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Edinburgh World Writer’s Conference 2012 at The Bookworm

Presented by the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the British Council.

The Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference is a unique series of events that will bring writers together around the world to create an historic picture of the role of literature today. The conversation begins at the Edinburgh International Book Festival where 50 world renowned writers will join members of the public every afternoon from 17-21 August 2012 to discuss the five topics that almost brought writers to blows during the infamous Writers’ Conference of 1962. The World Writers’ Conference will go on to visit 15 different cities – including Beijing for BLF 2013 – over the following 12 months giving writers in different countries the chance to add their voice to the growing debate about writing and its relationship to contemporary life.

 We will be screening the five keynote events at The Bookworm, August 20-24,2012  . Each event is free and open to the public. You can also continue the conversation online at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference website, which will feature live broadcasts of the events in Edinburgh and videos of the international events.

Schedule of Events

Monday, August 20 12:30pm
Should Literature be Political?
Elif Shafak & Ahdaf Soueif

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 1962 Writers’ Conference organizers stated: ‘Many believe that the novelist has the duty to further by his writing the causes in which he believes. Others think that literature must be above the problems of the day.’ 50 years on, writers remain divided about the role political events should play in novels. Ahdaf Soueif, who witnessed last year’s revolutionary events in Cairo, addresses the conference in a session chaired by leading Turkish author Elif Shafak.

Tuesday, August 21 12:30pm
Style vs. Content
Ali Smith & Nathan Englander


 

 

 

 

 

What is more important: the content of a novel or the style in which it is written? Ali Smith’s novels successfully marry ambitious themes with a variety of confident linguistic styles – from the deliciously playful to the crashingly simple. Smith addresses today’s Conference session about approaches to the construction of the novel today, in an event chaired by Nathan Englander – whose short pieces have been described by Michael Chabon as ‘masterpieces of short-story art’.

Wednesday, August 22 12:30pm
A National Literature?
Irvine Welsh & Ian Rankin

 

 

 

 

 

 
Since the first Edinburgh Writers’ Conference in 1962, there has been a renaissance in Scottish literature, bringing the voices of Scottish people of different backgrounds into ground-breaking novels by writers such as James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Janice Galloway and A L Kennedy among many others. Have there been similarly powerful developments in the ‘national literatures’ of other countries? In this session chaired by Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh addresses the impact of national identity on the novel today.

Thursday, August 23 12:30pm
Censorship Today?
Patrick Ness & Chika Unigwe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom of speech is not only under threat in undemocratic countries: the American Library Association received challenges to ban no fewer than 326 book titles in 2010, including And Tango Makes Three, which attracted complaints because its young penguin hero has two fathers. In this session, Carnegie Medal-winning writer of novels for adults and children, Patrick Ness, addresses the Conference about censorship and freedom of speech, chaired by Belgian-Nigerian author Chika Unigwe.

Friday, August 24 12:30pm
The Future of the Novel
China Mieville & Janne Teller

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has the dominant literary form of the 19th and 20th centuries grown stale? Is it no longer the best means of delivering stories in the 21st century? Or does the classic literary novel remain the form best placed to deliver innovative, memorable writing? Drawing on discussions about censorship, style, politics and identity, this session, bringing Edinburgh’s 2012 Conference to a close, offers an address by multi award-winning author, China Mieville with renowned author Janne Teller in the moderator’s chair.

Man Booker 2012 Long-list Announced

The Man Booker Prize Long List was announced this week with some old favorites (HIlary Mantel) and rising stars (Jeet Thayil). The winner will be announced in October.

Who do you think should win?

Nicola BarkerThe Yips (Fourth Estate)
Ned BeaumanThe Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
André BrinkPhilida (Harvill Secker)
Tan Twan EngThe Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Michael FraynSkios (Faber & Faber)
Rachel JoyceThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday)
Deborah LevySwimming Home (And Other Stories)
Hilary MantelBring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison MooreThe Lighthouse (Salt)
Will SelfUmbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet ThayilNarcopolis (Faber & Faber)
Sam ThompsonCommunion Town (Fourth Estate)

via The Man Booker Prize

 

Americans in China

Is being a foreigner in China no longer a big deal? Does this mean that the days of getting your photo taken at the Forbidden City as if you were a celebrity are numbered?

This American Life reports on Americans in China:

It used to be that the American expats in China were the big shots. They had the money, the status, the know-how. But that’s changed. What’s it like to be an American living in China now? And what do they understand about China that we don’t?

Evan Osnos (The New Yorker) profiles Beijing’s own Kaiser Kuo while  Michael Meyer (The Last Days of Old Beijing) reports on the small rural village he now lives in (featured in his upcoming book In Manchuria).

Full audio here.

Bi Fei Yu on ‘Massage’

BLF author Bi Fei Yu discusses the inspiration for his novel Massage (the English edition will be published by Penguin China next year) in an article for the New York Times.

Summer 2003. I suffer a serious shoulder injury. A friend suggests I go to a massage clinic that employs blind masseurs. The clinic is not far from my home, perhaps less than a hundred meters away, but I had never noticed it. Yes, I later realized that I had never paid attention to the lives of blind people — until I needed their help…I quickly realized that the blind masseurs were a happy crowd. They were happier than I was. Their happiness affected me, day by day.

Inspired by these masseurs and their way of life that seemed immune to the ills of modern society, Bi Fei set out to write his latest novel:

Writing the book was like a game of tug of war. I tried to pull the dark world out to the sun. I wanted to tell my readers that in our society, there is still a group of people who have not given up their principles. In fact, these blind people live a more normal life than we normal people do.

Read the full article here.

 

Sleipnir the Eight-legged horse & Reykjavík City of Literature

In celebration of its status as a UNESCO City of Literature, the city of Reykjavík is organizing a month of events – Reykjavík Reading Festival in october 2012-   to promote the joy of reading. And they have chosen an ideal mascot to launch the program – Sleipnir, who is the eight-legged horse of Odinn in Norse mythology.

(Sleipnir) can travel freely from one world to another, and is thus symbolic for the mind-travel that we experience through reading. It is safe to say that Sleipnir is no ordinary horse, as he stands for the power of imagination and poetry…In the name of Sleipnir, the Reykjavík City of Literature will take part in projects that encourage children and young people to read.

To find out more about the festival and other literary events the city has lined up (or just to learn more about Sleipnir), visit their website.

Most Anticipated Books of 2012

The Millions listed their top picks for the most anticipated upcoming releases for the latter half of 2012. Zadie Smith (NW), Michael Chabon (Telegraph Avenue), Barbara Kingsolver (Flight Behavior), Martin Amis (Lionel Asbo) and Ian McEwan (Sweet Tooth) all have new novels coming out. We are especially excited for BLF 2011 author Emma Donaghue’s latest Astray – “a story collection “which brings together fourteen fact-based fictions about travels to, within and from North America, from the 1630s to the 1960s”; and more meta-science-fiction fun from Charles Yu’s follow up to How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a collection of stories Sorry Please Thank You.

Which books are you looking forward to the most?

Full list and article here.

Some of Our Favorite American Writers

Just in time for the Fourth of July, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite American writers, of past and present. This list is by no mean exhaustive, but just a starting off point. Who are your favorites?

The Classics
Sure, these may be the books students have to read in school but they are also the ones we love to re-read as adults! Rafting with Huck Finn down the Mississippi, crying when Beth dies in Little Women and getting goosebumps when Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven comes knocking.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Little Women by Louise May Alcott

Poems by Edgar Allan Poe

The 20th Century
The beginning of the 20th Century saw the US sending troops to WWI, dance away in the roaring Twenties and then struggle through the Great Depression. For some reason, everyone was also always moving to Paris. Luckily, they all also wrote some of our most beloved books.

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Falkner’s brilliant take on modernism and stream-of-consciousness takes us through the lives of four intersecting characters in the Deep South.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Taking its title from the Robert Burn’s poem To A Mouse (“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.”) is the heartbreaking tale of George and Lennie, of desperate migrant workers in the Great Depression, and a tortured friendship. Why did you do it George!?

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Heminway
A dashing, injured lieutenant falls in love with his British nurse in this, Papa Hemingway’s bleakest novel. For this novel, Hemingway drew on his own experiences in war (as well as his notorious relationships with the ladies) and solidified his reputation to many as THE American writer of his generation.

The New Heavy Weights

Some of our favorite contemporary authors explore the depths of the human condition with lyrical beauty and grace. With impressive back catalogues, each book is better than the last and we can’t wait to see what they do next!

Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates
The latest novel from the prolific Joyce Carol Oates explores the high price of success in the life of one woman – the first female president of a lauded ivy league institution—and her hold upon her self-identity in the face of personal and professional demons.

The New Republic by Lionel Shriver
Having already written about violence in teenagers (We Need to Talk about Kevin) and the failures of the health care system (So Much for That), Lionel Shriver’s latest novel, The New Republic, tackles terrorism.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
Joan Didion’s extremely personal memoir of love and loss, The Year of Magical Thinking is heartbreaking and illuminating both at once.

Children’s Books

Some of the books we read as kids…and still read to wee worms today!

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
The book that made a generation of kids (including director Wes Anderson) want to run away and live at the Museum of Natural History.

Nancy Drew Series
Forget CSI, Law & Order and all the other modern gumshoes. Nancy Drew is the detective we would call.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
If your child suddenly stops eating bacon, it’s probably because of this amazing tale of Charlotte the spider and her crafty plan to save Wilbur the pig from slaughter.

Who We’re Reading this Summer
Our summer reading lists have quite a few Americans we’re looking forard

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
After a ‘Rapture-like’ event, an American down comes to terms with how to deal with life after the end of the world.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
“Marriage can be a real killer.” Told in chapters alternating between the perspective of a husband and wife, Gillian Flynn’s latest is a thrilling and terrifying story of a marriage gone very, very wrong.

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
“A story of love and marriage, secrets and betrayals, that takes us from the backyards of America to the back alleys and villages of Bangladesh.” Nell Freudenberger’s latest novel is a bitingly funny and powerful take on arranged marriage and the hiccups that ensue when East meets West.

 

 

Ochre and Ink – “Art Can Break All the Rules”

This Wednesday, July 4th, Artlink Australia presents a panel in which artists, curators and writers discuss aspects of Contemporary Australian Indigenous Art. Panelists include curator, activist and writer Djon Mundine OAM, member of the Bandjalung people of New South Wales and the concept curator for the 1988 Aboriginal Memorial installation permanently exhibited at the National Gallery of Australia;  writer and painter Zhou Xiaoping who has collaborated with many Indigenous artists and whose work is displayed at the National Gallery of China; and Megan Cope, a member of the Brisbane-based Indigenous Art Collective ProppaNOW.

After the discussion, there will be a screening of the documentary, Ochre and Ink, the extraordinary story of Chinese-Australian artist Zhou Xiaoping and his inspiring but sometimes controversial 23 year collaboration with Indigenous artists in remote Arnhem Land. To learn more about this inspiring and fascinating story – as well as see clips and interviews with the cast and crew –  visit the film’s website.

Reading & Walking

Novelist Lev Grossman (The Magician, The Magician King) writes about the merits and dangerous of reading and walking at the same time.

I know it’s a weakness. A vice even. You’re making a choice: essentially what you’re saying (or what I’m saying) is that sometimes you’re more interested in fiction than in reality and you don’t care who knows it. You’re saying, I’m willing to chuck most or probably all of my dignity, and some measure of my personal safety, and your personal safety, because it’s more important to me to keep reading this book I’m reading than it is to look where I’m going.

We have definitely done it – sometimes you just can’t put that book down!

A Book Lover’s Guide to Reading and Walking at the Same Time

The Christmas Day Dash – Q&A with Tim Luard

Tim Luard’s new book, Escape from Hong Kong tells the little known story of the daring Christmas Day escape made by 60 Chinese, British and Danish intelligence and military personnel on the eve of the Japanese invasion. Led by the one-legged Chinese Admiral Chan Chak, the men fled to safety on the mainland, traveling on five small motor torpedo boats, walking for four days through enemy lines before making it to safety in Chongqing and Burma.

Luard, the BBC World Service’s former man in Beijing, will be speaking about his book on June 13 at 7:30 pm.

Mengfei Chen: Set the scene a little. What was 1940s Hong Kong like? How did things change after the Japanese invasion, if at all?

Tim Luard: Compared with Shanghai, say, Hong Kong society in 1940 was rather Victorian and straitlaced, at least on the surface. There was little or no racial mingling – British civil servants risked losing their jobs if they married a non-European and Chinese were legally barred from living on the Peak.

Britain’s war with Germany and China’s ongoing invasion by Japan both seemed far away. But with a Japanese army now hovering on the border, the normally quiet colony was soon awash in a fin-de-siecle atmosphere of gossip, intrigue and excess: it became flooded with Chinese refugees and triads, foreign adventurers such as ‘Two-Gun Cohen’ and ‘One-Arm Sutton’ and Japanese spies and fifth-columnists. At the last minute, two battalions of semi-trained Canadians were brought in to reinforce the small garrison of unmotivated, malaria-ridden British and near-mutinous  Indian troops.

When the Japanese finally invaded, within hours of Pearl Harbour, their battle-hardened forces proved vastly superior.  Their planes had a free run of the skies and their lightly equipped men swept through the New Territories and Kowloon in a matter of days. Hong Kong Island valiantly withstood a week-long siege, but the end was only a matter of time.

On Christmas Day 1941 – with all water, power and communications cut off and enemy troops all over the island – the Governor had little choice but to surrender.  All non-Chinese were rounded up into camps, and after several days of looting and rape Hong Kong spent the rest of the war as a brutally run Japanese colony.

 MC: The Christmas Day Dash is such a great story. It’s even got a one legged admiral. Why is it so obscure?

TL: Chan Chak, who’d lost a leg during the defense of Canton, was Nationalist China’s top man in Hong Kong.  He proved such a staunch ally during the invasion that the British determined to help him get away afterwards.  So, within hours of the surrender, after swimming under fire to an island and  hiding in a cave, the Chinese admiral and a mixed group of senior British personnel (who would likewise have faced a particularly nasty time in Japanese hands) were whisked off to the mainland in all that remained of the Royal Navy – five old torpedo boats, crewed by some fifty sailors.  The entire party, including a dog named Bruce, then walked for four days through Japanese-occupied China – guided by guerrillas, who carried the Admiral in a sedan chair – arriving to an ecstatic welcome at the nearest Nationalist Army outpost at Waichow (Huizhou).

After many more adventures as they crossed China and Burma, the main naval party reached Britain five months later, their families having long given them up for dead.  They were told not to talk about their experience, since their route had to be kept secret for use by others escaping from the camps in Hong Kong over the next four years. It’s really only now, with the release of official documents and the finding of long-forgotten diaries and letters, that the full story has come out.  My wife and I got together with other escapers’ descendants – her father was part of the group – to form the Hong Kong Escape Re-enactment Organisation (HERO) and managed to retrace the original journey to Waichow.

MC: Did you have a favorite character?

TL: The escape group was made up of a kaleidoscope of colourful characters, from the redoubtable, beady-eyed little admiral to a huge, hard-drinking chief petty officer from Plymouth whose jokes kept everyone entertained along the way. But I think my favourite is a crusty World War One veteran called Horace Gandy, who had been brought out of retirement to command Hong Kong’s small torpedo boat flotilla. He was a stickler for discipline and Royal Navy tradition, but always quick to side with his own men against others in the party from rival outfits such as the army. He kept a detailed diary in which he complains that the escape plan is as “clear as mud” to him and berates those who take the wrong route as “BFs” (Bloody Fools). But he soon warms to the Chinese admiral, lending him his elegant naval cap and jacket after he emerges from the water in his underwear, even though this means he himself has to wear an uncomfortable “battle bowler,” or steel helmet, for the rest of the 80-mile march.

MC: You talk a little about the complicated and sometimes uncomfortable way the Christmas Day Dash fits into the current Chinese government’s historical narrative. Why do you think it is so cumbersome and how have they tried to deal with the episode?

TL: Little has been published in the People’s Republic about the escape, presumably because Admiral Chan was a close associate of President Chiang Kai-shek. When we applied to visit China for our re-enactment, there was a long pause before the Foreign Ministry finally issued something called Directive 143, declaring that the escape was “an extraordinary episode of Sino-British joint action” and that our group, HERO, was  “A Good Thing”.  Four 15-member committees were appointed to prepare for our visit, and one of them duly produced China’s own history of the escape. This played down the Nationalist admiral and instead gave the credit to the fledgling communist movement of the time. It said the escape had been personally ordered by Mao’s right-hand man, Zhou Enlai. The communists are not mentioned at all in most of the accounts from the time.

MC: What was the most surprising fact or anecdote you came across during your research?

TL: The single most surprising aspect of the escape to me was the way the Chinese and British worked so closely together, having kept themselves so rigidly apart in the past. This was the first if not only time in history that British servicemen accepted the leadership of a Chinese officer. And then there was the attitude of the ordinary Chinese villagers, deep in Japanese-occupied territory. Despite the huge rewards on offer, not a single Chinese villager gave the mainly British escape group away. These were possibly the first foreigners to be seen in these parts of China since the ravages of the Opium War, 100 years before. But this rumbustious group of heavily bearded British mariners were welcomed wherever they went with pots of green tea and buckets of hot rice and vegetables – and the local temple floor to sleep on. Commander Gandy wasn’t the only one who found both food and accommodation took some getting used to. But basically they were all just happy to be free – and having the adventure of their lives.

Tim Luard will be speaking at The Bookworm Beijing on  Wednesday, June 13 at 7:30pm. Tickets available at The Bookworm. This event is brought to you by RAS Shanghai.

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