Impressions from a literary festival

Bangkok Literary Festival 2013The first Sunday of October I went to Bangkok International Literary Festival – “Reaching the World 2013” at Bangkok Art and Culture Center. The event was organized by The Asia Pacific Writers Organization and was held from 3rd to 6th October. It included an international conference on Creative Writing & Literary Translation: Teaching & Practice, hosted by Chulalongkorn University, and a literary festival in conjunction with Unesco’s “Bangkok World Book Capital City 2013” on the last day, Sunday the 6th.

I only made it to the festival, which lasted from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m, and stayed for two of the events. One was called Masters of Invention and the participating authors were (from the brochure): Sunjeev Sahota (On Granta magazine’s 2013 list of “Best of Young British Novelists), internationally acclaimed Burmese author Pascal Khoo Thwe (From the Land of Green Ghosts), and rising American star Krys Lee in conversation with Rebecca Hart.
The other event was A Writer’s Life. Every Day Creative? with Bernice Chauly, Eliza Vitri Handayani, Cristina Hidalgo, James Shea (poet) and Philip McLaren.
I enjoyed them very much and I took some notes from both events and put them together into a list. From the mouths of the writers, to the paper:

Finding time to write
• I’m stealing time – I go conferences and skip courses so I can stay in my hotel room and write. I also write while having lunch.
• I can’t afford moods, I’m working on four autobiographies at the moment.
• I am a single mother, I wrote my book after 10 p.m., when the children had gone to bed, until 4 in the morning. I did that for two years to finish it.

On the process of writing
• I type my poems on a typewriter to slow down the process then transfer the work on the computer.
• I strip away the whole process of any romanticism and just write.

How do you feel about writing?
• Writing is a pleasure. I write every day. Constructing the sentences, looking at words closely, it’s a very enjoyable process.
• Writing poems gives me pleasure but it’s also the most painful thing that I do.

Where do you get your ideas?
• Real life
• I run every day, I get great ideas while running. Murakami’s book, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, was mentioned.
• A friend asked me to write his autobiography. He practically handed me his journals and asked me to write it.

When do you feel your work is ready to be shared with other people?
• I show my work in raw form only to my closest friends. My refined work goes to my other friends.
• Sometimes I post my writing on Facebook to see people’s reaction.

On criticism
• Beginner writers overwrite like crazy. It’s like they have to prove something to the world.
• I sent a story to a publisher once and it came back with “cut by 2/3”. I did that and was grateful for the advice.

On being published
• I sent my manuscript to six publishers. One of them agreed to take it on.
• I was taking writing classes and my teacher showed my work to some people in the publishing industry. I didn’t even know about it until they told me they want to publish it.

Advice for new writers
• Read
• Do selective reading – look at the authors you like, analyze the sentences and their rhythm. Take notes.

On writing a certain amount of words or for a certain amount of time every day
• That helps you become less self-conscious.
• Not everything you write will be great but you may be able to excavate something good out of it in the end.

Dealing with writer’s block
• I’ve never had it. Writing is pleasure.
• Do things that have nothing in common with writing. Exercise.
• I read people who are better than me.

Living off writing
Only one of the six writers at the last event said he writes full time. The others have jobs (full-time or part-time) mainly as professors at university.

The atmosphere was relaxed, there were questions from the audience (I didn’t ask any, I was too nervous) and the authors seemed nice enough for the most part. While many of the things being said were not exactly new, there was one thing that I felt was a little unfair. “Beginner writers overwrite like crazy. It’s like they have to prove something to the world.” That they overwrite might be true, but perhaps this comes from not knowing how much to cut and how much to leave on. Beginners, remember? I bet every writer would love to be able to produce just the right amount of words for their work.

While searching the net for details about Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, I found an interesting interview with him from October 2005. Here’s a little excerpt:

“Before I became a writer, I was running a jazz bar in the center of Tokyo, which means that I worked in filthy air all the time late into the night. I was very excited when I started making a living out of my writing, and I decided, “I will live in nothing but an absolutely healthy way.” Getting up at 5 a.m. every morning, doing some work first, then going off running. It was very refreshing for me.”

You can find the interview here.

Have you ever been to a literary festival? A writing workshop? Please share your thoughts.

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14 Responses to Impressions from a literary festival

  1. Brian Joseph says:

    What a great event to attend. I really want to attend one myself.

    I know it may seem like a lesser experience, but I used to attend science fiction conventions. I would often attend the writers panels. There were often some very talented and fairly big name authors in attendance and I got a lot out of my experience.

    • Delia says:

      It was great being there, Brian.
      To a sci-fi fan it’s not a lesser experience – I’m not one but I certainly understand the feeling of being part of something you really enjoy.
      I didn’t know any of the writers at this event but I’ve heard of one of their work, “From the Land of Green Ghosts”, and hope to read it some day. The author seemed like a really nice person.

  2. Vishy says:

    Beautiful post, Delia! Glad to know that you had a wonderful time at the Bangkok International Literary Festival. I found most of the thoughts quite interesting, especially the one on finding time to write. I very much admire the single mother who wrote from 10pm to 4am. It is interesting that one of the writers mentioned Murakami’s ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’. I read that book early this year (unfortunately, couldn’t review it) and liked it very much.

    I have been to one literary festival a few years back and enjoyed it very much. It is nice to hear so many authors talk and share their thoughts on writing. I have been to one creative writing workshop. It spanned a few sessions and the teacher was really good and there were only a few of us and so it was intensive and a lot of fun. I even discovered something about myself – that I could write poems 🙂

    • Delia says:

      Hi Vishy,
      It was a good experience even if the advice they gave was not exactly something new. However, one thing that I took away was the fact that you have to write, every day, and it will take time but if you persevere, you have a chance of getting somewhere. I was impressed by the single mother as well ( a Filipino writer, I think), now that’s determination!
      Murakami’s book is on my to-read list – why weren’t you able to review it?

      It’s great that you were able to go to a writing workshop. Writing brings out surprising things about ourselves, doesn’t it? Do you post your poems online? I would very much like to read them, if possible, of course.

      • Vishy says:

        I got Murakami’s book on running and when I realized that one of my friends liked it even more, I thought I will read it and then gift it to this friend. So, I read it in a hurry and couldn’t review it. It was quite interesting though and I think book lovers who also like running will love it.

        I haven’t posted my poems online. I wrote them mostly during the creative writing workshop. I will try to get that notebook out and send some of them to you.

  3. Athira says:

    Great that you got to go there. Looks like they gave some good suggestions as well.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Athira,
      There are not many such events that I get to go to, so this was a treat. I was impressed by the younger writers – they seem so down to earth and a little nervous. I wish I had the idea (and the courage) to approach some of them after the event for a few extra questions. Unfortunately, good ideas don’t come when you need them necessarily but when they want to. 🙂

  4. Charlie says:

    I was stuck on that beginner writers note so I’m glad you covered it yourself. It’s potentially valuable to note the idea that beginners feel they have something to prove – if you consider it in context with info dumping and the like – but otherwise yes, what you’ve said. They are beginners! The writer who said it likely needed an editor at the start even if they (unlikely) don’t need one now.

    I like this post, a lot of useful advice, some new, all in one place and differing opinions, too.

    • Delia says:

      Hi Charlie,
      It was an interesting mix of ideas from a diverse group of writers.
      You’re right, every writer needs an editor, beginners and experienced alike, especially beginners as they don’t know yet how to keep a balance between useful and less useful information. I’ve read books where I’ve come across information that could have been left out but in the end it was ok – that just proves the author did his homework.

      • Vishy says:

        I just wanted to add something here, Delia. I did an exercise a few years back. I thought I will read the first works of a few writers and compare and see whether they have the signs of a first-time writer (like having too much information not relevant to the story, not much plot or dialogue, characters not being fleshed out) or their books were finely finished products. I mostly picked popular fiction writers and read their first works. The books I read were ‘The Hunt for Red October’ by Tom Clancy, ‘The Andromeda Strain’ by Michael Crichton, ‘The Firm’ by John Grisham and ‘Aristotle Detective’ by Margaret Doody. I found that the first three books all looked like books written by first time writers – Tom Clancy’s book had too much information which was not relevant to the plot (the information was probably more than two-thirds of the book), Michael Crichton’s book didn’t have much dialogue and the characters weren’t really fleshed out (it was difficult to tell how one character was different from the other) and John Grisham’s book looked like a nonfiction diary of a college graduate who has joined a law firm (no plot and mostly everyday happenings at a law firm). The book which was really the finished product was Margaret Doody’s ‘Aristotle Detective’ which is set in Ancient Greece with Aristotle and one of his students solving a murder mystery. But out of the four the first three became bestselling authors while Margaret Doody was virtually unknown for years.

        • Delia says:

          Thanks for sharing that, Vishy, a very interesting experiment.
          If you really think of it, what is too much information, isn’t that subjective? Obviously, the editor thought that information should be in the book, otherwise they would have asked the writer to cut it. That being said I have read books that I thought could have been better with at least 50 pages less.
          I’ve heard of the first three books you mentioned but haven’t read any of them. Never heard of “Aristotle Detective” but the setting sounds intriguing.

          • Vishy says:

            I agree with you, Delia, that what is too much information is really subjective. I actually like information in a book and enjoy books in which authors share their knowledge and expertise. I enjoyed reading the factual parts of ‘The Hunt for Red October’ and I feel the editors might have let them be, because they might have guessed that readers will enjoy it. But most of it was not really required for the story, though it was fascinating information. But, yeah, that is my own opinion. Other readers might disagree. It came out as a movie too with Sean Connery in the starring role. Have you seen it?

  5. Delia says:

    I haven’t seen The Hunt for Red October but have heard of it, of course. The subject doesn’t really appeal to me.

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