Well, apart from being a crime fiction writer and a keynote at the 6th IPEd National Editors’ Conference here in Perth in April 2013, I’ll let him do the talking:
Nury Vittachi in a nutshell?
A small, bald Asian writer who was born on earth and still spends a fair bit of time there.
Yes, so just so you know, he’s also exceptionally funny.
Writers are cool, right?
Yes, but only because few of us earn enough money to pay our heating bills.
Why does he want to come to the conference? Why bother? Well, we asked him to – some of us are fans.
Marisa: How do you think the conference will help editors in the Asian region? What would you advise editors who may not have decided to attend yet about the benefits for them?
Nury: Editors rock. They’re vital. I knew of a business deal which turned into a multi-million dollar international legal battle because a single full stop was placed where a comma should have been. Ouch! That’s how important it is to have a good editor on every project. With Asia in full expansion mode, highly qualified editors are more important than ever. The region is still infamous for mangled English, corner-cutting publications, and randomly placed punctuation, but the big employers are looking to rise above that, so editors who keep themselves ahead of the curve, by attending events like this, are going to be the ones who thrive.
Marisa: So what does he write? He writes about a feng shui detective. No I kid you not.
Tell us a little about your books.
My best known book is The Feng Shui Detective, which is part of a novel series, now five books long. In it, our heroes travel around Asia and solve crimes using a mixture of ancient wisdom, intuition and logic. The books are about Mr Wong, from China, and his assistant Joyce, who has British-Australian parentage. Mr Wong can’t understand Joyce at all, which baffles him because they are both speaking English, aren’t they?
Eventually he works out that the English word for Yes is “whatever”.
And he works out that the English term for No is “yeah right”.
Marisa: Yes, I know you are thinking: “What the hell?” so I asked.
Marisa: Where did you get the idea for a feng shui detective?
Nury: English tries to be the world language, but in fact each of us speaks our own brand of the tongue, and process ideas through brains which are wired differently. In the Feng Shui Detective, I created two contrasting characters. One was young, female, Australian and a vegetarian. The other was old, male, Asian, and liked to eat animals alive if possible. Thus the stage was set for a morality play in which the eastern mindset and the western mindset fail to understand each other, but can only solve problems if they learn to work together.
Marisa: How important is it, as an author, to have a good relationship with an editor? How does it influence your work and what has been your experience of working with editors?
Nury: Good editors are vital for writers—although most writers don’t know this. Having edited literary journals, I can tell instantly if a piece of writing is a first draft, or whether it has been properly workshopped between a writer and an editor. People don’t realize how important this is. The editor of a literary journal or a publishing house is only going to read your manuscript once, if you’re lucky. You have to get it right the first time.
Marisa: And now I am having a little panic attack about that one shot you get at making a good impression. Especially in the current situation in the industry…
Marisa: How do you think authors and editors can adapt to a changing publishing environment?
Nury: The explosion of new media formats is a challenge for publishers, since it disrupts their business models. But it’s actually good news for people at the creative end of the writing business. Authors and editors have many more formats in which their work can be created and distributed. I’m a happy man.
Marisa: What is your next project?
Nury: There’s so much opportunity in Asia. People here love books. We are education-minded. More than half the people in Asia have no internet connection, even today. We HAVE to read print publications. Our markets for newspapers and other print publications are still in expansion mode. So there’s lots going on. I am working on a range of projects, from children’s books to non-fiction. At the moment, I’m co-writing a juicy true-crime mystery.
Nury answers your urgent questions
If you could try doing something else for a day what would it be?
I would love to be Paris Hilton for a day so I could see how it feels to live without a brain.
The world is in dire need of…?
More global warming, so that God can start again and do a better job next time.
If you had more time on your hands you would…?
I would slump in front of a screen. I feel I don’t spend enough time doing that, and want to raise my average to 20 hours a day.
A personality you’d happily have dinner with is…?
I’d love to have dinner with Albert Einstein, but since he’s been dead for about 60 years, he’ll be in an advanced state of decomposition and may not smell that great.
Do you have any interesting habits we should know about?
I have this awful habit of never taking anything seriously, except for this quiz, which is completely truthful of course.
Someone who has no interest in literature is clearly a…
Intelligent, successful person with massive sex appeal. How come? Because instead of literature, they read detective stories like mine.
Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?
I did, but I was inhabiting Paris Hilton’s body that day, so blame her.
I’ve read that your full name is Nuryana Samjam Perera de Lacey Vittachi.
It’s a legal requirement for South Asians to have long difficult names. I wanted to be called Bob.
Sam Jam is my Chinese name. It may sound interesting, but it is not very poetic. It means “Third Bus-stop” and refers to where I used to live.
In real life, most people just call me “Mister Jam” or “Hey you”.
Have you lived in Hong Kong all your life?
I arrived in Hong Kong 25 years ago with just nine US dollars in my pocket. Now, two decades later, I owe HSBC more than 200,000 US dollars. I’ve made it.
How did you get here?
When I was born in Sri Lanka in 1958, war broke out. I still feel guilty about it.
We had to leave Sri Lanka in a hurry, encouraged by men with guns, because of something my father wrote. It thought this was way cool.
My thanks to Nury for letting me interview him. Nury Vittachi can be found at his website, Mr Jam and on Facebook & Twitter. His next visit to Australia is to participate as keynote speaker at the 6th IPEd National Editors’ Conference in Perth from 10 – 12 April 2013. He will be speaking on “Globalese for beginners” at the international keynote presentation on 11 April. Registrations are now open.