The Inaugural EU-China International Literary Festival
Taking Shape: Immersing in the Creative Process
One Way Street Library (Huajiadi venue), November 22, 8pm
Lu Min ( China),Liang Hong (China), Song Aman (China), Jasna Horvat (Croatia), Paolo Colagrande (Italy)
Article By Poornima Weerasekara
What makes writers both lunatics and saints, all at the same time? Why are “losers” more poetic and poignant than winners?
“Victor Hugo once said writers have a world trapped inside them,” Paolo Colagrande, an award-winning Italian author said. “What’s interesting is that writers are themselves trapped in this world they have inside. That’s why all writers are mad.”
“A person who is trapped is not a quite person and tries to escape,” he added. “A writer has an urgency to tell others about the world he has inside. How? I steal from reality, not to copy it, but to imitate it”
Colagrande was part of a lively panel on what writers draw their inspiration from, which was part of the ongoing EU- China literary festival in Beijing.
“One of my stories was inspired by a quick glance at 3 friends sitting at a cafe. One friend walks away and the other two starts to talk about him. In my imagination, the one who stood up and went away had a painful past. When an idea springs up the process of translating it into a story is not a mechanical one,” he said, explaining his creative process.
“You have a landscape in front of you that is not clear or precise. You don’t have tubes of color or a camera, you only have words.. but words are not tools. But you have a special device as a writer – your voice. It is important that your voice is attuned with the voice of the character,” he said.
“Writing is a selective process and also a spiritual process. That’s why all writers are saints, some even proclaim to be God,” Colagrande said.
Award-winning Chinese novelist Lu Min sees this ability to “play god” when writing as a double-edged sword.
“When you are writing, your relationship with the world changes,” she said. “and we have to use this ability to play with the fates of our characters carefully.”
She shared how she drew inspiration from a sour experience, when her home in Nanjing was damaged by a major chemical blast. “In one of my short stories, A Feast for Six, I was looking for ways to give a beautiful death to my protagonist. But I was stuck. It was when I was clearing the shards of glass from my shattered windowpanes after the blast that I knew for sure how my character should die. It was a surreal moment.”
But at other times, observing reality has helped her avoid being banal in her writing. “For my latest short story, ‘Going to the Moon,’ I wanted to write about someone who was escaping from life to create a new beginning. But I’ve never done that myself, so I went to a government department with records of missing people and started sifting through the records. I found many people have left their cities or run away due to debt, divorce or other troubles. But I felt, I wanted to write about somebody who was walking away just because they were confused with their own identity. So, at times, your research also helps you eliminate banal ideas and find something fresh.”
Q:How do Writers find a “Heroic Loser?”
A: “How do I fashion my characters? It’s the discovery of life,” said critically-acclaimed Chinese writer Liang Hong. “For example, in one story I wrote about the first-wave migrants who went to Guangzhou to grow wheat, but lost everything because the wheat rotted. In another story, I focused on a woman who is stuck repaying a mountain of debt in her old age because her small restaurant failed. The experiences of these protagonists are shared by many others. When I choose a character, I am thinking of someone who is representative of that age, that community. One person can be representative of an era.” Liang was participating in the Beijing-leg of China-EU literary festival from Nov. 21-24. For more info go to http://eu-china.literaryfestival.eu/
Q:Do Writers Suffer Along with Their Fictional Characters?
A: For young writer Song Aman, a university student who recently published her first collection of short-stories titled “Inland island”, writing is a “painful, even tortuous process.”
“A writer is almost like an actor. I have to put myself in the shoes of my characters. One of my stories include a woman who belongs to a sexual minority, and she gradually accepts the desires of her body and then finds love.. I went through a lot of despair myself, while writing this,” she said.
“Another story is about a mother who decides to have a second child because her firstborn had downs syndrome. But the younger son had to shoulder the responsibilities of his elder brother and the narration includes letters from the younger brother to his mother blaming her for her choice. It was very painful for me to write this,” said Song during a panel on fiction writing at the Beijing-leg of China-EU literary festival from Nov. 21-24.