing when to reveal the twist is as important as the run-up itself. It can be an egregious feature of writers of a lesser pedigree. “You have to give the information some function in the story. The readers are getting so smart and well trained [but you can still] mislead the reader.”

In the novel Redbreast, the reader goes back to a certain time in order to contextualise the novel and understand the protagonist, nothing new. He was asked why did he go back to that period of history? “I was prepared that it would be controversial. During the Second World War the native people had decided to cooperate in fighting with the Germans… Many of these were young men, my father was one of them and he was just 19. Norway was occupied in 1940. He was arrested by the Germans and put in jail. He later decided that old democracies looked weak and Britain and France were on the brink of bankruptcy. He made a choice between Stalin and Hitler and he decided to fight with Hitler as he preferred Hitler to Stalin.That’s the kind of choices I was interested in before I wrote this book. I didn’t learn about my father until I was 15 years old and that was a shock. What could have made a man like my father make a decision like that to fight alongside Hitler….In the book I wanted to get a broad perspective of the men who fought with the Germans and also be able to tell a story. It wasn’t black or white. Norway was a young nation and it wanted to build its image after the Second World War as a small but courageous nation who fought the Germans which to some degree was true but [the fact is] as many people fought in the resistance, also fought with the Germans When the book was published, I was prepared for heated discussion because emotions are so strong about Norway`s role during the Second World War.”

Aside from the challenges of writing a great crime fiction novel, there is of course trying to skilfully manage the translation process as well. According to Nesbo, trust is very important. “Firstly I don’t work closely with the translator. I did with the first book [which was translated by Don Bartlett]…and I`m really happy with his translations and I realised when I read the first book that things are bound to get lost with translation and I realised Don Bartlett is doing a much better job of solving those problems, then I could have done, so I just have to trust him. Nesbo then recalls a time when he didn’t really recognise the end result….”When I came to England for the first time, people found them funny ..” He then looks up and mimicking a quizzical look for comical effect said “I thought has Don been putting in jokes without telling me….. maybe some of his translations are better then the original.”

The Snowman. The Redbreast now being turned into a film.
The Snowman. The Redbreast now being turned into a film.

Following the film version of his novel The Head Hunters in 2013, are there any plans for the film versions of his other books? a question posed by one eager follower within the audience. He revealed that he has just sold the film rights to The Snowman. The script will be written by Soren Sveistrup the creator of The Killing produced by none other then Martin Scorsese and directed by the man behind the film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Tomas Alfredson. He gives a reassuring glance to the audience and says with a whisper of a smile… “so its a good team.”

How has the global interest in Nordic literature happened? “I have been published for over 10 or 12 years so it hasn’t happened overnight. Crime writing has been a big thing over in Norway and Sweden stemming back to the 70`s. There are so many talented young writers that used crime writing as a vehicle for their story telling talents. So there were lots of good writers in the 80`s in Scandinavia. Most people think [Nordic noir was discovered] by Stieg Larsson but there was Henning Mankell who was the door-opener for Larsson…..[Infact] there are so many good writers around but I promise you there are so many more bad writers. Asked how he feels about being the next Stieg Larsson. “There’s nothing wrong about being compared to Stieg Larsson. It could have been worse I could have been the next Dan Brown.”, he said with a wry smile.

Two Jo Nesbo fans clutching their signed copies of Redbreast.
Two Jo Nesbo fans clutching their signed copies of Redbreast.

Just how do writers combat the age-old problem of being distracted?…. “I’m not very disciplined. I don’t have any routines.Its easy… I love writing. I see it as a privilege to spend time writing. I never decide to get up early and write from 8-4. If I do get up early, I will go to a coffee shop and write for 2 hours. It`s as simple as that. I don’t need discipline since I love to write.” Frankly if they awarded Michelin stars for fine writing as well as fine dining, Nesbo would have to be first in line.

Interviewer- John Mullan
Redbreast published by Vintage Books and was translated by Don Bartlett.

.

Guardian Book Club: Nordic Noir Author Jo Nesbo discusses his novel Redbreast