Queen of the Night

The dark is dangerous. So is the past. So are your dreams.

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This is Shyness

A guy who howls. A girl on a mission to forget.

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The Bookworm Literary Festival – Week Two

24 March 2013

Well, I got a little distracted this week and did quite badly at making it to BLF events, but all in the best possible cause. It was Australian Writers Week here in Beijing, and there were lots of events to attend, like the opening of the ‘Hello From Australia!’ exhibition of children’s picture book illustrations at the Capital Library. And I was lucky enough to see journalist/economist/writer George Megalogenis talk about his book, The Australian Moment, to enthralled Peking University students (in the Democracy Building, no less), and field some very thoughtful questions about multiculturalism and indigenous issues. I met a Chinese post-doctoral research fellow who is researching Gough Whitlam! That blew my mind. I told him about the lipstick-kissed Whitlam portrait at Trades Hall.

But I did make it to two BLF events. One I was speaking at, with Chinese author Lu Nei, the self-professed `least-educated’ author in China. This event was part of the NYTC Literary Caravan, a series of Chinese-language events held at bookshops around several major cities in China. The majority of BLF events are English-language events, albeit featuring authors from all around the globe. Interpreters are used as appropriate, and for me, a major drawcard of the festival is being able to hear Chinese authors speak about their work. But the Literary Caravan is also fulfilling a very worthwhile aim – to bring Chinese and foreign authors together in Chinese conversation, for Chinese rather than expat audiences, to see what cultural exchanges take place.

I was lucky enough to be able to read some English translated excerpts of one of Lu Nei’s novels, Young Babylon, and I am convinced his humourous and satirical style would be very successful in Australia. Some of the excerpts were translated in UK English, and some in American, and it was interesting to note that I found it easier to connect with the vernacular of the UK English (twat! taking the piss!).

The format of the conversation/interpretation meant that I missed a great deal of what Lu Nei was saying (although when it was translated I was surprised to discover we were discussing Plato, Shakespeare, Kafka and Zizek), but I was questioned enthusiastically on writing for younger audiences, and interestingly, on my job as a children’s book specialist.

Here we are, with Lu Nei on the left, me on the right. On the left hand side you can just see the clipboard of amazing interpreter William White, making his mysterious, magical translation squiggles.

The other event I attended was ‘Fantastical Tales’, a panel on Fantasy and Sci-Fi, featuring Swedish author Karen Tidbeck and Chinese author Fei Dao. The evening began with readings, and you have to love Karen for starting proceedings with a story about using menstrual blood to bring a carrot-baby to life. The room went strangely quiet. The moderator read an excerpt from the Terminator section of a Fei Dao short story that mashes up popular Western SF films with episodes of Chinese history.

Both authors were articulate, funny, and coming from very interesting cultural standpoints, so I took pages and pages of detailed notes, most of which I’ll spare you. They spoke at length about the position of SF/Fantasy writing in their respective homelands. Interestingly they had similar comments to make: that genre writing is seen as the province of young people and young readers, and is separated from the literary mainstream. Fei Dao’s university major in science fiction had to be completed as part of the children’s literature department, despite his writing being targeted at adults.

The conversation touched on the persistent use of Anglo-Saxon names and setting in fantasy writing, and the way both writers consciously use their countries folktales, mythologies and histories in their work. Conversation swerved around Japanese robots, writing in your mother tongue vs. a second language, borrowing from other cultures in literary works, the evolution of Chinese SF writing, and Qing dynasty stories featuring flying ships and giant eagles. My brain felt thoroughly expanded afterwards!

Oh, also – Obamao.

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