Hamlet: Oh God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.
Guildenstern: Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.
Hamlet: A dream itself is but a shadow
(Shakespeare – Hamlet)
Here I am shoveling the past into a nutshell, a whole year gone by …
June 2014. She’s just a nervous kid in the world, in London Town. Her proud husband trails her, taking photos. Taking photos in bookshops, airports, train stations. Foyles, Watermans, WH Smith, bestsellers’ tables. There it was. The bird had flown. Flapped his big bony elbows all the way to London, then folded up his wings to perch, wrapped up in a cloak of new feathers, on faraway shelves.
Publisher’s meeting. She’d brought a whole suitcase of possibilities but still didn’t know what to wear. She felt like she’d just returned from the colonies on a sailing ship.
But there they are, Oneworld, in a fresh little unobtrusive building on a corner in Bloomsbury Street. Bloomsbury Street. She is now one of the set. Her husband stands in the shadows across the road watching as she disappears through the doorway. She’s given the tour, introduced to everyone. She loves them, loves the long publisher’s lunch with Ros Porter, loves the juicy conversation, loves chewing the literary fat.
Midsummer, 2014. She’s on a train in Finland, rocketing to Helsinki from Rovaniemi on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The journey takes her through the night – but a night bereft of darkness. The night is an eye forced open, staring into a soft turquoise light. The night is an insomniac’s mind, devoid of rest.
She opens her computer, checks her email. Yes there is wifi on this train, on this nightless night train, and yes, she has an email from New Zealand, wondering if she’d like to attend a literary festival in Taipei in February, the TIBE 2015. She replies immediately. Her email flies across the world, back home, to land on a desk in a light-filled office. Yes please, she says.
February 2015. In Taipei for the Taipei International Book Exhibition. She’s feasting. She’s feasting on jellyfish and dumplings and juju fruit and unidentifiable tasty lumps. She’s feasting on images and impressions of a new country, where the language is as elusive as that of ducks. Nihau, she says in greeting and shhi-shhi she says in appreciation, and it always sounds so soothing, so placating. Each day Frank Li (below left), her publisher from China Times Publishing company takes her to another lengthy interview with journalists from an online bookshop, an online literary magazine, for a woman’s magazine. She meets her interpreter, Parker (Yao-Kuan Fan – below middle), her translator, Tseng Chih-Chieh (below right), her cover designer, Peter Chang. They all know her work intimately; they ask deep searching questions. They are curious about her attitudes towards death and the afterlife. They wonder whether in New Zealand it is normal to feed the ashes of loved ones to pets.
At the end of the week she is speaking on stage at the New Zealand Pavilion with Eleanor Catton and Witi Ihimaera. Esteemed company. Eleanor has not long been back from a festival in Jaipur, India. Witi has mana here not only for his work but because the indigenous peoples of Taiwan share the same DNA as the Maori, and this is being celebrated at the festival..
As they leave the Green Room, they are greeted by the paparazzi. Could they arrange themselves as the Three Wise Monkeys please. She must hear no evil. Witi must see none. And Eleanor …
We’ve been set up, she says to Eleanor as they walk to the stage. Mutter mutter John Key, Eleanor says. Yeah, I know, she replies.
The following day she has a ‘colloquium’ on stage with Professor Zhou, who is a Taiwanese feminist academic and has written a book of essays about the death of her mother.
She is happy. She loves it in Taipei, being part of the festival, meeting kind and warmly welcoming people. She wishes she could come again, and see more, feast again on the experience.
2015: Options on Film Rights for The Elusive Language of Ducks signed by Australian producer, Leanne Tonkes, of Sense and Centsability.
The duck is preening his feathers, curling his crest, practising his eye to camera, polishing his fishnet stockings.