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.

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).

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.

A few photos from Kolkata

I had a hugely enjoyable time at yesterday’s event at the Kolkata Book Fair, and the morning workshop at the British Council Teaching Centre. I’m going to write a bit more later, in particular, about the workshop, but I thought I’d just post this small gallery of images, to give a flavour of the events.

India!

The last few days have been pretty busy, as I’ve been putting everything in order for my forthcoming trip to India. I’m going to be doing an event at the Kolkata Book Fair, where I’ll be launching the paperback of my novel, The Descent of the Lyre. Kolkata Book Fair is an interesting event, in particular because of the strong emphasis that it puts on the relationship between readers and writers. But I’m also taking advantage of being in India to head up to Santiniketan, where I’ll pay my respects to the memory of Rabindranath Tagore, and to do a bit of research for a couple of forthcoming projects in Bodh Gaya, Rajgir, and around the Buddhist pilgrimage sites.

I was last in India — and Bodh Gaya — in 1998, and so I’m expecting that things will have changed quite a lot. But I’m looking forward to being back, and to getting to grips with India again (and to spending a bit more time than usual writing and meditating).

I’ll be posting updates on this blog whilst I’m away — I generally write more when I’m on the move. In the mean-time, there are bags to pack, things to organise, and classes to be taught…

Complete Write a Novel Launch Event — photos

Last night I launched my book, [amazon text=Teach Yourself: Complete Write a Novel&asin=1473600480] at De Montfort University, so here are a few images of the launch event. Niki Valentine (Nicola Monaghan) was asking the questions, and it was great to talk about novel-writing in front of an audience of friends, strangers, and some absolutely fabulous writers.

Images © Ambrose Musiyiwa — with thanks!

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