Selected Works: 2020 Nanjing International Writers' Residency Program
On October 31, 2019, Nanjing was designated UNESCO City of Literature. In accordance with the mission of UNESCO, Nanjing, as the only UNESCO City of Literature in China, embraces cultural diversity and urban inclusiveness, values mutual aid and mutual learning between different countries. Writers’ exchange and residency is a common practice promoted throughout the sub-network of Creative Cities of Literature. Since Nanjing’s designation, and even before that, Nanjing has played an active role in hosting international writers through its annual residency program.
In the year of 2020, the global pandemic crisis made it very difficult to continue such residency programs. Many cities had no choice but to cancel or suspend their plans of hosting resident writers. Nanjing being one of the few cities in the sub-network where city cultural life has been greatly restored, tried to make contributions to the network by holding a special residency program. Nanjing’s call for application received positive responses from many other UNESCO Cities of Literature.
Due to the unlikelihood of international travels, Nanjing’s program shifted to a mode of online experiences, make communications and interactions through internet. Lilas Yuan, director of Nanjing Literature Centre, said, “We have carefully prepared 10 options of contents for resident writers. These options cover Nanjing’s cultural history, literary achievements, masters and masterpieces, cultural landmarks and cultural spaces. Our program features two what we call ‘face-to-face’ meetings that will take place online between resident writers and local writers and citizens. To prepare the contents online, we spent a lot of time on contents collection, edition and translation to ensure the quality of communication, to give each resident writer some accurate and vivid sense of our city through these contents. We hope Nanjing’s innovative attempt of the residency program can bring some inspirations to fellow UNESCO Cities of Literature, we firmly believe that communications cannot and should not be suspended under the epidemic.”
At the end of this residency, all 7 writers that participated in the 2020 Nanjing International Writers’ Residency Program submitted their original literary works completed during the residency. Here we post some selected works, may our readers enjoy.
Mike Nicholson is an Edinburgh-based children's literature writer, who has published ten children’s books, including Catscape, which won the 2005 Kelpies Prize, Grimm, Museum Mystery Squad and The Giant Who Snored. He has also written short stories, which were performed at Storyshop, Edinburgh International Book Festival, and film scripts for 48 Hour Film Project, a filmmaking competition.
In October 2020, I was offered a virtual writing residency with Nanjing City of Literature. From nearly 9000 kilometres away from my home in Edinburgh in Scotland, I was able to ‘go’ to Nanjing.
I visited the Phoenix Cloud 24 Hour Bookstore and the Oriental Metropolitan (Six Dynasties) Museum. I was struck by the bookshop being an experimental space blending books and craft and film, and the idea presented by those involved that people’s feelings can only be triggered if an object has some human connection. Meanwhile the story of the museum being built on the newly discovered archaeological site of the ancient city, and with a design built on light, created a strong image for me. So too, did the 3rd century figurines – these little people seemed to hold some stories.
I had a discussion with children’s author Shua Shua and learned about her passion of telling people’s untold stories, and of her desire to spread a message of hope. Meanwhile my conversation with Dr. Andong Lu, Professor in Architecture and Urbanism, covered our shared interest in museums, the idea that every object has its own story, and how even seeing an image of an object might inspire people, without the need to see the object itself.
When I’m writing I often try to make connections between different experiences I have. I like working with children to get them build stories from seemingly unconnected events, characters or objects. This residency gave me a chance to play with this approach – to try to write a piece which reflected all of these Nanjing experiences I’ve described.
I imagined an ancient object being discovered – a little man – one of the figurines I had seen.
I imagined what that moment was like and how that object might become something much more than an object. I imagined being in the museum.
I wrote three connected pieces; Discovery, Alive and Imagine.
I hope you like them and thank you so much for the chance to ‘visit’ Nanjing.
The little man had lain hidden alongside the ancient city walls. Like those buried stone boundaries, he was just another fragment of the past, created by hands long gone; an object lost to a world which hurried above ground at 21st century pace.
The man was not really a man - no pulse, no emotions. Yet somehow, he was dormant with a promise of possibilities. He still offered a link to past craftmanship - a symbol that feet had walked the same ground - a doorway into stories of lives lived long long ago. If only he could be found.
Today had seemed a long day. In fact, there had been many long days blending into weeks of sifting through the dirt. A painstaking job filled with mundane actions and requiring endless patience; but also, one filled with hope and the potential of that moment of discovery.
The woman stretched and eased stiff limbs, tired from the constant crouch of the dig. As she did so, her shadow moved and the change of light caught her eye. Something out of place in the soil at her feet. A rogue colour, a different texture. A hint of a polished surface amidst the rough dry dirt.
Instinctively she reached for a small brush and stroked it gently on the ground. So much of the time these moments and movements led to nothing. But this wasn’t one of those.
This was something. Definitely something.
She leaned in and blew softly. And with that, as if her breath blew life itself, a new story began.
Particles of earth shifted minutely to reveal a leg. An arm with a missing hand. A face.
She blew again. Dust particles scattered and swirled into the air, thousands of them; each one like a decade of time in a speck, the years rising and floating away to reveal what had been imprisoned in the ground for a millennium and more.
There it was.
A figure of a little man.
She lifted it delicately and held it in the palm of her hand. And although there was not the hint of a heartbeat, it was as though he was alive.
In an unmarked grave.
I once had my place in a different era, but here amidst the collapse of buildings I have become as irrelevant as the crushed stone around me. Everything reduced to rubble and so to nothing.
But out of a thousand years of darkness there came a scraping, a sensation, a vibration through the earth. Like a tapped-out message from the future.
It happened again.
And then… light.
The blanket of blackness unwrapped - a face above me and a hand reaching down.
Suddenly I am unearthed and I exist again.
There’s a babble of voices. Excitement. Confusion.
I am held tenderly, by careful hands in work gloves. My long imprisonment has meant something. It has made me precious.
And with this new beginning I become a story. I won’t speak, I will tell it simply by being. And by doing that I will bring the past to life.
My very existence is my story - where I am from, how I was made, who fashioned me and why, in the world that I am from.
I am a set of questions and answers.
I am knowledge and learning.
I am a character, a setting and a plot.
Look at me and imagine.
I always stop and look up before we reach the entrance.
As we stand outside my Mum asks me, “Don’t you want to go in today?”
Of course I do. But as I look up at the stone and the glass and the sky beyond, it’s like the city world we live in disappears - my time in the palace of treasures is about to begin.
When I step through the door, I take a big breath. The biggest one I can. I fill my lungs until my chest is full. My mum says I look like I’m going to pop. I want this place not just to be all around me, but inside of me too.
The daylight follows me in. It finds me through the glass roof and fills the giant hall. We are inside but still connected to the sky. And with the windows set into the floor, I can glimpse the ancient walls in the lower levels – I watch how the light can even reach down to them.
Then it’s time to explore – up and down stairs to each level – along corridors, around corners – I seem to see something new with every visit in this labyrinth of tales. This place is full of things - but they are not just things. This museum is a library, where books are objects of every shape and size – each one telling its own story.
My favourite is the little man. Every visit has to include him.
I stand in front of his display case and gaze in. His eyes seem blank but I’m sure he is looking back at me. I stare at him and wonder.
I wonder what it is like to be so old.
I wonder who made him and what Nanjing was like in his time.
I wonder what happened to his missing hand.
I wonder what he thinks, seeing all of us looking in.
He seems thoughtful and wise.
I wonder what his voice would be like and what he would ask me.
I imagine him in front of me. Real. Standing there. Outside the glass. Sharing the light from outside.
I wonder what he would say if he stepped back through the door with me to the city beyond.
I try to imagine that something of me might be found in centuries to come with stories to tell of my time and my people and the things I have done.
I wonder what my stories will be and how they will be told.
Andrew Graves is a Nottingham-based freelance writer, poet and film tutor, He has had three full poetry collections. He also has published many times in the world of film criticism. His last non-fiction title Welcome to the Cheap Seats: Silver Screen Portrayals of the British Working Class, was published in 2019.
Nervous, I prepare for the trip
which will take me as far
as the Yangtze Delta region
Five thousand miles.
Into the room next door.
In a jet-lag free journey into the unknown.
My baggage, morning coffee,
my runway, the landing carpet
my flight electronic.
I am sedentary Superman, the lazy conqueror,
pyjama top explorer,
hurtling in office chair,
navigating a lap top’s map
of icons and commands.
A digital transference of personality,
my thoughts buzz over oceans
of preposterous distance,
air miles mount up
in dressing gown pockets
Mentally I’m already fingering virtual postcards
of a quietly glorious place
in the ether.
comes to me via wifi connection
a land mass crammed into 12” screen.
No need for seatbelts or sick bags.
Yet still its colours are a promise of medicine,
the ancient hues
emeralds, yellows and reds
administered from lantern strewn
banks of the Qinhuai to pour
across the river’s gloss
while elsewhere, the Zifeng Tower
is clinically orchestrated,
an architectural syringe
piercing a skin of sky.
Its serum inoculating the future
with vertical forests,
tower blocks of fauna,
commerce under canopies
And there, the purple mountain,
with its clouds of
candy wrapped confection,
for this city of emperors.
I am awed and woken by that promise.
Doing without doing.
Being without being.
Touching without touching.
My visit is impossible.
I arrive anyway
Our initial conversations
are cluttered, fascinating,
not always because of content
but how that communication is delivered.
Words leap from self to other
via speculative gaps,
translated moments measured
in smiles that last too long.
Listening when we cannot listen,
hoping to understand before we ever can.
Our exchange plays out
Like a movie show, our narrative
enacted in split-screen episodes,
you an exotic world cinema production,
me a kitchen-sink drama.
I channel DH Lawrence, and Sillitoe,
Imagine Arthur Seaton falling down drunk
before a golden pagoda,
Mellors and Lady Chatterley
hiding blushes in the Rain Flower Terrace,
picking items of clothing
from Bonsai tree, chrysanthemum and orchid
You tell me about the Monkey King
And my ignorance about Chinese culture
leads me only back to the seventies TV show
with its staffs and clouds
and Kung Fu battles.
Like that colourful protagonist
I feel lost and stupid.
You are sophistication, immaculate suit
cream cotton, un-collapsed, effortless cool,
I am a rag bag of good intention,
eyes worn dark by a night in the balance.
We speak not as person to person
But as alternative geographies
our histories jostle for attention
but the stories we tell each other
are bigger in that second
lost in idiosyncrasy
and momentary nows.
I am rain soaked island,
crumpled in self-loathing,
racked with creeping imposter syndrome.
You are high concept,
a gallery exhibit with lines around the block.
I am scribbled note,
an idea half drawn,
fag packet wannabe
the unplanned plan
You are infinite patience
You are tomorrow, the grand design.
I, the unravelling threads of yesterday’s mistakes
We fall between two lands here,
a fibre optic nowhere,
where we are everything and everywhere.
From Nottingham to Nanjing
our world goes on,
this pandemic, this new reality
just how incapable we are
of not being us
Van Gough watches from the ceiling,
oil painted eyes overseeing a myriad of ideas
here and there in impressionist blur
palace of the page.
We come to cross the heart of tradition
With the neon of modernity,
Illuminating every spine of truth
and shelf of possibility.
Where the foliage outside may brown, and rot
But inside these
leaves of white, cream and yellow
remain an established
perennial forest of understanding
Gala Uzryutova is an Ulyanovsk-based prose writer, poet, playwright and a member of the Moscow Writers' Union. She graduated from Ulyanovsk State University, Faculty of Culture and Art. She is the author of ten plays and the author of the concept that considers poetry as an animal instinct. She has received many literary awards and her tests have been translated into many languages.
Снег, который мог бы пойти в Нанкине в декабре 2020 года
Снег входит в город, как в храм,
и люди замолкают под зонтами.
Следы становятся текстами,
что можно прочитать только сверху;
походка – почерк,
разобрать который в буквах чужих следов
Белеют платаны и пагоды –
белеют – белеют – белеют –
лишь городская стена темнеет,
сжимаясь от холода.
Воспоминания похожи на снег,
который возвращается в город каждую зиму.
Первая чешуя декабря исчезает быстро –
только тридцать седьмой снег никогда не растает
Сцена, которую можно было бы увидеть ночью в книжном магазине Phoenix Cloud на Hunan Road
Какую книгу выбрать в круглосуточном книжном
в ожидании ночного авиарейса?
В прозрачном Phoenix на Hunan Road всего три человека.
Соседний тренажерный зал пуст, как берег зимой;
книжный – самое громкое место в час ночи,
если тысячи томов говорят одновременно.
Через дождливый фасад
красные мокрые тротуары
затихают, как угли, разбросанные по городу.
Он идет к полке с зарубежной прозой,
берет «Сто лет одиночества» Борхеса,
садится на велотренажер,
открывает книгу и крутит педали,
чтобы догнать Хорхе, который всегда был быстрее него.
Почему этот голос? Почему именно этот голос?
В городе, куда он вернулся,
это единственный, кого он знает.
Такси всегда приезжает раньше,
чем он его ждет;
колес чемодана не слышно
за голосом Хорхе,
которого отец читал ему
перед тем, покинуть город
Старик, которого можно было бы встретить на железнодорожной станции Pukou
Он ждет ее на станции Пукоу
уже пятьдесят второй год,
хотя смотритель говорит,
что она не приедет –
что по этим рельсам теперь не ходят пассажирские поезда.
Он давно превратился в скульптуру,
туристы снимают друг друга,
сидя на рельсах, пуская мыльные пузыри в камеру,
собираясь сфотографироваться и с ним,
пока он вдруг не меняет позу,
хотя и она – ожидающая.
Но ведь он провожал ее именно здесь –
и приехать она должна именно сюда.
Хотя рельсы зарастают травой.
Но ведь она бы видела всё те же пейзажи,
если бы подъезжала к городу на поезде.
Встречающие волнуются больше прибывающих?
Или прибывающие ждут дольше встречающих?
Он слышит гудок поезда и срывается с места,
бежит по рельсам
и уменьшается до
маленького мальчика, идущего навстречу.
Уступив ему рельсы, он уставился вслед.
Гудок отдаляется – звук геометричен,
Разговор, который можно было бы случайно услышать на берегу Янцзы
Как быстро ты идешь. В молодости мне казалось что я иду быстрее Янцзы, теперь – наоборот: я не успеваю за ней.
Столько барж на реке, такие длинные – как бесконечные тире. Как будто слов нет , а есть
только тире, и все самое главное – между ними.
Твой дед так и говорил – всё самое главное происходит у реки на закате. Мы идем, и солнце садится; мы идем, и река расчесывает берег; и ты всегда знаешь, что она здесь; и она всегда движется, но стоит на месте. Если вырос у реки, слышишь ее повсюду. Я слышу реку даже в городах, где нет воды.
Помнишь, ты говорил, что выбросил в Янцзы тетрадь, когда был школьником? Что в ней было?
Мы с отцом рыбачили, и я записывал всех рыб, которых поймал, в тетрадь. Придумывал им имена. А потом мне стало их жалко, и я решил отпустить в реку, если не их, так хотя бы их имена. Рыб было, наверное, семьдесят шесть. Тогда я прочитал все имена у воды и кинул тетрадь в реку.
И как ты их называл?
Много лет, пока ходил вдоль берега, мог перечислять все эти имена по памяти. А теперь помню только одно – Фонарик. Чешуя так светилась. Иногда мне кажется, я вижу, как он выпрыгивает из воды. Но это только бакен. Мигает, как детство
Пейзаж, который можно было бы рассматривать из окна кафе с видом на озеро Сюаньу
Когда смотришь на озеро Сюаньу из окна кафе,
где остановился пообедать,
город умещается в одну фотографию,
на которой меняются только прохожие,
превращая снимок во множество
Дерево на улице – не то же, что дерево в твоем саду,
хотя называет так же.
Цветы лотоса выше
небоскребов на другом берегу;
пробежавший мимо два часа назад
возвращается медленным шагом.
Мост – для того, чтобы можно было вернуться.
В красном цвете платья
бегущей вдоль озера
так много заката,
что, кажется, вечер уже наступил.
В кафе включают дополнительный свет,
и ты выходишь в кадр,
на который смотрит официант,
забывший о посуде на столе
William Wall is an Irish writer and poet, born and resident in Cork City. He holds a PhD in Creative Writing from University College Cork. During his career, he has published six novels, three collections of short fiction including and four collections of poetry. He has won numerous other awards and been short- or long-listed for many more, including the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Awards and the Manchester Fiction Prize.
i for Sifan Zhao
I am translating from Italian
while you translate
from English to Chinese
we practise our trades
six thousand miles apart
each word an object
that must be shaped
and once shaped
understood for what it is
and how it will be read and said
and then the way it fits
into the clockwork of the whole
ii for Pang Yu
we talk about water
and the Atlantic
your watery home
and mine facing the waves
strange that we agree
across several continents
and two languages
both of us hankering for
the flash of sun on sea
there is no permanence
only the language itself
the stream we swim in
words are our water
we dream their lights
iii For Wang Shuyi
granite brick upon brick
the Ming enclosed the city
against river pirates
on the Yantze
every stone in the wall
has a name
but a day came
when the walls were breached
and the old city closed its ears
to the wailing of children
every stone in the wall
has a name
and later people lay like
sunbathers on the river bank
scattered near them
their carelessly discarded heads
every stone in the wall
has a name
we are terrified
by the sounds we have forsaken
the precise sigh a mouth makes
as the blade passes below
in my city of water
the heron fishes for shadows
salmon fling themselves at the future
seagulls form orderly lines
and the sky condenses into
another soft day
in my city of stone
the clocks deny the facts
the angels never take flight
between two ridges
where it lays its head
the roofs at sunset turn to amber
in my city of air
the wind sings
the night sky is immortal
we hang stars in the streets
we dream of sails and wings
to catch the wind
in my city of fire
we have bad memories
smoke in our eyes
the hills look down on the flitters
of a night’s intemperate rage
a city burning
sometimes you have to imagine
a day when you can stand in a crowded street
in a field of sunflowers
on a mountain road
sometimes you have to imagine
learning a new language
discarding the lexicon of the humdrum
for a new way of being
sometimes the news is too much
the noise of numbers
the silence of quarantine
the half life of lost love
on those days I think
of sitting with friends in evening sunlight
waking in a new city
swimming in someone else’s sea
I dream of Nanjing in spring
standing on the Ming wall
a future longer than the past
ten million books of age
Laura Elizabeth Woollett
Laura Elizabeth Woollett is a Melbourne-based writer with a bachelor degree in Creative Writing from the University of Melbourne. She is an author of a short story collection, The Love of a Bad Man, two novels, Beautiful Revolutionary, which was later shortlisted for the 2019 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction, and The Newcomer, and many other essays and short stories. She been awarded many prizes, grants and fellowships and also has appeared at many writers’ festivals. Her fiction often takes inspiration from true crime and historical events, with a focus on female perspectives. She has previously travelled cities and countries for research.
I looked her up last night, my first time since living in Nanjing. After so long without typing her name, without even picturing the moonlit creek of it, I guess I believed she was finally dead to me. I guess I wanted to prove how dead she was: to go to the creek, and dig up her bones, and hear their pale glock-glock, before returning them to the dirt. And for a moment, after hitting ‘return’, there was nothing but my fingers, her bones, dirty moon. Then, like a cosmic explosion, the screen flashed and she was alive; she was 4,513,000 results, name bold:
s e l e n s a t I o n
Of course she was never dead. Of course I never believed it, any more than I’d believe the stars are dead, simply because I can’t see them through the smog. Some things tingle forever like lopped-off limbs – and I’m not just thinking of Seelie. I’m thinking of pulsing mosquito nets, swooshing ceiling fans, camphor oil and evening calls to prayer. I’m thinking of the driveway in Port Hedland, all silky with dust, and how my head rushed the first time Dad showed me a shooting star. The sharp-soft magic of childhood.
When I was new to this city, it was easy to ignore the tingling. Easy to pretend that I was a hunted animal whose survival depended on dodging e-bikes and locating cheap dumpling houses. Live anywhere long enough, though, and nature adapts. Bats roost in carparks. Geckos hunt by neon. Macaques steal wallets. The fugitive becomes a young professional who travels among millions in an N95 mask and noise-cancelling headphones, feeds via QR codes, leaves an electronic trail everywhere she goes yet for all this remains unseen, for she isn’t special, isn’t worth noticing.
These days, I stare when I see white people in public. It isn’t just revenge for all the years of what-are-you and where-are-you-REALLY-from, or even that they remind me of what I left behind. I stare for the same reason I got a VPN after months of swearing I wouldn’t; the same reason I looked Seelie up last night. Nobody suspects me. I got away with murder, and she got to go mainstream.
There’s a feeling I used to get in front of the bathroom mirror before picking. Like even though what I was about to do could only end in scabs and scars, it might be worth it for the cathartic splat of pus on glass. That’s the feeling I had last night, alone in the galaxy of search results, knowing I had the power to X my browser, shut my laptop, fall asleep to a Mandarin lesson, live a life that would make my parents proud – and choosing, instead, to click the ‘videos’ tab.
Seelie’s most popular uploads have eight-figure view counts. Her least popular still average over 200K. The most recent clip, though, wasn’t uploaded by Seelie but “Studio Fem”, with a still of Seelie and some older white women on a sorbet-pink sofa, and a title that made me feel like I’d just downed a shot of off-brand baijiu: “ASMR Star Selensation: ‘Stronger than ever”.
Could I have stopped it, even then? The midnight flaying, the f.lux-tinted feeding frenzy? Back in the eighties, before I existed, my dad’s ex-wife took him to a beach shack near Walpole to get clean; but I don’t have a wife, just a flatmate who leaves half-drunk cups of chrysanthemum tea around the place, and anyway Dad still talks about smack like it’s the love of his life, the way I’d talk about Seelie if I had anyone to confide in.
So I swallowed the sourness in my mouth, clicked in, only to be assaulted by a Huawei Watch ad. Jaw locked, I tapped ‘mute’ and watched the yellow creep of seconds, heart racing as time constricted. Then, the white-gold shock of her on the talk show sofa, titles in a royal-blue banner:
Author and cyber-crime survivor
It’s hard to say what hurt most: Sollander, author, survivor, or just the sheer fact of her under the studio lights in her lilac pussybow blouse and dun-coloured pencil skirt, which with its tesselated pattern resembled drought-stricken land in Syria, or maybe it was the naked luminosity of her legs, offset by a pair of mulberry-suede lace-up pumps. In the four years I’ve been watching Seelie, she’s only ever filmed herself from the waist-up, in soft light, speaking softly. I had to replay the clip several times, to fully understand what I was seeing. Then, when the understanding settled into a dull ache, I watched it again with the sound low in full-screen mode, pausing at the 0:46 mark where her legs looked especially exposed, and 1:05, where the outline of her bra was clearest, and 1:38, where her eyes were closed and lips contorted. Again, and again, until my quickening breath was a smothered moan in my pillowcase, and my bladder stung.
To go to the bathroom would’ve meant seeing my reflection. I wasn’t ready for that. I read the comments instead, clenching through the brown-nosing (you’re an inspiration) (ICONIC) (beautiful inside & out) (Im so greatful u r alive on this earth at the same time as me Seelie thanku for everything u do) until I found something appropriately snarky: seems a bit up herself, that lass. It was a comment I read in the thick Yorkshire accent of my racist Nanna Mo, who I never liked for obvious reasons, but who appeared in my mind then like an avenging angel with her shellshocked blue eyes and baby-bird hair, legs spidered with veins as dark as squid-ink.
‘Seems a bit up herself, that lass,’ I whispered, and chuckled.
Further down, I found another kindred spirit: not saying its not a terrible crime what happened to you, but what do you expect wen you put it all out there pointing the camera at your tits telling strangers you love them etc. The comment had 72 thumbs-up but below it Seelie’s fangirls were predictably harping on about victim-blaming and this is EXACTLY why we need role models like Seelie speaking out and So sick of weak men tearing down strong successful women for living their truth, get a life!!! and it was all so boring, I backtracked.
4,513,000 results, and not enough hours in the night to see them all – not with my VPN slowing my connection and tomorrow’s workday looming like the certainty of death – but that didn’t stop me from trying. Images of Seelie, neatly lined up as boxed chocolates, if the chocolates had poisonous cream-centres. Seelie in ICU: intubated, weak-chinned in profile, hair braided like a Dutch milkmaid’s. Seelie on her honeymoon yacht with Felix, cheeks bloated with laughter and nose dusted with freckles. Seelie onstage: miked-up and wearing a range of outfits calibrated to convey just the right blend of corporate-millennial-femme-quirk – among them a white jumpsuit with gold clogs, a pyjama-like floral suit with white loafers, a t-shirt dress with a metallic sunburst around the neck and Aztec detailing on the hem and sleeves, paired with Hubba Bubba purple Doc Martens.
And then there was the book. Released last November in the US and Commonwealth (Whisper), with translations into French (Le Murmure), Dutch (Fluisteren), Polish (Szmer) and Swedish (Viska) forthcoming; available as an ebook, a 380-page paperback, and an audiobook – narrated, naturally, in Seelie’s famous whisper. I don’t doubt that the book was ghost-written, but it had her name on it, and people all over the world were buying it, buying her lies as truth, and despite knowing the real truth, I couldn’t look away. Until a pop-up informed me “sunrise in 2 hours”, I didn’t look away.
I looked Seelie up last night. Now it’s dove-grey morning and I can’t say if I’ve slept or not, only that my sheets are twisted from trying, and my knuckles sore, and my room foul-smelling as a fish-market, and through the walls I can hear my flatmate boiling herself another cup of chrysanthemum tea. My eyes feel like I’ve been wearing scratched contact lenses for days on end, though in fact I took my contacts off hours ago; everything I see is blurry, except the day ahead of me.
I can see, clearly, how I’ll turn off my electric fan and rise and dress in clothes that, unlike Seelie’s, aren’t ethically-sourced from Scandinavian textile houses, but made in China, and how I’ll squint through the winter smog on my way to the station, and how I’ll pump myself full of canned coffee and instant noodles and suck hard candies all day long, and at the end of my workday as the city glitters like a gaming arcade reward myself with a tall can of Tsingtao. I am twenty-five years and nine months old. I can live without sleep, heart beating overtime, but someday this life will take a toll. Someday my shoulders will be as slumped as an orang-utan’s, my hands clawed with arthritis, my brain cells clumped with protein plaques, and there will be no return.
I watch my fan slice the air, as if it can save me from my fate.
Olena Andreychykova is an Odessa-based writer, translator and radio host. She is the author of five books. Her first collection of short stories in 2015 was widely known in a short time and became one of the ten best sellers in Ukraine. This year she has published her fifth collection of prose. She has been an active participant in literary processes in Odessa and throughout Ukraine as well as literary festivals.
Except the state and family holidays, I come here almost every Friday. It’s my personal tradition. Since Sunny Plaza has been opened. Friends have already stopped calling me to the nightclubs. I respect their desire to drink, smoke, dance and possibly find a mate. For an hour or a night. Or forever. Loneliness is tricky. Anyway, you won't run away from it and hide. A girl dancing in close proximity will not save you from it. Alcohol will not save from it. Or the rampant absorption of nicotine into your lungs won’t. You just need to come to terms with it. Allow yourself to merge with it, and then you seem to be not alone. There are two of you - you and your loneliness. I also choose a book for Friday night. The three of us are never bored.
I'm not a bore. I'm simply not interested in all this. I am an ambitious workaholic, I don’t like wasting time in vain. It’s futile for me to kill myself ahead of time. What for? Those who are empowered will deal with my death without me. But as my office is closed on Friday evening, and the neighbors in the apartment above mine turn on loud music, mostly of a popular singer from Singapore, I forgot his name, I’ll remember, then say, almost every Friday I go here.
I arrive by a seven nineteen bus. I could fairly come by a seven zero four bus. But I don't like number four. It's not hard to wait just for a couple of minutes for the digital aesthetic. Then I will be calm and confident that the evening will pass in the way I love, but not just slapdash. Doing slapdash – is a wretched overkill of the twenty-first century. I walk into the shopping center building with white concrete arches on the facade. We always argue with a bartender - I say that these are the "tails of white foxes", and he says these are the "banks of the silver river". It is not necessary for me to know for certain what the architect really meant. I go up to the seventh floor, go to the bookstore, order my favorite Bubble Tea.
The bartender knows which one I like. Four years. It’s too little for a true tradition and too much for something that has hardly changed for four years. Moreover, in our country. Everything around is changing, absolutely everything. But my tradition is without any changes. I still come here. Evening. Friday. Bubble Tea and a good book. No external changes. Except of my sweaters and a haircut a year ago.
Every time I come here in a week or two, I am surprised. Everything changes. New showcase design. New outfits on mannequins. New store signs. New pleasant opportunities for customers - discounts, promotions, it’s warmer, lighter, or vice versa - cooler in summer.
I don’t like going up an elevator and always choose an escalator. I watch the changes with interest, although I never cease to be amazed at how fast this happens. Women's clothing is transferred to the third floor, then men's - to the second. Then the second is for the kids' wear. And on the third is lingerie and sports. Sometimes I recognize the shop workers. They don't often change, the salary is good and the place is reliable. But outwardly they constantly change. It is impossible to resist experiments with appearance when you are all day among people with the main function: sell-sell-sell. Here is the barman Xue in a new pearl color shirt today.
Pearl hall floors, pearl shop walls, pearl escalator steps, pearl balls in my Bubble Tea.
“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” Confucius
It seems that the words of Confucius, one of the shopping centers in Nanjing has learned forever and is afraid to stop.
Purity, aesthetics, clarity remain constant.
And on the sixth floor I will see her again.
The escalator is slowly moving up, and I know that our eyes are to meet. The first year she did not look at me, her gaze was always lowered, and I had the opportunity to look at her as much as I wanted. Without being ashamed or hiding my eyes. A year later, she looked at me, and I no longer dared to examine her calmly. Just a quick glimpse. Young. Light. Unearthly. I can’t see other girls. For me, a girl is synonymous to impermanence. And she's not like that. She is unique. She is always there.
I don't know what she does on the sixth floor. Either she passes by. Or works in one of the stores. Her dimples from a smile on the snow-white cheeks. Neat bang. Even at the first meeting, I was struck by the perfect neatness of her hair.
Sometimes I get ready to linger on the sixth floor and walk up to her. Or at least walk along the floor. To become a little closer than usual. What's on the sixth one? Suitcases. I could buy a new suitcase at the same time. But I'm not going to travel yet.
Today she looks away first. She seems to be so constant that I stopped worrying about my indecision. The whole country is changing every minute. But she doesn’t. She is always there. Once a week, like me, she visits this mall. But on the sixth floor. Perhaps she goes there more often. But for me she is always there. And every time we get closer. For one Li of her smile.
Remembered! I heard the first notes and remembered. JJ Lin is a Singaporean singer who is adored by my upstairs neighbors. And here he haunts me.
A lot of times I dreamed that she would come up to me herself. And take my hand. But this is impossible. The girl won't come herself. Only two years ago, she began to smile at me. Barely. With the tips of her dark pink lips.
She has long silk eyelashes, it seems to me that they tickle me by their touch on my cheeks. We have never been so close that I could feel the touch of her eyelashes. But if we assume that the time is not linear, what I am almost sure of, then in the future, in some of the coming years, I believe that it will happen, yes, it will definitely happen, so I know how it feels - tickling of her eyelashes.
She's with a glass of Bubble Tea today too.
I am chatting a little with Xue. Xue is a chatterbox and a merry fellow. Such people attract me. In their presence you feel like a chatterbox and a merry fellow. You are a chatterbox and a merry fellow. During such communication, there are many scattered gestures in the air, unrestrained laughter, bold statements and emotional exclamations. Who is there to figure out who they belong to from the two of interlocutors. I imagine she hears us on the sixth floor too. I am laughing as loudly as I can. I’m taking some tea. I am choosing a book. I want to have fun - "The Lord of the Rings".
I often read by the window in a large yellow chair. Today I can't find it with my eyes. There is a table and four chairs by the window. There are four girls sitting there. Two of them are with books, two with magazines. Where is my yellow chair? I turn to Xue, he understands what my bewildered look means and is pointing to the opposite wall. On a yellow armchair is an elderly man with a stack of books. I find a free seat for myself. I don't start reading right away. I'm getting used to it.
Last year she wore white all the time. Today she is in black. And her black bang. And black embers of her eyes.
I am reading slowly. My thoughts are flying to her bang.
I know that I will return and will definitely approach her. Today for sure. How is it not to be alone? How does it feel to be together? I feel good alone. But something inside me asks this question over and over again: how is it to drink one Bubble Tea for two of us with two straws?
Frodo, I'm sorry. I won't reread you today. I'll come when the yellow chair is free. I want to say goodbye to Xue, but he's not at the workplace. I am turning to the group of girls by the window. One of them has a black straight bang. Very smooth.
I'm going downstairs. From the seventh to the sixth floor. Not for a long time, but forever. While I was staring at the huge yellow suitcase, one sign on the backpack store has been changed. Something changes here every minute.
She is standing back to me. Is turning around. Smiling. And suddenly she is resolutely heading towards me. I am stepping off the escalator and she is taking the last step. We are so close that her eyelashes are about to tickle my cheeks.
“For coming yourself.”
“I think I've known you for almost eternity.”
“Four years is eternity, expressed quantitatively.”
I hesitated, don't know what to say next.
“The tails of white foxes or the banks of a silver river?”, for some reason I asked her.
“I don’t know what you mean, but the tails are more important to you. You said them the first. Meet my husband.”
I am shifting my gaze. Xue is coming up to us. Our chatterbox and merry fellow. She heard my laugh. But the laughter is a consequence. She chose a reason.
“You're leaving early, dude. Stay. Today we are working until midnight,” Xue is saying, smiling, and his gaze is inviting me to go up by the pearl escalator again.
saying, smiling, and his gaze is inviting me to go up by the pearl escalator again. We are going up to the seventh floor: me and her husband Xue, then she and my loneliness. Each person has own eternity. Its variants exist as much as there is wool on nine bulls. It's time for me to comb my strand of wool. I kicked the loneliness, and it flew head over heels down. I don't like number four.
Fiona Khan is a Durban-based author and poet and holds the master’s degree from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Education. She has received many awards for her literary work. She is the author of a number of children’s books and other publications.
The Palette of Peony Blossoms By Fiona Khan
The palette of Peony blossom carpets the sandy ground and spills its petals into the rivers of souls past and present. Where the soil has turned over time, it still holds the roots of history, culture, tradition, and the narratives of the homeland. Peonies are the effulgence of knowledge and wisdom handed down with time. Grown in the heart of the soil and blossom as a witness to each generation, colourful but steeped in the knowledge of the ancient land welded with the modern, peonies speak the language of silence but shouts volumes in its vibrant colours.
I am enthralled by the vibrancy of the history and culture transcended over time. Even the statues and overarching architecture speaks of a leadership steeped in making the country and city into an economic powerhouse. As I view the city wall, the attention to detail and the inscription of every name involved in the building of the wall overarching the city and watching over the residents, it spells vision and posterity. I draw from the peonies the city in a mosaic of colour interspersed with an energy that surpasses time. 500 years of history and culture makes Nanjing exclusive in its inclusivity. Chinese history with books , rice, silk garments and flowing brightly coloured silk robes, fine bone china, imprints in one’s mind fascination without contact in presence.
Nanjing is flamboyant. Like a performer on stage, it is an encore for a spectacular performance underlying the real identity of its history. 300 years of the Ming Dynasty has set an unsurpassable foothold of aesthetics and a surrealism that captivates even the most discerning writer, traveller or seeker of antiquities wrapped in wanderlust. I am in awe as a dreamer since childhood. My collection of pictures and fascination with Kung Fu allowed me to marvel at the mantra of achievement through great effort that translated into my excelling and my achievements. It rings true that if you dream a dream with sincerity it becomes a reality. So, here I am marvelling over Nanjing and the richness of China.
When I stumbled across Nanjing. It was in a boardroom in Durban discussing Creative Cities of the future. My interest grew as I, in awe, realized that indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) had not been discarded but played an integral part in forging China into the future. The language, history and culture defined its uniqueness almost creating an enigma of every travelling writer whose thirst can only be quenched by the blend of being in the present yet traveling in the past in a blink of the eyes and a swift scratch of the pen. What was once an integral part of the silk route, now integrated into a melting pot of different cultural identities.
My interaction with Chinese literature started with the odyssey and writings of Marco Polo. Intriguing and fascinating it was a feast for every reader whether it was a work of faction or not. Furthermore, multimedia tugged at my heartstrings as I found a home with animations. I love animations and comic books, the blending of nature, tradition, culture, and day to day life to amplify a creative city that is sustainable and identifying the Sustainable Development Goals of UNESCO. It is a concept that every child or adult with the child in them can aspire to. A smart city of the present and future, the rich literature stems from the wise words of Confucius, which we all inculcated to balance our Ying and Yang, even though we barely understood the concept. But it transcended with every soul that sought a higher attainment and transcendence. The crouching tiger roared into every heart as Chinese literature lit the conflagration raising the dragon within us, the timeless dragon of lifelong learning and the value of language, literacy, and literature. The virtual tours were a feast for the eyes and the soul.
I loved the concept of book bars in the city and reading rooms in the rural areas. I feel that Nanjing has so much to offer the rest of the Creative Cities Network, as each city is a work in progress. The technology, the design thinking, and innovation can be unpacked to every city that desires to encase itself in language, literature, and literacy. I believe that as much as the first virtual residency was a challenge, it opened the window of opportunity for constant conversations and virtual engagements in book events and festivals.
My conversation with author Yang Xiaoyan further revealed the necessity for bilateral or multilateral exchanges and communication. I could see the window of opportunity for publishing and the necessity for more English books in a sustainable collaborative effort between us to the future of smart cities for both Durban and Nanjing. Established publishers with the key to the publishing industry in China can assist us with publishing, printing, and marketing. Author Yang asked many questions about my work and my inspiration; however, I would have loved another session asking about her writing career. I was very intrigued by her flourishing career in animation and her erudite career in translations. A true inspiration she is to the youth and especially to the newer countries on the Creative Cities Network. The idea of an inclusive and international culture of literature for life now seems like the phrase that will empower every city.
As I bid this residency adieu, my mind and my heart reside in Nanjing. I would love to visit soon and enjoy the literature festivals that offer so much in abundance. I want to interact with its residents and swim in the sea of culture, history, and traditions. Marketed as a home to writers, I want to feel at home under the shower of peony petals and be inspired to pen a love story in the history of the Ming dynasty. I want to learn the ancient’s wisdom from the whisperings of the Bamboo trees and ignite that dragon with me. I want my soul to rise, like the million lit lanterns that soar above the Yangze and Qinhuai Rivers and it must be my feeling of Ahhh… this land is so beautiful, it takes my breath away.