Divination in Nottingham Event

This coming week, on Tuesday 14th July, I’m doing an event at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, reading from and talking about my I Ching-based novel-of-sorts, [amazon text=Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: A Book of Changes&asin=http://www.amazon.co.uk/Sixty-Four-Chance-Pieces-Book-Changes/dp/9888273027], then leading a workshop on writing and divination, putting the I Ching to work as a tool for writing. It should be fun and relaxed, and all are welcome. The time is 7pm, and the suggested donation is £1 for members and £3 for non-members. I’ll also have advance copies of the book on sale (not yet out in the UK), at a reduced price. Do come along if you are in town. Find out more at the event’s Facebook page. Or, if you are not a Facebooker, email me for more information.

The Descent of the Lyre – Free Kindle Edition

I’m very pleased to announce that—to celebrate the recent launch of the paperback edition—the ebook of my novel The Descent of the Lyre is available between Monday and Friday this week as an entirely free download from Amazon. The Descent of the Lyre is a story of music and myth, violence and religion, set between Bulgaria and Paris in the 19th century. The novel was selected as a Bookseller Recommended read when it appeared in hardback. Click the button below to order a copy:

[amazon template=add to cart&asin=B00BXIJIMY]

And here are a few reviews:

“Gripping and highly original” — Louis de Bernières
“Masterful storytelling” — Historical Novel Review
“Unique, timeless and enjoyable” — Left Lion Magazine
“A highly memorable tale, told simply” — Vulpes Libris
“Really thrilling” — Radio Bulgaria
“Lyrical and well-written” — The Bookseller

Creative Writing in Sofia

A very quick post this, from Sofia University. It’s my first time back in Bulgaria since the launch of the Bulgarian edition of The Descent of the Lyre in 2014 (incidentally, the original language version is now available in very handsome [amazon text=paperback&asin=9380905858] — and if you haven’t bought the book yet, then get yourself a copy!). It is also my first time at the university since a philosophy conference I attended way back in 2006. It’s good to be here again.

I’m here thanks to the Erasmus programme, making connections with colleagues in the English and American Studies department, talking about possibilities for working together, and teaching a few classes. As a part of all this, I’ll be giving a public lecture tomorrow evening on the subject of creative writing (see the link here). I’m particularly pleased to be doing this lecture, as for I long time I’ve wanted the opportunity to step back and think about creative writing as an academic discipline. Being under pressure to say something relatively coherent in public about this has given me the excuse to put some thoughts into order. After all, despite seven or so years teaching creative writing in universities (and many more years elsewhere), I still find it a strange and puzzling business.

What I’m hoping to do in my lecture is to indulge in a bit of utopian thinking, imagining what the discipline could be, why it might be something worth doing, and generally rethinking things a bit. One of my main contentions is going to be that the hitching of creative writing to the discipline of English literature—which is common to must universities in the English speaking world—limits the subject’s scope both in terms of how we think about the pedagogy of creative writing, and how we think about the intellectual content of the discipline. Another of my contentions is going to be that fine artists have more fun.

Anyway, I’ll see how it goes. It’s going to be a fairly substantial talk, as the Bulgarians have much more stamina than my fellow countrymen (most public lectures are ninety minutes, I have been told, but as a foreigner-of-little-stamina I can get away with sixty). And I’m looking forward to seeing what discussions the lecture prompts.

More on those four great mysteries…

When I was in Suzhou a few weeks ago, I gave a talk about my [amazon text=Sixty-Four Chance Pieces&asin=B00W0LPFDO] at the wonderful Bookworm bookshop, called ‘Four Great Mysteries’ (see the blog post here). In preparation for the talk, I scrawled the following notes, and although the talk itself diverged occasionally wildly from what I’ve written here (the wine helped, as did the fun of working with two exceptional interpreters), I thought that I’d share the text for anyone who might be interested.

~O~

Introduction

I’m delighted to be here in Suzhou to talk about my new book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, a novel of sorts based upon the Yijing, or the Chinese Book of Changes. And I’m very grateful to the Bookworm for generously hosting this event. What a beautiful place Suzhou is, and what a lovely place the Bookworm here in Suzhou is! It’s really a pleasure to be here.

I’m here because, several years ago, I decided to write a kind of novel based upon the Yijing. Now, if there is anything that almost everybody knows about the Yijing, it is that it is a very mysterious book. So what I’m going to talk about today are what I am going to call Four Great Mysteries related to the Yijing, and to my own book that is based upon the Yijing, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces. So I’ll talk a little bit about these Four Great Mysteries, and then I’ll read a story from the book, to give you a flavour of the what I’m doing. Then we can open the floor up to questions.

So what are these Four Great Mysteries that I want to talk about? Let me put them down as briefly as I can.

  • Mystery number one: What the hell is the Yijing?
  • Mystery number two: What the hell does the Yijing mean? What is it for? What is its purpose?
  • Mystery number three: How the hell did a foolish and ignorant laowai like me come to get involved in all this stuff?
  • Mystery number four: What the hell is Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, this book I ended up writing as a result? Is it travel-writing? Is it fiction? Is it non-fiction? Is it philosophy? Is it an unholy mess? Or is it all of these, or none of these?

Read more

Five Chance Questions About the I Ching

Now that my I Ching-based book, Sixty-Four Chance Pieces is out (see the page here for how to get hold of a copy), I thought I’d post this quick interview that I did recently about the book. So here are five chance questions about my sixty-four chance pieces about the I Ching.

Why did you write Sixty-Four Chance Pieces?

It started out as a whim. I wanted to write sixty-four intriguing stories, using the I Ching simply as a means to this end. But then the I Ching got the better of me. If you mess with a book that has survived for three thousand years, it is going to get the better of you. So I found myself getting sucked in. The project was supposed to take a couple of years. But in the end—what with learning Chinese, doing the research and all that—it took almost a decade.

What has an old Chinese book got to do with global 21st century people?

Old books are not to be underestimated. The I Ching has had a huge influence on China and, increasingly, on the rest of the world. Whilst writing this book, I was surprised by how many people confessed to me that they used the I Ching in their daily life. One student I met in Suzhou asked me whether it could be trusted when it came to fashion advice. I’m still not sure about this. I am not the person to ask about fashion advice.

Do you believe in fate? Do you think the I Ching reflects some higher power?

I don’t believe in fate. The world seems to me to be too messy and chaotic for things to be preordained. So one of the reasons that I like the I Ching is that it encourages me to think about change, uncertainty and mess. One of the biggest problems, perhaps, is that we suffer from too much certainty. The I Ching sows confusion in a very useful fashion. As for other powers, whilst I don’t think that the I Ching reflects a higher power, I think that it is a curiously cunning book. You have to be cunning (or else very stubborn) to survive that long.

How do the stories link to the I Ching?

Sometimes the links are very direct, sometimes they are more oblique and obscure. I wanted all the stories to be linked organically to the hexagrams of the I Ching, rather than being imposed upon them. Some stories came quickly, some I had to wait for a year, two years, or five years before they started to work.

What do I get as a reader from reading this?

Because I’m interested in uncertainty, I hope that readers will get things out of the book that I hadn’t even anticipated. When I was writing the book, I wanted it to be entertaining and intriguing. I take the I Ching seriously, but I don’t think seriousness is opposed to lightness and playfulness. So I didn’t want to write a heavy book. One of my early readers said to me that they were afraid that the book would be like Ulysses, but when she read it, she found herself laughing out loud. This was encouraging.

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).

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