Writing and research

Went to a free talk by Hanif Kureishi, author of The Buddha of Suburbia, The Black Album, Intimacy, Love in a Blue Time, The Body, Gabriel’s Gift, Midnight All Day, Something to Tell You and now the latest released The Collected Stories, at Foyles bookstore. It was a full house event.

Hanif kureishi collected stories

I read his first book Intimacy during university and it was one of the books that influenced me most. I was so taken aback by the rebellious voice. I found it thrilling to read. Reading is not a sedate or escapist activity, it is rebellious and highly uplifting.

Kureishi points out the need for research. Then there is also writing about families and love which need lesser research because all the time you live your life, you have been researching on these themes. Finding out more about your partner, your family members, your children. He said his kids said to him one day: “Dad, the problem with you is that you do not realise how much we hate you.” He has a brilliant way of capturing the readers and the audience.

He said we are all inspired by the way we love and hate our partners, and that those hours you spent in the kitchen arguing with your wife are real-life research. He points out that there must be a certain degree of understanding before you can write confidently about the subject. Fantasy is fine, but you do have to feel that you have the depth of insights and freshness of perspective before you can dive in. He said there are subjects that he cannot imagine writing, because of that reason.

Unsurprisingly he was also asked if he felt the need to disguise characters in his writings, since they might have to do with his closest people. He said that writing is not so much to expose other people’s stories but to make a good story. The judgment lies in what makes a good story. He tends to be more general in the use of other people’s story. I think it is an important area to think about for those being writers. Inevitably your knowledge about yourself and your close ones inform your way of thinking and creativity, but as Kureishi mentioned, there is no necessity to expose other people. The point is to project a voice of your own.

I find it curious the way writers connect. I see myself as a Chinese writer, and we are so different in terms of background, nationality, knowledge, career, language…yet when he spoke, I found no difficulty appreciating what he thinks.

Reading habits I: Magazines

According to statistics by the Periodical Publishers Association for Magazine Week 2008, as many as 2,600 magazines are sold each minute in the UK. With a total of over 3,300 consumer magazines that fill the magazine racks across the nation, the gross revenue of magazines amounts to 2.6 billion pounds a year.

A quick stroll at WH Smith would show that the appetite for magazines in the UK is considerable, and the tastes rather diverse. Other than the all-time women’s glossy magazines, there are many perky titles targeting select age or social groups. For example, you can see a colourful collection of crossword puzzle books for the word gurus. To cater for housewives and the artistic minded, magazines on embroidery, sewing, knitting and crochet, jewelry making, origami, ceramics, doll-house making are available. Needless to say, mainstream choices like football, golf, health and well-being are much sought after, but one is most impressed to see a special category on railway magazines that appeal to passionate train fans (who probably have their train miniature collections at home). In the upper shelves you can find magazines recounting world war histories and Britain at war, with special commemorative issues and feature editions. What’s curious to me is that there is a huge range of men’s magazines in the country, from fitness, cars, boating and junks and yachts, to countryside & hiking, woodwork, marathon, and more. It also goes to show the diversity of hobbies in this country and their emphasis on maintaining work-life balance.

One interesting finding is that the average reader does not only read a magazine once. It is picked up some five times before it is forgotten or discarded.  Perhaps it is to look for the useful bits that one remembers, or magazine reading is a great way to kill time and pick up new information.

With the rising popularity of image communication, I think magazines can still go a very long way.