Sunday, March 25, 2012


I like bookmarks. Being a nerd, I even have specific bookmarks for special books.

The obvious one is an embroidered silk bookmark i got to commemorate the pope's visit to England in the 1980s. What can I say: I was raised Catholic and I was an altar boy, and if you played Dungeons and Dragons despite a papal ban, you had to do something to mitigate your sins.

I got a set of sandalwood ones when I first went to China, and they mark favourite poems in my favourite anthology.

And then I was reading The Two Towers recently and I came across this. It's a plain piece of blue card, faded to brown across the top, where it has at some time stuck up from the top of the book. And it contains a list of names, written in my brother's handwriting with a sharp, probably a H or 2H pencil.

And it was written some time between 1981 and 1992.

I'm guessing at the reason why there is a list of names here. But I'd say it is my brother looking for the name of a character.

That's the basic information, but what seems more worthy of a blog post is the effect it had on me: I wanted to know who or what all these names described. If anyone knows please do let me know. I know they mean something....


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Chengdu: City of Beautiful Girls, Spicy Food and of course, Poets

It's interesting, as an author, to turn up to China's festivals, and feel the difference in the respective audiences.

It's not just that the Chinese cities and provinces are different (they are - as different as London and Athens, for example) - but also that the foreigners attracted to the various places are different.

Shanghai attracts a high end audience. Well turned out, well educated, rich.
I was told Suzhou would be the wives of factory owners, and there were lots of those there, but I was there over St Patrick's Day, and all I saw was young people everywhere.

Beijing is probably my favourite, because it's full of Sinophiles.
But Chengdu is interesting, as it seems full of Old China Hands, Tibetologists, and Panda People. But what's striking about Chengdu is that Chengdu is a city of spicy food, beautiful girls and poets. And when you go to read there, the audience is going to be 2/3rds local Chinese.

Which is a little worrying when you're talking about Early Medieval English History. But there was no need to fear. A packed house, and a good half an hour afterwards answering extra questions and signing books.
Great to see old faces still there! And thanks for the photographs!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Tour Again: Chengdu Book Worm Lit Fest

It was a grey day in Hong Kong: with low misty clouds, when i set off to Chengdu.

It's an odd feeling for me to fly into China. It feels in some ways like going back in time. It also feels like coming alive again, and when I landed the weather was pretty similar, though about 10 degrees colder.

I'm here for the Chengdu Bookworm Literary festival: one of my favourites. I was here last, four years ago, when Rob Gifford and I (apparently) argued spectacularly about the veracity of our stories. People are still talking about that night here.

The hotel is the same. The Kempinski: and you can tell how far china has moved on now in the quality of the hotel staff and hte reception you get at these places. Otherwise they're much the same. Pretty girls playing the piano in the lobby, men sipping tea, and men handing out hooker cards at the front door.

I spent the afternoon walking some back streets, and while much about china has changed, the back streets have not. The Chinese do cities well: they're cities that you walk around, they are cities on a human scale with all kinds of odd shops and activities happening on the pavement and in hte open doorways of shops, that double as houses, with people sitting in bed, with thick duvets pulled over their legs.

I was there for the launch night: a feast of speeches in Chinese and English, including a government spokesman, from the investment council of Sichuan province. Some things never change, and speeches are one of them. But I nipped out half way and went back to a little back street I found where there were on street restaurants: and sat on a rickety iron stool, and had yu xiang aubergine, pigs stomach and jia chang dofu.

The back to the Chengdu Bookworm and lit fests are best when the events are over and you get to talk to the people there. I like the folk at Chengdu: many of whom were the same and were kind enough to come along and say hi, and those who i had never met before.