The author of Grey Stories, The Bird Saw Me and A Perfect Crime (available in English) tells China Daily his experience as the writer-in-residence at the Owspace bookstore.
In the last two weeks of March, I took the metro, transferring three times, to travel from my home in southern Beijing to reach Owspace in Huajiadi on the other side of the city. I stayed in the bookstore from 11 am to 5 pm as a writer at large in the store.
Iwas invited by the bookstore to be the writer-in-residence, partly because I am familiar with the people there because I often go to buy books and have done some book launches in Owspace in recent years, and partly because, as an unemployed freelance writer, I have plenty of time.
Few readers recognized me on my first day. I sat in a corner and did my own reading and writing. They just saw me as another quiet reader.
From the second day, some readers started to bring their works tome, asking for my opinion. Honestly speaking, their works have a lot of room for improvement, just like my early attempts at writing.
Some readers told their stories to me and asked me to write them. It was interesting to listen to other people describe the most exciting part of their lives. Actually, some of my past works are based on stories people told me.
During my stay in the bookstore, I gave a talk about what makes a young person who loves literature become a real writer.
One has to get acknowledgment from the outside world, such as getting one’s works published in literary journals, win a literary award, or be recognized by critics. But more importantly, one has to identify oneself as a writer from inside their heart. There was a long period of time when I got no acknowledgment from outside and I wrote just for myself.
The bookstore also organized a literary salon between me and Hu Shaoqing, a professor of Chinese literature at the University of International Business and Economics, on the topic of “dark writing”-a literary genre focusing on the dark side of humankind and the world. I have written a lot of novels of this genre based on my past experience as a policeman.
I also made a booklist for readers, which includes short stories by Franz Kafka, Edgar Allen Poe, Ernest Hemingway, novels by Dostoev-sky and Tolstoy, drama by Lao She and Shakespeare and so on.
But I don’t recommend essays, especially arguments and political criticism, because I think we have read enough arguments and most of them are explaining the same moral judgment over and over again.
Overall, I think the project is quite good for me to meet readers, as I could not receive them at home, and I also look forward to visiting the following in-store writers. It is a good chance to meet new friends in literary circles. Otherwise it is hard to find them and make an appointment.
Some suggestions for the project: It would be ideal to invite writers of similar backgrounds or focus to come to the bookstore one after the other, such as holding a young writers’ month or Spanish literature month to showcase one aspect of literature in a concentrated period of time. Cooperating with universities and cultural institutes is also a good way to reach more people.
I hope the project can gradually form something like the “Left Bank” in Paris during the 19th century and early 20th century, where great artists, writers and philosophers met and talked, creating the cultural space that celebrated ideas and fostered creativity.
(China Daily 04/15/2015 page22)