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THE GREAT FAMILY REUNION BY ALI NOURAEI

When approached by David Moore to join, ‘Not So Stories,’ I was in the process of adapting to a new and cruel reality, yet one that was always inevitable. My family had recently bade farewell to the last of my grandparent’s generation, and for my siblings and I, the heartbreak was made more poignant by the fact that our only contact with them for years had been via Skype.

In the blink of an eye, all of our plans to make time and visit them in Iran at some undetermined point in the future dissipated in a haze of pain and regret.

So, as I searched my mind for Kipling’s childhood stories such as, “The Butterfly that Stamped,” the only memories that rang loud were those that I’ll not know again: the unique flavours of love that one can only receive from a grandparent.

However, as an Iranian raised and educated in the UK, the duality of Kipling’s, ‘Just So Stories,’ that blend of love and affection mixed with the racist language of, “How the Leopard Got His Spots,” was always apparent to me. The racism was never something that I considered actively. It was a reality born of the disconnect between my place of birth and where I was raised. Instead, I counted myself lucky and celebrated that as a dual national and bilingual person, I had access to writers like Rumi, Omar Khayyam, Hafez, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton. I felt enriched by them all.

When creating, ‘How the Simurgh Won Her Tail,’ my reaction to the source material was as it always has been. I reminded myself that no person can exist in isolation and that literature belongs to all of us, not only to the culture in which it was written. Ubuntu teaches us that we exist because of everyone around us, and so we ought to be open to one another. As William Uri said in, ‘The Walk from No to Yes,’ humanity has splintered itself into 15,000 tribes, yet with the communications revolution, we’re all in touch with one another. For the first time in our species’ history, we’re at what Uri termed as a big family reunion, with all the conflict that that suggests. Do we allow ourselves to focus on that conflict, or dive head first into the pools of human experience that exist all around us, and belong to each and every one of us.

All 15,000 tribes of humanity have come from the same dust, and to that same dust we’re all going to return. The only thing that matters is the dignity with which we treat each other. Do we learn from each other? Do we share our cultures and our histories with one another? If we don’t, who else is there to share it with? Imagine if all the world had one culture, one language, and one variety of life. We’d die in hours from the boredom of it all. So, I decided, as I had done countless times before, that Kipling’s voice, racism and all, belongs to me as much as it does to any other person on Earth.

I chose to focus on the love depicted by Kipling. I channelled my memories of his stories (and the Princess Bride, because what story about a grandfather telling a grandchild a tale can be complete without the Princess Bride,) and focused on the Sufi idea that we are all of us sparks of the divine and that a grandparent’s love, thousands of miles away and on the other side of the world is as real and beautiful as that which exists in our own hearts.

Not So Stories is available for pre-order now!
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I WAS ENCOURAGED TO CULTURALLY APPROPRIATE BY WAYNE SANTOS

With seeing “Best Beloved” go to print, I also see it as a pleasant, necessary, affirming, but also weird transition in my life. It’s a signal to me that I no longer have to resort to cultural appropriation in order to get others to read my work.

Of course, most of the people over the years that saw me culturally appropriating didn’t think what I was doing was bad. In fact, they encouraged me, and told me that I was probably doing the right thing, and helping myself along. They didn’t even feel that what I was doing was cultural appropriation and was, simply, “appropriate,” because I was a visible minority writer who was telling stories about white people, even though I wasn’t white myself.

As a member of Generation X, that was just the way it was when I was a kid. If you’re a Filipino nerd growing up in Canada during the Disco and New Wave eras of music, the science fiction and fantasy you read is not going to have you in it. So you make do. You thrill along with the all-white kids in Derry, Maine, in It, and you get swept up in the heist-hijinks of Caucasians Case and Molly in Neuromancer, and you cheer them on, identify with them, and empathize with them because you don’t have a choice. You’re not going to see an East Asian, or South Asian or African protagonist in science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy or horror. Not during the time of Walkmans and car phones.

So when I finally took to telling my own stories, I told the stories I was most familiar with; white people doing heroic things. I was aware of the convention or tradition of having “ethnic characters” who looked like me portrayed as amusing or unflattering, so I simply kept myself and people like me out of the stories I wrote, so I wouldn’t have to do that to myself. But there was never any question that by choosing to write about Western characters I was doing the “wrong” thing. My natural inclination to embrace Caucasian men and women as central characters was acknowledged as proper. My choice was an indication of my willingness to tell “real stories,” and I was rewarded for this with my first sales in Canadian genre magazines that validated my decision. No one in North America wanted to hear me tell a story about me, or my people, they wanted me to tell a story about “them,” and about why they continued to matter.

Things have changed. A lot.

When I was asked if I’d like to contribute to Not So Stories, I was, of course, frightened to death at being included in an anthology with a lot of very talented, established writers when I myself wasn’t. But beyond that intimidation, I was also very happy to say yes, and in some ways, felt personally, morally obligated to do so. After years writing myself and people like me out of my own stories, I’d made the decision a few years ago to stop that. I realized that if I needed to tell stories for myself that kept myself out of them in order to be considered “legitimate,” then maybe I didn’t want to succeed that way.

Being invited to contribute to this anthology was part of a path for me that validated that decision. Putting people like me into stories didn’t make them less legitimate. And people who complained that my stories might be more problematic because they couldn’t see themselves in my stories… well, that’s how I grew up. I didn’t have a choice, so I adapted.

Maybe it’s time for others to adapt too. Countries like Canada and the United States are changing. They are slowly, but inevitably transitioning to a demographic where even though everyone is American or Canadian, that majority may no longer be of Western descent in a few generations. So while it’s true that anyone Asian that wants to “see themselves” in literature or film can simply retreat back to Asia to consume that media, that’s not the same as being a person who has lived and grown up in an American or Canadian society, and wants to see themselves in that society, the one they actually live in.

So I’m very pleased to be a part of this process, and even if I’m not one of the Big League writers that was asked to contribute to the Not So Stories anthology, I’m touched and honored that I would be allowed to keep company with them. We all have something to say about who we are, and it’s a relief that the message no longer has to be white washed.

Not So Stories is out from Rebellion this month! Click the links below to Pre-order…

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IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE SO BY JEANNETTE NG

When first approached about the idea of writing a postcolonial response to Kipling, I was excited, but I was also worried about how much we allow these old white voices to define us. Is this not simply further ingraining him into our canon?

But then, the spectre of he and other colonial writers like him already haunt our literature. They cannot simply be ignored. For all that I loved Disney’s live action JUNGLE BOOK (2016), it is but one is a seemingly endless slew of adaptions. This year will see another in MOWGLI, directed by Andy Serkis. And that is just in the world of cinema. Birmingham Central Station boast a restaurant named “Mowgli” and there’s stage adaptions, as well as volume after volume of JUST SO STORIES from the beautifully illustrated to the cloth-bound hardbacks.

For all that I was going to try and mimic Kipling’s voice, that almost poetic storytelling tone, I wanted my own story to be rooted in something wholly mine. Or at least, wholly belonging to where I grew up: Hong Kong.

The Wishing Tree is a real tree with a real history. It is relatively near where my father lives and he loves to bring it up when we drive past. We even went there once for the festivities around Lunar New Year. I am hardly the first to observe that Hong Kong has wishes its tree to near death, the poetry of that is catnip to any writer, but I wanted to do a little more than that. I wanted to extend that allegory and bind up the history of the tree with the history of Hong Kong. In order to do that I had to fudge a couple of dates, but not as many as I thought. As it happens, there are worse microcosyms for examining that patch of history.

I borrowed a lot of phrases my mother and my aunts, which I translated and embellished. Many of the flourishes are theirs. And somewhere along the way it became a story stating very sincerely a worldview that is not often seen in English, one that sees authenticity not in the ancient trappings of the past but in what it has left us, what its descendants have mixed anew. Other have written love letters to dying cultures, fading dialects and ancient temples, but I thought I should write mine to celebrate continuity. We are still here, after all. This is my own solution to the question posed by the Ship of Theseus.

Modernisation and westernisation may have been used synonymously by all when I grew up, but it does not have to be so.

Not So Stories is out in April 2018 from Rebellion. 

Not So Stories is available for pre-order now!
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NEWSWORTHY? WE THINK SO! NOT SO STORIES IS AVAILABLE TO PRE-ORDER!

Friends! Not So Stories is available for pre-order! With an updated cover and foreword by Nikesh Shukla, this anthology has us tripping over our feet in our rush to get it to you. You may have read about Not So Stories in this Bookseller announcement last year.

And if you’re anything like us, you were reaching for your best pair of running shoes before the last full stop, just so you could go tell everyone you know about it!  

And what a shout-worthy anthology it is! We’ve gathered together some of the finest established and new writers of colour and set them loose upon Rudyard Kipling’s work.

Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling was one of the first true children’s books in the English language. A timeless classic that continues to delight readers to this day, Kipling’s Just So Stories is beautiful, evocative and playful – it is also deeply rooted in British colonialism from an author who saw the Empire as a benign, civilizing force.

Our stable of culturally diverse authors now create short works in reaction to Kipling’s Just So Stories and the result is magical. It is raw and powerful. Above all, it is a bold and timely anthology for those who are conscious of the power behind the stories we tell our children and ourselves.

Nikesh had this to say about the anthology:

“It’s a brave choice to take something so much a part of the canon as Kipling and make it more inclusive, and yet that’s what has happened in the following pages. There is a lot of talk at the moment about decolonizing our school and university syllabuses, especially English Literature ones where the canon remains pale, male and stale. 

However, the real fight to ensure our stories are inclusive, representative and sensitive starts with the stories of our childhood. Here is a new take on some of yours.” 

Featuring stories by Cassandra Khaw, Jeannette Ng, Tauriq Moosa, Raymond Gates, Zina Hutton, Georgina Kamsika, Paul Krueger, Zedeck Siew, Stewart Hotston, Wayne Santos, Ali Nouraei, Adiwijaya Iskandar, Joseph E. Cole, and Achala Upendran, with illustrations from Woodrow and a foreword by Nikesh Shukla.

For press & interview queries, please contact Remy.Njambi@rebellion.co.uk 

Not So Stories is available for pre-order now!
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