Indonesia will be Guest of Honor country at next year's Frankfurt Book Fair. You will already travel to Germany this year to attend the handover ceremony at the end of the fair, when Indonesia will officially take over from this year's GoH country Finland. What exactly will your role be, and how did you end up being chosen for it?
My role will be as a Indonesia’s to receive the scroll from Finland, a symbolic gesture to acknowledge the honor of being the next GoH in Frankfurt Book Fair. There will be a short conversation between me and the Finland’s representative afterwards on stage. I think it was Goenawan Mohamad and the National Committee who chose me for the handover ceremony. Although I’m sure they would know their reason better than I do, I think I was chosen because of my experience in some international literary events before. They would also want someone who can represent Indonesia’s book industry and I’ve been a published writer for 13 years now, so I can say a thing or two about the situation of our book industry.
Besides the handover ceremony, what other Indonesia-related events at Frankfurt Book Fair will you attend?
I will have a session with Slamet Rahardjo where we will be talking about Indonesia cinemas. The session will begin with Rectoverso movie screening. Rectoverso is the movie adapted from my short story collections and had won several awards in Indonesia and Asia.
Besides Frankfurt Book Fair, what else is on the agenda for your Germany trip?
I will give a talk at Dussman, Berlin, on Oct 14. I was told it was a very prestigious venue for writers. I’m truly honored.
Looking ahead to next year, how important do you think it is for Indonesia to be the GoH country at Frankfurt Book Fair?
Basically, all eyes will be on Indonesia. Frankfurt Book Fair is the biggest book event in the world. I heard many complaints about how unrecognizable Indonesia literature is on the international level, only few names were ever heard of, like Pramoedya Ananta Toer and recently Andrea Hirata, and that situation has been stagnant for a long time. There hasn’t been a real breakthrough in introducing Indonesia literature to the world market. Being the GoH of Frankfurt Book Fair is a golden chance for Indonesia. But I’m worried our government is not realizing it. I don’t even think most people are aware of the importance of this event. Our role in Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 has to be promoted on national scale, because not only the book industry will benefit from it, but also our creative economy industry. It should perceived as a huge cultural event and opportunity. We need to showcase our country and culture as optimally as we can.
What do you think are the necessary steps to be taken in order to make next year's fair a successful one?
Our preparation for Frankfurt Book Fair is extremely short. The government is also being very slow and rather vague on their support. I heard the term for translation funding is rather impossible, they give one month deadline to finish the whole translation. Everybody with the right mind knows there cannot be a good translation work done in only one month, not to mention the scarcity of good translators out there. So, it’s a deadlock. We need to take the initiative. Everybody’s involved in the book industry has to socialize and promote Frankfurt Book Fair to the mass. It’s a golden opportunity which should be celebrated by our creative industry. We don’t only display books, we can display our culinary treasure, our dance, our culture, our music, and share those beauties to the world. If the government is holding back their support, for whatever reason, then we must actively work outside of that frame.
Will you be able present your own books in German as well? Have you found a German publisher that shows interest in your novels?
It’s a tricky situation. I wrote eight books, but only one book has an English translation. Some writers with dozens of books may not even have a single English translation. All this time, we never really pay attention to the importance of translation. Therefore, being the Guest of Honor of Frankfurt Book Fair is a like huge slap on our face. It’s either a blessing or a curse. There won’t be enough time to translate a whole book in significant quantity. So, basically we can only translate synopsis into English or German and try to sell the rights to international publishers. The trade will only start this October, so we’ll see.
Currently, there is a new "challenge" making its rounds in social media circles, where people can nominate their friends to compile a list of books that have inspired them the most. What books would make it to your list?
I think it will be interesting to introduce the work like Es Tito’s Negeri Kelima (The Fifth Country). The book packages Indonesia’s history in a popular, fast-paced, story telling. Something we don’t see so often in the market.
Are you working on a new book at the moment?
Yes. I just finished the fifth installment of my Supernova series, called Gelombang. It’ll be out in bookstores on Oct 17. I will start writing the final book immediately afterward.
Are there any other outlets you ever wanted to try to unleash your creativity, like film, theater or art?
Aside of writing books, I still involve in the music industry, although mostly now as a songwriter and not into stage performance so much. I partly invole in movies too. I wrote my first screenplay Perahu Kertas two years ago. But since I want to focus in finishing my Supernova series, I can’t afford to get involve in any other creative projects, at least for another one or two years. I’m seriously planning to write a cook book, though.
You are a mother, a wife, a writer, a singer and a songwriter. Don't you ever feel tired? :)
Those roles can be overwhelming, indeed. Ha-ha! It’s like a juggling game, day in day out. Everyday I learn to set my priorities straight, to work more efficiently and effectively. My office is practically at home, and I still have daily household chores and a family to take care of. So, I’m very stingy of my time. I say no to most meetings. I live in suburb (Tangerang Selatan), and it’ll cost me a whole day for an hour meeting in Jakarta. Regarding my work, I rely on e-mail and phone communications. To finish my latest book, I need to wake up before everybody else at home, so I still have that silence and uninterrupted moment. For months, I woke up at four AM and wrote for two-three hours straight. I declined most talkshow and teve invitations for almost a year. At first I was shaky because I felt like I was missing out opportunities, but I gradually learn to see what really matters. I can’t stress more of how important it is to see the distinction. Sometimes we’re just busy without being truly productive.