Literary Interlude


Hi, I am back! After being MIA for the last many weeks.

My excuse, proffered in my last post, was that I don’t write well when I travel (which happens to be true.) The analogy used was that about not mixing whiskey and water when I drink (which does not happen to be true.) What is undeniable is that I didn’t write a single word the whole time I was gone. Except for a paper on some church issue, which I co-authored over the Internet with two fellow committee members. But that doesn’t count, as it isn’t creative writing – it’d better not be!

What in the world was I doing, if not writing? You’ve probably heard of writers who claim not to be able to survive a day without writing. I’m glad to report I am not one of those; I did very well, thank you very much.

Except for meal-times with family and friends, and play-time with the grand-kids, I was literally on a literary interlude. Time for reading. Or doing anything remotely connected with reading and/or writing. Listening, observing, musing, contemplating, reflecting, and yes, even dreaming and fantasising. Just not the physical act of writing.

It was a time for reading leisurely, pleasurably, indulgently. I was able to lose myself within the pages of Anthony Doerr’s “All The Light We Cannot See”, following the travails of the blind French girl, Marie-Laure Le Blanc and the German young man, Werner Pfenning, in Nazi-occupied France, until their paths collide in Saint Malo. And journey with “Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki”, whom Haruki Murukami seemingly tried, cunningly unsuccessfully, I think, to portray as the insipid protagonist whom the reader would not likely be emotionally attached to. As well as random short stories that I had wanted to, but have yet to, read more of, by the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Vladimir Nobokov, Jhumpa Lahiri, Donald Barthelme, amongst others. Including re-reading, for the umpteen time, Hemingway’s “The Moveable Feast’.

Surfing the local national newpapers, a different one each day, to get a broader perspective of what’s really happening in the UK, and around the world. Yes, there are choices – lots, and credible ones too. On Sundays, it was a luxury to be lured and sucked into the many absorbing features in the supplements of whichever paper I was conferring my attention on that day.

Browsing in the many bookshops, or the flea-market used-books bins, is always a delightful preoccupation. Also a potentially hazardous one. Trying to resist the temptation to acquire more books than there is space at home to hold them  had not always been successful endeavours. Compared to previous outings, this time, the urge had been fairly muted, though not exactly neutered. I ended up with only three more books in my homeward-bound luggage – two delightful new works by Clive James (Latest Readings) and Steven Pinker (The Sense Of Style) and a Penguin Classics reissue of Saul Bellow’s  Collected Stories”.

The pièce de résistance was the London Literature Festival. I had tickets for ten events, went to eight, missed one because I brought along the wrong ticket, and skipped one to attend a party with people I dearly wanted to be with. The highlight of the Festival has to be the 2015 Man Booker Prize Readings on the final night. This year it was special because all the six nominees were present to give readings from their respective nominated books.

For me, it was a singular treat to see Anne Tyler in person and listen to her read and speak – I had been a fan since “The Accidental Tourist”, Breathing Lessons” and “Saint Maybe“. I mean no disrespect to her younger fellow nominees – it’s just that I’m not familiar with their works. I’m sure they are all very good and well-deserving to merit Man Booker nominations, but I just simply haven’t read any of them. It was definitely a pleasure and a privilege to be introduced to each of their latest works, by way of a personal reading. Marlon James, Tom McCarthy, Hanya Yanagihara, Sunjeev Sahota, and Chigoze  Obioma, I’m sure I’ll get down to reading you some time soon. Marlon, I already have a copy of your “A Brief History of Seven Killings.” For the rest of you, I want you to know that “Satin Island”, “A Little Life”, “The Year of the Runaways”, “The Fisherman”, and yes, “A Spool of Blue Thread”, are all on my radar.

Sadly, the reading list grows longer, the pile gets taller, and the head of the back-log queue recedes further.

Even before I have had the chance to get comfortably over the jet-lag, the Singapore Writers Festival 2015 was already in full swing. So many new titles are being launched this year, and so many anthologies are being issued to celebrate SG50, that the “must read” list continues to stretch further.

I do intend to get to the bottom of this. That is the desire anyway. Not that I have any half-assed plan for how to get it done.

As we speak (blog), SWF 2015 continues. I’m glad that my session had been scheduled for the earlier part of last week, so I can now just sit back and watch others labour. My session, entitled “Stories From The Edge – Drawing Inspiration From The Streets of Singapore”, was a panel discussion in which I was paired with my fellow countryman, Prabhu Silvam, and teamed up with Madeleine Thien, from Canada, as moderator. It went reasonably well, so I was told.

Back to writing itself, I must confess that during the period, I did think about writing a short story, which I have to submit by, the end of the month, for an international anthology. But that was as far as I got – thought about it. Today it remains a blip in my head. Nothing has been written. I couldn’t even get anywhere with the application I had to submit to the NAC (National Arts Council) for a grant to attend the international conference to which I had been invited to attend next year! So much for the writing.

And yes, I did think about this blog too. Whether to abort or to abide. Helming a blog requires a great commitment of time, time which otherwise could be devoted to writing the next book. I guess you can tell which way I’m leaning towards. For the meantime, I will stick to my original schedule of posting at fortnightly intervals instead of weekly. My next posting should be around November 20th. Look out for it.

Since you have read this post this far, it would be nice if you could drop me a note. If nothing else, just to let me know that you have noticed that I’m alive and back. And that you do care a hoot. Or two !