Văn học nước ngoài  English News

I only write when I like and when the characters want me to write

Thứ Bảy, 08/12/2018 00:13

 

 

 

 

WRITER LUU SON MINH

- Born in 1974. Live and work as a journalist in Hanoi

- Works:

+ The coot rain (short story collection).

+ Tran Quoc Toan (historical novel).

+ Tran Khanh Du (historical novel).

 

 

- I don’t know whether I should think of you as you are taking your time, careful or too meticulous when spending eight years to finish a novel?

+ Of course I cannot say that I am careful or meticulous. I just know that writing is a lot of hardships to me. Moreover, I write (or work in general) very arbitrarily, not to mention the fact that I am very playful and fall into play with lots of things. Furthermore, I hold no “mission” at all in writing. I just write when I like and when the characters in the books I want me to write. For the rest of time either I or my characters are busy playing. I don’t dare to say that I am prudent with my works, but in real life I am surely a meticulous person. My nickname “mother-in-law” (denoting that someone is very strict and meticulous) coined by one of my colleagues has been going round for nearly 20 years now.

- Why did you choose to write about Tran Khanh Du among a lot of “outstanding” figures of the Tran dynasty?

+ I don’t really know why I chose to write about that perverse character. Throughout the course of my writing of the novel, I felt clearly the “support” from the character. Materials for writing kept coming up all of a sudden like they had been arranged for me long before. All I have to do is receiving the materials and even the inspiration that the character generated for me.

Tran Khanh Du was a duke featured by a special trait and a special fate. There is a lot of information about him, such as the fact that he was a gifted and amorous general that gambled a lot… However, the information certainly made it very hard for me to kickstart the novel. Only until the fourth draft was I satisfied with the first chapters of the novel and then continued to find the way to write about that “coal-selling duke.”

- At the debut of the novel, you said that Tran Khanh Du and you shared some things in common, and you even got more “like” him after a long time of studying that character. How did the similarities between you and Tran Khanh Du affect your shaping of the character?

+ The most noticeable similarity may lie in our starting points. We both used to be “obstinate kids.” I like this concept coined by an American researcher (she was of course an obstinate kid, as it is the only and the best way for a person to infiltrate himself/herself into that world). The obstinacy in all people shares something in common. Due to the characteristics, background and historical period of each person, each “obstinate kid” would develop in a specific direction (certainly chosen by that very “obstinate kid”). Therefore, when writing the novel, I sometimes even felt a great deal of empathy with Tran Khanh Du.

- You often mention writer Ha An as a literary teacher. How did you come to know him and how did he influence you along your path to the world of literature?

+ I was a weak boy when young. I was ill all the time and often had to stay alone in a small, dim and damp room due to the lack of sunlight. Friends of me were books my grandfather bought. Characters in such books as “Chuong Duong moonlight on the river” or “Proclamation sent on boat” have become my friends since then, as I read those books hundreds of times. I believe that they existed in real life, or used to live in real life, lived beautiful lives like the way writer Ha An wrote. And I just have one dream that I could know what really happened to them behind those pages.

When I started writing historical short stories, I asked my friend, who was studying astrology from writer Ha An, to take my short stories to the writer and then I asked to meet him. I was so much happy when writer Ha An agreed to meet me. He and I spent a lot of time recalling stories about historical characters. I then saw the writer overcome old age to complete the novel “The hymn of triumph.” To me, he is a teacher. I sometimes even felt panic when he gave me assignments like the time when I wrote the novel “Tran Quoc Toan.”

It took me a lot of time to write the novel “Tran Khanh Du.” He often asked me about the novel and urged me to speed up, so much that for some time I didn’t dare to meet him for fear of having to answer his questions about the novel. After his death, every year on his death anniversary I offered incense in a manner of a student who failed to answer his teacher’s questions. I can only be at peace now that I completed the novel.

- Stilled related to writer Ha An, sometimes in your novels, readers still find footnotes reading “Find and read the book “…” of writer Ha An for more details.” What do you mean by that?

+ All of those footnotes came from my personal thinking. As I’ve just mentioned, I always want to learn more about the characters when reading stories by writer Ha An. Therefore, when “extending” the writing about the characters of my teacher (writer Ha An) onto my works, I came to the thought that I should suggest the readers to find more about the characters that they’ve just read.

- As you’ve talked about how you extended the writing about the characters in novels by writer Ha An, I would like to ask one question: “By doing that what benefit did you do to the writer and his works and why did you do that?

+ Personally, I don’t consider that a “technique” and don’t think about how beneficial it is. This is just an issue purely of my own. I’ve believed absolutely in the fictional characters shaped by writer Ha An since I was just a boy. I cannot make up other characters to replace those childhood friends of mine. Therefore, when starting to write about the Tran dynasty, I asked my teacher for permission to continue writing about those characters. For me, that my teacher agreed and allowed to keep on with my writing about the characters serves as the acknowledgement or the trust he had in me to succeed his writing… I still remember how happy I was when he gave me the nod.

- Let’s come back to the character Tran Khanh Du. You once said that it is very strange that the duke lived in the 13th century, but had the thinking very similar to the society of the 21st century. How did you shape this character and how many per cent of that content is fictional?

+ It is rare for me to live my part in the character like that. Therefore, I cannot say for sure how much of the content is fictional. I find myself in the character and then the course of life of the character gradually appeared, along the bearing points outlined in the historical documents collected. I just had to retell what I saw under the view of a character that had a lot in common with me as I’ve said.

- From Tran Khanh Du, and before him Tran Quoc Toan, how do you think about history? Normally there are two ways of historical novel writing (and also in other types of art): Writing in close reference to the mainstream history and writing with the inspiration from a historical character/event and letting the imagination of the writer float. In which way did you write “Tran Khanh Du”?

+ In fact, besides the obstinacy, even sometimes rebelliousness, I still have my own conservativeness. I don’t like it when writers make up so many details about the characters that the characters cannot “take shapes.” Since small, I’ve always felt angry when watching plays in which they played down other characters in order to honor another specific character.

I don’t want to make rose-colored image out of the character Tran Khanh Du and never have the intention of painting a gloomy picture of his. I just want to place what was written about him in a real context so that readers may have another look into this duke. For a little deviation from the mainstream view, I want to set up several “hidden cameras” for the readers to “see scenes from different angles” instead of the “only fixed view of historians…”

 

 

 

“Tran Khanh Du is one of the outstandingly heroic historical figures. He is also one of the most complicated figures in the national history. He went down in the history as one of those participating in the two major battles in the war against the Mongolian-Yuan invasions, in which he made contribution to the victory over the third invasion of the Mongolian-Yuan troops in Vietnam when defeating food transporting boats commanded by the enemy’s general Zhang Wen Hu, destroying 170,000 dans (an ancient Chinese capacity measurement unit, equal to 100 liters) of food in the waters of the East Sea and in fire. However, he also went down in the history of the nation as a bloke that had an affair with the eldest daughter-in-law of Grand Duke Tran Quoc Tuan and was punished by being dismissed from all posts, beaten with one hundred rods, nearly dead. He was also depicted as a greedy person who could take advantage of military affairs to make benefits for both the nation and himself. He lived a great long life, a little more than one hundred years old, under the reigns of six kings of the Tran dynasty, witnessing all changes and historical upheavals of the country and the Tran clan.

Writing about a character as such may be easy due to the multiple aspects of his trait, unlike other heroes in the history. However, it is also very difficult, as apart from the few pages in the written history, it requires the writer to have great knowledge, sufficient to fill the big gaps between those loose lines that historians wrote about him.

For the novel ‘Tran Khanh Du,’ Luu Son Minh did that great job.”

Journalist YEN BA

 

 

- Why is writing historical novels so attractive to you? Don’t you have any interest in other themes or does it mean you just want to challenge yourself with a hard job?

+ I still write about issues of modern society, but only short stories. I am so much easy-going with myself that I set the target to write a short story a year. I am even more easy-going when I don’t push myself to write any short story in the year when I finish a novel. Therefore, readers seldom encounter me in terms of modern issues. As I’ve said, I am playful…

As for the historical theme, I don’t know why I always have to stick to it. Is it my fate? Or is it because my short story (Fate) that was awarded with a prize by the Van nghe quan doi Magazine (in the 1992-1994 Short story writing competition) keeps me sticking to it?

- “Tran Khanh Du” was republished just half a month right after it was debuted, a big surprise for me and a lot of other writers. What do you think did the book, which is serious, not easy to follow and sold at high prices, suggest?

+ Actually, both I myself and the investor - Dong A book company, were surprised by this. Moreover, that young readers warmly welcomed my book made me excited, as before that I had prepare my mind that historical books could generally only capture the attention of middle-aged readers. It is obvious that young readers also pay attention to history. Isn’t it true that they have made clips themselves to learn more about history? However, if historical books still keep their “academic” and “majestic” distance like that to the readers, then young readers will turn their back to the books. Of course the role of Dong A book company was great in this case. They did their best to ask painter Thanh Phong to agree to make illustrations and design the cover for the novel. And it brought great effects. I often said to painter Tran Dai Thang, the one who set up Dong A book company, that I own him a great deal for the birth of the book.

- One of my friends asked me this question: Is “Tran Khanh Du” easy to ready or not? I said, for a person with some historical knowledge, he/she should have the “Complete book of the History of Dai Viet” or an Internet connection before reading “Tran Khanh Du.” Did you have the target readers for this novel?

+ It is the digital age now, the age of smartphones; therefore, it is easy to look up for information. I also heard some readers talking to me about the fact that they had to read back and forth the pages to keep them from forgetting the characters in the book. They said that the book is not easy to read. However, they have still completed the reading. Reading a historical novel must be different from a book written purely on imagination, mustn’t it?

- I heard that a film producer offered to buy the copyright of “Tran Khanh Du” to make a film out of it and you are known not interested in or not believing in film script writing from literary works. What is going to be your decision?

+ After my short story “Fate” was filmed, I lost my belief in films produced from literary works. Perhaps, it is still what I think now… Therefore, at present I don’t think about the offer. I don’t want to watch a duke of the Tran dynasty talking to an enemy general in a voice the same to what I overheard from my neighbor’s radio in the Stage program in the 1980s.

- It is said that you have the intention to write a set of historical novels about the Tran dynasty. So, after “Tran Khanh Du,” which character, or event, will you write about? And more importantly how long will the readers have to wait for that novel to debut?

+ I intend to edit the novel “Tran Quoc Toan” for reprinting, as a lot of readers of the novel “Tran Khanh Du” have asked and urged me to do so. The previous version, which was printed by the Kim Dong Publishing House, is for children; therefore, I had to leave some lines about fate and philosophy out. Now I will include them in the printing. After that, there will be no more characters. I will write about the Battle of Bach Dang. That is to complete my teacher’s – writer Ha An, wish that he didn’t have enough time to do. In fact, for several recent years, children of writer Ha An have urged me to write about the battle. I promised to write about it after I finished the novel “Tran Khanh Du.” Now that I have finished “Tran Khanh Du,” there is no reason to delay it any more…

I don’t know how long the readers will have to wait. Hopefully, characters in the book will urge me to write faster and this time the characters won’t be playful like me…

- Thank you for your time!

Reported by DO BICH THUY

Translated by HUU DUONG

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