With more than 180 storytellers from 30 countries, this year’s Ubud Writers & Readers Festival lineup is a treasure trove of discoveries. Each week in the lead-up to UWRF19, we speak to a writer whose work you may not have encountered yet, but who could well turn out to be your festival favorite. This week we hear from Pitchaya Sudbanthad, author of the novel Bangkok Wakes to Rain.
When and why did you start writing?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when I started writing, as I’ve been storytelling in some form or another since I was young. I think I began writing, early on, as a mode of self-entertainment for an only child and then as a way to ask questions about the world.
By now it has become a strangely natural tendency. Someone might make a one-sentence mention of something, and in the ensuing moments I’ve already added characters and plotted what might happen next, in my mind. At social events, I’m often caught inexplicably laughing or smiling, because I’m still that kid who’s always entertaining himself, at a certain remove from the immediate world.
In an increasingly technocratic global society that blasts us with constant, depthless messaging, the intimate narratives that we create for ourselves become more essential. Hopefully, when I share mine with the outside world, I am helping others to create their own, as well.
“In an increasingly technocratic global society that blasts us with constant, depthless messaging, the intimate narratives that we create for ourselves become more essential. Hopefully, when I share mine with the outside world, I am helping others to create their own, as well.”
What’s the most extraordinary place your work has taken you?
As a fiction writer, my work doesn’t physically take me to places as interesting as writers whose work requires reportage. In my daily writing routine, I usually don’t wander very far from my preferred writing spots. I’m more of a traveler of private strangeness. Perhaps I can say that I visit extraordinary places that others can’t really experience until they read my work.
That said, being a debut novelist has allowed me to so far meet some very unique people and get invited to literary festivals in places that I may not have otherwise visited. Ubud certainly counts as one, and I’m truly looking forward to the festival.
What’s your favorite part of the writing process, and least favorite?
The well known joke is that every writer’s favorite aspect about writing is having written. I think that’s often true, but I also enjoy those unbreakable stretches of actual writing where everything comes together. One is in a kind of ‘zone,’ similar to what an athlete might experience. It doesn’t happen every time I sit down to write; it’s unfortunately a hard won rarity. Most of writing is very slow and difficult, yet, when the narrative waves come, they come, and I love riding them as far as I can.
The least favorite part? Anxiety and doubt that come from all directions, about the work itself and what people will think of it and, of course, the woeful economics of writing. It’s very important for writers to be able to mentally manage all the uncertainty. Thankfully, the work can also be the refuge.
What issues and ideas are you hoping to explore during UWRF19?
I’m very interested in seeing how the festival’s theme of karma will play out. Karma is about action, consequences, and accountability. In that way, it is conceptually also a yearning for justice, especially when little of it could be found in our everyday corporeal lives.
In an era of increasing mass inequality, the call for justice has become louder, for people and also the environment. With the climate crisis that we’re in, we are facing undeniable accountability for the long-term carelessness with which we have treated our collective home, even as some are doing their best to deny it. Our complicity has a high price. I hope that, at the festival, writers and artists will play our part in helping to acknowledge that price and spurring necessary action. Wishfully relying on karma to bring eventual, corrective justice is unlikely to be enough.
Who do you hope will be in the audience?
Within the audience, I can only hope for the presence of people who enjoy and value stories; those who are looking for ways to tell their own stories; the many whose voices have yet been heard; and anyone who loves the freedom of the mind.
What’s your advice for aspiring writers?
Find those who understand what you’re aspiring to accomplish and listen to them as you see fit; feel free to gracefully ignore others. Maintain inner confidence; acknowledge the doubts; and persist. Write every day, if you can. Do the practical things you need to do fulfill other obligations, but it is imperative that you willfully make time and place for writing. Be a vigilant guardian of your craft.
What are you working on now? Where to next for your writing?
Since the publication of my novel things have been quite hectic, and I’m finally able to find some time to sit and write new fiction. I’m exploring several paths and seeing where they may lead.
What are you most looking forward to at UWRF19?
It’ll be my first time in Bali, and I’m very much looking forward to immersing myself in the culture, especially the cuisine.
Pitchaya will appear on the Main Program panels Location, Location, Location and Is All Contemporary Fiction Speculative Fiction? Pick up your 4-Day or 1-Day Pass here. He’s also part of the Special Event Rhyme and Reason in the Region, and you can purchase tickets from the event page. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter, and like his author’s page on Facebook.