At 8:30 p.m. on December 1, Beijing time, on the 21st activity of the fifth Chinese Owen school festival, Cyprian writer Stavros Christodoulou and Chinese writer Xia Shang started a dialogue by “Taking Shape: Immersing in the Creative Process”. Independent cultural reporter and writer Berlinka was the moderator of the activity.
Xia Shang, a novelist, a representative writer of post-avant-garde literature in China, and a graphic designer – was born in Shanghai in 1969. He is the author of the novel East Coast Chronicle, The Lazarus Child’s Wandering, Taxidermist and Bare Undead. Four volumes of Xia Shang Selected Works and a nine-volume Xia Shang Fiction Series have also been published. Now he lives in New York.
Stavros Christodoulou was born in 1963 in Nicosia, Cyprus. He studied law in Athens but has never practiced the legal profession since he had already dedicated himself to journalism at the end of the 1980s. He has worked as managing director of various magazines in Greece and Cyprus and currently works for the leading Cypriot newspaper Phileleftheros as a columnist. His first book Hotel National, published by Kalentis Publications in Athens in 2016, was shortlisted for the Cyprus State Literature Prize and for a competition run by the literary magazine Hourglass. His second book, The Day the River Froze, published by Kastaniotis Editions in Athens in 2018, received the Cyprus State Literature Prize.
This dialogue is closely related to the theme “Recovery / Reflection” of the Fifth China-EU International Literary Festival. First of all, the two writers discussed how to describe the inner world of the characters and establish the complex spiritual core of the characters. Stavros Christodoulou used The Day the River Froze as an example. In his opinion, flashback is very important to understand the feelings and experiences of the characters, because the so-called inner world is the feelings and understanding of the characters to the outside world. On the other hand, he will portray characters from different dimensions and angles, trying to portray them as real people with their own emotions. But as his writing progressed, he would find that the characters were no longer under his control, which often surprised him.
In contrast, Xia Shang’s novels do not leave too much space for the characters’ hearts, which is not so “modern” in Berlinka’s view. In this regard, Xia Shang thinks that this represents his own view of the novel. Although the novel has an end, the fictional characters will continue to live. Like Stavros, Xia Shang believed that writers sometimes could not control the development of their characters. As the narrative progresses, he needs to compromise with the characters, because it is illogical to twist the characters’ psychology.
So, how do the two writers deal with the “rebellion” of their characters? Xia Shang thinks that the writer needs to “consult” with the characters, so that the characters can conform to the overall tone of the novel without derailing. In addition, the fullness of characters is not designed, but exists in itself. Stavros believes that writing is not only about expressing one’s ideas, but also about living with the characters. At this time, it is very normal that the characters do not develop according to their own plans. They will choose to follow the characters.
Next, Berlinka asked the two writers how they viewed the depiction of human nature by various schools and whether modernism had more advantages in showing multi-level human nature. Xia Shang believed that the emergence and change of different schools were not only reflected in literature, but also in other art forms. Sometimes such changes happened unconsciously. It is generally believed that his writing style has experienced the transformation from modernism to realism, but he does not think that this is a kind of “retrogression”. He also thinks that the novel is a possibility of highly generalized life and has a juxtaposition with life. Stavros says that he is not the representative of any school. The task of the writer is to better explore human nature, which should be done by any school. He doesn’t care about the genre and naming. The creation of characters and atmosphere is the most important thing for him.
In the Q&A, some readers wanted to know how the writer deals with the material in his mind and how to choose the length of the novel. Xia Shang thinks that a writer can quickly judge which material can be used to write long articles and which can write short stories. Stavros would write his inspiration in a book and start writing from a small angle. In addition, some readers wonder whether the two writers have doubts about themselves when they write. Xia Shang tells readers that he is always suspicious and painful when writing, which seems to be inevitable. Stavros thinks that although writing is difficult, he doesn’t want to do anything else, but he can constantly discover a new himself through writing, so he enjoys the process.
The China-EU International Literary Festival has been held for four times. During the annual exchanges, Chinese and European writers have conducted in-depth exchanges and discussions on various aspects of life and society, presenting a series of high-quality ideological collisions. At the 5th China-EU International Literary Festival, many outstanding Chinese writers and writers from 27 European Union member states will continue the literary dialogue between China and Europe.
At the end of the event, the two writers expressed their thanks to the organizers of the China-EU International Literary Festival and wished that this literary journey could go further and further and help more readers appreciate the beauty of words.
By Ming Ming
Translated into English by Helen Qiu