Tash Aw in the Irish Times and The Writer’s Handbook 2010 by Barry Turner

by Suzan Abrams

May 29, 2009:  Still on the subject of Malaysian novelist Tash Aw who features in an earlier entry below, his recently acclaimed work of literary fiction, Map of the Invisible World, set in 1960s Indonesia, has stayed the Pick of the Month for Dymocks Bookstores in Melbourne, Australia.

The book jacket shares its design with that of the UK. This means that more good tidings await Aw as his title is generously  displayed and easily visible at the popular chain’s various stores and entrances.

Melbournian residents make keen readers and bookshops that  gaily sprout up to resemble the towering or tiny, or otherwise too, makeshift stalls that  advertise hefty bargain prices near bustling shopping crowds to  charming if not quaint rows of colourful second-hand ones in basements – think Flinders Street across the historic railway station – are almost always robust with customers.

I remember Dymocks being a favourite haunt when I spent five glorious years in Australia before coming to London and later, Ireland. Today, David Jones, Myers, Angus & Robertson as well as Collins are just a few household names that ring nostalgic bells especially that I recall how each store fashionable or eccentric, boasted distinct personalities.

by Suzan Abrams

Captions: Exciting Malaysian novelist Tash Aw and  Moroccan man of letters, Tahar Ben Joullen (below).

I went to collect a few pre-ordered novels from the Middle-East that had arrived via London, from one of my good Irish friends and an independent bookseller here in the heart of Dublin city, just the day before.

A customer interlude would often signal the time on the clock for a keen conversation.  We chat politely  first  of all, about the weather and our cuppas of the day – I’ve discovered that we’re both game for a fine Colombian roast and this soon dissolves into an excitable  natter involving extraordinary, prize-winning or otherwise obscure titles, the newest newspaper reviews – and for some astonishing reason this- my friend stays partial to the Guardian Newspaper in England.

Later, when D finds a moment, he guides me around the watching bookcases and display tables stacked amassed with heavy new titles, just to recommend certain stories, he thinks I might like.

It was in this fascinating but enlightening fashion that last year, I disovered with joy, prize-winning Lebanese writers in the vein of the charismatic Rawi Hage and also the eloquent and highly poetic Arab-Israeli novelist Sayed Kashua and not discounting the famous Moroccan and one of North Africa’s most successful contemporary novelists, Tahar Ben Joullen; now a resident of Paris and easily a distinguished man of letters. I still recall with a vivid memory, Joullen’s award-winning classic; featuring a brilliant if not sharply dark cutting-edge prose in The Blinding Absence of Light.

Once more, D, would mischeviously disclose a story I had sadly missed in the weekend newspaper of the Irish Times. Now, I normally buy the Irish Times on the weekends for its polished reviews and articles on the arts.

However, in my earnest enthusiasm, I had switched to the Irish Saturday Independent for the last two weeks because it offered at a bonus prize of 4.99 euro each, and this, revealing a collected series totalling 20, that form for a poignant remake of selected classicss. So far, each one including Hemmingway’s The Old Man and The Sea and also One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest have been exhibited at the newsagent’s as thoughtfully bound, small and white hardcover books which definitely make for a collector’s inconceivable dream.

The Irish Times – when it is never easy to be portrayed in the papers at all – featured an excellent book review of Malaysian writer, Tash Aw‘s second newest novel, called Map of the Invisible World, a historical plot revolving around Indonesia’s Communist Government set in the Sixties.  Moved by the review, D asked if he should stock the title and I immediately replied in the affirmative. Please click here to read Eileen Battersby’s Review in full.

A qualified lawyer, Aw who now writes full-time in London, is one of the Far East’s most sophisticated and enigmatic writers yet and certainly Malaysia’s best. He lives his books in the sense that he’s involved rather passionately in his dutiful scholarly life.

He would be most likely to be involved in research or plotting his characters or sketching his drafts or meeting with his writer friends in London. He is often also sought out at international festivals worldwide…one of the few fulltime writers whose tour schedules never seem to end.

At writer symposiums, aspiring authors seek his advice relentlessly, hoping to carve out the same successful trade for themselves. “A baptism of fire,” he advises them quietly on on the question of seeking a literary agent. “Patience and perseverance,” he adds as an afterthought.

Aw whose literary agent is David Godwin, the same gentleman who discovered and represented unexpected Man Booker winner, Arundhati Roy, recently spoke at the London Book Fair on the newer future identity of Asian writers.

In real life, he is a slim chap, simply dressed, terribly unassuming and slightly taciturn if not kindly so. He is a man of few words but one of shrewd sensibility. A highly likeable individual, Aw often stays gregarious and terribly somber in his attitude to what he describes as a difficult writing craft, and this if not so slightly blunt.

If you prefer masterful literary prose and one that promises to be exquisite and have cornered your library for just one multi-cultural title from the Far East, I recommend Tash Aw’s Map of the Invisible World. It may be perceived as a man’s book surely but is most of all a loyal indulgence for anyone who enjoys the nimble play of English vocabulary.

His first novel, The Harmony Silk Factory was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005.

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by Suzan Abrams

At the Dubai Literature Festival held at the InterContinental hotel in Dubai’s stylish Festival City in late February this year, we were often treated to author events – besides the main ballrooms – at a lavishly-constructed artic hideout aptly called The Igloo. (Please see picture below).

The Igloo stood like a lone lady in white, stately and if not a little huffy, at the bottom of the hotel, overlooking the gulf and pier. It masqueraded a stark white circus in the blaze of desert heat.

At one of the afternoon events in that wide carnival tent, an important Russian literary figure whose name I cannot remember but promise to look up, spoke with wit and humour and I shall add too, perfect humility, on the dire process of securing a literary agent or publisher. He would toss a coin for either of the two, depending on who was most likely to turn up first at his doorstep. This in the form of a long white envelope bearing happy news and a hopeful destiny change.

Yet before such a passion was construed, the writer had obtained the help of a local printer to publish his first work of fiction or rather satire. He described how he had happily escaped Moscow’s strict censorship rules but ended up turning his flat into a warehouse. The stacks of books were often accompanied by the cynical grumblings of his wife who while offering her husband gallant support couldn’t resist a snort or two at what she supposed to be his tomfoolery.

To advertise his literary merchandise, the writer stood in the village market armed with a jocular countenance, a homemade signboard and a mental forethought that the idea of crowd persuasion could prove as elementary as selling doughnuts. This turned out to be anything but; although the books did eventually thread their way into the hands of amused passers-by.

Later, reflecting on the industrious process as somewhat of a headache on hindsight, the writer then derived a kinder ambition from Barry Turner’s The Writer’s Handbook and a few other directories, copies of which he decided would prove a far more necessary investment.

In fact, he said he so relished the process – hours and hours – of providing the composition for serious and somewhat dignified query letters to agents and publishers, these of which rolled out into weeks on end; that he would soon act as apprentice to a default career carved out of a reluctant pastime.

He drafted so many letters, he can no longer remember the count.

Alas, to his dismay, on the day that the envelope bearing congratulatory news finally arrived – an agent had expressed deep curiosity and interest in his fiction and soon another agent and another and so on, the Russian writer realised with a sudden disappointment that his cheerful hobby had arrived at its grateful end and so too the contented lull.

Neverthless, he told us all, his regaled audience that he has never had to look back since.. Today, he stays one of Russia’s most successful contemporary authors, often invited worldwide to give talks and readings on his vividly sketched and much welcomed political travesty and witticism on the workings of his country’s Government.

The memory arrived as clear as day when I observed that the ever-friendly staff at Dublin’s Hodges Figgis on Dawson Street,  had just stocked the newly-arrived copies of the latest Barry Turner Writer’s Handbook 2010 from London, priced at 18 euro each.

Not least while containing a sunny disposition, this valuable directory rests as the perfect antidote to the aspiring writer, playwright, screenwriter or simply literary enthusiast, ready to face the daunting challenges that await the sticky world of publishing in the West, yet stay determined to be soothed by optimism and as a reward, a possible success.

Mr. Barry Turner, editor of the chunky updated directory that boasts a sophisticated layout has gone to town to explain the controversies, challenges and exciting revolutionary methods that currently surround the publishing trade in the West, while battling the recession.

For instance, Turner points out the usual arguments that e-books are destined to fail miserably, yet despite being costly, sales of e-books in the US have already increased by 50 per cent in a year when conventional book sales were static. Turner also updates the aspiring author on the Google age, the publisher’s brand, the author’s brand and so forth.

It appears too that the world may have moved on beyond a debut novelist’s website; that such sales techniques may now be considered stagnant and that the author needs to be out there making his/her presence heard. Did you know that everyday authors like Maeve Binchy and Martina Cole all hire individual public relation consultants besides the usual literary agents and publishing houses?

Turner has wisely divided  his directory into defined specifics where besides the usual updated information on British, Irish and American literary agents, publisher lists, regional newspapers, magazines and such, lie also additional categories on a detailed literary festival directory, international book fairs, public relations consultants, contests, organisations of interest to poets, packagers, picture syndicate libraries and so much more.

The Writer’s Handbook 2010’s closest rival  is AC Black’s long-established Writer’s & Artist’s Yearbook.  The 2010 version will be out in the shops on June 29.

For more information on the important thoughtful articles that pepper directory lists in The Writer’s Handbook, please click here.

Credit: Picture of The Igloo, Inter-Continental Hotel, Dubai Festival City, courtesy of ArabianBusiness.com.

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