Thu, Nov 03, 2016 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan talent to debut at Singapore Writers Festival

The annual festival in the city-state will be seeing more speakers from Taiwan this year, including novelist Hsiao Yeh and filmmaker Angelika Wang

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Hsiao Yeh at his writing studio in Taipei. The novelist, who has written over 100 works, will be speaking at the Singapore Writers Festival next weekend.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

When novelist and screenwriter Hsiao Yeh (小野) was eight years old, he saw his father pick up a kitchen knife and march out of his family’s house in Taipei screaming, “I’m going to kill the guy!”

“My father was a depressed man,” Hsiao Yeh, 65, says.

Save for that one incident where he was bent on murdering a coworker he was convinced had prevented him from getting a promotion, Hsiao Yeh says his father was “never violent.”

His father came home minutes later and dropped the knife on the kitchen floor, unable to go through with the deed.

“His real passions were writing and art but he worked his entire life as a statistician at the same company because he had to feed his family,” Hsiao Yeh tells the Taipei Times. “Going to work every day and doing the same thing must have driven him to the brink.”

As a result, Hsiao Yeh’s father invested all of his dreams in him, his eldest son, imparting his love for literature.

Hsiao Yeh published his first book when he was still in university and has since written over 100 works — prose and poetry — and 20 screenplays.

THE PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN THE KNIFE

The prolific writer will be visiting Singapore next week to speak at two separate events at the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival: a film screening and dialogue session, “Flowers of Taipei: Taiwan New Cinema,” along with documentary filmmaker Angelika Wang (王耿瑜), on Nov. 12, and a panel discussion, “Defining Literary Success,” on Nov. 13.

Hsiao Yeh, whose real name is Li Yuan (李遠) — his father gave him the pen name because it sounds like “honor” when said in Japanese — says his parents are the inspiration behind him becoming a writer.

When I visit the author at his writing studio in Taipei, he digs up the log book his father made him keep in 1962. In it are book titles — Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea — as well as with reflective essays written by 11-year-old Hsiao Yeh on themes in the novels.

Hsiao Yeh, who dreaded the reading exercises at the time, says he preferred “drawing cartoon characters and cutting them out and enacting plays” — foreshadowing his brief stint as a screenwriter and filmmaker in the 1980s.

In retrospect, Hsiao Yeh is grateful that his father pushed him toward literature — family relations are a huge theme in many of his works.

Hsiao Yeh’s mother taught writing at the National Taiwan Normal University. She eventually quit to raise her five children, but continued to write articles for newspapers such as the Central Daily News (中央日報) and China Daily (中華日報).

He pulls out a scrapbook of newspaper clippings from the 1960s, showing me articles she wrote about a woman’s role in the family and giving beauty tips such as how to protect your skin during summer.

“She was always smiling and never angry,” Hsiao Yeh says of his mother. “She just stayed at home and wrote and told us bedtime stories.”

His parents, who came to Taiwan from China before Hsiao Yeh was born, invested all their hopes in their children.

“During that time, they didn’t have dreams,” Hsiao Yeh says of his parents’ generation. “You just existed.”

Years after he saw his father pick up the knife, Hsiao Yeh saw a psychiatrist. He was already an established writer at this time.

He recalls: “My psychiatrist told me, ‘you picked up the knife your father dropped and turned it into a pen.’”

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