Graffiti and Numerology in Leicester

The I Ching, it seems, gets everywhere. This morning, as I was walking into town here in Leicester, I spotted some strange symbols painted onto a building-site hoarding outside Tesco, just by the park. The first thing that caught my eye was an image of the trigram dui () ☱, or ‘lake’.

 

Lake

 

In case of any ambiguity, next door was written the word ‘lake’, as follows…

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Four Great Mysteries

Before coming to China, a lot of friends said, “I look forward to reading your blog posts.” But as it has been so very busy here — fourteen events in as many days — I have simply not had time to write very much. Anyway, I’m now in Suzhou for part three of my mini book tour, and it’s a lovely city to spend time in. The air quality feels better here, and you can actually see the sky.

Tonight I’m doing a talk at the Bookworm. The talk is going to be called “Four Great Mysteries.” The mysteries are these:

  1. What is the I Ching?
  2. What does the I Ching mean? What is it for?
  3. How does a foolish and ignorant laowai end up getting mixed up in all this stuff?
  4. What kind of a freakish book is this Sixty-Four Chance Pieces anyway? Fiction? Non-fiction? Philosophy? Travel-writing? An unholy mess? None of the above? All of the above?

I’m going to be making notes on all of these deep mysteries on the train to Shanghai this morning. In Shanghai I’m having a swift lunch with my publisher before I head back here (sorry, Shanghai friends — I’ll have to catch up wtih you another time…) for tonight’s event. Come along if you are in Suzhou.

Making Books, Making Ourselves

A couple of days ago I arrived in Beijing, and I hit the ground running, with two events yesterday — a school visit and a novel-writing workshop – and three events today. So there’s not much time in between the blog. But I thought I’d post this picture of my new book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: it’s hugely exciting to see get my hands on a real, physical copy.

 

Chance Pieces

 

The book is so hot off the press that I haven’t got my author copies yet. This one is borrowed from the people at the Beijing Bookworm Literature Festival, where I’m launching the book later this evening (the launch is just next door at iQiYi cafe, where I’m writing this). So it’s not yet generally available, although if you are in Beijing, come to the Bookworm and buy yourself a copy. For the rest of the world, it may be a couple of weeks before it filters through to distributors.

Writing books is strange. Before I started on this project, I hadn’t planned to get involved in all of this thinking about China and Chinese thought. I had never been to China. I didn’t speak a word of Chinese. But as readers and writers, the books we get involved with shape us. And for me, it has never been more true than in the case of this particular book. We make things. And in making things, these things in turn make and remake us.

Anyway, come along to the launch tonight if you are in Beijing. And if not, I’ll post again on this blog when the book is available on general release.

Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: the China Book Tour

I’m currently busy with packing my bags for China, and heading back to Beijing after an unforgivably long period (almost five years!), to take part in the Bookworm Literary Festival / 老书虫文学节 (see http://bookwormfestival.com). I’ve got a pretty busy schedule: something like fourteen events in as many days, in Beijing, Chengdu, Suzhou and Ningbo. It’s taken some organisational ingenuity to get there, but now everything is fixed, and I’m looking forward to being back in China again.

In particular, I’m immensely excited to be launching my novel-of-sorts, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, published by Earnshaw Books, in Beijing on the 18th March at iQiyi cafe. This has been a project that is a long time in the making, and I’m not only delighted it has found a home with the excellent Earnshaw books, but also tremendously excited that it’s first launch will be over in Beijing.

There’s a full list of events on my events page, or on the Bookworm’s website (other than the Ningbo events, which are being hosted by the University of Nottingham in Ningbo), so if you are in town, then please do come along and say hello.

I’ll update this blog as I go along, to let you know how I get on with the tour. But between now and then, there’s a lot of last-minute organising to be done (not to mention our closer-to-home States of Independence festival for small and independent press publishing).

Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: Machines, Mathematics, Organs and Pandas

I’ve just about finished the proofs for Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, my I Ching-based novel-of-sorts, ready to send off to Earnshaw Books. All being well, I’ll be launching the book in a few weeks at the Beijing Bookworm book festival. But just to whet the appetite, here’s an extract from the book’s index. All novels, I feel, should be equipped with an index…

I’ll post again when the book is finally published.

yijing_index

The library and the apocalypse

This evening I heard the news that Birmingham’s wonderful new library is going to be savagely cutting its opening hours, and laying off just under one hundred members of staff. This is a huge blow for the city that for many years I was proud to call my home, and it is part of a much wider horrible hollowing out of the public sphere that is happening across the country.

I don’t have much to say about this, except to register my enormous sadness at this development, and my utter contempt for the system that makes it seem ideologically uncontentious to claim that one of the richest countries on earth can no longer afford to provide public services such as libraries. In my recently published Complete Write a Novel Course, I wrote the following:

Libraries are wonderful and miraculous things. If libraries didn’t exist, and somebody said to you, “I’ve just come up with a brilliant idea for a massive book-house where you can go free of charge, and sit all day and read stuff, and take books home for short periods without paying a penny, and talk to knowledgeable, well-informed experts who will help you find just what you are looking for,” people would say that such an idea would never catch on, and that if it did, it would bring the entire capitalist world crashing down apocalyptically.

This book has only been published for a few weeks, but I wonder if this passage already makes it look quaint and old-fashioned. Because the apocalypse is taking place here and now. But it is not the capitalist world that is coming crashing down. It is the libraries. And the reason perhaps is this: when the logic of capitalism becomes the only game in town, it becomes unthinkable that such utopian spaces should be permitted to exist at all.

Some jet-lagged reflections on travel

I’m a bit jet-lagged and weary, after a long journey back from India that has involved (in this order) a rickshaw, a train, a taxi (one of Kolkata’s glorious yellow Ambassadors), a lift from a friend, a plane, another plane, two tube journeys, and now another train, after which it is just a quick hop in a taxi to find my way home once again.

I’ve only been away for a couple of weeks, but in truth it feels a lot longer. It seems to me that subjective time is measured, at least to some extent, by the experience of change; and this being so, it feels as if it was along time since I left the UK. The final few days in India were I spent in Rabindranath Tagore’s university town of Santiniketan, reading, thinking and making a great many new friends and connections; and it was a humbling experience to meet with so many warm and generous people, and to find myself engaged in so many fascinating and enriching conversations.

So—partly to stave off the jetlag a while longer, and to keep myself awake, so that I don’t end up falling asleep and finding myself missing my stop and ending up in Nottingham by mistake—I thought I’d write a few idle notes on the subject of the virtues of travel. Nothing that I’m writing here is particularly new or startling; but (the issue of staying awake on one side) I thought it worth saying at least as a reminder to myself.
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The Descent of the Lyre: Out Now in Paperback

For those of you waiting for the paperback edition of my novel, The Descent of the Lyre, now that it has been launched here in Kolkata, the handsome paperback is available and on general release.

If you are in the UK, you can get hold of it via hive.co.uk by following this link, or alternatively you can [amazon text=buy it through the Evil Empire&asin=9380905858]. In India, you can buy via FlipKart / Roman Books.

If you want to find out more about the book, this interview was published today in The Pioneer.

Thoughts on Writing and Politics in Kolkata

Yesterday I had the immense pleasure and privilege to teach a creative writing workshop with a group of students here in Kolkata at the British Council’s Teaching Centre. It was an absolute delight to spend a couple of hours working with students who had finished the British Council’s first two creative writing courses in the city, and I was hugely impressed by the students’ seriousness, their intellectual acuity, and their exuberance.

I find it is always good to teach outside of my home country, because it challenges certain assumptions that I have about what writing is or should be. And this was certainly the case yesterday. If there is one thing that stood out for me about the workshop, it was this: these were students many of whom had a very strong sense of what writing can—and perhaps should—do politically. At the beginning of the workshop, we did a short exercise on why writing matters. In response to this exercise, a large number of the students said that they were interested in using writing as a way of tackling questions of social justice, women’s rights, transgender issues, and so on. And what was particularly striking is that in many cases these were the first reasons that the writers in the group gave for writing.
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