A Weekend Away in Mandalay

Duncan Jepson
Mar 6th, 2014

THE BEAUTY OF LITERARY FESTIVALS is in the possibility of listening to people who will talk about themselves but aren't trying to sell you anything. One the third and last day of this year's Irrawaddy Literary Festival I sat through two sessions, back-to-back: Louis de Bernières (Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Red Dog and Birds Without Wings) and Caroline Moorehead (The Letters of Martha Gellhorn, Bertrand Russell: A Life and Train In Winter). One is a novelist of beautiful prose, the other a biographer of exact history. I was not very familiar with the work of either writer, and even less so with their personal lives, but during the course of the weekend, over several different sessions, I came to understand their motivations, family history, tender moments and fond memories. It was an unhurried and joyful experience, a world away from my daily life amid the oncoming traffic and rushed decisions of finance and law.

Before the festival started I travelled around the city and neighbouring communities and was surprised at the positive attitude of the people: they're realistic about the massive efforts the future required, but seemingly undeterred and ready for election next year. All is very obviously still not resolved, as we were reminded when the Government withdrew permission for the festival to use the preferred venue the night before. But the successful scramble to relocate to the grounds of the Mandalay Hill Resort Hotel proved that the people are not to be easily dissuaded and that there is much impetus for progress. Nothing showed this more than the appearance of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who pretty much left the hotel without staff for ninety minutes while they all watched her being interviewed - even though few of the local audience spoke or understood English. Even the guest trying to find someone to make him a gin and tonic had to admit that their passion made it worth the wait.

Running underneath the big-ticket celebrity events, such as Daw Suu’s attendance (she’s a big fan of Lizzie Bennett), were a number of sessions held by local authors and Asian writers. One group in particular stood out: the crime writers. Tom Vater and Hans Kemp, along with writer Jame DiBiasio, have pulled off a minor miracle in establishing a profitable independent publisher in Hong Kong, with a focus on crime stories. Having been an amateur contributor to the Asian publishing scene, I understood how difficult this is to achieve and though I don’t know the details I was impressed by their passion, energy and prudence.


Duncan Jepson is the author of All the Flowers in Shanghai and Emperors Once More.

Visit Crime Wave Press and the Irrawaddy Literary Festival


Duncan Jepson
Hong Kong
Last blog date: Mar 6th, 2014


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