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Phnom Penh Noir weekend to bring book launch and more

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Bangkok-based author Christopher Moore, who edited the short story collection Phnom Penh Noir. Photograph supplied

Phnom Penh Noir weekend begins tomorrow night, with 250 invited guests attending the launch of Phnom Penh Noir at the FCCC.

Ten of the authors contributing to Cambodia’s first noir anthology will attend the launch. Christopher G Moore, the editor of Phnom Penh Noir, will MC the event. At the launch, Roland Joffé, director of the Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields, and international best-selling author John Burdett will speak.

Christopher Minko and the Krom band and rap artist Kosal Khiev – contributors to Phnom Penh Noir – will also give live performances. Other events following the launch include a Rotary Club meeting on Saturday at which Roland Joffé and Moore will address members.

On Sunday, Meta House will offer two workshops with Phnom Penh Noir authors talking about the craft of writing fiction.

The Phnom Penh Post spoke to author Christopher G Moore about the project.

PPP: What do you mean by the term “noir” stories?

Noir fiction, music, art and photography are culturally “hot” in Southeast Asia: prose, sound and images that are on the dark, dangerous side of life. Powerful, influential figures, gangsters, fraudsters, shady foreigners, crooked NGOs and corrupt officials are on the prowl. Ordinary people sometimes fall along the way. The stories in noir remind the reader that “power” and “influence” left unrestrained and in the wrong hands can overwhelm fairness and justice.

Noir crime fiction in particular strikes a chord with many people around the world who fear that elites and their wealth are warping their lives and those of their children.

PPP: Why did you, as editor, choose Phnom Penh for a noir anthology?

What makes this collection of stories and lyrics unique is the shadow cast by the Khmer Rouge and the killing fields.

Truth and morality play out in each story and most of them have a connection with people who lived through this tragic period. My goal was to bring together in one book a group of storytellers, artists and performers and ask them to use their imaginations to explore this dark side.

What the authors produced exceeded my expectations. These stories reveal the psychological and emotional state of people living in Phnom Penh who have reached the end of the line. The stories are compelling parables. The stories are fiction, and the characters straight from the imagination of the authors. Each of them delivers a deeper understanding of the aftermath of genocide, the wounds that remain and the compromises that were made along the journey.

Noir creates a mood or feeling. You can do that with the written word. You can also do it through lyrics and music. That is why Krom and Kosal’s contributions are important to Phnom Penh Noir.

If there’s a common thread, it’s that when ordinary people are driven into a corner, we want to know how they rise to the challenge – what choices they make and what risks they take. And, in the end, we ask what sorrow resides in the heart in the struggle for justice and fairness.

PPP: Tell us how you chose the authors for Phnom Penh Noir.

The essential quality was a professional writer who had experience in Cambodia. Authenticity is important for readers. They wish to believe the author is not just technically very good, accomplished and talented, they must have the credibility of having spent time walking the fields, streets and back lanes of Cambodia. It was important to have established authors such as Roland Joffé, John Burdett and James Grady, as they represent the best of creative writing.

At the same time, it was essential to have Cambodian writers represented. I wanted stories from the Cambodian point of view, in their voice, and drawing upon their language and culture. Soung Mak and Bopha Porn are fine examples of the new generation of Cambodian writers and Phnom Penh Noir is their debut for fiction in the English language. Adding Christopher Minko’s lyrics for Krom and Kosal Khiev’s poetry was another way to engage talented creators.

Channa Siv’s photography of a night scene in Phnom Penh, which appears on the cover of the book, is another aspect of inclusiveness which has defined the project from the beginning.

PPP: What makes Phnom Penh Noir different from other noir anthologies?

Last year I edited, and contributed to, Bangkok Noir. I found that in both projects, the authors were able to select the right characters and settings to express the themes of noir, which is especially popular in America, where there are dozens of volumes for cities as diverse as New York, Pittsburgh and Boston.

The trend doesn’t stop in America – there’s  London, Moscow, Mexico City, Havana, Trinidad and New Delhi.

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