Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Su Tong Scoops the Prize

Which might not suprise many: he was the odd one out in the list, being a well-established author in a list of mainly unpublished young voices. In that way, the whole ceremony lacked some of the fairy-tale quality last year, when one of those young-bloods, Miguel Syjuco from the Phillipines, beat off another established Chinese author (Yu Hua).

I haven't read the books this year, but I have no doubt that the judges have picked a worthy winner. He is the one Chinese author I can think of who was writing interesting and provoking material about China way back in the '90s. And he's been doing it ever since, with less attention than many other Chinese authors. Colm Toibin made the most beautiful speak, as chairman of the judges, that I have ever heard - and throughout the room there was a palpable snap - as from a daydream - when he sat down again.

When prizes insist on inviting all the shortlisted authors, staging a sit-down meal, and adding a certain ceremony to the whole occasion it's tough on the four authors who go home disappointed. You're not hungry, you don;t want to talk or make conversation, and you're torn between hoping and smothering those hopes. And then, having been feted, you suddenly find yourself, less the star, than the guest at someone else's party. Which is the wrong way to feel, of course.

To be shortlisted is really the honour, and for the unpublished young authors, who left disappointed that night, they might well find that being shortlisted is more of a prize than winning is for Su Tong.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Hear them here first: Man Asian Literary Prize, 2009

So. It's November again, and another Man Asian Literary Prize. Well, it's only the third so far, but already becomming a well-established event. To recap: the prize is for a work by an 'Asian' writer (difficult to determine, but roughly a resident or national of an Asian country) with a work not yet published in English.

The idea of the prize is to promote Asian writing around the world, and the short-list this year are a fairly mixed bag in terms of experience and recognition. Su Tong is an already established writer, with an oscar winning film (Raise the Red Lantern) adapted from one of his early novellas. Other literary veterans include US/Philipino author, Eric Gamalinda and Indian publisher and author, Siddharth Chowdhury. The young bloods are Nitasha Kaul, whose phd thesis intruiginly combined economics and philisophy; and Omair Ahmad, a journalist/analyst with an expertise in Kashmir.

Last night, we got to hear them all talking about and reading from their work. The last two prizes it seemed clear after the reading which novel would win, but can't say I can tell this one. They all had strengths, and with a new set of judges (Colm Toibin, Gish Jen, and Pankaj Mishra) who knows which they'll go for.

Other men than me were confident Su Tong is going to win, but who knows.

I had the pleasure and honour of reading Su Tong's piece in English. Back in the 90s, Su Tong was the only Chinese novelist who work varied from the Wild Swan's style misery books and I think he's one of the really interesting voices to come out of China so if you haven't had the chance to read him yet, put him on your list.

Dinner, was at Yung Kee, where it was interesting to see that once you put a couple of glasses of wine into them, the shyest writers on stage became quite eloquent.

Prize announced tonight.

Su Tong, Eric Gamalinda, Siddharth Chowdhury, Nitasha Kaul, last year's winner Miguel Syjuco, Omair Ahmad and myself.
Thanks alot to Martin Merz for sending me this pic.

Lunch with Colm Toibin

Colm is over as the chair of judges for the 2009 Man Asian Literary Prize. On Saturday we had lunch at M at the Fringe, and I was lucky enough to sit opposite the big man, but barely shared a word as I was also sitting next to the aunt of the restaurant owner, a very entertaining lady, Diana Marsland - who sailed from Australia to London as a younger lady, worked at the Hilton, and travelled back east by land, and had many interesting stories about Afghanistan.

Anyway! Colm was very entertaining after lunch, and one of the writers you listen to and think, i should go and buy one of his books.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Twiddling my thumbs

So! As the poem began, I finished the book!

Well, I've been saying that for so long I can't remember. Partly because there are so many stages, it seems, to finishing. There's the first draft. The second draft. The draft that went to the agent. The draft that came back from the agent. The draft that incorporated his feedback. The draft I finally finished, and then I sat on the book over the weekend to see if any other points came back to me, and the draft that included those little changes.

Each time something about the book changed. It got longer, usually, smaller characters got bigger parts, and some of the characters began to drift through various drafts in their roles and motivations. As the author it was all fascinating!

And the book's not really finished. Like the fatted cow, it's just finished enough to go to market.

And now I'm twiddling my thumbs, which is a wonderfully odd place for me, as this book has been about 4 years work (I can't get a reliable doc 'created' date as 'm on a different computor, but the earliest file I have is a six page beginning, which is still the beginning, last modified on 27th October 2006 which fits nicely my recollection of a year's research, followed by three years writing.)

Where next? The sequel of course, which is great to look forward to. And the selling of the book, which is part of the general air of disappointment (not necesserily with the money, but the whole slightly grubby but entirely necessary marketisation of my book. But also putting my feet up more, spending more time with the kids (genuinely!) and reading. Four years is a long time to learn things, and I've learnt alot of stuff during (and not necesserily connected to or because of) writing this book. One is the kind of books I like to read. I knew it of course, but I'm clearer now about what kind of books I don't like. I suppose 'genre' is the closest way to describe the kind of books I like. But 'genre' seems to be a term used to describe books (crime, fantasy, science fiction, romance, whatever) where story is important. And I have found that I rather like story. In fact, story is gripping in a way that beautiful language, clever literary references, or any of the other marks of that rather doomed genre 'literary fiction' is not.

And to make some kind of sense of this blog, I think each draft has made this novel more about the story (as well as the historicity and the characters and the beauty of the language of course!) It's a good thing to have learnt. But hell, this is only my fourth novel, so I'm just a beginner really.

What is she called? Well, this novel has gone through a couple of names, and now she's called Shieldwall. Not a very female name to be honest, and as I've compared my other novels to girlfriends, I guess this one is less like a lover than a great friend. Reader, meet Shieldwall, Shieldwall, meet reader! I think you'll get along very just fine!