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The HK International Literary Festival 2012: Part 2

October 14 – The Writers Symposium: Part 3 of 3

Convocation Room, University of Hong Kong

This particular symposium was divided into 2 sessions. The first was The Writer’s Desk: Vision, Revision, and Circulation, which focused on revising and editing a work before sending it in. Panelists were Paige Richards, Michelle Sterling, Jennifer Wong, and Paul French, who read before and after excerpts from their work. Again, can’t say I heard anything I’d never heard before. I’m really of the opinion that when it comes to the writing process, there are so many ways of doing it right that if you’ve been doing it for a while, someone endorsing a particular way of doing it wouldn’t necessarily stick in your head.

The second session was The Writer in Hong Kong – Getting Published. Now this is the sort of thing that does tend to stick – brass tacks of the business. It was chaired by Christopher Munn from Hong Kong University Press, who was joined by Kelly Falconer from the Asia Literary Review, copyright lawyer Andrew Cobden, and Martin Merz, a translator. I’ll list here the salient points:

  • Don’t cold call editors.
  • You don’t necessarily need an agent for your novel but you should get one anyway if you can. Agent’s fee is usually at 15%.
  • There’s no such thing as a standard contract. Or a standard print run. Everything is always negotiable.
  • Do simultaneous submissions.
  • Don’t turn up your nose at small publishing houses. Don’t limit yourself or second-guess your demographic. A publication is a publication is a publication.
  • Copyright is assigned. An author’s moral rights over a publication are waived or not waived. Most of the time, publishers will try to get you to waive your moral rights.

After the session, I talked a bit with Kelly Falconer and Martin Merz and his wife Jane. And was enjoying myself so much that I found myself sharing a cab with them all the way to…

October 14: Closing Party: The Last Course

Mariners’ Rest, Hullett House

…where I Guinnessed up and took in the scene of the festival panelists all in one room. (Small room though.) Chatted with Sudhir Vadaketh, from The Economist, and his wife, as well as Gioia Guerzoni, a translator from Italy who was here on the way to a translator’s conference in Bangkok. Had a good time with Martin, Jane, and Gioia, and eventually we left Hullett and crossed the harbor to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Central, which Martin is a member of (and apparently of the board as well that gets to decide what gets to be in the menu). Food was great and we also met Alberto, Gioia’s friend, who works as an architect here.

I had to leave early because I had class the next day but that was a great Sunday spent. Love all the business cards you get at the end of these things.

(Part 1 here.)

The HK International Literary Festival 2012: Part 1

October 11 – Dr. Hari Harilela Lecture Theatre, Shaw Campus, Hong Kong Baptist University

Between Europe and China: Fostering Cultural Creativity and Inter-cultural Dialogue: A Roundtable Discussion on Hong Kong-European Dialogues in Literature and Culture

Yeah, that’s a mouthful. Bit of context here, “intercultural” is a big buzzword in Hong Kong and “exchanges” and “dialogues” abound. Personally, judging from the ones I’ve attended, these events tend to feel like marketing stunts to me. The questions are just some sort of variation of these: 1. What it feels like to be (or whatever more specific verb here) in Hong Kong, and 2. How is it different from your home country. It’s not typical to progress far from that, so let’s just say I normally don’t set the bar very high.

The panel was chaired by Angela Mackay from the Financial Times and the panel members were the following: poet Jennifer Wong (Daisy’s friend, actually, who was raised in HK and is now based in London, had dinner with her before), UK poet and novelist Simon Armitage, Irish novelist John Boyne (he wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – I only watched the movie though) Prof. K.L. Chua from Hong Kong University, and Prof. Hans Ladegaard and Prof. Lo Kwai Cheung from Hong Kong Baptist University, where I work.

Most of the discussion was about how the writers’ respective countries encourage creativity VS how HK does it (or how it should anyway. Let’s not forget HK is still incredibly neo-colonial and has a huge insecurity complex when it’s being compared to Europe). It was largely very PC and there was really nothing you haven’t heard before, until John Boyne mentioned, hey, but what about the big elephant in the room when it comes to HK arts and culture? Money?

And I thought, that’s a good attempt, Mr. Boyne, there is an elephant in the room, but it’s not money that’s the biggest one. It’s race and class. Because when I hear white expats complaining about how there seems to be such a dearth of cultural events in Hong Kong, more often than not, they’re talking about the dearth of white cultural events in Hong Kong. I know because I used to think that way too and hung around similarly-minded expats, until I started to make friends with local artists. Then I went to their events (not to mention worked with them for the stage performance of my play) and realized that hey, there is actually a lot of local culture in HK. Most white people just tend not to go to these events and just assume they don’t exist. The money being poured by wealthy, commercial companies into cultural events and which people complain is against the spirit of art? Tend to be white cultural events.

And as my friend T would say, I told you three times but only in my head. Then at one point, Prof. Lo Kwai Cheung, in a burst of frustration, said that the things they were talking about in this panel were all from the white person’s point of view, who either aren’t living in HK or who live in their little expat bubble here and have no idea what it’s like otherwise. Even this literary festival, he said, isn’t this pretty much catered to white people in the first place?

That was the highlight of the evening for me. Someone applauded from the back of the room. The next time I bump into Prof. Lo on campus, I’m going to tell him that.

Next post! The Writers Symposium at HKU and the afterparty at Hullett House.

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