It was all because of the Chinese dumplings. November, 2007: the literary great and good were assembling in Hong Kong for the presentation of the inaugural Man Asian prize, ultimately won by Jiang Rong for Wolf Totem. Among them were Indian author and philosopher Pankaj Mishra and Michelle Garnaut, Hong Kong and mainland restaurateur and enthusiastic sponsor of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. Sharing a dish of dumplings, Garnaut and Mishra were discussing literature and its global reach when they realised they had a common ambition. Their joint, altruistic initiative has now become the M Literacy Residency Programme, which from next year will host a writer in China and one in India, each for three months. Applicants are expected from around the world. 'It really started with the writing of my will,' says Garnaut. 'A friend came back from a writers' residency full of enthusiasm, and I decided I'd like to leave some money to something similar. But then I thought, 'If you have the money, why not just do it?' 'I remember talking to Pankaj over Chinese dumplings when we realised we had the same idea. He'd been thinking about it for a couple of years. He planned to set up a residency in Mashobra, the Himalayan town where he lives, a year and a half ago now, but logistically it didn't work out. If it had we would have called the whole thing M and M. 'The Indian residency will instead be in Pondicherry, southeast India, in an existing writers' retreat. In Shanghai we'll set up an apartment and take care of the practicalities, like utilities and mobile-phone connections,' she says. 'That's easy for us to do - it's not so easy if you live in Essex and want to go to China for a while.' According to the press announcement of its birth, carried in various respected literary magazines, 'the M Literary Residency Programme has been established to disseminate a broader knowledge of contemporary life and writing in India and China today and to foster deeper intellectual, cultural and artistic links across individuals and communities'. 'There's so much crap written about China - so many misconceptions,' says Garnaut, proprietor of Shanghai's M on the Bund and Capital M, which recently opened in Beijing. 'It seemed the perfect match: India and China are both up and coming but not at the centre of the world map. There's so much in the press about them both that we thought, 'Well, come and live here, see for yourself'. 'And so many writers at the Shanghai Literary Festival said, 'It's remarkable to be here; I'd love to spend more time here'.' Shanghai's three-month residency, in partially catered accommodation, must be taken up before March 4, 2011, with The M Restaurant Group meeting all expenses, including an air ticket for any non-resident of China selected. Costs related to the Indian residency, which will be fully catered and run from November 2010 to February 2011, will be similarly covered. Each writing fellow will receive an additional US$1,000 to offset additional living expenses during their stay. A selection committee including Garnaut and Mishra will choose the writing fellows on the basis of two samples of the applicants' work, a synopsis outlining the projects - fiction, non-fiction or poetry - on which the writers intend to work during their stays, and a short explanation of how the residencies would benefit the applicants. But the writing fellows will not be the sole beneficiaries if the reality is true to Garnaut's vision. In Shanghai, the resident will be required to attend at least two community events, such as a talk or literature seminar at a school, college or bookshop, to discover 'what's happening in a literary sense in this part of the world', she says. Likewise in India, where Mishra hopes for cultural cross-fertilisation. 'We are looking at some immediate aims,' he says. 'Get some good writers with interesting projects involved with the local artistic communities, get a conversation going between them, and who knows what will happen next, what new intellectual and creative stimulus may be found? 'The initiative was really Michelle's and when I told her I had a similar, unrealised fantasy of setting up a writers' retreat, we decided to work together. There is so little of this kind of thing in places like India and China, and Michelle is again being a trailblazer after setting up the extremely successful [Shanghai] literary festival,' he says. 'I really liked the idea of including Shanghai since few international writers know China well or at all, and there is no substitute for first-hand experience.' There are no nationality restrictions on applications, but prospective writing fellows should be more than 21 years old and writing in English. Unpublished writers are welcome to apply; details are at m-literaryfestival.com and applications must be received by January 15. It is hoped that the residents' names will be announced at the Shanghai International Literary Festival in March. 'We're not doing this for the publicity,' says Garnaut. 'We don't want it to be a major headache and it's not as though we'll be asking to see 500 pages or a finished manuscript at the end. 'We'd like the writers to have an interesting experience that has an impact on their lives; for them to make friends in Chinese and Indian literary circles; and for them to have time to work on their projects. Basically, it's all about writing.'