There are only a few popular novelists in Tibet and Takbum Gyal is one of them. Many of his short stories and novellas have been published in Tibetan literary magazines. He also published a novel called “The Silent Grassland” a few years before. He is now writing a novel called “Decline” and a collection of short stories called “The Winter Without Snow.” His short story collection “The Song of Life” received the 2011 Minority Literary Award in Beijing and was translated into Chinese by film-maker and writer Pema Tseden. We translated this interview excerpt from the Gendun Chophel website.
Interview with novelist Takbum Gyal
Interviewed by Choskyong
Host: So far you haven’t given up your literary work and you are considered an author with a lot of masterpieces. How did you ensure the quality of each of your written work?
Author: Ensuring the quality of each work was a very hard task, but during the writing process, I always reviewed my previous writings and looked for ways to fill the gaps to improve the quality. When working on the later writings, I paid careful attention to problems that I had faced earlier in my previous works. Speaking of problems, some ambitious friends want to know “what the problems are” and hope to throw a mountain of criticism and gain a golden experience, but it is impossible to fulfill their wishes. The reason is that when they judge a person, they always say, “Looking at this person’s manner, he or she does not seem like a good person.” But when you ask, “Which manner in particular?”, they can’t give a clear answer. The beauty or ugliness of a literary work is closely related to its subject, content, expression, diction and so on. On our (Tibetan) literary stage, some novels seem like a hundred songs with one melody and some seem like one song with a hundred melodies. I don’t like either repeating one subject over and over or using one expression again and again. Various subjects have various ways to express them. The subjects should be new and realistic. In terms of expression, I try my best to make the subject more expressive and interesting to more readers.
Host: In many of your writings, the “dog” is used as a character. Some of these dogs’ reflections stand on the side of truth and some stand on the opposite side. What is the reason that you like write about dogs?
Author: It is true that the characters of some of my writings are dogs or dog- related. Among them some are written on the true side and some are written on the opposite side. But I was not particularly interested to write about dogs. I also didn’t have other reasons to write about dogs. However, in our life, as we say, dogs are people’s reliable friends; dogs are the animals most closely connected to human beings; dogs are special animals that can understand people’s feelings and clearly distinguish self from others. Thus, in our novels, we use people’s attachment to dogs and use the dogs’ characteristics to analyze people and understand people’s lives.
Host: Have you read Mastiff by Yang Zhijun? Do you plan to write a long novel like that?
Author: I heard that people liked Yang Zhijun’s Mastiff, but I haven’t had a chance to read it. I even don’t have the time to write short novels, so a long novel like that is impossible. But after retirement, I can write about not just dogs but lions. Until the mental state becomes unconscious. Even breathing can be turned into the art of the pen.
Host: According to some people, you write better short stories than novels. What are your thoughts on this?
Author: That can be true. In general, novels are not written just based on one’s analytical thoughts without having a basic understanding of life. Especially when you write a long novel, you must have a deep understanding of life. If you are not familiar with something, it doesn’t help to just listen to people’s explanations; instead, you have to be involved in real life to get real experience. The process of writing a novel, organizing data, structuring the process and creating characters, from the beginning to end, are a very long spiritual production. It not only requires a long and continuous time period but also an environment where you can meditate single-mindedly on the project. If in your spare time, you are involved in regular activities and entertainments, it is very hard to complete a long novel. Our way of thinking change according to our different times and locations. Hence, for a person like me who doesn’t have any of these right conditions, it seems really hard to complete a novel under current circumstances.
Host: So, if you quit your teaching job and just worked on the literary work, what would your life look life? Have you ever given thought on this?
Author: When I was young, I had this idea but I didn’t have the confidence to carry it out. Now there are many family members at home and my children go to school, so I have a big responsibility as head of the household.
Translated by Reb Sa