IN CONVERSATION with Jidanun Lueangpiansamut


Jidanun Lueangpiansamut, also know by her nickname ‘Lee’, hit the headlines when she became, at twenty-five years old, the youngest ever winner of the SEA Write Award for her collection of dystopian short stories Rebellious Lion. Although she’d previously published young adult, horror and yaoi fiction, Rebellious Lion was her first work of “serious” literature. She followed it up six months later with another short story collection, One Day Your Memory Will Destroy You.

Her short story ‘The Girl Who Was Raped Through Her Earholes’, translated by Wichayapat Piromsan, won the BKKLIT Translation Prize (Fiction) and is available to read here.

We were lucky enough to get Jidanun to answer some questions about her inspirations, her career, and her hopes and fears.

BKKLIT   What’s your earliest memory?

Jidanun   My very first memory comes from when I was younger than four years old. I was playing with the shoehorns when my dad asked me to make a face at him. When I was young I was good at making a sulky face at adults when they asked me to. My parents liked it. They always asked little me to be sulky in order to make our neighbours laugh.

BKKLIT   When did you realise you were a writer?

Jidanun   When my first horror short story was published.  It happened six years ago.

BKKLIT   When you first started writing who were your greatest inspirations?

Jidanun   I started writing when I was twelve. At that time there were some teen writers in Thailand who had their books published in their late teens. They were my inspiration.

BKKLIT   What is your greatest fear?

Jidanun   I don’t want to be reincarnated. I’m not sure how people who are not Buddhist think about this concept. But it really hurts me. Thinking that I will have to be ten, fifteen, or eighteen years old again, thinking that I will have to go to school again, thinking that I will have to be sad again after facing sadness for one life already – all of those ideas are so sick. I don’t mean that I’m so good that I will be in nirvana after death. I just don’t want to come back. Let me die in peace, please.

BKKLIT   What does love feel like?

Jidanun   I’m not sure. The last time I fell in love I fell into a depression, too. It doesn’t suit me. Loving somebody doesn’t suit me.

BKKLIT   Which book changed your life?

Jidanun   The Most Silent School in the World by Fa Poonvoralak. I changed many things about my own writing after reading it. This book always inspires me. It also comforts me in hard times. It is just like… the summary of the whole universe. I have been in love with it ever since I was seventeen.

BKKLIT   What makes you unhappy?

Jidanun   Me when I’m not satisfied with myself.

BKKLIT   What is it like being a woman (and a writer) in Thailand?

Jidanun   Being a woman in Thailand is not so rough. You can hang out and come back home late. You can dye your hair. You can go to university. You can be a manager of a company. There are no rules written in stone about what you should or shouldn’t do. However, the rules are hidden inside Thai culture – in the way Thai people live, think and talk. If one woman gets into trouble because she goes against the rules, Thai society is always there to judge and shame her. Thai women have the appearance of being free, but they are chained by the invisible chain that Thai men, and even Thai women themselves, don’t seem to notice. Being a writer in Thailand is rough. You will get a lot of respect but only a little money. If you write the hard-to-read literature, you can’t feed yourself on the money you earn. It’s not enough. However, if you write chick lit, it will be easier for you to make money.

BKKLIT   You’ve already collected more awards than most writers achieve in a lifetime. What’s left for you, and are you ever afraid of running out of ideas?

Jidanun   I still have many targets to fight for. None of my books has been made into a movie yet. I also hope to see Chinese translations of my books. So, I’m looking forward to what lies ahead. Having said that, I am afraid of running out of ideas for short stories.  My stock is almost empty right now. But I hope that after facing the experiences of each day I will find some new inspiration eventually.

BKKLIT   How do you stay motivated?

Jidanun   I feel happy when I write. And I feel really miserable when I stop writing for too long. I love that feeling of seeing my book in the book store when it’s finished. I am afraid of failure. All these reasons ignite me. But sometimes they hurt me, too.

BKKLIT   What’s your biggest distraction?

Jidanun   Social media – the Belphegor of the twenty-first century.

BKKLIT   If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?

Jidanun   After I graduated from university, I worked in human resources for an international company for six months. Actually, I liked working there. If I didn’t have so many books in my head, I’d probably still be working there, spending all my time dealing with people’s salary and tax.

BKKLIT   Whose advice do you listen to about your writing?

Jidanun   My editors. I respectfully take their advice. Editors always help and shape writers.

BKKLIT   Should we be afraid of the future?

Jidanun   Firstly, I’m afraid of the future all the time. I can’t help myself. To be afraid is one of my basic behaviours. It’s very easy to make me panic about my future, about my past, about everything. Anyway, ignore me. If you are a rational adult, you should not be so afraid. There are two ways that your future can be. First, you cannot control it. Your future is all about fate and God’s willing. Or second, you can do anything you want. Your future takes place without divine intervention. If the world works in the first way, there is nothing we can do. So there is no need to worry. Just wait for it to come. If the world works in the second way, there is nothing to fear. Just go and grab what you need.

BKKLIT   How do you relax?

Jidanun   I like to go to a coffee shop I’ve never been to before, get a cup of coffee or tea, and look around for something new to inspire me.

BKKLIT   What is your most embarrassing moment?

Jidanun   I don’t want to tell you! That is why we call it the most embarrassing moment.

BKKLIT   What is the closest you’ve come to death?

Jidanun   Five years ago, I fainted in the bathroom. I lived alone, so I stayed there unconscious for hours. And then I just woke up… on my own. I went to the hospital. The doctor found nothing wrong. I went back home and that’s it.

BKKLIT   Who would play you in the film of your life?

Jidanun   If there was a film about my life, it would surely be incredibly boring. So we’d need someone who looks very attractive in order to keep the viewer’s interest. Ummm…just call Image Suthita. I like her face, voice, and attitude.

IN CONVERSATION with Wichayapat Piromsan (BKKLIT Translation Prize 2018 winner for fiction)

Wichayapat 1 (bkklit)

Wichayapat Piromsan won the BKKLIT Translation Prize 2018 (Fiction) for her translation of ‘The Girl Who Was Raped Through Her Earholes’ by Jidanun Lueangpiansamut – which you can read here. We caught up with Wichayapat and asked her a few questions about Thai literature, her inspirations, and being a translator.

BKKLIT Could you briefly tell us where you come from and why you started to translate Thai literature?

WP I was born in Bangkok and have spent most of my life here. What I found while reading Western literature is that when the word ‘Thai’ ever comes up in a book at all, it usually refers to food. If the word ‘Thailand’ ever comes up, it is never a destination nor a place where anything significant happens. I translate because I want to see the word ‘Thai’ and ‘Thailand’ in a different light in literature written in English.

BKKLIT What work of Thai literature would you love to see translated, and why?

WP The Mark (รอยประทับ) by Narumol Thepchai. This book is a perfect concoction of romance, drama, family saga, and history. The way it tells the tale of Siam brings me back to history lessons, only it’s more enjoyable and engaging. It could be the most underrated work of Thai literature. As opposed to Margaret Landon’s highly acclaimed Anna and The King of Siam, which is also a historical novel about Siam, I rarely hear anyone speak about it. The Mark deserves so much more than this and needs to be translated.

BKKLIT Why did you choose to translate Jidanun’s ‘The Girl Who Was Raped Through Her Earholes?’

WP The story leaves me ‘sweltering’. It just accurately paints the bleak picture of Bangkokians and their self-absorption. It holds a mirror up against me and reflects an ugly aspect of myself I had never seen before. Reading this story, I come to the brutal realisation that I could have been one of those people who ignore the narrator. People in big cities across the world need to read this.

BKKLIT What are the challenges faced by translators of Thai literature?

WP One would be to find a concise and subtle translation when ceremonies or customs that are specific to Southeast Asian culture crop up in a story while maintaining the fictional quality. Otherwise, a short story can easily turn into Thai Culture 101. Another would be the great challenge of competing for readers’ attention from across the world amidst the abundance of translated literature.

BKKLIT What do you plan to translate next?

WP I have no plan yet. But I would like to translate works by women writers. The world doesn’t appreciate women writers enough.