Finding humour in tense anxious situations has been the forte of award-winning and acclaimed author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, Mohammed Hanif. While he has been under flak in his own country, Pakistan, after the aforesaid book was translated to Urdu, he had been invited to Hong Kong to give the PEN ( Poets, Essayists, Novelists) Hong Kong Literature & Human Rights lecture at Hong Kong University.
In a report published this year based on an interview at that time, we are told he had a tough time making it across the violence to the talk which needed to be rescheduled. Said a frazzled Hanif: “I’d rather have running water and safe streets, I’d rather have boring normality. If that means dull literature, I’ll happily make that bargain.”
Raffles Hotel, 2019, Photo by Marc Nair
With the literary festivals season blossoming around Asia, Singapore will host its 22 nd writers’ festival from 1st to 10th November with big names dropping in, including Pico Iyer. Pico Iyer, who has spent the last three decades in Japan will be talking on ‘Beyond Borders, Beyond Words’. Iyer will reflect on human connection and belonging. After his talk, he will be in dialogue with acclaimed novelist who has spent a large part of her life in Japan too and now lives in Singapore, Meira Chand.
This year Pico Iyer has been the writer in residence for the newly renovated Raffles Hotel in Singapore. He penned down a book on the Hotel called This could be Home. the novel was launched on 5th august. Long ago in history, this heritage hotel had housed the likes of great writers like Rudyard Kipling and Somerset Maugham.
Pico Iyer was born Siddharth Pico Raghavan Iyer in 1957. His great-great-great-grand father was a Gujarati writer-reformer in the late nineteenth century, Mahipatram Nilkanth . His parents were Indian academics who moved to England to study. Iyer’s unusual name is a combination of the Buddha’s name, Siddhartha, with that of the fifteenth century Florentine neo-Platonist Pico della Mirandola and the last name is that of his father. Schooled in Oxford and Harvard, Pico Iyer is known for his brilliant essays and travel writing. He has written a few novels too.
Koi Kye Lee in conversation with author Simon Rowe
Simon Rowe, an author- photographer- lecturer and avid traveller, lives in the samurai castle town of Himeji, Japan, and writes from there. He has recently brought out a collection of short stories titled Good Night Papa: Short Stories from Japan and Elsewhere.
Born and raised in Central Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, he moved to Australia where he graduated from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Simon Rowe not only has a passion for words, but also indulges in photography. Many of his works have appeared in TIME (Asia), the New York Times, the Weekend Australian, the South China Morning Postand the Paris Review. His short stories have been published in Flesh: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (2016), Another Time Another Place: A Collection of Short Stories (2015) and Noir Nation: International Crime Fiction No. 3(2013). He holds an MA in Writing from Swinburne University of Technology and is currently a foreign language instructor at Kwansei Gakuin University. He recently published another short story, ‘The Summer Hills of Pourerere’ , a story that talks of three teenage misfits forging a path through a harsh rural environment.
In this exclusive interview, he talks about travel, writing and teaching from Japan, the inspiration behind his stories, and his life as an English lecturer.
Kye Lee: Your stories have appeared in numerous publications. What made you start writing and for how long have you been writing?
Simon: That’s a long story! Growing up in rural New Zealand during the 1980s, my window on the world was National Geographic magazine. Naturally, I wanted to be a travel writer and photographer. My first story was about backpacking from Melbourne to Cape Tribulation in far-north Australia. I sold that tale to a newspaper in Melbourne and with the money bought an onward ticket. This became my existence for the next fifteen years and took me around the world three times. I finally settled in Japan where I now write short fiction, screenplays, and a blog called ‘Seaweed Salad Days’, about life in a traditional Japanese neighborhood.
Reviewed by Koi Kye Lee
Title: Good Night Papa, Short Stories from Japan and Elsewhere
Author: Simon Rowe
Publisher and date of publication: Atlas & Jones. Co (2016)
Good Night Papa: Short Stories from Japan and Elsewhere is a collection of stories written by Simon Rowe. His stories have appeared in publications such as TIME Asia, The New York Times, The Australian, The South China Morning Post, among others. Rowe is currently teaching creative writing and media studies to English language learners at university level.
Born and raised in New Zealand and Australia, Rowe has lived in Japan for more than twenty years. He writes from Himeji, a city in the Kansai region. The city is famous for the spectacular Himejijo, the Himeji Castle. Perched on a hilltop, the castle is also known as the White Heron Castle (Shirasagijo) due to its elegant, white appearance.
The title story in this collection, “Good Night Papa”, which was adapted for screenplay and subsequently won the Asian Short Screenplay Contest in the United States in 2013, is also set in Himeji.