Monday, 14 March 2011

Author Visit: Wena Poon

Good morning, all! Here's the third interview to celebrate Salt Publishing month. Happy Monday x

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Wena Poon is a Singapore-born American author whose work has appeared in print, radio and film. Winner of the 2010 Willesden Herald International Short Story Prize in England, twice longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in Ireland, and nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize and the Malaysia Popular Readers’ Choice Award, Poon is the author of Alex y Robert, The Proper Care of Foxes, and Lions In Winter. She also writes a sci-fi action-adventure novel series, the first four volumes of which are collected in The Biophilia Omnibus, which was voted Best Book Gift of the Year by CNN Singapore. A graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, and a practicing lawyer, she lives in San Francisco and Austin. Wena's latest book from Salt is a novel, Alex Y Robert.



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Hi Wena, thanks for stopping by our Book Forum, please pull up a chair. How would you sum up your new novel ‘Alex y Robert’ for those who haven’t bought it yet [naughty people]?

A 21st century bullfighting novel starring a pair of Facebooking, Twittering teenage matadors: an American girl and a Spanish boy.


How long did it take you to write this novel – from initial idea to final edits? What was the first idea you had which sparked the whole novel?

It took 8 months from initial writing to final edits. The idea was from a theatre director friend, she commissioned me to do a story of any length as long as it had Spain and bullfighting in it. She wanted it for the stage.


Do you find that there are central themes in your writing as whole?

Yes. Transnationalism, technology, and a world without barriers. And I am often funny.


How has being a lawyer influenced your writing?

There isn’t much overlap. But if you had to look for a connection, I would say drafting contracts in a fast-paced environment for over a decade has made me love simplicity and brevity in the English language. Working adults don’t have time to read: if you have a story, tell it quickly and get to the point. Just because it’s short doesn’t mean it’s simple or plain: look at a haiku.


What’s your proudest writing achievement?

Ironically, it’s not any of the literary awards I’ve won or been listed for, it’s getting Alex y Robert into mass distribution at WH Smith in England. Distribution is so important to an artist. You don’t want to write an exciting novel and have it become nothing but a damp squib.


What is your writing routine [if such a thing indeed exists]?

I don’t have a routine at all. I write voluminously and have since I was a child. I write whenever I have a chance. Especially on airplanes and at airports.


You were shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize – do you have any plans to write a poetry collection?

I have one, I just don’t publish it. I’m a novelist first and foremost and if I publish poetry as well, there would be a perception problem. People think if you’re a poet, you can’t write a novel, and vice versa. The same people think if you love dogs you must hate cats.


Are you able to let us know what you’re working on at the moment?

Sure, I’m not superstitious. I’m writing the sequel to Alex y Robert, called Smoke, about a third of the way in. I’m finishing a new novel called Further Beyond, which is a transatlantic love story that is rather heartbreaking and I don’t dare to finish it because I will just weep buckets. I’m about 40% into a new short fiction collection.


This month we’re dedicating our book forum to Salt Publishing – do you have anything you’d like to share about Salt? What do you think they bring to the book industry?

Salt is run by Jen and Chris Hamilton-Emery. They remind me of Virginia and Leonard Woolf and the Hogarth Press, in a good way. Salt is what publishing was at the start of the 20th century. Because of Salt, some really amazing books have seen the light of day, and if people don’t know this, it’s their loss. My favorite Salt book is The Trees by Eugenio Montejo, a famous Venezuelan poet translated beautifully by Australian poet Peter Boyle. When was the last time you read a book that you were so moved by, you bought 3 more copies to give to your friends? And I’m not even the type to buy poetry or read Spanish, either. That’s the power of Salt’s vision: to change your view of literature, to make you discover books you ordinarily would never have discovered.


On our book forum we have a Book Tree where members pick their favourite book and we all get to read it, posting it round in a circle, so that when the book comes back to the owner it’s filled with comments from everyone else. If you were to pick a book for the Book Tree, what would you pick and why?

Can I pick Alex y Robert, my book? I am genuinely dying to get reader feedback. As I’m writing the sequel, I’ve been ringing people up and asking, “Should he get the girl? What do you think? Should she marry the other guy? Do you think she’s too hard? How do I make her softer? Do you think he really loves her? When would it be a good time for him to say so?”

I would love reader feedback on the margins, it would really help. For me a novel is like a massively multiplayer online role-playing game: I can’t wait to play it with millions of others.


Thanks, Wena!


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In a new century of Google Earth, YouTube and endless connectivity, her characters prove that what moves us and makes us human remains as compellingly simple – and fleeting – as ever. - Alison MacLeod


Perfectly structured and viscerally imagined, Alex y Robert drags bullfighting kicking and screaming into the 21st century, wonderfully evoking the smells and sounds of the ring in cold, pithy prose. An original and fascinating glimpse into other worlds. - Stav Sherez



Read an extract from, and buy, Alex y Robert by clicking here.

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Author website with videos, reviews, and extracts: http://www.wenapoon.com

Wena's Amazon page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B0031GW3OG

Follow Wena on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Wena-Poon/112835243358

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