Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » China http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 SOPHIE COOKE – Style vs Content http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/sophie-cooke-style-v-content/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/sophie-cooke-style-v-content/#comments Sat, 16 Mar 2013 14:06:27 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=3581 The Bookworm International Literary Festival, Beijing Saturday 16 March 2:00pm CST Style vs Content Keynote: Sophie Cooke. Panel discussion with Keith Gray and Zhang Yueran.]]> Sophie-Cooke360The Bookworm International Literary Festival, Beijing

Saturday 16 March 2:00pm CST

Style vs Content

Keynote by: Sophie Cooke. Panel discussion with Keith Gray & Zhang Yueran.

Author Biographies:

Sophie Cooke is a Scottish novelist, short story writer, poet, and travel writer. She was born in London in 1976. Her novels The Glass House, shortlisted for the Saltire First Book Of The Year Award, and Under The Mountain are both set in the Scottish Highlands. Cooke’s short stories have been published in anthologies and literary magazines in the UK and Continental Europe, and have been broadcast on BBC Radio. She won the Genomics Forum Poetry Prize and has been long-listed for the Montreal International Poetry Prize, the largest poetry prize in the world. Her travel writing appears in The Guardian newspaper. Cooke lives in Edinburgh.

Keith Gray was born and brought up in Grimsby, England. Labeled a “reluctant reader” at school, Gray discovered a love of reading and writing after he read Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners. His first novel Creepers was shortlisted for the 1997 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. He has gone on to write several award-winning books for children and young adults, including The Runner, which won the Nestle Smarties Book Prize (Silver Award) and Malarkey, shortlisted for the 2003 Booktrust Teenage Prize. Other recent books include Warehouse, set in the docklands of a small northern town, which was shortlisted for the Guardian Fiction Prize and Scottish Arts Council Book of the Year Award and won the 2003 Angus Book Award; The Fearful, shortlisted for the 2005 Catalyst Book Award and Ostrich Boys (2008), shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award, the 2009 Carnegie Medal, and the Booktrust Teenage Prize. As the first ever Virtual Writer in Residence for Scottish Book Trust, he commissioned and edited short stories by his favorite writers and produced online creative writing videos to encourage young writers everywhere. He lives in Edinburgh and claims he is still writing books for the reluctant boy reader he once was.

Zhang Yueran is regarded as one of China’s most influential young writers. She has published two short story collections: Sunflower Missing In 1890 (2003) and Ten Tales of Love (2004), and three novels: Distant Cherry (2004), Narcissus (2005) and The Promise Bird (2006), which was named the best saga novel on the 2006 Chinese Novel Ranking List. Each of her books has sold more than 300,000 copies. She has been the chief editor of the prestigious literary magazine Newriting since 2008. She has received many awards, such as the Chinese Press Most Promising New Talent Award (2005), “MAO-TAI Cup” People’s Literature Prize (2008), and the Spring Literature Prize (2006). She is currently studying for her doctoral degree in Ancient Chinese Literature.


http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/sophie-cooke-style-v-content/feed/ 1 Cooke in China – Keynote on Style vs Content http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/cooke-in-china-keynote-on-style-vs-content/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/style-vs-content/cooke-in-china-keynote-on-style-vs-content/#comments Sat, 16 Mar 2013 06:50:59 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4042 Sophie-Cooke360Style vs Content

Keynote address given by Sophie Cooke

First presented at The Bookworm International Literary Festival, Beijing

Sophie Cooke Keynote text: “Style versus Content, or: The Tao of Writing”

Ali Smith, in her wonderful speech on this topic of style versus content, proposed that we shouldn’t try to separate style from content. That the two are truly inseparable.

In my opinion – and of course everything I say here is simply my own opinion – style does. Content is. Style without content is vacant doing, meaningless activity. Content without style is unexpressed. Style is yang, content yin. They are opposites. Yet in harmony they create each other, and in the end become each other. So I agree with Ali, that it is impossible to conceive of one without the other. But it is very possible – desirable – to conceive of them as separate aspects of a whole, of writing in the sense of tao.

Why is it desirable to see these aspects separately? What does it matter, really, in a world troubled by global warming, unnecessary wars, soaring inequality, and unrestrained greed? Why are we here talking about style versus content in literature.

Let me quote from the great, late, poet, Adrienne Rich.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

I think we use stories to help us locate the shipwrecks. Knowing someone else has been here before us can make us braver, more able to shine a lamp into the proof of our own forgotten storms. Perhaps the reason why writing feels like discovery rather than creation, is because it is really an act of remembering what we know.

Language, style: these are how we communicate the content that we find, when we dive down to the wreck – the truth beneath the surface of things. It is pointless to go there without them. We need to be able to express what we have found. Retrieving that lost content is important because it is:

Amazing how the forgetting
enables deathly ruins to be reborn
the fortunate nourished by the decomposed

in the words of the imprisoned poet Liu Xiaobo. Remembering the truth about oppression helps us avoid becoming part of new injustices. Something that is difficult to do, because most societies contain unjust structures of privilege which seem natural or normal to us – or perhaps simply inevitable.

Ali also mentioned the courage a writer must have, to approach their work well. I agree. I would like to observe that to be stylish is not a courageous act. In fact, the more outrageous and apparently provocative your style, the more, as a writer or a fashion designer or a pop star, you will be celebrated. The courage is not for style. No. It is needed for the long, dark, lonely dive, down to the wreck. The content of the writing. To go there completely is a frightening thing. To fully witness your personal losses, and your shame and your vulnerability; and the scale of humanity’s tragedy. The space between the wrecks and the world in which you – or all of us – might not be drowned. Between the sunlit breathing surface and these depths where the truth lives; where things have happened.

But treasures, in that dark world, do prevail. We find the gifts of love and wisdom that sank inside the ships, under the weight of the storms. And we make our maps.

I would like to re-tell two stories from Greek mythology. Both are stories of seeing what should not be seen, of giving up one’s innocence. First there is Pandora. The first woman, sent to man as a punishment for his arrogance, with a box which she is forbidden to open. Of course – she opens it. And all the evils in the world fly out – death, disease, greed, war, famine. It is the end of Eden. But at the very end of this dreadful emanation, one last thing flutters from the jar – for it is really a jar, and not a box. This thing is hope. Hope comes last.

To quote from Liu Xiaobo again:

I am merely
a discarded wooden plank
powerless to resist the crushing of steel
still, I want to save you no matter if you’re
dead or still barely breathing, breathing.

As writers, we can say: what your heart knows, is true. Here are other hearts that felt the same. You’re not crazy, to have these hopes and dreams. Listen, and move.

The second story I wanted to re-tell is the story of Psyche and Eros.

Psyche’s husband Eros forbids her from seeing his face. He comes to her by night: she does not even know who he is. Psyche, the mind, is ignorantly wedded to Eros, the heart, and she is happy. But then her jealous sisters begin to whisper. Perhaps we can compare them to the jealous sisters of the Weaver Girl in Chinese mythology, when she goes to visit the Cowherd. What Psyche’s sisters tell her is this: that her husband is a ghastly monster, a semi-human beast – this is why he will not let her see him. They encourage her to wait til he is sleeping, after love-making, and then sneak up on him – with a lamp and a knife. A lamp to see, a knife to sever the awful head.

But what the mind sees is not a monster. Instead, she sees beauty. So beautiful, the heart, that the mind stands transfixed. A drop of oil falls from her lamp onto his skin, and wakes him. Furious at her disobedience, he leaves her. He will not return, because she looked at him.

For me, this is a truer story than Pandora’s. What we see when we look inside ourselves is not only the pain of ugly feelings. It is also the pain of impossible hopes, uncynical love.

Why does Eros forbid Psyche to see him? Why does the heart flee, when it is seen?

If writing has its yin and yang of content and style, of being and doing, the heart has a yin and yang also. The heart that does – the heart that wants, and loves, and desires – this heart is easy to see. It speaks to our minds all the time. It tells us what it wants, and asks us to get it. Go make safe the things that are dear to me! Get me things I can give to the ones I love. Avenge the wrongs done to my darlings. We know how to listen to this. We pursue our desires; we protect our homes and our children. We care for the people we love, and we seek to fulfil our ambitions. Perhaps we exact vengeance.

But the heart has another side we can not see. The heart that is. This heart does not come out: it is unexpressed, by itself. And this heart knows that it is crazy. Because it belongs in a world of peace and harmony, a world that’s in such perfect balance, no action is needed. It simply wants to be love. The quiet heart can’t be acknowledged by the mind, because it’s at odds with the heart the mind already knows. It is its opposite, and that other heart could devour it in an instant. The mind expected to see ugliness, and instead saw gentleness and beauty.

Psyche is, literally, broken-hearted. She begs the gods for a chance to regain Eros. She is set three seemingly impossible tasks by Eros’ mother, Aphrodite, which she completes. But there’s a final hurdle. She must go down to hell, and return with a box of beauty cream – which she must, on no account, open. You can see where this is going.

Psyche enters the underworld. The mind travels down into the depths: sees the faces of the shipwrecked. Psyche sees the truth. She gets the cream and she carries it back. She brings this treasure up to the sunlight. She’s out on the open fields. And she thinks – perhaps this cream will make me so beautiful, my lost heart will come back to me. So she lifts up the lid.

No demons fly out: no evils. Because she has already encountered them, underground. She has dealt with them. Instead, a gas that puts her to sleep. And this was always Aphrodite’s plan, of revenge. She knew that Psyche would open up the box; just as it was always known that Pandora would pull the cork from the jar. But Eros has been watching Psyche. He knows what she has been through, knows she has gone to hell and back, gone through the greatest loneliness and suffering – maybe now she can grasp him. He returns to her, and wakes her – how else? – with a kiss. Mind and hiding heart are consciously united. The mind, because of what it has been through, can finally see the yin heart and understand it. The yin heart knows and trusts this. So it reveals itself. No need, any more, for the mind to sneak up on it with tricks and suspicions.

We go to see, as writers and as readers, what we are discouraged from seeing in our everyday lives. We go looking for the truth beneath the image.

In our everyday lives, we are surrounded by lies. Lies in our personal lives, or our workplaces. Lies in our cultures and societies, in our media and in our educational establishments. Lies about our national histories, the airbrushing of empires; lies about our economic systems: the unimproveable rule by global capitalism; lies about the reasons for our wars, in which inconvenient states must be our enemies. In their specifics, in different locations and on different scales, the lies vary. They can be so ingrained in the worlds in which we have grown up, our busy clamouring hearts don’t notice the discrepancies. But our quiet hearts have always known, and if we want to see them they will send us out, until we have gone far enough from what we thought we knew, to see – the evidence of damage.

What we find is, partly, terrible. But it’s as we suspected!  The urges behind the crimes are in our own noisy hearts too: that’s how we knew we’d find them. The surprise is that we can also find the quiet heart, in the process of acknowledging the truth. We find hope, and forgotten dreams. Dreams we had when we were innocent. The part of us that experienced loss is the part that had those dreams, before it gave them up.

Our minds – and our speaking hearts – tell us to accept a situation of managed violence, injustice, and inequality. We’re only human, after all. What do we expect? To live in the world our hidden yin hearts dream of? Well – yes. A world without greed or violence. A place of balance.

This hope, which we find on the other side of truth, can revivify us even if our hearts are dead or barely breathing, breathing… Because the hope is common to all of us, it can be passed between us – in love, in words, in books.

So we read the maps, the ones gifted to us by others. We write new ones. We do it differently, because our style is our manner of living, as unique as our personal histories. We make our own versions of the truth. The truth itself, though – that is our shared source of content. The wreck and not the story of the wreck.

The relativists were right that truth belongs to to no-one in particular. Two things they forgot: firstly, if you follow it from the obvious tentacle of your life, to its centre, and return – there is hope; and secondly, the undefinable place at its centre belongs to all of us. Just because we can’t define something, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Copyright: Sophie Cooke, 2013

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LI ER – The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/li-er-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/li-er-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Sun, 10 Mar 2013 14:05:33 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=3578 The Bookworm International Literary Festival, Beijing Sunday 10 March 7:00pm CST The Future of the Novel Keynote speaker Li Er. Panel discussion with AD Miller and Zhu Wen.]]> Li-Er360The Bookworm International Literary Festival, Beijing

Sunday 10 March 7:00pm CST

The Future of the Novel

Keynote by: Li Er. Panel discussion with A.D. Miller & Zhu Wen.

Author Biographies:

Novelist and short story writer Li Er was born 1966 in Henan Province. He is the author of five story collections, two novels and approximately 50 novellas and short stories. His work appears regularly in Zuojia, Shouhuo, Renmin Wenxue and a variety of other mainland literary journals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel famously gave the German translation of his novel Cherry on a Pomegranate Tree as a gift to Premier Wen Jiabao. His  novels The Magician of 1919 and Truth and Variations, about the mired physical and psychological circumstances confronting revolutionary poet Ge Ren in the 1930s and 1940s are now available in English.

A.D. Miller was born in London in 1974. After studying literature at Cambridge and Princeton, he began writing travel pieces about America. Returning to London, he worked as a television producer before joining The Economist. Currently the magazine’s Britain editor, Miller also served as the magazine’s Moscow correspondent. He is the author of the acclaimed family history The Earl of Petticoat Lane. His first novel Snowdrops, a riveting story of erotic obsession, self-deception and moral free-fall set in post-communist Moscow, was one of the most successful debut novels in 2011, and was shortlisted for numerous literary awards including the Man Booker Prize, the Los Angles Times Book Awards and the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction. He lives in London with his wife Emma, daughter Milly and son Jacob.

Zhu Wen was born in Fujian Province in 1967 and spent his childhood in Jiangsu. After graduating from Dongnan University with a degree in engineering, he worked for five years in a thermal power plant (a subject he later revisited in the short story “Ah, Xiao Xie”). He began publishing his poetry in 1989. In 1994, Zhu Wen left his day job to become a full-time writer. Since then, he has published six collections of novellas and short stories, two collections of poetry and one novel. He first gained fame with his 1995 short story collection “I Love Dollars.” Zhu Wen is also an accomplished screenwriter and director: his directorial debut Seafood won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Venice Film Festival, and his second film South of the Clouds was awarded the NETPAC Prize at the 2004 Berlin Film Festival. He currently lives in Beijing.


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Er in China – Keynote on The Future of the Novel http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/er-in-china-keynote-on-the-future-of-the-novel/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/the-future-of-the-novel/er-in-china-keynote-on-the-future-of-the-novel/#comments Sun, 10 Mar 2013 11:00:05 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=4040 Li-Er-360The Future of the Novel

Keynote address given by Li Er

First presented at The Bookworm International Literary Festival, Beijing

Li Er Keynote Text: “Talking About the Future of the Novel in China”

The novel, as we know it today, though its origins are in myths, epic poems, fables, legends, is actually the product of capitalism and civic societies.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel came straight out and said it: The novel is the civic class’s epic poem, and it shows a realistic world using characteristics of the essay. In the 1930s, Mikhail Bakhtin further explored Hegel’s point. Bakhtin talked about the novel as the epic poem’s descendant and a burgeoning form, a new literary form that accompanied the development of the citizen society and the conflicts of capitalism. The novelistic form hadn’t yet fixed itself, and was full of unlimited possibilities. Bakhtin emphasized the subjectivity of the individual: Dostoyevsky’s fictional world is, to Bakhtin, the world of the individual. Each individual and each voice is accorded an equally important status; everyone has their say. There are as many voices as there are people.

But what’s interesting is, almost during the same period, Walter Benjamin published a famous piece of criticism called “The Storyteller.” Benjamin’s viewpoint was the opposite of Bakhtin’s. He thought that in a highly-developed society the value of the individual depreciates. He used a German proverb to explain: “When someone goes on a trip, he has something to tell.” Storytellers, people who have returned from afar, have tales, different knowledge and values, and divergent experiences. The German proverb is almost the same as a Chinese one, which goes, “A monk from afar knows how to chant.” The fundamentals of the novel are created by relating different experiences. However with the advent of capitalism and modern media, Benjamin believed that faraway horizons have been flattened, and differing experiences have cancelled each other out. How the faraway monk reads his scripture has all but been shown on television; on radio; on Weibo. In other words, the idea that novels have a duty to express individual experience has almost lost its reason to exist. This deeply saddened Benjamin. He went on to say that, with the development of the media, people no longer needed to learn about the world or enhance their accomplishments by reading works of literature. Bad news has become good news, and the worst news the best news. Thus people let an increasing amount of negative news into their lives, and only the worst and most evil will arouse our interest. When people aren’t getting to know the world through literature but through the news, they become more superficial, and contemporary society becomes an “uncivilized civilization.”

Bakhtin and Benjamin’s assessments of literature are obviously tied to the context of their lives: when Bakhtin was studying Dostoyevsky’s novels and emphasizing the individual, he had just returned from exile imposed by Stalin. And when Benjamin wrote “The Storyteller,” he was just beginning a life on the run from Hitler. In this sense, critics’ assessment of novels and their history are closely connected to their own experiences. The implementation of their criticism could, however, strike through the limitations of their own beliefs. Bakhtin, a Marxist critic, had deep feelings for capitalist civilization; similarly, Benjamin, another so-called Marxist critic, actually cherished the classical period. But what’s more interesting is despite their opposing points of views they had this commonality: they both emphasized the value and the subjectivity of the individual.

Everyone knows that, compared to when Bakhtin and Benjamin were still alive, the current circumstances of Chinese society are more complicated. This complexity is more than my novelist colleagues in the west can imagine. We can say wholeheartedly that whatever crime and punishment Bakhtin saw in Dostoyevsky’s novels is ubiquitous in China, while at the same time the influence of mass media now wholly permeates people’s lives. Chinese people who live in the remote countryside receive information from the media practically simultaneously to people living in Beijing, London, or New York. Censorship in publishing and the media has, by and large, no effect on the reception of information. Chinese society has become a combination of premodern, modern, and postmodern societies. It’s just like a sandwich.

The value of individual existence has never been as strong. But the power of the system, the power of capital, the power of industrialization and technology, has formed a new system-level force that can devour anything new, and is constantly draining the individual’s subjectivity. Facing it is like facing a dinosaur of a system; it exists as a gigantic alienation of the self. People in these circumstances – or more specifically “the Chinese people’s circumstances” – might make you laugh out loud. I’m told that laughter is the highest wisdom of the human race. But this laughter, better yet, this sound of wisdom, might as well be a sigh of pity.

For Chinese novelists, the complex problem is this. Because of the affirmation of the individual’s value, story, plot, the characters, the personalities, their actions, fate, the completeness of incidents, the law of causality – these classic narrative modes remain effective still. But on the other hand, when a person’s subjectivity has been erased and is made to live with the realities I’ve described, these narrative modes are not real enough. The contemporary Chinese novelist, if he is a serious novelist, must then look for a new narrative method in order to establish a corresponding relationship between the novel and present social realities, and must respond as best as he can to the complexity of Chinese reality. These responses first of all arise out of my questioning of how to preserve my true self in contemporary society. What kind of method is there to use in order to preserve at least a shred of the individual’s subjectivity? How to converse with others using personal experience is, I believe, the most crucial reason for the existence of the novel under our current heightened systematization. In particular, this is the most potent motivation for continued self-regeneration in the novel form.

Copyright: Li Er. February 25th 2013, Beijing

Translated by Alice Xin Liu

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