Monday, 30 December 2013

Writing of Man's Last Song

When working on Man’s Last Song, I discovered that a story has its own life force. 

Most mornings, I would wake with a headful of ideas, wondering how to match them with my fictional characters. I had left them for dinner the night before, temporary frozen in a situation. How would they continue today? After breakfast, I rushed to the computer, anxious to find out. The story, yet incomplete, was spurring me on with the intrigue of its emerging fate.
Designing the global setting — a diminishing human world due to infertility — required research and planning. Once the general framework had been constructed, filling it with details became a day-to-day happenstance that could neither be planned nor controlled any more than real life. My thoughts of the moment — spontaneous and unruly as usual — would shape the vagaries of life faced by the protagonists. 

As the characters matured, their reaction to a situation would be dictated by their individual dispositions and temperament. They had personalities that could not be twisted at whim. I had become an observer of my creations, recording as much as engendering.

I wrote Man’s Last Song in English and Chinese simultaneously. The linguistic versions were twins, not translational clones. After writing in English for a while, I might start to lose steam. I’d then switch to Chinese. Strangely, the story would often resume vigour just from switching language. It was then that I experienced the profound power of words. My perspective, the way I envision and interpret, depended on the language I was thinking in. My views were confined by my cultural ingredients, limited by the words in me! Come to think of it, how else could it have been?

Literary nuances don’t survive direct translation well, no matter how craftily done. I often had to change the dialogues, even settings and minor characters, in order to tell the same story. That’s why bilingual readers may notice substantial differences between Man’s Last Song and 笙歌. In Qigong Rhapsody, for example, I drew inspiration from ancient writings that Chinese readers are expected to be familiar with. An entirely different approach had to be taken in English. 

When the story had been told, I supposed polishing and revision to be relatively straight forward. I couldn’t have been more wrong. At one point, I nearly lost confidence that the book would ever get finished. Perhaps that’s why most writers don’t make legal minimum wage.

The publication of Man’s Last Song subsequently forced me to focus on the English version during the past year. It’s only recently that I’ve resumed the finalisation of 笙歌, and re-posted the Chinese synopsis and Chapter One on this blog.

Guo Du Blog 
29  December 2013

Chinese version of this post 笙歌再现:


Laura Besley said...

Interesting to read that you wrote both English and Chinese versions at the same time. Not a privilege many writers have! ;) When's the next one out?!

James Tam 谭炳昌 (过渡) said...

Thanks Laura. I plan to handcuff myself to the computer in the New Year, until I get the Chinese version finalised. Then I'll move on to the next project :-)