56. To all the readers out there craving more Hong Kong writing

hkfp-facebook-bannerI couldn’t be prouder to see the 12th HKWC anthology Hong Kong Future Perfect being launched this Thursday at the Art & Culture Outreach bookstore in Wan Chai. No fanfares, just a gathering of interested parties for an interesting party: music from cerebral singer-songwriter P E A C E and readings from eight of our fantastic writers. This is the culmination of months of work for my co-editor Elizabeth Solomon and I, and right up to the last we’re keeping it tense. Will the freshly printed books find their way to the venue or will the embedded microchips fail, causing us to rely on our sinister fleet of Lit-drones? How early in the evening will I spill wine over the nibbles, saturating the handpicked typos and Oxford commas? Have we captured the zeitgeist, or is it about to run off somewhere else, thumping its chest?

What is certain is that this will be my last foray into publishing in Hong Kong for a while, the latest DSE English course book on which I’ve worked having likewise gone to print recently. Hong Kong Future Perfect is a gift from its writers and editors to a much-loved city and, in my case, a goodbye too. The Word Diver is about to take refuge in Davy Jones’ locker, with only a blank page and extendable snorkel for company. Thanks to everyone who has followed the blog, or dipped in now and again. A reminder that you can still find reflections on life in Victorian Manchester in my first blog, Cotton and Coal, and life as a trailing spouse in Washington DC in my second, The Diplomat’s Fiancé.


If your name’s not down, you can still come in – see you Thursday

A special mention to K & C who arranged some guerrilla readings at my ‘Bookish Beach Bum’s Birthday Bash’ in October. Stiffened by the sea breeze and fortified by grog, brave volunteers read extracts from my work, or directed their own humorous and/or vaguely insulting poetry at me. It meant a lot. Here’s hoping for more happy memories on Thursday – they’re all being stashed in my hairy sea chest. Stick a few in yours as well.



50. Future Perfect: anthology-editing pointers

HKFP Facebook banner.jpg
What a thrill to have co-edited the latest Hong Kong Writers Circle (HKWC) anthology, themed Hong Kong Future Perfect, with Elizabeth Solomon. As a result of our labours, twenty-one surprising and subversive stories about the city can be yours on or soon after the 15 December 2016 launch date.

So what lessons did I learn from the experience? Here are a few pointers to others looking to edit their own fiction anthology.

1. Being on the other side of the process is always an eye-opener
Editors are no more the writer’s enemy than literary agents (whatever rants I may have posted recently). As someone used to being asked to change my semi-precious words by often-unseen editors, I recognise the frustration writers feel at being ‘misunderstood’.

However, editors need to stand firm when they need to: they appreciate the overall vision of the book/magazine/online publication more than the talent, who have already been assured by acceptance that their piece is loved.

2. Consistency is key
Consult your style guide. If you don’t have one, write one before the submissions start to arrive. The HKWC style guide is our bedrock, and has been passed from editor to editor; which doesn’t mean it can’t be tweaked occasionally. Yet the relief of knowing that, for example, ‘realize’ will be ‘realise’, and ‘OK’, ‘okay’, gives you more time to concentrate on the creative side of your work – aka the fun bit.

3. Know your limits
In a self-publishing age, it’s important to realise that you can’t do everything yourself. An editor or editing team is unlikely to have the talent to design a professional-standard cover or typeset the manuscript in its final form. Get help, which means paying for help when necessary.

4. Get a second opinion
HKWC anthologies rarely operate with a single editor. In general, an editing team is established long before the theme is dreamt up and submissions received. There is no ideal number, a lot depends on personality, but a small team of two or three – each with specific roles and responsibilities – is preferable to a committee.

5. Use Word tools
Upon opening a submission click Tools -> Track changes -> Highlight changes and tick all the boxes before you engage with the text. This feature shows the writer exactly how you’ve nuked the nuance from their piece and allows them to ‘accept’ or ‘reject’ your changes when they take a look at your edit.

[Remember to keep a separate draft of every story at each stage of the process so you can cross-reference changes and see which of those rejections you might have to ‘unreject’ for the sake of the story/anthology.]

To give general or specific feedback use Insert -> New comment. Bar typos or grammatical boobs, it’s better to suggest before you change. Use comments to ask questions or offer alternative words or sentence rewrites in parenthesis.

6. Manage expectations
After accepting a story and relaying the good news, tell writers when you will be in touch with your initial edits. On sending them, be clear what you want. Unless you want a complete rewrite (unlikely) stress that only the indicated parts of the text need changing, otherwise you may find yourself with a whole heap of fresh editing to undertake.

Keep the writer in the loop throughout the second edit and beyond. As the initial buzz of acceptance wears off, the inevitable anxiety and self-doubt can take over so make sure you let writers know they are part of something special and are being listened to and kept in the loop.

7. Let it flow
When deciding on the order of stories in your collection try to keep the reader guessing about what’s coming next without confusing them unnecessarily. There is no perfect formula for deciding on story sequence (as I’m sure readers of Hong Kong Future Perfect will soon be telling me) but just as there should be a rhythm and flow to individual pieces, so the collection itself should be marching to the beat of its own drum.

As with so much of editing, consistency is key. Don’t attempt ‘top load’ your collection with the ‘best’ stories – presuming you even know which these are. Instead take the reader on a journey that will be interesting from start to finish.

Fortunately for us, Hong Kong Future Perfect has a reassuringly strong line-up of authors – an array of fresh, fragrant and occasionally fruity writers willing and able to forgive the editors for playing hard and fast with their own guidelines on occasion.

It also engages with the most predictable yet intriguing theme possible at this juncture in the city’s history: the future of Hong Kong.

Just as we hope to see Hong Kong thrive in the years ahead, so we need its literary voices to continue to be heard. If you would like to help guarantee the future survival of the Hong Kong Writers Circle, please volunteer to take a role on the committee in 2017. Email hello@hkwriterscircle.com for more information.

43. In praise of podcasts

Do we still need ears? Yes, you heard me right – according to Hipzine.com musicologists in the States are experimenting with cutting edge technology that will not only trim unsightly ear hair but allow music to mutate into a purely visual art form within the next quarter century. How? By unleashing billions of vibrant colours to dance before our salivating gogs. Rumour has it Bowie was working on a follow-up to Blackstar in which musical notes were to be replaced by a cavalcade of pulses and pixels shortly before he died, the finished product intended for release on 3D edible vinyl with liquorice afterglow in early 2017.

So will any of us miss our auditory abilities once human beings have evolved heads as smooth as fish? Call me old-fashioned (can’t hear you) but I, for one, will. Having grown up (perhaps prematurely) listening to BBC Radio 4 I continue to love the sound of conversation blooming in my ear buds.


Which brings us circuitously to the latest edition of the Hong Kong Writers Circle podcast featuring award-winning crime novelist Jame DiBiasio in conversation with Simon Overton, the Circle’s resident interviewer/producer. Bucking the trend of embarrassing self-promotion that makes up 98% of today’s arts media content, mention of Jame’s books is followed by useful, in-depth discussion and generous advice about crime writing, international publishing, and how to stick to your guns as a contemporary author. Give your ears a treat by visiting http://www.hkwriterscircle.com/blog/

More ear stuffing
As a long-time commuter with a sketchy Internet connection it helps to have an array of podcasts at hand. You may have already sampled stalwarts like Serial, This American Life and The History Hour, but may not have tried Around the NFL, an American Football podcast that regularly enters into surreal territory and barroom philosophizing. Ever witnessed an acquaintance make a throwaway comment or treat a server with contempt and thought, ‘A-ha, so that’s what they’re really like…’? For the lads on the ATN pod this is a ‘reveal magnifico’, and can be equally applied to players, coaches, friends and family members.

Even if you’re a hugely successful author with access to your own semi-private ferry 24/7 you sometimes need nothing more than a mate in your ears. That’s the experience to be gained from following the new-ish Adam Buxton podcast. Interviews with Jon Ronson, Louis Theroux, Joe Cornish and others are intermingled with boozy rants from Adam’s shed, lashings of self-doubt, and occasional paeans to the great Dave himself. Perhaps there’ll soon be reckless speculation on that unreleased Bowie material there. I can only hope it’s better than mine…

33. The dips and thongs of spoken word events

5 best things about reading at spoken word events

  1. Captive audience satisfies authorial control fantasy
  2. Audience member accidentally buys your book while trying to order a Penguin Classic the next day
  3. You get to hang out at bars with poptastic ‘80s names like Culture Club
  4. People sometimes buy you drinks (thank you!)
  5. Dutch courage encouraged
Gothic Reading

Reading at the launch of the Hong Kong Writers Circle’s ‘Hong Kong Gothic’, March 2015

5 worst things about reading at spoken word events

  1. Captive audience fails to satisfy authorial control fantasy
  2. Audience member realizes your book is just a mash-up of Penguin Classics
  3. You realize 86% of your literary competitors weren’t even born in the ‘80s
  4. People stop buying you drinks
  5. You end your days raging against the light in a purple hat on a non-stop tour of the deserted bus stations of the mind
Batson and Bateman

And a few years ago in the guise of Batson Bargreaves…

So…looks like a good thing I have someone covering for me this Monday (30th March) when an actor will be performing my monologue ‘Locked in Love’ as part of a Liars’ League event themed Chance & Fate at XXX Gallery, Sai Wan, Hong Kong.

The Liars’ League format (“Writers write. Actors act. Audience listens. Everybody wins.”) has provided raucous entertainment whenever I’ve seen it in action before, capturing the best aspects of spoken word to the delight of the audience (who, let’s face it, are the most important part of the night).

A particularly memorable line-up lit up the Hong Kong International Literary Festival last year when stories by Junot Diaz, Chris Pavone and others were performed at The Fringe Club. There is also an upcoming Liars’ League (London) special on Radio 4 so listen out for that.

‘Locked in Love’ is wedged right in the middle of bill on Monday; perhaps fittingly as it tells the story of an expat stuck in a stinky pub toilet cubicle. After admiring the graffiti and cursing the lack of toilet roll, our hero soon realises he’s in danger of missing his flight home to the UK, and with it a last chance to be reunited with his estranged love…

If you have a monologue you’re dying to let someone else get off your chest you can submit your ideas for future evenings direct to the Liars themselves by heading to their submissions page here. Would I lie to you?

Liars’ League @ XXX Gallery, B/F, 353-363 Des Voeux Road West, Sai Wan (between Whitty St and Hill Rd, eight mins walking west from Sheung Wan)

26. Looking for an excuse to stay off the beach…?

The Hong Kong Writers Circle summer writing competition is themed “Junk” and offers a chance of publication in the prestigious Asia Literary Review. Whether you want to recycle an existing idea or produce your own fresh garbage, all we ask is that you keep it below 5,000 words.


Visit the Circle’s website to find out more. You have to be a member to enter, but I’d wager the annual membership is less pricey than entering some of the higher-end story competitions out there. They should be ashamed…

Closing date is 31 August 2014 so get a shift on if you want to see your work in print.

15. Another Hong Kong – for your reading pleasure

Another Hong Kong

There are a multitude of perspectives in Hong Kong; more nationalities, cultures and minorities than you might imagine. In Another Hong Kong, a Hong Kong Writers Circle anthology of prose, poetry and creative non-fiction that I’ve been co-editing over the last few months, we can’t pretend to have covered all theses viewpoints – not while speculating on Hong Kong’s past, future and hidden present as well. However, we’ve done our best to pack as many alternative takes on the city as 250-odd pages will allow.

Another Hong Kong is officially launched on Thursday 13th March, at Culture Club Gallery, 15 Elgin Street, and includes a new short story from me called The Parachutist. This tall tale, full of ghosts, and featuring a mysterious American fugitive, is a tribute to time spent in old Wan Chai (as referenced on this blog occasionally) as well as to the Hong Kong teenagers I write for by day.

The book’s striking cover art is by Hong Kong artist Marc Allante who has about as many likes on his Facebook page as I have indifferent pauses. You can see what he’s doing right here.

***Please place your order now and spend your money on some non-designer Hong Kong shopping!!!***

Buy the softcover book

Buy Another Hong Kong for Kindle


3. Circles within circles

Psychedelic specs

Hong Kong, how I love you, but sometimes you drive me nuts, to the point where I don’t know whether it’s you or I who are more perfectly insane. Having arranged to meet a writer friend, ‘Verne’ for the first time at a popular arts bar, I’m not too surprised to find it closed for renovation; it was a fully functioning, low-key bar well suited to our purposes after all. I have no phone number for ‘Verne’ so email details of an alternative venue, already inhabited by our co-conspirator ‘Jules’ – still, ‘Verne’ may not have picked up my email so I linger in the heat warning by the entrance of the now-defunct bar, waiting for him. Luckily, we’ve exchanged photos, and I know that ‘Verne’ is shaven-headed and heavily tattooed (so we look pretty much alike, except in place of tats I’m sporting my ‘trademark’ oversized specs). We shouldn’t have a problem. There he is in fact – right on time – coming my way. I intercept him, hastily grab a hand, shake it warmly and apologize profusely for the mess up with the venue.

What I say: Sorry ‘Verne’, place is closed. Lucky we exchanged photos, good to meet you at last.

What he says: Ay, same here. I was just trying to check into that wee hotel across the way there.

What I think: Wow, I know he’s had a couple of books published lately, cause for celebration and all that, but he looks WAY too pissed to be taking part in a workshop tonight.

What he thinks: Who the hell is this guy? Still, he’s friendly enough – must be a mate of my brother’s.

What I say: So I’ve arranged for us to meet ‘Jules’ up the road. We should really head off there.

What he says: My brother’s not coming until tomorrow now, but that hotel wants $1300. When you work out what that is in beer… Where do you live?

What I say: Wan Chai.

What he says: Any places to stay round there?

What I say: Err…not sure. Maybe. I’d say stay at mine but it’s pretty small to be honest. Size of a bed, and we don’t know each other that well (laughs nervously). Let’s have a look on the way to the bar. There might be somewhere decent up in Soho

What he says: Sure, let’s do that. So when did we last meet? Your hair’s looking shorter now.

What I say: Than the photo? Yes, I took the fuzz off. I guess you recognize the glasses though? (waggles them humorously)

What he thinks: Shit, I’m stuck with this bespectacled idiot: still, the night is young and at least I didn’t spend $1300 on a hotel room.

What I think: Who is this guy? How am I meant to introduce him to ‘Jules’ in this state? He’s wearing shorts and doesn’t appear to have any notes with him. We’re meant to be discussing our VERY IMPORTANT WORK. Writers!

What I say: So when did you join the Writers’ Circle then? Must have been a while ago now?

What he says: Circles within circles, lots of circles. Never very far away from anyone, are we?

What I think: True (time passes, we walk and talk).

What I say: I didn’t realise you were up in Guangzhou. How is it compared to here?

What he says: Quieter, for sure.

What I say: But you know Hong Kong?

What he says: Aye a little, and you?

What I say: More than I did. Two years now. I’m always amazed by how safe it feels.

What he says (ominously): Until you’ve had too much to drink.

What I say (trying to ignore his evident drunkenness and apparent homelessness): And you’re a New Zealander? A Kiwi? Is that the right way to put it?

What he says: Irish.

What I say: It’s just that in your emails you mentioned…

What he thinks: This guy is confusing me now.

What I think: This isn’t ‘Verne’.

What I say (very clearly and patronisingly): Are – you – ‘Verne’?

What he says (very honestly): No.

What I say: Then that means … better run back to … nice meeting you … (sweaty handshake) ‘bye!

What he says: See you there!

What I think: Hope not.

What he thinks: It was a lot more fun last time I was here.