The Chair of the APWT, Sri-Lankan born Nury Vittachi, has some comforting words for Asian-Pacific writers, who may feel the odds are stacked against them…About one million new books are printed globally every year. But most will come from Western countries, with almost 400,000 from just two: the UK and the US.
‘What hope is there for creative people in Asia?’ sighed a young author with whom I shared these figures.
I told her that the lack of books from Asia-Pacific was good news for people like her. Eastern tales are rare and unusual. In contrast, Western stories are often extremely predictable.
To prove my point, I went out and bought the latest big-selling thriller at the airport. The Whole Truth by David Baldacci (who has written some excellent books in the past)) was stacked high in every major international airport on the planet.
Here’s the story, so you can make up your own mind how original it is.
Once there was a law enforcement guy called Shaw. He was good-hearted but a bit of a maverick (surprise). He was handsome and tall, of course. “Rugged is how most people would describe his features, ruggedly handsome,” the author tells us.
Shaw goes to Holland and speaks the local language fluently to a surprised immigration officer. The officer, who is 6 feet 2 inches (1.85m) tall and towers over most people, says: ‘You speak Dutch?’ Shaw, who is 6 feet 5 inches (1.95m) tall and towers over him, replies: ‘Doesn’t everyone?’
Shaw then speaks to an Iranian in the Farsi language before switching to ‘a Chinese dialect from a tiny province in the south of the communist country’. So now we know that Shaw is handsome, tall AND clever, apparently knowing every language in the world.
Shaw meets a woman. We know she is going to be the heroine because she is described as ‘young and beautiful with raven hair’.
This is a piece of her dialogue with Our Hero: ‘You’re very good-looking. And large!’ (Guys, how often do women say that to you? Be honest!)
But Shaw repels her, saying, “I’m married.” So now we know that Shaw is handsome, tall, clever AND morally principled.
As the action hots up, we find Shaw has an amazing ability to get into battles with groups of villains and single-handedly defeat all of them.
At this point, I was thinking that Shaw was the least believable fictional character I had ever encountered, Spongebob Squarepants and the Hindu ‘cow which gave birth to the world’ NOT excepted.
But I was wrong. For the author then introduced me to Shaw’s woman, Anna. ‘The love of his life was fun-loving in many ways, emotional and romantic, but she also possessed an IQ far to the north of genius level: brains and beauty.’ Anna had “long, elegantly formed legs’ and ‘could speak fifteen languages at last count and all of them like a native’.
(By this point, I’m sure some of you are thinking that this essay must be satire. But it isn’t. I swear, none of these quotes from the book are made up or paraphrased. They are all actual quotes.)
Shaw decides that he is going to give up being an action hero and settle down to a quiet domestic life with Anna. At this point, the reader knows that if this is the most predictable story ever written, Anna will be blown to bits.
Anna is then blown to bits.
I said to the young Asian author: ‘So there’s your challenge. Can you think of a more original story than that?’
She replied: ‘It would be humanly impossible to think of a less original one.’
Too true. One character in the book was shot at but later ‘found the flattened bullet in her hair’. I can only imagine that her head must have been as thick as Mr. Baldacci thinks his readers’ heads are.
Asian authors, this is your competition. Get writing.
Nury Vittachi is a founder and Chair of APWT. He has played key roles in judging or helping set up numerous literary prizes in Asia, including the Man Asian Literary Prize in Hong Kong. He was founding chairman of the Scholastic Asia Book Prize, which is the biggest children’s literary prize in the region, and founding chairman of the Australia-Asia Literary Award, the largest book prize ever given out in the region. He is chief judge of the Hong Kong Young Writers Award and other prizes.