Hong Kong International Literary Festival’s A-list: Ian Rankin, Hideo Yokoyama head strong international line-up

Five must-sees at festival in November focusing on crime fiction and poetry, whose 45 events feature the best line-up of guests in years, including 18 Hong Kong authors alongside best-selling international writers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 7:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 10:04am

This year’s Hong Kong International Literary Festival features the best line-up the event has seen for some years. Festival director Phillipa Milne, now in her third year in the job, has secured some A-list authors to headline the 10-day festival that kicks off on November 3.

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Bestselling crime authors Ian Rankin and Hideo Yokoyama as well as British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, Man Booker Prize longlister Kamila Shamsie, and Jung Chang and Amy Tan are among the 22 international authors. Hong Kong crime writer Chan Ho-kei and much-loved poets Tammy Ho and Nicholas Wong are among the 18 local authors.

Crime fiction is a genre that has maintained popularity for years. People especially seem to like it in Hong Kong.
Phillipa Milne

“We are bigger than ever this year with 45 events and we are making the festival as accessible as possible by reducing ticket prices with most events priced at HK$120 [US$15] or HK$125,” Milne says.

Crime is a focus for this year’s festival with leading crime writers from the UK, Japan and Hong Kong attending.

Ruth Ware, from Brighton in the UK, hit the bestsellers lists with her first two novels – In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10 – and has been described as a modern-day Agatha Christie. “Crime fiction is a genre that has maintained popularity for years. People especially seem to like it in Hong Kong, perhaps because it’s accessible and fast-paced,” Milne says.

Also highlighted this year is poetry which is especially popular in Hong Kong, both in English and Chinese.

These are five events literature lovers shouldn’t miss:

Ian Rankin

This is a special year for Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin – he celebrates the 30th anniversary of his gruff detective, John Rebus. Rankin was a postgraduate student at Edinburgh University when he penned the first Inspector Rebus novel in 1987.

Commercial success didn’t come until the seventh book, but his publisher believed in him and there are now 21 books in the series, taking the fictional detective into retirement, where he continues to solve crimes in an unofficial capacity. Rankin has also written a string of stand-alone crime thrillers and is widely considered to be Britain’s most successful crime author.

Dinner with Ian Rankin, Nov 3, 7.30-10.30pm, Pomegranate Kitchen, Aberdeen, HK$1,200

Mysterious Cities: The Perfect Crime Novel, Nov 4, 3.30-4.30pm, Naked Hub, Sheung Wan, HK$125

30 Years of Rebus with Ian Rankin, Nov 5, 4-5pm, Wang Gungwu Theatre, Graduate House, HKU, HK$125

Kamila Shamsie

British-Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize for her latest novel, Home Fire, a compelling family drama set in five locations: England, America, Istanbul, Syria and Pakistan. It’s a gripping thriller about radicalisation, racial prejudice and cross-cultural love.

Shamsie is the author of six other novels – including Burnt Shadows, which has been translated into more than 20 languages and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and A God in Every Stone, which was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

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Kamila Shamsie: Home Fire, Nov 4, 12.30-1.30pm, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, Sheung Wan, HK$100

The Rise of Nationalism, Nov 5, 12-1pm, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, Sheung Wan, HK$125

Chan Ho-kei

Finally, a Hong Kong crime author writing in Chinese and translating his work into English. It means non-Chinese readers are finally getting the chance to see Hong Kong from a very local perspective. Chan Ho-kei was born and raised in Hong Kong and continues to live in the city. He has written a short story collection and two novels – The Man Who Sold The World (2011), which won the Soji Shimada Mystery Award, and The Borrowed (2015). Jeremy Tiang translated the English edition and director Wong Kar-wai has bought the film rights.

The Borrowed is told in six novellas, each a self-contained detective story and set at a key moment in Hong Kong history: the 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the UK to China, the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, and the 1967 leftist riots in Hong Kong between pro-communists and the establishment.

As Chan explains in an afterword, “The idea was to create a book in which every part felt like a classic detective story, but looking at the big picture, you’d see it was actually a social realist novel”.

A Hong Kong Crime Scene, Nov 4, 2-3pm, Naked Hub, Sheung Wan, HK$100

Mysterious Cities: The Perfect Crime Novel, Nov 4, 3.30-4.30pm, Naked Hub, Sheung Wan, HK$125

Carol Ann Duffy

Born in Glasgow, Carol Ann Duffy was appointed Britain’s poet laureate in 2009, becoming both the first woman and the first openly gay poet to hold the position in its almost 350-year history. Her first poetry collection – Standing Female Nude (1985) – earned her a Scottish Arts Council Award.

Her subsequent poetry books include The World’s Wife (1999), a collection of poetic retellings voiced by the wives of the famous and infamous, Feminine Gospels (2002), and Rapture (2000).

Her work is accessible and often appeals to those who wouldn’t usually read poetry. She is known for writing about life in all its sadness, particularly about gender and oppression, and has been quoted as saying that she likes to use simple words, but in a complicated way.

Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson, Nov 9, 7-10pm, Fringe Club, Central, HK$125

Hideo Yokoyama

Japanese crime author Hideo Yokoyama worked for 12 years as an investigative reporter on a Tokyo newspaper before turning to fiction. He’s a confessed workaholic and in 2003 worked for three days straight, without rest, and had a heart attack on the fourth day.

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Yokoyama is a very big deal in Japan and has only recently come to mainstream international attention with the English translation of his sixth novel, Six Four. The novel sold one million copies in under a week in Japan when it was published in 2012 – little wonder the publishers decided on an English translation, which came out last year.

It’s a brick of a book, intricately woven, and intense enough to be read in one sitting, although that would likely mean missing a night’s sleep.

Hideo Yokoyama: Six Four, Nov 5, 2.30-3.30pm, Wang Gungwu Theatre, Graduate House, HKU, HK$125

Mysterious Cities: The Perfect Crime Novel, Nov 4, 3.30-4.30pm, Naked Hub, Sheung Wan, HK$125