Peirene Press 'Sea of Ink' Event

Yesterday I reviewed 'Sea of Ink' by Richard Weihe, a book kindly sent to me by Peirene Press. Even more kindly, they invited me to an event on Wednesday to promote the book, so I thought I'd write a small run-down of that too.

So, on Wednesday evening, my friend Abi and I went to the University of London's Germanic and Romance Studies Department, in the University's Library, to meet a beautifully select group of Peirene staff and supporters, the book's author, University representatives, representatives from the Swiss Embassy (!) and a few other book bloggers and general fans like me.

We mingled and drank wine provided by the Swiss Embassy - the first time the Swiss Embassy has bought me a drink, to the best of my recollection - and I had a lovely time chatting to Meike, Peirene's publisher, and Maddy, the Marketing Director, and it's clear that a whole lot of love, sweat and passion goes into producing each book from this small but talented team.

We were then treated to some dramatic readings of excerpts from the book  by actor Adam Venus, which author Richard Weihe went on to say was the first time he'd ever heard the English translation of his book read out loud. This was followed by Fabian Künzli, a young Swiss composer, responding musically to Adam Venus' readings of the text on the clarinet. Now, I don't know about you, but people do not respond musically often enough to things in my daily life, so I was really quite fascinated by the tender skill by which he played two pieces, 'The Lotus', an improvisation, and 'Petite Fleur', a Sidney Bechet jazz piece, in response to the text. Even to my limited musical mind, the music echoed the sentiments of the readings and illuminated the audience further about the mood and ambience of the work. 

You can actually hear it here, plus an excerpt of Adam Venus reading, Meike Ziervogel's discussion of the book and Richard Weihe discussing his inspiration and several key scenes from the book:

Questions were then taken from the audience, the most interesting of which was probably to do with the sympathetic qualities of the book's main character, Bada Shanren, or not, as the questioner saw it. After some thought, Richard and Meike came to the conclusion that this was never something that Richard thought of whilst writing the story - he just told the story - and postulated that needing a character to be sympathetic to connect to the story is a very 'Anglo-Saxon' thing. I'm not sure of my thoughts on this (are you?) but it was a fascinating thing to contemplate over a glass of wine in a beautiful book-filled room (contact the Research Librarian to find out about hiring it) on a warm and sunny Wednesday night.

Thanks again to Peirene Press for the invitation and see here for their list of upcoming events.


  1. Hi,

    I've been musing on my question about the sympathetic character constantly since the event. I'm not sure it's as simple as a divide in English and continental literature, though I'm sure that's part of it. Perhaps Richard Weihe's book was a tricky one to start that debate with as it is both European, Anglo-translated and a piece of fictionalised autobiography (which of course has different narrative constraints to straight fiction.

    What do you think?

    all the best,

    1. Hi Nick,

      I think... I don't think needing a character to be sympathetic is an 'Anglo-Saxon' thing, so much as it is a modern thing.

      Maybe because of the turbulent times we live in (although historically that doesn't stand up) or maybe because people are lazier, or maybe read more to relax nowadays rather than experience or learn, I don't think people have the stomach for unsympathetic characters in the way they once did. Also, as publishing shrinks, an unsympathetic character is a risk where I wholly sympathetic character is less of one. For some reason, I think writers are scared of not receiving approval in the way that the best writers once weren't. Of course I'm grossly over-generalising, but I think a lot of the bravery has disappeared from modern entertainment, perhaps as a result of money and sales being everything. I don't know, and I have really no idea if the culture of this is different in Europe.

      Personally, I'd rather read an unsympathetic character, and my personal alignment with the character has little to do with my experience of the book. As referenced at the event, 'Lolita' is the perfect example: how could he be any more likeable? What would we learn from him if he was?

      You're right that 'Sea of Ink' is the wrong example for this discussion, and, frankly, before the question was asked it never even crossed my mind. I was very interested by the answers though!

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