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Mystery minds reveal themselves

Selja Ahava (left) and Chip Tsao
Finnish author Selja Ahava (left) and Hong Kong writer Chip Tsao at a seminar held during the HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair 2019

What happens in a science fiction or mystery writer’s mind is a question that often occurs to readers’ when they immerse themselves in the mysterious worlds these authors conjure up.

At this year’s HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair (17-23 July 2019), several authors from Scandinavia spoke about how they go about making books, and why books in general and novels in particular have a bright future.

Introducing one of the speakers at a seminar titled “Hidden in Plain Sight; The autobiographical in fiction” held on 22 July, moderator and renowned Hong Kong writer Chip Tsao posed a question – since hard times often produce good writing, how do authors from stable, prosperous countries such as Finland and Sweden manage to produce riveting fiction?

Supplying part of the answer, Finnish writer Selja Ahava – author of The Day the Whale Swam Through London and Things that fall from the Sky and an autobiographical novel Before my Husband Disappears – said authors inevitably bring their own experiences into their works. “Myself is the writer’s instrument,” she said. Writers can also find the text takes over from them, and start writing things they had not even anticipated putting to paper.

In the woods

Will Dean’s Swedish home
Will Dean’s Swedish home, a cabin in the woods

Another author from Scandinavia, Will Dean (main picture) – who moved to Sweden from the United Kingdom and lives with his family in a wooden cabin in the middle of an elk forest – explained how “Books are More Powerful than Movies” – the title of his presentation.

He wrote Dark Pines, a crime mystery novel set in his adopted country, in the forest cabin.

Mr Dean said he often heard the quote “the novel is dead” but this frequently came from authors whose works were not selling anymore – the novel in fact is alive and well and has a bright future, he said. The session’s moderator, poet Nashua Gallagher who spent many years in Hong Kong, strongly agreed.

Just a century ago all the only media that competed with books for attention were theatre and newspapers, Mr Dean said. Since then other media – cinema, radio, television and an ever more powerful Internet – have vied for more of the readers’ attention. But books still appeal. He predicted a backlash against attention grabbing formats and towards books. Faced with a frenetically busy media environment, many readers would seek out the slow-paced, immersive experience of reading a book.

Mr Dean noted that about 25 years ago television, videos and video games were ubiquitous and sought user time, especially from children, when along came JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series which captured a generation’s attention. Books have retained their popularity even as entertainment moved from outside the home (theatres) to the living room (radio and television), the bedroom (video games) and finally into personal space – social media.

Key ingredients

Nashua Gallagher
Poet Nashua Gallagher

Mr Dean saw five reasons why books will continue to thrive.

First, they allow time travel. Readers can live through 1,000 lifetimes in just one lifetime. They can feel the immense things communicated by the author one moment, then just put the book away. An author’s and reader’s imaginations make for a high-definition experience.

Second, books allow for diversity. Expensive technology means senior executives control access to other media but there are plenty of small, independent book publishing houses offering opportunities for groups excluded from other formats by high barriers to entry.

Third, with books users can pause and consider what they are reading, they can be mindful of the content and question what they are reading.

Fourth, books are for sharing, whether they are in libraries or swapped around among peers. Readers could regard libraries as the peak of civilisation, Mr Dean said, being quiet places where readers have access to the minds of thousands of writers.

Lastly, books are beautiful objects. They can remain beautiful and with readers for many years. He greatly values copies which are signed by their authors.

Engrossed in story

Back to nature
Back to nature – fuel supply for the cabin in an elk forest

His creative process is even more immersive than the reading process. Living alone in a dark forest, it is easy for Mr Dean to shut out distractions. He takes just one month to write the first draft of a novel.

“During that month, I am totally immersed in the character,” he said – referring to Tuva Moodyson, the young, deaf reporter and protagonist of the author’s fiction series starting with Dark Pines and its sequel, Red Snow – through whose eyes the novels are written. Mr Dean deliberately created a character unlike himself – Tuva dislikes nature, for a start – to make the story more convincing.

After a month lost in the world of Tuva, Mr Dean then spends 11 months editing and polishing the draft before it is ready to go the publisher.

Many voices

In addition to Ms Ahava and Mr Dean, other international authors who spoke at the Sharing Sessions with International Authors, jointly arranged by the Book Fair and Book Depository, included Swedish children’s book author Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin, Japanese mystery novelist Kanae Minato, French science fiction writer Bernard Werber, British fantasy author Natasha Pulley, Canadian novelist Steven Erikson, audiobook narrator Emma Newman and Hong Kong writer Mark O’Neill.

Related links
Book Depository
HKTDC Hong Kong Book Fair

Content provided by Hong Kong Trade Development Council
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