Boundless Festival Recap

On Saturday, I attended Boundless, a festival focused on Indigenous and culturally diverse Australian writers! The lineup of artists was incredible and it was really nice to see friends (including Annie, Glaiza and Wai) again ^_^ My eyes and fingers were slightly dying at the end of the day from live-tweeting for Pencilled In, but it was worth it!

Events I attended:

  • Deadly and Hectic: a conversation between Indigenous Australian and migrant writers from Sweatshop, a Western Sydney literary movement. Some really thoughtful discussion regarding representation. Thread of live-tweets here.
  • Shaping the Horizon: a discussion of diverse new voices and the future of the Australian literary landscape with Benjamin Law, Ellen van Neerven, Michael Mohammed Ahmad, Julie Koh and Peter Polites (!!!). Really enjoyable discussion; I wish I’d caught more of their recommendations! Thread of live-tweets here.
  • All in the Family: discussion of how to write family stories, seeking permission and how to represent them. Loved all of the panellists’ thoughts but as always, Benjamin Law was amazing. Thread of live-tweets here.

 

Overall, it was really refreshing to see so many diverse artists, with thoughtful discussions about representation which I learned a lot from. Definitely hoping that this is just the first of many festivals.

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Recent Recs

So the #DivBookRec hashtag led to some really great recommendations being shared around Twitter today!

 

I thought I’d add to this and use it as an opportunity to talk about some diverse books I’ve read recently that I really enjoyed, but haven’t reviewed (yet). The books in this post all happen to be by Asian authors (though note it’s only the first that has Asian rep) and they all happen to have been part of my experience of exploring books outside of YA – I may try different themes for future posts 🙂

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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Summary: The book involves two parallel storylines: one is the story of 16-year-old Japanese girl Nao, struggling with family issues and bullying, and seeking to write the story of her great-grandmother. The other involves an author, Ruth, who picks up Nao’s notebook after it washed up on her shore and suspects it may be debris from the 2011 tsunami. Along with her, the reader progressively discovers Nao’s story.

Why I recommend it: A Tale for the Time Being really fulfilled my need for more books that go beyond the YA I’ve mostly been reading up until now, but with a coming-of-age element. Nao’s voice was captivating with a strong sense of realism, and there were incredible, meaningful explorations of time, family, sacrifice, the writer-reader relationship and experience, with multiple gut-wrenching moments and an ending that left me thinking after I’d finished. Thanks to Aentee @ Read at Midnight who put this on my radar!

I am a time being. Do you know what a time being is? Well, if you give me a moment, I will tell you. A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

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Summary: Covering many years, the story starts with four young friends making their way in New York City. One of them, Jude, struggles with his heavy past and the way it haunts him throughout his life and his relationships with others.

Why I recommend it: I was really hesitant to read A Little Life in the beginning – multiple people said things along the lines of ‘it will destroy you’ in terms of being a heavy emotional experience. That’s certainly true and even months later, I feel like I’m still processing everything within it, but it does a disservice to some of the most touching parts of the book – the friendships, the father-son relationship between Harold and Jude, the beautifully empathetic way it explores Jude’s character, the way it made me appreciate so many aspects of life in a new way. Powerful, resonant, and has definitely stayed with me. Thanks to my friends Sean and Wai for recommending it!

You won’t understand what I mean now, but someday you will: the only trick of friendship, I think, is to find people who are better than you are—not smarter, not cooler, but kinder, and more generous, and more forgiving—and then to appreciate them for what they can teach you, and to try to listen to them when they tell you something about yourself, no matter how bad—or good—it might be, and to trust them, which is the hardest thing of all. But the best, as well.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Summary: Kathy is a 31-year-old carer, reflecting on her time at Hailsham school in the English countryside and the friendships she had then. Secrets about her and her friends’ fate, and their school, are slowly alluded to and revealed.

Why I recommend it: Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing was powerful in its simplicity, and although the book explores confronting themes (it’s better to go into it not knowing much), it does so in a subtle way that leaves all the larger an impact for it. I liked the blend of literary fiction and social commentary. Also, Kazuo Ishiguro just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, so now’s a great time to pick up one of his books 🙂

It had never occurred to me that our lives, which had been so closely interwoven, could unravel with such speed. If I’d known, maybe I’d have kept tighter hold of them, and not let unseen tides pull us apart.

Have you read any of the books here? What were your thoughts? Do you have any recommendations for someone like me who’s interested in (preferably diverse) books that go beyond the scope of YA but have crossover/coming-of-age themes?

Lit CelebrAsian Launch and Updates

Lit CelebrAsian Launch

Everyone, I have something really exciting to share with you today! Remember in May when I was part of a group of book bloggers hosting #AsianLitChat and #AsianLitBingo? I’m now part of the group of co-hosts for Lit CelebrAsian, a permanent expansion of these two initiatives, along with a book club and many more things to come! Here’s a snippet from our introduction post – check out our website for more details.

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Welcome to Lit CelebrAsian! We are a group of bookworms and diverse book bloggers aiming to uplift Asian voices in literature. Due to the support and appreciation that followed both #AsianLitChat and #AsianLitBingo, we wanted to create a space to share more books and discussion related to literature by Asian authors. And thus, Lit CelebrAsian was born!

We want to highlight Asian voices through features and annual events that are open to all readers. Beyond Asian representation, on social media, we aim to boost the many different marginalized voices, platforms and communities with similar goals towards equality in publishing.

Updates

It’s obviously also been…over two months since I last made a blog post here! I’m sorry for completely abandoning this blog and for half-disappearing from Twitter with no warning – the short answer is that life got in the way, and I’m still unable to get back into a regular blogging schedule at this stage, although I’d like to … eventually!

For now, I’m going to focus on assisting with the Lit CelebrAsian iniatives 🙂 You can find me co-running our Instagram account – we have quite a few things planned that I’m really excited for. Hope to see you there 🙂

July TBR and Writing Plans

Everyone, I’m back! 😀 The past month has just been study, study, study for me – it’s good to be free from it (for now). I’m still pretty tired and recovering, so will be getting back into things slowly, but here are my writing/reading plans for this month.

 

TBR: July

High Priority
  • The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig – I started this in May for #AsianLitBingo and didn’t get through the whole thing, but I was really enjoying the writing and setting (historical Hawaii), so will aim to finish it in the next few days.
  • Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield, Marsh and Me by Martine Murray, and God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen – all of these are review books that have been sitting around for way too long!
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – this is my friend’s favourite book, and after listening to a podcast of Yanagihara’s closing address from SWF 2016 (link), I’d really like to start on this!
Other books I’d like to get to
  • Nora and Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor – ordered this book recently and it sounds incredible (Peter Pan-inspired, linked in with the Japanese-American internment during WW2).
  • The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke – I’ve kept meaning to read this after borrowing it from Glaiza back in January.

Writing Plans

  • A few commissioned blog posts over the next week
  • Continuing to work on a short story I got partway through earlier this year – historical fiction about the Immigration Restriction Act, family relationships, and identity. Lots of rethinking and reworking ahead, but I’m looking forward to finishing it 🙂
  • Potentially starting another short story that’s surrealist/magical realism and draws on Chinese folklore about the moon
  • Various editing work for uni/other publications

Misc

  • This doesn’t come out where I am until the end of July, but I’m looking forward to finally seeing the film adaptation of A Monster Calls
  • #YAFanFest on July 20th – looking forward to seeing friends and authors there!
Have you read any of the above books before? How was June for you? What are your plans for July?

May Wrap-Up + Hiatus in June

Noted Festival

In Canberra on 6th & 7th May. I hadn’t been to Canberra since my school excursion in Year 10 (aaaages ago) and it was so pretty to experience in autumn. Also, really nice to be able to catch up with friends there again ^_^ Highlights:

  • Seeing Jenevieve Chang’s event, where she talked about her memoir The Good Girl of Chinatown. Her thoughts on the theme of running away throughout the book, the city of Shanghai and her grandmother’s stories were fascinating. Really looking forward to reading the book!
  • Listening to the readings + music at the event Mixtape Memoirs. So hard to describe it, let alone in a way that does it justice, but I was captivated.
  • Delivering a kids’ storytelling workshop – I think I handled it okay! It’s good to be able to have that as part of my experience now.
  • The independent publishing fair – so many zines and other artistic stalls around, and my amazing friends Zhi and Shu-Ling sold REALLY well!

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Sydney Writers’ Festival

I went to three events on the YA day on Saturday, as well as an event on Sunday, and I really loved listening to all the speakers. Sorry about the lack of the photos, I was so tired on both days I didn’t take any!

  • Mariko Tamaki Talks the Talk: in conversation with Mariko Tamaki, not just about dialogue but other aspects of her creativity too. She was a really engaging speaker! See here for a thread of live-tweets by Emily (@UncoverAllure)
  • Defying Expectations: on the stereotypes faced by women writers, and countering them. Absolutely incredible and really thoughtful comments from all the panellists. Thread of live-tweets here.
  • Fresh Voices from Western Sydney – A Showcase of Real Talk: spoken word performances by high school students from Western Sydney. I seriously have no words to describe how incredible it was. As far as I can remember, every single one of the performers addressed something to do with identity and/or social issues (body image, consent, prejudice, class, etc.) – which was so inspiring to see.
  • Borders of Our Writing: discussion of non-English traditions in the artists’ writing. Sad that Maxine Beneba Clarke couldn’t make it, but this definitely made me even more interested in reading Rajith Savanadasa’s Ruins. A few of the audience questions at the end were insensitive, and/or frustrating – but that’s for a longer conversation regarding writers’ festivals and access. Live-tweet thread here.

#AsianLitBingo

It was so good to be able to co-host this initiative to promote Asian books and authors during May! Highlights:

  • Being part of an amazing group of passionate bloggers who pulled the initiative together so beautifully; especially the incredible work by Shenwei (@theshenners), the creator, and Aentee (@readatmidnight), who did the amazing graphics.
  • Seeing so many people pick up books with Asian rep by Asian authors which I usually don’t see enough people talking about
  • Interviewing my all-time favourite author, Stacey Lee, here, and encouraging more people to pick her books up
  • #AsianLitChat with some amazing authors and readers and involving fantastic discussions! I was a bubble of happiness throughout and afterwards. The Storify recaps for the chats (put together by the incredible efforts of Glaiza) can be found here.
  • Last but not least, reading incredible Asian books for the challenge! I only finished two books, unfortunately >.< (The Other Shore and The Emperor’s Riddle, both of which I loved) but it was a lot of fun putting together my TBR for it and being motivated to dive in!

Books read in May

  1. The Other Shore by Hoa Pham, a haunting story about a Vietnamese girl who gains psychic powers and the consequences of this. Filled with political and spiritual intrigue (for #AsianLitBingo – SE Asian MC)
  2. The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang, about a Chinese-American girl on a holiday in China, and uncovering the mystery of an emperor’s hidden treasure. This was a lot of fun and I loved the setting + characters! (for #AsianLitBingo – Free Space)
  3. Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King is the story of a teen artist, Sarah, going through what she calls an ‘existential crisis’ and uncovering painful family secrets. Powerful and heartbreaking.
  4. Read halfway through The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig – a time-travelling ship goes back to Hawaii, where Nix Song was born, and her father (the captain) seeks to reunite with her mother through any means possible. I’m loving the writing and setting so far! Will finish it after exams.

Blog wrap-up

Hiatus in June

This is to let everyone know that I’m going to have to put both my blog and Twitter on hiatus for the whole of June. I’ve got exams coming up (including one which is worth 80% of my final mark – so. much. fun.), some writing deadlines still to meet, and other life stuff going on.

I dislike having to put things completely on hold (usually I have a lot of posts scheduled and just spread them out slowly if I’m too busy), but I’ve got absolutely no choice this time… Use my contact form if you’d like to message me, otherwise I’ll see you in July!

Art, Family, Heartbreak – Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

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Goodreads Link

Publisher’s Website

Thank you to Text Publishing for the review copy!

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King was a heart-breaking and a cleverly written book. I especially appreciated the unflinchingly powerful ways it looked at the pain within a fragile family, and the thematic role of art and originality throughout the book.

The story is primarily told from the point of view of 16-year-old Sarah, who is going through what she refers to as an ‘existential crisis’. She’s suddenly stopped going to school, is unable to create art, feels dazed and not-quite-right – and she’s started encountering past and future (10- and 23-year-old) versions of herself as she wanders aimlessly around the city.

The answers are deep within the darkest truths of her family, regarding the relationship between her parents and her brother, who left them and whom she hasn’t contacted, since something happened when they went on a family vacation to Mexico six years ago. Through Sarah’s present point of view, the story of what happened six years ago, and her mother’s perspective, the lies and pain are heartbreakingly revealed.

Firstly, A.S. King’s writing was really engaging. The narrative was immersive (I finished it really quickly) and so clearly conveying how dazed Sarah was and, later on, the pain she was going through with powerful, haunting writing. The strong writing extended to the use of tension throughout the book. The revelations here, at least to me, weren’t completely surprising twists, but were heavily built up beforehand, and I saw certain things coming. What this did was increase the sense of foreboding, which was really effective considering the serious subject matter, and made the emotional and visceral impact hit harder when the truths about what happened in Sarah’s family and regarding her art came to the surface.

I think about still lifes…that’s what I had. A still life. The more I pay attention, the more I see I was wrong.

The multiple points of view/story threads throughout were also used really well – the past was woven in really well with the revelations in the present. Sarah’s mother’s point of view, which I really appreciated the insight of, was gut-wrenching, empathetic and relevant

There were magical realism elements in the story through Sarah (and later on, others) encountering her past and future selves. It was a clever way to move the story forward, forcing her to reflect and question on who she was and would become, as well as simply being interesting and amusing through the interactions with her past and future selves (e.g. meeting other people and all coming together at once, at one point later in the book).

When you learn the truth late, you doubt everything that ever happened in your whole life because your whole life was a lie.

I loved how the protagonist was an artist, the way the narrative delved into her difficulties associated with this, and the way it was tied it in to the rest of the plot. The themes regarding  originality in the book were unique and often relatable. We rarely, and I would love to see more of, such stories regarding art-specific concepts like originality (the most prominent here), the ups and downs of creation, comparing yourself to others, aspiration, the power of art and its role in our lives.

“You know what art is?” he asks. “Art is the truth.”

Definitely recommended, and be prepared for the heavier themes and emotional impact.

Highlight for content warning (NOTE – potential spoiler) domestic violence/abuse

Have you read Still Life with Tornado, or any of A.S. King’s books? Australians – are you going to any of her upcoming events here? Are there any other books you’ve read where an artist is the protagonist?

Interview with Stacey Lee (an #AsianLitBingo Feature)


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Everyone, I have an AMAZING post to share with you today! In case you missed it, I’m one of the co-hosts for #AsianLitBingo, an initiative to promote Asian books and authors, this month (more details are on Shenwei’s announcement post here). As part of this, my co-hosts and I will be featuring some incredible authors on our blogs, and today I’ll be sharing an interview with (my favourite! author! ever! 😍 *heart eyes*) Stacey Lee.

For those who aren’t aware, Stacey Lee is the author of the historical fiction books Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon from Putnam/Penguin, and the contemporary/magical realism novel The Secret of a Heart Note from Katherine Tegan Books. Outrun the Moon, my personal favourite, just came out in paperback; see more at the end of this post. Her next book, which will be out in 2018, is Dear Miss Sweetie – about “a Chinese teenager in 1890s Atlanta who moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a wildly popular newspaper advice column”, and I can’t wait to read it!

Welcome, Stacey!

Q: Outrun the Moon has just released in paperback, and it won some incredible awards in 2016 – Blast from the Past in the Book Shimmy Awards, the young adult Asia/Pacific American Literature Award (as well as being on many other lists/nominations!). How does everything feel, one year later?

Thank you! It feels wonderful. My characters become like real people to me. I feel like Mercy is out, roaming the hills, getting these done.

Q: What are some of your favourite a) historical books, and b) books by Asian authors with Asian characters?

Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack series, Linda Sue Park’s A Single Shard. I loved Cynthia Kadohata’s Kira Kira and Padma Venkatraman’s Climbing the Stairs, and recently read an ARC of Julie Dao’s Forest of a Thousand Lanterns that I loved!

Yes! I love The Book Thief as well, and Kira-Kira‘s my favourite book from childhood, it had such a powerful impact on me when I first read it (Outrun the Moon being my favourite book from my teens, haha). I’m super excited for FOTL as well, and will definitely have to check those other ones out!

Q: Were you always interested in history from a young age? If not, how did you become interested in it and writing historical fiction?

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Sadly, no. I loved historical fiction, but history for me consisted of facts and dates and I had no memory for it. I consider myself a bit of a bathtub historian. I immerse myself in a particular time period in order to write the story, and then I drain the tub to make room for incoming knowledge for the next story. That said, I have to admit that studying history is a little bit of addictive! I’m that person who sees a plaque by the side of the road giving the history of a particular tree stump and I have to stop to read it.

That’s lovely! I’m similar in that I wasn’t really interested in it in high school and only did the compulsory subjects. The personal and emotional side of historical fiction is what I find really compelling, and got me invested in it.

Q: How would you encourage someone who’s resistant to, or hasn’t previously tried, reading historical fiction to do so?

I think more people would read historical fiction if we just relabeled it as ‘adventure’ because that’s what it is, it’s an experience into a world we would not otherwise have access to. Feelings are universal and timeless and a good book will connect us to characters regardless of time period.

I love this answer – will definitely share this with my friends next time I’m recommending your books, and other historical fiction ones 🙂

Q: Do you have any stories in mind, or would you ever be interested in, writing historical fiction that’s set outside of the US (e.g. in China)?

It has crossed my mind! 😉

Q: What are three interesting things you’ve learnt whilst researching for Dear Miss Sweetie?

My story takes place in 1890 and Coca Cola had just been invented. To buy a drink, you’d go into the pharmacy and sit down at a counter and they would pour you soda water with the secret syrup for a nickel. The bottles came out much later.

Bicycles, ‘freedom machines,’ were just starting to become popular in the 1890’s, and was emblematic of the growth of women’s rights/suffrage.

Chinese people first came to the South replace the freed slaves as field workers.

I didn’t think it was possible for me to be even more excited about the book, but I am now! This is fascinating.

Q: What changes would you like to see happen regarding representation of marginalised voices and characters in publishing?

We need a constant flow of new stories with diverse voices. Keep it coming! To get there, we need more diversity in publishing at all levels, and we need vigilance by gatekeepers to make sure they’re buying/recommending the books that include everyone. I would love to see diverse stories get the same kind of marketing that more mainstream stories get. You can’t read a book you’ve never heard about.

So well-said 🙂

Q: What has the experience of writing ownvoices stories been like for you?

There’s not that much thought that goes into it, actually. I think that’s the beauty of writing #ownvoices, it comes rather naturally.

That’s so great to hear! It really shows in your writing, too – I love how compelling your characters’ voices are, and how they’re so uniquely themselves.

Q: If you had a time machine, which time(s) and place(s) in the past would you go to and why?

I would love to see what the dinosaurs looked like (but I would need the time machine to be supremely reliable because I would not want to be stuck there!). I’d also love to see what the Chinese admiral and explorer Zheng He saw sailing his treasure ships between South/Southeast/West Asia and Africa in 1400. None of the ships remain, but they were humongous— six-times the size of Columbus’ biggest ship (the Santa Maria).

Wow, I’d never heard of Zheng He before! That’s incredible.

Q:  Finally – there’s a fair bit of food and cooking involved in Outrun the Moon! What are some of your favourite foods/dishes, including Chinese dishes? 😀

I’m a big fan of dim sum. My favorites growing up were always the fried taro dumplings, steamed sticky rice in lotus leaves, and fried sesame balls with lotus paste. One of my favorite things about Chinese food is the soups, actually. Chinese people don’t waste anything, and bones were always made into nutritious soups. Now they have fancy ‘bone broth’ at the upscale groceries, and my mother in law would roll her eyes at that! Chinese have been cooking and drinking bone broth for thousands of years.

I am feeling so hungry now, haha. Dim sum’s great; I also love shāomài, green onion pancakes, pan fried pork buns, and just about all noodles. (sorry the pictures below aren’t accurate to all the foods listed, I had to make do with free stock photos xD Hope this inspires everyone to go out and eat Chinese food anyway! :P)

Thank you for your time, Stacey! Everyone, be sure to check out her books, as well as her website, Twitter and Instagram profiles.

Thank you so much, Wendy! Your questions were so fun. 🙂

About Outrun the Moon

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San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, a historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Though fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the army to bring help—she still has the “bossy” cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenage girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Book Depository (Hardcover, Paperback)

Amazon (Hardcover, Paperback)

Have you read any of Stacey Lee’s books before? What did you think of them, and what she said here? How’s #AsianLitBingo going for you?