Publisher Monsoon Books and bookshop Books Actually organized a reading by author Rosie Milne from her new novel Circumstance. Moderator Elaine Chiew followed up the reading with insightful commentary and questions.
See below for a bit of author Q&A and photos from the event.
Circumstance by Rosie Milne
What was the inspiration for the novel?
A Hong Kong writer pointed out to Rosie that all Asian expat writers labor in the shadow of William Somerset Maugham. Rosie decided to carry on a one-sided dialog with Maugham, informed by modern values, by adapting one of his short stories, The Force of Circumstance, into a novel.
What are the differences between the short story and the novel?
Apart from the added detail made possible with increased length, other differences are in the point of view, characterization, and, importantly, the ending.
What are some themes in the novel?
Within the framework of a love-triangle plot, the novel addresses issues of belief, truth, lies, and self-deception, and of the clash between rationality and irrationality.
Was the novel, being set in the past, difficult to research?
Rosie, who runs Asian Books Blog, has a strong background in contemporary and historical Asian literature, so she is familiar with writing set in the time period depicted, even apart from the short fiction of Maugham. The depiction of black magic in the novel is informed by Rosie’s experience with occult books as a publishing professional, while other details come from first-hand experience living in and traveling around Asia as well as online research.
How can one best write from another’s point of view?
One should avoid the tropes and cliches of the lazy writer, and seek to identify, identify with, and flesh out whatever is universal in the other’s experience.
It is 1924, and the British rule Malaya. Guy is a colonial administrator in charge of Kluanak, a remote district deep in the jungle. Nony is Guy’s concubine. She is Malay, and together they have three mixed-race children. Guy is granted Home leave and uses this opportunity to find himself a proper English wife, assuming that on his return he ll be given a new posting far from Kluanak. In England, Guy meets Rose, sweeps her off her feet, and they marry just before setting sail for Malaya. Alas, on arrival in Malaya, Guy is posted straight back to Kluanak. He has as yet told Rose nothing of Nony and the children, and even now he remains silent, although he knows full well that soon his disavowed jungle family and his bride will be living cheek-by-jowl amongst the pressing trees. Once they are all three isolated in Kluanak, Guy, Rose, and Nony become entangled in vines of secrecy and lying; they are snagged by thorns of bribery and blackmail, and caught in sticky webs spun from poisonous ultimatums. Together, they play dangerous games of bluff and counter-bluff. Something must give between them: but what? Circumstance was inspired by “The Force of Circumstance”, a short story by W. Somerset Maugham and is the first in a trilogy of Maugham-inspired colonial tales set in 1920s Malaya.