Chance Pieces on Creative Transformations Asia Blog

A few weeks back Michael Keane, who is a Professor of Chinese Media at Curtin University and who runs the Digital China Lab, wrote a very generous review of my Sixty-Four Chance Pieces over on the Creative Transformations Asia blog. Here’s an extract.

There is so much in the book to savour if you like a taste of magic realism mixed with observations about change and the passing of time. History, scholarship and finely honed literary skills combine to produce a minor masterpiece. A book about philosophy, adventure, discovery, about life and death, yin and yang, it’s also about creative transformations.

 

You can read the whole review here.

Goats, Blogs and Chinese Travels

It has been very busy recently, with moving house back home in the UK, and then — only a few days later — relocating to China for a year. I’m here in China to take up an associate professorship at Sichuan University, in the College of Literature and Journalism. About which more below.

But first, I should say something about goats! Because I’m delighted to say that my author copies of Goat Music, my latest novel, arrived today in the UK. They are four thousand or so miles away, and so I haven’t really had much of a chance to look at them yet. But from the photograph below, courtesy of Elee Kirk, they are looking good.

goat_music

Goat Music is a bit of a departure from my usual work. It is an attempt to write a kind of modern-day satyr play, taking up the myth of Apollo and the satyr Marsyas, as well as pillaging the ancient Greek playwrights, to weave a tale about music, power and its abuses. In this sense, it forms a pair with my earlier book, The Descent of the Lyre, although the sensibility is somewhat different. In the UK, you can get hold of a copy here. It’s on general release, so should be easy to track down. I’d be interested to see what people make of this one, as it’s by any measure quite a curious book.
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Sixty-Four Chance Pieces in the Asian Review of Books

Jonathan Chatwin has written a very nice piece in the Asian Review of Books about my [amazon text=Sixty-Four Chance Pieces&asin=9888273027]. We met up the other week down in Birmingham, and spent an enjoyable Saturday morning talking about writing, China and other matters. Here’s an extract from Jonathan’s write-up:

The tales of Sixty Four Chance Pieces wear the scholarly and creative struggles of their creator lightly. Playful and inventive, they link imagistically to the I Ching but do not require prior knowledge of the text, and generally avoid direct allusions to Chinese culture or history. The literary reference points are Western: Italo Calvino is a key influence on the text, particularly his novel inspired by the tarot, The Castle of Crossed Destinies, whilst there are also echoes of Borges and Garcia Marquez.

Buckingham’s stories are glimpses into worlds familiar yet somehow distant, their landscapes and cultures verging on the mythical… Eclectic, with a healthy dose of humour, the stories of Sixty Four Chance Pieces act as provocations to consider the nature of our respective political, social and personal realities….

To see the full review/article, go to the Asian Review of Books.

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.

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?

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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).

Fashionable topics

I’ve just finished reading Julia Lovell’s translation of Lao She’s wonderful novel, Mr. Ma and Son, and I thought I’d share the following short quote.

In the book, the hapless ex-missionary, Reverend Ely, is trying to persuade Mr. Ma to write a book comparing Western and Chinese cultures. The good clergyman is not entirely disinterested in his urging, because he himself is working on a book called A History of Taoism, and needs some help with his poor Chinese. Anyway, here’s the quote, which is still pertinent today:

The Reverend Ely pulled out his pipe, and slowly filled it with tobacco. ‘I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking on your behalf for some time now, and I feel that while you’re abroad, you ought to take the opportunity of writing something. The best thing would be a comparison of Eastern and Western cultures. That’s a fashionable topic nowadays, and it doesn’t matter particularly whether what you write’s correct or not. As long a you say something with conviction, anything at all, you’ll be able to sell it…’

— Lao She, Mr Ma and Son, trans. Julia Lovell

Writing China, at the Nottingham Festival of Words

I’m delighted to be participating in the international launch event at the 2014 Nottingham Festival of Words, along with two fellow-novelists, the Nottingham-based Rhiannon Tsang (The Woman who Lost China, Open Books 2013), and the Beijing-based Karen Ma (Excess Baggage, China Books 2013). Between the three of us, we’ll be talking about ‘Writing China’.
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The Art of Staring into Space

I spent much of my schooling staring out of the window. This was not because there was anything interesting happening outside; instead it was because of a certain detachment from the world around me, a tendency to daydream. In fact, I wasn’t really staring out of the window. I was looking at some indeterminate point in the middle distance (I discovered early on that you need a window, and a sense of far distance, if you are to find the optimum point in the middle distance at which to stare). At the time, this was considered a serious moral flaw, of course. There were more pressing demands upon me, after all. But looking back, I think that there was considerable value (and still is) to be found in staring into space (see, for example, this article).
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A Book of Changes

I’m very pleased to be able to announce that I’ve just signed the contract on my novel-of-sorts, “A Book of Changes: Sixty-four Chance Pieces” with the excellent Earnshaw Books, purveyors of all good things China-related.

The book should be out some time in the first quarter of next year, and will be available in the UK, USA and East Asia. This project has been a long time in the making — it started out seven or eight years ago with an interest with Calvino’s literary experiments, and the idea of playing with the I Ching (易經) as a literature machine capable of generating new and surprising stories: because what is divination, I asked myself, if not the creation of new and surprising stories? Read more

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