Making Literature Travel between Europe and Asia: INDONESIAN TRANSLATION PROGRAMS

How does writing from other continents find its way to European publishers in today’s competitive book industry? And how do we interact with markets and literary scenes as remote as those of China, India or Indonesia?’
In the lead up to Asia Pacific Writers & Translators’ conference in Bali, Indonesian translator Eliza Vitri Handayani shares her thoughts on Making Literature Travel, a subject she spoke about at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015, the year Indonesia was Guest of Honour. The issues she raised, particularly about government support—or the lack of it—for literary translations can be extrapolated to other countries.

TRANSLATORS PLAY AN important part in introducing the literature of any country to another. Eliza Vitri Handayani, founder of InterSastra, a free, independent space for literary exchange between Indonesia and other countries, n Indonesian literary translation initiative, pointed out that many translations are achieved because of a proposal to a publisher by a translator knowledgeable in a country’s literature. ‘Translators can inform the industry about which foreign books are likely to sell in other markets,’ she said.

She stressed the importance of government support for translation programs. In the specific case of Indonesian literature she said, ‘To get more translations from Indonesia into Europe, it’s crucial for the Ministry of Education and Culture to continue investing in translators through the Indonesian Translation Funding Program.’

She suggested investment could be done in many ways.

1) Hold literary translation workshops and mentoring programs. (Handayani flagged the success of her own translation initiative, InterSastra, which partnered with British Centre for Literary Translation to hold translation workshops, seminars, readings, and other events with Indonesian and European authors.)

2) Train translators how to network with and pitch a work to international publishers.

3) Events like APWT’s conferences can do this. Handayani mentioned the European Literature Night’s Translation Pitch which helps translators sharpen their skills and promote the authors whose works they admire. The pitches can then be distributed on social media to create even bigger buzz around the books and translatorsauthors.

4) Train translators to write reader’s report and proposals that they can submit to international publishers. ‘These will give translators experience in creating a book summary, gathering info on sales, prizes, media coverage, and explaining to publishers why they think the book would be successful with the target audience.,’ Handayani said.

5) Hold a Translators Exchange Program. Handayani suggested collaborations with European countries with organizations devoted to promoting their country’s literature. ‘They could collaborate to create a program enabling a translator working to translate a book by, say, a German author to work in Germany for a period of time, supported by the German organization, and a translator working to translate a book by an Indonesian author, can work in Indonesia.’

She said the Indonesian Translation Funding Program could fill a real need by
improving the infrastructure for writers in Indonesia. . ‘Hold workshops to raise awareness regarding copyrights; create a network of translators who are able to translate from regional Indonesian languages; develop festivals and residencies, especially including in the regionsprovinces, where authors, editors, and translators can meet,’ ‘ she suggested.

She said all these steps are necessary to address complaints from translators of that source texts are often poorly edited. ‘The ITFP should also consider holding editing workshops with Indonesian authors and editors.’

Olivia Sears, director of the Center for the Arts of Translation in San Francisco, pointed out at an earlier InterSastra seminar that some less-translated countries have had success (in achieving published translations of in other countries ) by inviting delegations of editors and publishers to their country to meet authors. ‘ITFP can do this periodically,’ Handayani said. ‘And the other way around, sponsor visits of Indonesian writers to various literary festivals, perhaps in collaboration with embassies abroad. Another simple, but useful, thing to do is to donate Indonesian books to schools and libraries abroad.’

She also suggested that government- supported translation arms like the ITFP should post on the web a catalog of translation samples into English. These could be easily browsed by foreign publishers.

At the 2010 InterSastra seminar Professor Lily Rose Tope from the University of the Philippines highlighted the sad fact that Southeast Asian countries don’t read each other.


‘ONE OBVIOUS BARRIER is language,’ said Handayani. ‘If we can get more translation going between Indonesia and our English-speaking neighboring countries, such as Singapore and Australia, we can open doors for translations into other languages in the region and beyond.’

Handayani recommended that because most publishers don’t have the resources to pay for translation costs, the government translation initiative must continue, but rather than directing grants to Indonesian publishers, it must reach out to international publishers.

‘If ITFP already paid a grant to translate a book into English, published by an Indonesian publisher, and then, say, a UK publisher wants to acquire the book but they don’t like the translation and want to hire a different translator, then the public will have to spend twice as much on the grant for that book,’ she said.

She expressed concern over how much is paid to translators themselves, and whether translators retain the copyright to their work. For Indonesian work showcased at the Frankfurt Book Fair she said that public money discriminated against citizens. ‘Translators who are Indonesian citizens had to work for a lower rate than that for non-Indonesians, even if the books are published in key foreign markets, such as the US and Australia, and even if the Indonesian translators themselves live in countries with higher living costs than Indonesia. The rates for Indonesian translators were IDR 140,000 per page to translate into English and 160,000 into German; the rates for foreign-citizen translators were IDR 300,000 into English and 480,000 into German.

‘I understand that most esteemed translators translate into their native tongue, but the work’s quality, not the translator’s citizenship, should determine the rates the translator gets. Increasing our appreciation for translators’ work will pay off in the quality of the translation.’


TRANSLATORS THEMSELVES CAN create public events that attract a wider audience to increase general appreciation for what we they do. Handayani cited several inspiring examples:

1) The British Centre for Literary Translation’s Translation Duel. Two translators are tasked with translating the same short text. They go on stage to debate their translation choices. Rosalind Harvey, an award-winning translator from Spanish into English, said: “When I participated in Translation Duel I invited my friends to watch. On the way home, they told me that the event made them see that my job is not the same as that of a typist. They saw that what I do is actually challenging and fun.”

2) Katy Derbyshire’s blog Going Dutch with German Authors. Derbyshire is a widely acclaimed translator from German into English, every week or so she would go out for drinks with an author and have a relaxed conversation about many things. The blog is an amusing and effective way to draw wider attention to the authors.

3) Paper Republic’s Chinese Short Story Year, which . This publishes online one piece by a Chinese writer every week. Posting a new piece every week keeps the project fresh, and the short pieces can attract readers previously uninterested in Chinese literature.

4) Translators should work with authors to submit their pieces to all kinds of literary media abroad—many now are accepting translations. Indonesian writing should be put on the global literary map, not only in a special edition of Indonesian authors, not only as writing from Indonesia or Asia, but as a part of world literature.

In return, authors must also support their translators and not forget to acknowledge them. With creativity and social media savvies, authors and translators can now do so much more to help bring the writings we love across countries and continents.


IN FRANKFURT HANDAYANI took the opportunity to speak about a collection of Indonesian writing, translated into English, called ‘Diverse Indonesia’.

‘As has happened in other Guest of Honour countries before, in Indonesia there were controversies surrounding the selection of authors featured at the Fair. When InterSastra was invited to the Fair by Literature Across Frontiers, I decided to open up space for authors not yet selected by the national committee. In August we sent out a call for submission, and in September we read and selected the submissions without seeing the author’s name to focus only on the works’ quality. We then approached emerging translators to translate the works and paired them with established translators, so that the program also became a training opportunity for the emerging translators. ‘InterSastra is from, by and for writers and translators – all working voluntarily. We do hope that in the future we will receive support from the ITFP so that we can do much more.’

‘By making investments in translators and the infrastructure for Indonesian literature, the ITFP will bring benefits not only for our performance at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but also for Indonesian literature in the long term.’

Eliza Vitri Handayani is a novelist and literary translator from Indonesia. Her novel From Now On Everything Will Be Different was published in 2015 and was launched internationally, including at the APWT Summit and Frankfurt Book Fair. At the launch of the novel in Oslo and Jakarta, she wore a dress that she made herself using the novel’s proofs. The book’s launch at Ubud Writers & Readers Festival was cancelled due to police objections, and Eliza protested by wearing to the festival t-shirts with excerpts from her novel. Her short works have appeared in Indonesian and international anthologies and media, such as Koran Tempo, Jakarta Post, Magdalene, Asia Literary Review, Griffith Review, Exchanges Journal, Words Without Borders, Inside Indonesia, Index on Censorship. In 2016 Eliza was a selected as a fellow for the Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange (WrICE) program, and she appeared in several literary festivals: Northern Territory Writers Festival, Makassar International Writers Festival, and Melbourne Writers Festival. Eliza is the founder and manager of InterSastra, which is currently publishing “Defiant Voices”, a series of works by writers who keep writing in face of censorship or intimidation; and “Literary Souvenirs”, works by writers encountered during travels.

Visionary Future for APWT

APWT's incoming Executive Director Sanaz Fotouhi, in the 'Look at Me' t-shirt, grew up in Iran.

APWT’s incoming Executive Director Sanaz Fotouhi, in the ‘Look at Me’ t-shirt, grew up in Iran.

Sanaz Fotouhi writes about how her background led to a dynamic vision for the future of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators.

When I was a little girl growing up in Iran, it seemed to me that everyone in the country was glued to their new colour televisions on Saturday nights watching the epic Japanese drama of Oshin, dubbed into Farsi on one of the two state television channels. Sometimes, when the electricity cut out, or when the ‘red alarm’ went off and we had to run to hide in the basement while jet planes bombed our neighbours, Oshin and her far-away land provided solace. She was the topic of conversation amongst adults, and the dream of many children. Many nights I fell asleep dreaming of living in far away places, which to me, then, were indistinguishable.

As I grew older and eventually visited many far far away lands, I learnt that Japan was very different from Hong Kong, from Indonesia and so on.

Aside from living and travelling throughout Asia, it was the literature I picked up from each country that helped me understand the culture, history, social nuances, differences and similarities. Not in my entire lifetime could I master every language to read the literatures in the original. It is only through translations that people like me have access to so many insights into different cultures.

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Some of the products of Sanaz’s work to date.

My passion for the expression of cultural diversity through literature has pre-occupied most of my adult creative and academic life. So when I had the opportunity to work with Asia Pacific Writers and Translators (APWT) I knew I had found a home.

This long-running regional literary network and its now famous annual events are opportunities for people like me to really learn about the culture, history and unique aspects of a particular country and those in the Asia Pacific region in general. Every year, APWT brings together some 200 writers, translators, and others involved in the publishing industries. The result leads to outstanding opportunities to meet peers, exchange ideas, and perhaps gain inspiration for the production of new literary work.

APWT’s annual events are held in a different country in the Asia Pacific every year. It has had multifaceted conferences in Australia, Thailand, India, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines. This November (2016), we meet in Southern China, with the main conference at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou, and follow-on readings and panels in Hong Kong and Macau. Next year (2017), we’ll meet in May in Indonesia in conjunction with the ASEAN Literary Festival. I am taking the lead to organize our Indonesian event.

Providing Keys to Asia Pacific Literatures

APWT offers much more than an annual conference. It feeds the curiosity of people like me. My plan is that by the time everyone arrives at the annual gathering in future years they will already know something more about the literature and culture of that country. I will work towards that.

If, like me, you like to know about the literature of a country, the first question is, but where do I even start? I aim to bring you a start, to ensure that our members receive exclusive information, interviews, reviews, and other material about the key prominent writers, translators, and creative people in the specific country that we will be hosting the conference.

For example, in the next few months, you can look forward to reading lists, interviews, and other material about heavy weights of Chinese literature, and those who are going to be featured and appearing in our gathering in Guangzhou later this year. This will be an additional feature of our literary online publication LEAP+.

I will be travelling to Jakarta to attend the ASEAN and Makassar Literary festivals in May this year, and aim to come back with lists of Indonesian authors, critics, and translators, who we will continue to feature, leading up to our event in Indonesia in 2017. If you are in Jakarta for these festivals, please introduce yourself to me.

I also want to hear from you. If you would love to explore, critique, interview, or write about a certain author, piece of fiction, or any other related material related for now to China or Indonesia, I would love you to drop me a line about yourself and your interests.

APWT Short Story Competitions

As APWT seeks to foster creativity and skills development, one of my aims is to run short story competitions around the themes of the countries where we will be taking the annual event. These stories will be judged by some of the top writers and creative people from the Asia Pacific Region and Australia. This would be a great chance for emerging writers to get their stories out there.

All of this material, including selected short stories from our competitions, will be featured through our exclusive members-only magazine LEAP+. (APWT members will soon have exclusive access to an updated version of this online publication.)

Partnerships and Emerging Writers

APWT seeks to encourage and support emerging readers and writers. To this end we are building partnerships with universities and emerging writers’ groups and festivals. This ensures that we feature not only those voices that are heard already but also lesser heard narratives, those from the margins, and those with less opportunity to find platforms for their writing.

My vision is for APWT’s annual events to become one of the leading literary gatherings of Asia in the next five years. This vision will reach its potential only through your support, and enthusiasm… so that one day, when many other little girls and boys sitting today at home — perhaps in Myanmar, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Australian outback, or somewhere else in our vast Asia Pacific region — weaving stories and dreaming of writing and travelling to distant places, they will have greater opportunities and audiences to do so.

I encourage you to join us and stay with us in making this dream come true.

Sanaz Fotouhi is a writer, filmmaker, academic, one of the founders of the Persian Film Festival in Australia and APWT’s incoming Executive Director.  She holds a PhD in English literature from UNSW. Her first book The Literature of the Iranian Diaspora: Meaning and Identity since the Islamic Revolution was published in March 2015 (I.B. Tauris). Her stories and creative fiction, published in anthologies and collections are reflective of her multicultural background. 

APWT’s Southern China Summit

The Curtain Rises — Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau


ON THE EDGE of the Pearl River, Spring mist obscures almost everything beyond the pathways around Sun Yat-Sen University campus. What lies beyond the weeping figs lining the avenues leaves room for imagination.

‘Ideas and Realities’, Asia Pacific Writers and Translators’ 2016 conference, takes place on this campus from 24-27th November. 

We spent a couple of days this Spring with Dai Fan, director of Sun Yat-Sen’s Centre for Creative Writing and APWT’s China host, mapping out venues for the November gathering and, with the help of Centre’s assistant Peng Dongmin, hotel recommendations and directions. See the hotel suggestions HERE.

We can give you a pretty good idea of what’s in store for our multi-faceted ‘Ideas and Realities’ event. And here’s an exciting news flash. Our APWT friends have offered follow-up events in Hong Kong and Macau on Sunday 27th and Monday 28th November.  Our main events, covered by the conference fee, all take place at the Sun Yat-Sen campus.

Here’s the proposed skeleton:


In the campus’s main dining hall. Jane Camens (APWT) and Dai Fan (Sun Yat-Sen University).


Thursday, 24th November, we suggest you arrive by mid afternoon to join us around 5 pm for off-campus book launches and/or readings at the Kui Yuan Café Gallery, Xuguyuan Lu, Yuexiu District. This evening will be at participants’ own expense. The cool artists’ café in an old district of the city serves inexpensive light meals and alcohol.

Friday, 25th November, Day One – a day with two keynotes, presentations and panel discussions (non academic), academic papers (in a separate hall for this new APWT conference stream), and master classes – concluding with an early Welcome Dinner on campus, hosted by Sun Yat-Sen. The conference fee covers this dinner as well as the light lunches served on Friday and Saturday.

Saturday, 26th November, Day Two: in addition to a full program of panels, workshops and, possibly, readings, in the afternoon we hold APWT’s AGM with announcements about future plans and our current status. That evening we strongly recommend joining us for an off campus feast at a quality Yunnan restaurant.

After dinner on Friday and/or Saturday, there may be an opportunity to join a local Guangzhou writers’ group (Spoken Word) for readings at an edgy café way off campus, for the adventurous. (The after dinner opportunity is not an official ‘Ideas and Realities’ activity.)

Sunday 27th November. On this third and last day in Guangzhou, we will offer additional workshops and readings at SYS campus in the morning.

Post Conference

1) Hong Kong – PM Sunday 27th November

The train from Guangzhou to Hong Kong takes two hours.

Join us outside the main conference itinerary (at your own expense) for panels on Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong. Later evening, 17:00-22:00 Hong Kong-based poets have organized for us to join them for readings at a bar in the city.
2) Macau – PM Monday 28th November

Our friends at Macau’s Script Road Literary Festival have offered to host readings at the Portuguese Bookshop. There may also be an opportunity for established authors to talk to students at the University of Macau.

The jetfoil from Hong Kong to Macau takes 70 minutes and costs around US$26 one-way. A bus from Sun Yat-Sen to the Chinese border at Macau takes two hours and costs around US$11, should anyone wish to travel straight to the former Portuguese enclave from the conference.

Let us know before 30 April if you plan to join us.

See CALL FOR PAPERS if you want to be on one of our panels or wish to join our new academic stream.

If you plan to attend any of the events in Hong Kong or Macau, or if you want to read or speak, please let us now by writing to

To obtain your China visa you will need to have booked your accommodation. See our recommended accommodation options HERE.

I hope to see you in Guangzhou this November. This will be the ninth and my final conference as lead organizer. Next year the APWT conference will be in Jakarta and organized by Sanaz Fotouhi, working with me on China.

Jane Camens
Executive Director, APWT

Mark this Place

Jaipur BookMark: ‘Where South Asia meets the World’

Narain Niwas Palace, Jaipur: BookMark’s venue

Given the massive crowds at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, India’s and the world’s largest free literary event, its sister event BookMark is a relatively sedate. But, for my money, BookMark is a better investment if you’re an emerging writer.

The Jaipur BookMark Festival, organized by the same crowd who organize the main festival, is held on the lawns of the Narain Niwas Palace. This is an upscale heritage hotel built in the 1920s in an Anglo-Indian style. It’s only a 10-15 drive from the lovely Diggi Palace where the main festival is held, but it’s a world away in atmosphere.

Some people, when they realized this wasn’t where they were going to see the festival’s superstars —Margaret Atwood, Steven Fry and the pantheon of other greats—turned tail and headed away.

But BookMark, which was held only for the second year, is where the who’s who of the worlds publishing industry gathered. This is where you could meet publishers, literary agents, literary event organisers, and other heavy hitters who are the faces behind the books we read.

The event was opened by the chairman of Penguin Random House (new York), John Makinsons, who a couple of nights later hosted a Who’s Who in the Publishing Industry cocktail party, at the fabulous Rambagh Palace, now a super-luxurious Taj hotel. Yes, Jaipur is full of fabulous palaces.

Neeta Gupta

BookMark festival director Neeta Gupta

Because the numbers were relatively low at BookMark, I asked festival director Neeta Gupta whether the event is open for general participation. To me, this is an ideal time and place for the festival to host publisher/agent pitching events, one-on-one consultations with industry professional, and other events that enable emerging authors to take advantage of the talent.

‘BookMark is indeed open for general participation,’ Neeta assured me. ‘But, given the exclusivity of the heritage venue where we host the event, we didn’t see much general footfall this year. I hope to change that in the coming year.’

If you’re thinking of heading to the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival in the future, and if you’re already involved in the publishing industry, you can buy a ticket that includes BookMark, including lunches and dinners. Or you can by a BookMark registration only, which includes lunch on the lawns of the Narain Niwas Palace and dinner at Clarks Hotel with the other festival delegates. Participation for students and ‘aspiring authors’ is free. Or it was this year.

‘I would love to host a workshop with emerging writers and agents,’ said Neeta.

So, there you have it. Opportunity awaits. Finding a publisher who will give you a profile in the Asian market is the way of the future. Asia boasts the world’s fastest growing middle class. Asia is where tomorrow’s readers will be.


Jane Camens, founder of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Inc (APWT), was hosted to India by the Australia-India Council in her capacity as co-editor of ‘New Asia Now’, issue 49 of Griffith Review. Jane joined a group of Australian publishers and literary festival organisers on an Indian Exploratory hosted by the Australia Council for the Arts.

RISING SPIRITS: Georgetown, Malaysia

Dipika Mukherjee writes that at a time when Malaysian authorities are clamping down on free speech and political dissent on any kind, a free discussion of “Dangerous Ideas” …is timely.

Stirring the brew

The poets stir the brew

It is 10.30 at night at the Hock Teik Cheng Sin Temple. Built by Chinese immigrants from the Fujian Province almost 165 years ago, the temple is now shrouded in darkness and a drooping angsana tree shivers in the wind as the gentle rain continues to fall.

This ancient place of worship is where the performance of “Pontianak”, by five leading women poets of Malaysia, will take place.

The venue for this performance, which is part of the 2016 Georgetown Literary Festival, is evocative. The Pontianak (a vampire-ghost) looms large in Malay folklore, usually as the avenging spirits of women who died while pregnant. Books and movies abound with this familiar trope setting up a tale of thwarted desire leading to bloodthirsty revenge. This show situates the Pontianak within a Taoist temple, within hallowed ground with spiraling incense smoke and red lacquered doors.

The performance, as the introduction explains, “explores the way women and ‘the feminine’ have been systematically demonized, their stories buried, their collective and individual power taken away from them, their role in society demeaned and diminished and their natural, universal status as goddesses removed, through traditional patriarchal narratives told as myth and legend.”

The audience spills out, too large for the shaded area in the central courtyard. Umbrellas continue to bloom overhead as the five poets approach a cauldron. Part poetry and part theatre, the images are Shakespearean as the women stir a brew and circle, but the waving scarves, in gossamer silk and cotton batik, situate them colorfully in the tropics. Their words are their own, as each invokes a Pontianak as Medusa, a Puteri Duyung, or a Draupadi. The Hantu Tetek, the Breast Ghost of fables, makes a statement about objects of desire becoming the instrument of suffocation.

Sandee Chew, Elaine Foster, Nabila Najwa, Melizarani T.Selva and Sheena Baharudin are the poets who feature in this show, and they represent the many and mixed races of Malaysians. They are all accomplished artistes and dissect the Malay, Chinese and Indian legends of Malaysian childhood, as well Greek mythology. The show starts beautifully, with the discomfort of the rain and dark gloom adding to the ambience. Then the sound system stutters to a stop too often, leaving poetry unheard. An excess of emotion leads to some overwrought lines.

But the concept is brilliant.

Bernice Chauly, festival director, describes the GTLF 2016 as “about taking a serious look at where we are, at what we have become, and where we think we’re going”. The theme is ‘We Are Who We Are/Are We Who We Are?’.

At a time when Malaysian authorities are clamping down on free speech and political dissent on any kind, a free discussion of “Dangerous Ideas” (the title of a panel), is timely indeed. Chauly, the author of five books of poetry and prose and founder/director of the Kuala Lumpur Writers Workshop, spotlights the burgeoning creativity of Malaysian writers and artists along with international voices, without flinching from the controversial in these troubled times.

Musa says it is an act of defiance for him, as a brown Muslim poet, to stand up in front of audiences in Australia and tell “a different story”.

Zunar and the cartoons

Zunar and the cartoons

Zunar, the Malaysian cartoonist facing nine charges under the Sedition Act and 43 years imprisonment was here selling his banned books. Outspoken social activist Marina Mahathir gets into a debate with Australian rapper-poet Omar bin Musa about the virtues of artists leaving their country as opposed to making change. Musa says it is an act of defiance for him, as a brown Muslim poet, to stand up in front of audiences in Australia and tell “a different story”; he urges people in Malaysia to do the same.

There is poetry everyday at lunchtime at the China House, the audience spilling into the corridors and stairs, standing-room only. Other notable poetic events in the evening include a performance by the Dutch artist Jaap Blonk, who uses his ‘cheek synthesizer’ to produce mouth sounds driven by air, creating new sounds in poetry. Melizarani T Selva launches “Taboo”, an exploration of “Indiantity” as a minority in Malaysia among other quests; she is an emerging voice in Spoken Word Poetry to watch out for.

Penang feels like an older, freer Malaysia. There are honest and open discussions; even the politicians inaugurating the festival seem perilously outspoken. There is a space open here for multiplicity and multilingualism in a way that feels very different from the severity of Kuala Lumpur.

While showcasing Malaysian talent, it also put into context how world events affect all our writing. On a panel titled “Fears, Gun and Amerika”, we discussed how American fears are changing the way writers write about geopolitics and terror anywhere in the world. In a rapidly changing Southeast Asia, especially after the sudden clampdown on Ubud Festival last year, having a literary festival that is truly open and “dangerous” has almost become a luxury.

Fears, Gun and Amerika

Fears, Gun and Amerika

Dipika Mukherjee’s debut novel, Thunder Demons (Gyaana, 2011) was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize; it is being republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, UK) and distributed by Penguin/Random House worldwide in Summer 2016. Her short story collection Rules of Desire (Fixi, Malaysia) was launched in November 2015. She has two poetry collections: The Third Glass of Wine was published in December 2015 (Kolkata: Writer’s Workshop) and The Palimpsest of Exile, (Canada: Rubicon Press) in 2009. She is Contributing Editor for Chicago Quarterly Review and Jaggery and curates an Asian/American Reading Series in Chicago.

Pictures courtesy Georgetown Literary Festival website


The Literary Consultancy Comes to Asia


Rebecca Swift, Director of The Literary Consultancy, will be at the Hong Kong Literary Festival in November this year to talk about how her UK-based consultancy can help writers working outside Britain.

The Literary Consultancy (TLC), begun in 1996, was the world’s first editorial consultancy. Co-founded by writer and editor Rebecca Swift and Hannah Griffiths (now a publisher at Faber & Faber) it has sought to help writers gain in-depth, professional feedback. Some send their work before they submit to agents or publishers, others when they receive rejections and are confused about why. Nowadays, agents and publishers rarely have time to give detailed feedback to writers, so TLC filled in that gap. There are now other similar consultancies and ‘book doctor’ services, some more reputable than others.

Rebecca and her team currently work only in the English language, but they do work with writers outside the UK. They include Neamat Imam, a Bangladeshi-Canadian novelist, who with the help of TLC, signed with top UK agent David Godwin and whose book The Black Coat has been published by both Penguin in India and by Periscope Books in the UK; Damien Brown, whose account of working with Médecins sans Frontières, Band-Aid for a Broken Leg, was published by Allen & Unwin in Australia; Perdita and Honor Cargill, represented by Hannah Sheppard at DHH Literary Agency following a TLC assessment, who have just struck a two-book deal with Simon & Shuster; and Catherine Ferguson, represented by HHB Literary Agency who published her book Humbugs and Heartstrings via Harper Collins’ e-book first imprint Avon.

TLC’s editorial assessment service is suitable for writers who have started a project and would like guidance before continuing; writers working on a first draft; writers wanting an honest assessment of whether the work is ready to submit to an agent/self-publish; writers who are confused by feedback they have had. See the guideline to editorial fees. FEES


The consultancy’s online mentoring scheme, Chapter & Verse, for writers who want to see a book project through to completion; writers who need sustained support, with deadlines, encouragement, and constructive feedback. Chapter & Verse can be accessed from anywhere in the world. This scheme is designed to fit around a writer’s other commitments, providing over the course of a year six email feedback sessions with an experienced writing mentor who helps craft the work, help the writer find his or her voice and complete a full-length work. After the development process, writers receive a full editorial assessment of the whole work by a separate editor. This currently differentiates TLC’s service .

For those of you who can make it to London, TLC offers an Industry Day at its London base, the Free Word Centre, with an agent and editor as guests. Writers have attended from Bangkok, Canada and Europe. Those who can’t make it can access a PDF information pack with a write-up from the day.

Copy Editing and Proofreading

Matching copy-editors and proofreaders to writing projects is an area of our work we have seen increased interest in over the last few years,

As publishing options for writers proliferate and more authors decide to publish independently, TLC has seen increased interest from writers needing copy-editors and proofreaders. They will discuss with a writer whether this kind of editing is suitable before you part with any money. Writers who seek this service include those for whom English is a second language and who want help ‘cleaning up’ their work.

TLC does not advise writers to translate their own work into English unless they are an expert, as often this will result in a text that a copy-editor will have difficulty ‘fixing’. Copy-editing is corrective; not designed to re-write your text. It’s also not cheap, so make sure this is the final stage of editing, or you risk re-introducing errors which may need a further copy-edit to correct.

Who Uses Editorial Services?

‘We find that most of the writers coming to us are first-time or “emerging” writers wanting support to develop their craft and gain a better understanding of where their writing might fit into the market,’ said Swift. ‘But we also have regularly published or contracted writers come to us with books that, increasingly, their agents haven’t the time to help them develop.’

Most of the literary agents TLC works with are UK-based, but they also have contacts in Hong Kong, India, Australia, the USA, the Caribbean, and Africa, and they will do their best to support writers through these networks.

Finding Success as a Writer

Reaching publication success as a writer is in some ways easier than ever (via self-publishing), and in other ways more difficult than it’s ever been (squeezed editorial budgets, more focus on marketing and publicity when commissioning new titles within publishing houses).

On the one hand, the latest International Publisher’s Association annual report is encouraging; more books are being published than ever before. But this comes with a warning: Canongate Publisher Jamie Byng said in an article in The Guardian last year, ‘I think we publish too many books … and I think this impacts negatively on how well we publish books as an industry. It is very easy to acquire a book. Much harder to publish it successfully.’

There are some notably writers who disagree. Novelist Jenn Ashworth stated in the same article, ‘More books and more people talking about books is always excellent … it is a shame we have fewer and fewer librarians to help readers navigate their way through all this glorious literary chaos and find hidden gems.’

What’s clear is that good writing needs champions; those who can help not only source, but polish these ‘hidden gems’.

Says Swift: ‘When we find a particularly gifted writer, a “hidden gem” from any country, our professional reader or mentor flags the writer up to our in-house team. We will then look at the work, and think about the various pathways open to the writer; so what might be best for the book, according to the genre, the target readership, the market appeal, and so on.’

It’s an exciting time, and there are plenty of options for writers who are serious about writing, getting their work up to standard, and making it available to readers across the English-speaking world. The internet has opened up many possibilities, and it’s a thrill for all at TLC to be working at the intersection between the writing on the one hand, and potential readerships on the other, and finding ways to help writers form relevant links between the two.

By Aki Schilz

AkiSchilzTLCAki Schilz is a writer and poet based in London. She works as Editorial Manager at The Literary Consultancy.

Actors and Literary Translators, the Great Imitators

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Shelly Bryant argues that literary translators need the same skills as actors who imitate the voices and mannerisms of others.

Last year, the world lost one of the greatest comedic geniuses of our times when Robin Williams passed away. While he will be remembered for many roles on television and in the movies, his earliest claim to fame was as a stand-up comedian. From those early days of his career, one of the main tools of his trade was the impression, and he was one of the best. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ed Sullivan, Groucho Marx, Robert De Niro, and Carol Channing were just a few of the celebrity impressions Williams employed in a single film, Aladdin. He captured the mannerisms and voice of each one convincingly, alerting his audiences immediately to whom he was depicting.

This same gift of imitating others’ voices and quirks comes to life on the page in the work of a gifted literary translator. The translator’s job is not to duplicate the words of an author in a second language – taking the ‘original’ and repackaging it in a ‘target language.’ Instead, the translator’s job is to mimic the voice and mannerisms observed in the source text and replay them in a different venue for another audience. The translator’s voice will be heard – just as we see Robin Williams even when it is unmistakable that he is mimicking John Wayne or Ronald Reagan – but it will be a faithful enough representation of the author’s voice that the personality of the source material will come to life, being foregrounded to the point that the translator is lost in the shadow of the author. This is why the same work will sound slightly different in the hands of different translators, though the original is recognizable in each rendering.

The trick to successful literary translation is similar to successful impression. One must latch onto some details of expression, voice, or gesture and magnify those, being aware that doing so requires the relinquishing of other details. It is not a duplication of the whole person, but imitating certain traits specific to her or him. Sometimes it was a gesture or mannerism, such as John Wayne’s distinctive walk, that Williams would hang his imitation on, but as often as not, it was the voice. Jack Nicholson, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Walter Cronkite all became part of the repertoire on the strength of their very recognizable voices.

A similar skill can serve as the perfect foundation for a successful literary translation. The decision about what to latch onto and what to relinquish will vary from translator to translator, and that which is lost in the process will invite comments and criticism as soon as the work is published.

Sometimes, in order to make the impression recognizable, exaggeration of a point is required, and all exaggeration is necessarily a departure from the strictest literal translation. For instance, in my translation of Sheng Keyi’s Northern Girls, I knew as I read the book what I wanted the English version to sound like. It needed to bounce. It was crisp, sharp, cheeky, and extremely clever. When I started the translation, the first sentence of the book read, ‘她,就是钱小红,湖南的。’ The most literal translation of this is, She is Qian Xiaohong from Hunan (Province). My translation is, Her. Right there. That’s Qian Xiaohong, from Hunan Province. My version is more consistent with the voice of the novel as a whole, even if it is something of a ‘free’ approach to that first sentence.

On a larger scale, I had another decision to make early in translating Northern Girls. In the Chinese, there are no quotation marks to set off the dialogue. On the page, it all looks like free indirect speech, which often flows fluidly into more narrative portions, occasionally making it a little tricky to discern between dialogue and narrative, or between the narrator’s voice and a character’s thoughts, in an application of stream-of-consciousness techniques. In Chinese, this makes for a very fast-paced read, creating a lively text that is full of verve and sparkle. In English, the application of the same technique would slow the narrative down, as evidenced by much English-language stream-of-consciousness fiction. I made the choice from the beginning to forego the use of the technique, opting for an imitation of the voice, style, and personality over a duplication of the technique. Throughout my work on the translation of the novel, I tried to consistently apply this approach.

Another point to consider in translating from Chinese to English is that longer sentences and paragraphs are more the norm in Chinese. I often break a single Chinese sentence into two, or even several, English sentences. I have heard some translators suggest that sticking to the sentence and paragraph breaks – even the punctuation – of the original is part of the standard used to judge accuracy. (To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that from someone who works from Chinese to English.) The problem with this is that the same sentence breaks create a very different effect in English to that achieved in Chinese, which results in an imitation that seems to miss the mark of the voice or original personality of the piece. I prefer to be more faithful to the overall effect, even if it means sacrificing some details.

It might be argued that this approach fails in the strictest standards of accuracy. Rather than try to dispute that claim, I would reply that ‘strict accuracy’ is seldom an ideal that should be pursued in literary translation. Instead, I aim for faithfulness – a faithful rendering of the voice and character of the text – in an attempt to imitate the original’s effects on Chinese readers in an English-language readership, as opposed to a duplication of textual details. If a translation is too literal, it creates an odd mirroring that is like what you expect to find in a fun house; you might recognize the image, but you immediately know it is distorted.

Emphasizing imitation of voice in translation is not without its problems. I have seen my own preoccupation with imitation of voice create some problems or misunderstandings in the course of a project. In one instance, an author hired me directly to translate her work. When the final draft was complete, I received an email from her husband, a native English speaker, who wanted revisions done to capture what he considered to be the voice of the piece. He described it as upbeat, feisty, and fast-paced. This puzzled me, because my feel was that the text was slow, contemplative, and a little melancholy. I sought another opinion from a colleague, who agreed with my understanding and felt the voice I had employed was a good representation (or imitation) of the original. So, while the client and I were both focused on imitating the voice of the text, we were hearing different voices.

The matter was cleared up when I replied to the author’s husband, asking him to give me some examples from the text where he felt the voice was significantly different in English from the Chinese version. He wrote back to say, ‘I don’t read Chinese. This is just the impression I’ve got from my wife narrating the story to me.’ This was a somewhat unusual turn of events, with her spoken retelling of the story taking on a faster-paced, more frenzied tone than she employed in her writing. Her husband and I were each trying to mimic her voice, but she was not using the same voice when addressing each audience. The differences of opinion arose not only from the differences in the forms of the text presented to us, but in our respective relationships to that text. We were two very different audiences, and so the text morphed in our readings of it, resulting in almost polar opposite ideas about what the English version of the book should sound like.

When I thought more about this experience, it made perfect sense. The intended audience for a specific project always plays a key role in the approach to translation, a fact which creates space for many versions of the same work in translation. No single rendering can perfectly convey the original in the target language, translation by its nature being an inexact art, so multiple versions created for a variety of audiences and performed on numerous stages is the ideal. Sadly, it is an ideal that is rarely achieved, especially considering how inadequate the body of work we have available to us in translation is, even in the best of circumstances.
ShellyShelly Bryant  is the author of six volumes of poetry and a pair of travel guides for the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai. She has translated work from the Chinese for Penguin Books, Epigram Publishing, the National Library Board in Singapore, Giramondo Books, Rinchen Books and Griffith Review. Her translation of Sheng Keyi’s Northern Girls was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2012.

Spinal care for writers

Developmental editor Laurel Cohn looks at story structure.

No, this column is not about how to maintain correct posture at the computer (are you sitting up straight?). I’m interested here in the notion of the spine of your story.

Just as you can’t function at your optimum if you have spinal issues, your story needs to have a strong and healthy backbone. Think of your story as a creature. It does not need to look realistic – it can have a multitude of limbs and unusual features – but it needs to be able to stand on its own and deliver its creator’s intent.

Being able to identify the backbone of your story is crucial to help you work out whether you have unwanted growths that need to be excised or require additional material needed for balance.


Some writers meticulously plot their story before they begin chapter one. These are the planners. Others just start writing and let the story develop and unfold as they go. These are sometimes referred to as ‘pantsers’, those who write ‘from the seat of their pants’.

There is no right or wrong way; it is totally dependent on the writerly practice that works for the individual author. However, in my experience as a developmental editor, structural issues are common in both fiction and narrative non-fiction book-length works, and while planners do sometimes need to apply structural adjustments to their work, it is the pantsers who usually need to consider significant spinal manipulation.


The first step is to find out exactly what you’re dealing with. Some writers know there are structural issues in their work, but are not sure how to go about identifying them.

Writing a chapter outline after a completed draft is a good start. It is also useful if you are some way into a work and you feel like the structure eludes you. Some publishers require this as part of the submission (particularly for non-fiction), but even if they don’t, and even if you are a planner, it can be a very illuminating exercise. Using point form or prose, note for each chapter the key event, characters introduced, time covered, themes, plot threads etc. What you put into your chapter outline will depend on the type of manuscript.

You could begin with quite a detailed approach, but see if you can end up with no more than six to eight dot points or two to three short paragraphs for each chapter. The idea is to outline what you have written, not what you intended to write.

You may find that the draft is well-paced and balanced, with no major holes or blips. Or you may find that some chapters don’t seem to have a key dramatic event and others are choc-a-block with action; that a sub-plot seems to disappear from the narrative for over half the book; that a character is redundant; that the pace is uneven. Reviewing your chapter outline will give you ideas on what is working, what is missing and what needs to be rethought.


Diagnosis is only the first step. In order to fix structural issues, you have to  identify the spine of your story. One strategy is storyboarding.

A storyboard is a series of illustrated panels in a sequence, like a comic book. It is used in film to help plot stories and you can use it to help identify the key structural points in your manuscript: the bones of the spine. Once you understand where the spine lies, you can more readily amputate unnecessary limbs or strange growths that cripple the story. Storyboarding also helps you see your story as more than a collection of words – the individual bones are depictions of characters, their actions, and the consequences of those actions.

To storyboard your plot begin by listing the three main events that take place in your story; not just three random events, but the three things you are most likely to tell a friend when describing what happens in your manuscript. Use the three main events as roughly beginning, middle and end, and turn them into three panels. Now fill in some of the spaces between these main events and storyboard your plot to around 12 or 15 panels. Alternatively, create a single panel that shows the key event of each chapter. You may end up with ten or twenty panels, depending on how you have organised your material. This is a little like a visual version of the chapter outline.


There are various ways you can play with your storyboard to help you hone your narrative structure. You can cut your panels apart and rearrange them. Storyboarding can help you discover whether you have too much story or too little. It may reveal that your story’s ending is really your beginning or that one character (or more) has no real impact on the core of the story and can be cut. It might show that the sequence of events isn’t as tightly constructed as it should be. It can be a very useful tool in the revision process. You can use storyboarding to plan ahead, and you can also use it as a diagnosis tool for what you have already written.

Different genres and different stories may lend themselves to different types of layouts. For example, in a story where the passage of time is critical (such as a crime story) a spreadsheet may be appropriate so you can chart hours, days or weeks. There is a fascinating sample of J.K. Rowling’s spreadsheet for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix at (search for J.K. Rowling).

There are lots of different ways to represent a structure using shape, colour and space. I have worked with writers who have used mind maps, excel spreadsheets, outlines and index cards. Whatever shape your skeleton takes, and your representation of it, using colour and visual patterning may help you to see your work differently – to identify weaknesses and build on strengths in your story structure. With a strong spine, your story is more likely to fulfill your intentions.


Laurel Cohn is an editor and mentor passionate about communication and the power of narrative to engage, inspire and challenge. Since the late 1980s she has been helping writers develop their stories and prepare their work for publication. She is a popular workshop presenter and runs an editing and manuscript development service.