The Inaugural EU-China International Literary Festival
Constructing and Deconstructing Fiction
Fang Suo Commune , November 26,2:00pm
Writers: Lu Yiping (China), Wang Guoping (China), Isabelle Wéry(Belgium), Jasna Horvat (Croatia), Paolo Colagrande (Italy)
Host: Ran Yao
Article by: Annie Leonard
Fang Suo Commune on a Sunday teems with bookworms, families, and students, drawn to the bookstore and the gateway it provides to the magical world of literature. The EU-China International Literary Festival panel “Constructing and Deconstructing Fiction” this weekend past was well-attended – a crowd of young literature-lovers gathered to hear what authors from Europe and China had to say on the topic of writing fiction. Five authors and their host, Ran Yao, explored the challenge of writing the human condition, construction and deconstruction in fiction, their relationship to their readers, and international exchange.
Paolo Colagrande of Italy kicked off the discussion on the human condition by saying that the best way to write about it is to show it, not analyse it. Sichuan author Lu Yiping noted that fiction is created from our lived experiences and reflections. Known to explore the absurdity and loneliness of being human in his writing, Lu revealed the depth of his knowledge of the craft with his every comment. For Belgian author, actress, theatre director and singer Isabelle Wéry, writing from ones experience and reflections means writing about femininity. “What does it mean to have a female body in this world? Women have to deal with body and identity all of our lives,” she said. These are the themes she explores in her writing, most notably in her provocative novel Marilyn deboned.
Wang Guoping, renowned Sichuan poet and biographer, took the discussion of the human condition in another direction to touch on the challenges of writing non-fiction. He said that in the past, historical texts just looked at the surface of things, but contemporary non-fiction writing now seeks a deeper understanding. He compared The History of the Three Kingdoms with The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, the first a chronological historical account of the period, the other one of the four great classical Chinese novels, an epic tale, but one that seeks more to tell a story. To write a history is sometimes not enough; we need to explore the human side of things.
Lu Yiping took this idea one step further: “Fiction comes from reality,” he said, a theme that would be echoed by all participants throughout the afternoon. He spoke of how he found inspiration in a medical journal for one of his novels. Colagrande reaffirmed this concept, saying “ideas arise from anything in reality.” That’s how the simple image of one man departing a café, leaving two other men behind at the table became the basis for one of Colagrande’s recent novels. Jasna Horvat, an innovative novelist from Croatia, explores the story of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan in her interactive novel Vilijun. “In the 21st century there are many interesting ways to mix fiction and non-fiction,” she said. Instead of traditional footnotes, Horvat uses QR codes to link readers to paratextual non-fiction resources.
As the writers continued to talk about writing techniques and their approaches to the craft, Horvat shed some light on why she uses QR codes. “Writing is playing, but public playing. I invite my readers to come play with me.” By following the “magical squares” in her book Vilijun, readers can choose how to read her book: front to back, back to front, diagonally, digitally or traditionally. But when asked if they consider their readers during the writing process, nearly all the authors agreed that the reader comes second to the writer. “You need to write according to your own thinking,” Lu said. “Before publication, the novel belongs to the writer.” Colagrande agreed with Lu, saying if an author thought too much of the reader during the writing process, it could change the writer’s voice. It’s the publisher’s job to worry about the reader, Colagrande emphasized. “Readers stand behind authors,” Wang agreed, noting that it is impossible to satisfy every reader’s demands. Wéry felt she was more responsible for her readers’ experience, saying that she wished to transmit positive energy to her readers, make them think, entertain them. For Horvat, the novel’s characters are first and foremost in her mind as she writes—“I think of my protagonists as living beings”—and readers come in the future.
Characters were a large part of the discussion on construction and deconstruction in fiction. The authors all agreed that stories often construct themselves. Characters take on a life of their own, said Lu, and refuse to bow to the author’s control, just as fate cannot be controlled. “It’s a sort of chemical process,” said Colagrande. “You drop items in a container and let it react.” For Wéry, writing is a journey for the writer, the characters, and the reader. There is construction and deconstruction in the act of being an artist, she said. “An artist must be porous…You grow up through your art. In writing, I redefine my tools every time. It’s like a new game, every time.” This is applied in her use of the French language as well: “I’m not very polite with it. I twist it, [torture] it to create an image for the reader, a free world for them to explore.” To explore the fictional worlds of these five well-spoken authors would be a fascinating journey indeed.
An EU-China Literary Festival event wouldn’t be complete without discussion of cultural exchange and author’s impressions of each other’s countries. Horvat spoke of how inspired she was to learn about China while researching for Vilijun. The connection Croatia shared with China through the Silk Road led to an exchange of values, cultures and traditions which continues to this day, she said. At the end of the talk, Lu Yiping asked the three European authors what their impressions of China have been so far. Isabelle spoke in particular of how happy she was to see so many young people in the audience—“That would never happen in Europe!” she exclaimed—while Jasna spoke of the opportunities she sees to combine the best of the ancient and the new. Finally, Paolo concluded by saying how wonderful it was to see so many people enjoying literature here. “Europe needs Chinese literature! I’m sure it would be very successful there.” Looking around at the packed hall of young readers and the bustling bookstore beyond, it’s hard to imagine a place where literature is not celebrated and appreciated as it is in Chengdu!