Alex y Robert by Wena Poon: virtual book tour

 

I met the talented, vivacious Singapore-born American writer Wena Poon last October, sharing a taxi ride from Denpasar airport to Ubud, Bali, for the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. In that taxi and during her panels I learnt that Wena was dauntingly ‘together’ – interweaving careers in writing and Law, travelling the world, and seeming like she was having a fantastic time with all of it – the busyness, the art, the work, the sights. The award-winning author of Lions In Winter, The Proper Care of Foxes, and The Biophilia Omnibus is intelligent, warm and great fun. I’m very happy to host her her on LiteraryMinded on her virtual book tour for her new YA novel Alex Y Robert (Aus, US/Kindle).

Alex y Robert is a modern bullfighting novel, published by Salt (UK), set in Spain. The protagonist is Alejandra, a young American woman determined to become a matador. She is the grandchild of a famous Spanish matador, who died alongside his best friend in 1959. The book combines cultural critique and travel adventure, and looks at a new generation’s take on an ancient and controversial spectacle.

Alex y Robert has also been selected by BBC for its Radio 4 Books At Bedtime show, to be serialised on radio over two weeks in September.

At each stop on Wena’s virtual book tour the blogger is given a scene from the novel, and the questions are derived from this. Enjoy!

Why did you decide to write a novel about teenage matadors, and particularly a female one, Alex?

I was commissioned to write a Spain bullfighting story. Not only was I not interested in Spain, I disliked Hemingway and that macho stuff. It started out as a challenge, a simple dare between two women artists. Can I do something so alien, so distasteful, even? It was going to be 100% artistic risk. This was outside my comfort zone. That alone was appealing to me.

So, rather doubtfully, I went to Spain to chase a story. I told my friend who had commissioned me, ‘You’re a woman. I’m a woman. Do we really have to do a story about a matador? If we don’t cast a woman in the lead role, it’s a missed opportunity.’ So I made the matador a woman.

Immediately things got really exciting.

I’d written four volumes of a sci-fi action adventure series starring an incorrigible heroine called Imogen, called The Biophilia Omnibus. Imogen is cute, fierce, loyal, and brave – and really funny – and fights alongside the boys. I had a lot of fun creating that character. So when I had to do Alex y Robert, I thought, I’m gonna Imogenify bullfighting! This was the result.

Roberto, the young matador who helps her break into Spanish bullfighting, is also really cool.  When he’s not bullfighting, he plays videogames and draws graphic novels. Many great matadors of old were painters; I just updated his profession.

People are nuts about Roberto. I have friends on Facebook currently bidding for a (fictional) night out with him. Watch the YouTube videos I made on my website for more insanity.

Alex y Robert is a hangout ‘movie’. I even made an iMix soundtrack for this ‘movie’ for you on my website, which you can sample for free and buy from iTunes. It’s got The Doors, The Human League, Of Montreal, and various Spanish rock on it.

In the scene I read from Alex y Robert, the young female matador is preparing for a big bullfight using a combination of spiritual rituals. Could you talk a bit about this?

In doing this book, I wasn’t keen on repeating age-old stereotypes about matadors. I discovered that modern teenage matadors-in-training are very contemporary. They Facebook and listen to their iPods. Alejandra, the American Texan girl matador, is a quintessential Generation Y teenager. She initiates herself before going into the bullfight through yoga and a Sanksrit chant for the bulls.

A matador is a bit like Spiderman – ‘with great power comes great responsibility’.  Alex is vegetarian, she loves animals. Part of her responds to bullfighting the way many Northern Europeans do: she is haunted by the killing. Yet she has inherited the bullfighting gene from her Spanish grandfather, who was a famous matador. She’s intensely loyal to his memory. She tries to synthesise modernity with tradition. It makes for a fascinating character to create a novel around.

Was it fun, when writing the novel, to play with a mix of tradition and the new; and with characters from different cultural backgrounds who nonetheless live in a very connected, modern world?

A lot of my stories are about unexpected cultural encounters and connectedness. A lot of my fiction is political and says things about race and culture – so far no one has noticed. I think some reviewers in Asia don’t get it.

At the London Lit Fest, I said that my literature is often about ‘Chinese people in strange places’. My life is transnational. I’ve lived in many different cities around the world. I’m a Chinese Singaporean American woman emailing you now for this interview while travelling on a bus in the Isle of Skye, Scotland, using mobile broadband on my laptop, and you’re in Australia. Just to the right of me is a Brazilian girl from Sao Paolo who is chatting with me about the World Cup (Brazil’s playing today and she’s got the flag in her hair).

Now that we have Facebook, I have friends on every single continent who talk to me and to each other everyday, sometimes showing one another the most intimate of thoughts, the most inspirational of photographs.

How could a 21st century writer not be inspired by the ease of travel and of human connectivity through technology?

So yes, it was fun doing Alex y Robert, but the story practically wrote itself. It is taken directly from my real life.

Where can Australian and New Zealand readers buy this book?

For those of you outside the UK, you can buy it now online with a credit card at Salt’s webpage, where you can read the first 25 pages for free, listen to me reading a chapter, and watch a funny video. Click on the UK bookstore on this link, which will ship worldwide. A 20% discount off cover price is usually offered when you buy direct from Salt.

If you don’t have a credit card, print the book’s ISBN from the Salt webpage and ask your local bookstore to order it for you.

I am always happy to meet readers and sign books, so sign up on my Facebook Fan Page and I’ll announce whenever I am reading in any city in the world. Hope you like it! Write me if you do!

One thought on “Alex y Robert by Wena Poon: virtual book tour

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Alex y Robert by Wena Poon: virtual book tour – LiteraryMinded -- Topsy.com

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