Ethics and Writing

We spent our final afternoon at the book festival in Ubud yesterday with a diverse group of writers talking about questions of ethics. I’ve been interested in the relationship between ethics and writing for a long time, and I am often puzzled by the way that creative writing programmes – unlike, for example, journalism programmes – pay such scant regard to matters of ethics. Sometimes, perhaps even frequently, I have encountered the view that the writer’s job is simply to …

Photos from Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2018

There’s a lot to digest from the Writers and Readers festival here in Ubud so far. The last few days have been something of a blur of fascinating conversations, new friendships forged, and piles of new books to read. There’s still the final day to go – I’m running a workshop this afternoon with Hannah Stevens as a part of our Wind&Bones project, looking at writing and ethics. From tomorrow, life gets a bit calmer as we head up to …

Three Lessons from Tanimbar, a Prologue and an Epilogue

At the Ubud Writers and Readers festival tonight, I’ll be giving a talk on my book Stealing With the Eyes at the lovely Casa Luna restaurant. I’m really looking forward to it. The subtitle of the talk is “Three Lessons from Tanimbar, a Prologue and an Epilogue”. As a taster, here is the outline. I’m looking forward to it. Prologue: On Babies made from Shit “From her shit she made a ball, and out of this she fashioned a baby” …

That Which Blossoms in the Dark

Here in Ubud, I’m getting ready for the opening night of the Writers and Readers festival. It’s going to be a busy few days, and I’m already excited. Last night was the informal reception for the writers involved in the festival, and for the people covering the events over the coming few days. It was a wonderful evening of fun and of stimulating conversations – about everything from poetry to LGBT rights, and from mental health arts project to the …

Everywhere is Exotic, Everywhere is Mundane

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about travel-writing and anthropology, and about the obsession with exoticism that runs through both, in different but equally uneasy ways. Travel-writing often seeks to heighten the exotic: the excitable travel writer revels in it, talking up their experiences and carefully framing photographs to make sure that the Coca-Cola signs are not included. Meanwhile, anthropology tends to downplay it: the sober anthropologist refuses to get involved, sets out to demonstrate that this apparent exoticism is …

Raining Trees, Faraway Isles

I don’t know quite how long ago it was that I ran into the writer and journalist Grace Tan-Johannes (Grace Susetyo) online. I think it was around seven years, although I can’t be sure. Grace got in touch with me as she had read my first novel Cargo Fever (perhaps the only person in Indonesia who has ever done so), and we shared an interest in the Eastern part of the archipelago. We’ve been sporadically in touch ever since – Grace sent …

Return to Indonesia

It is a warm night in Bali, and I am walking along the road eating tahu isi – filled, deep fried parcels of tofu – when I realise how grateful I am to be back in Indonesia after almost a quarter of a century. I came to Indonesia in 1994 to study to become an anthropologist. I spent six of the most formative months of my life in the Tanimbar islands of Maluku, and returned to the UK to take …