Creativity is in the air as the Kampot Writers and Readers Festival (KWRF) gets into full swing. Editor Marissa Carruthers gets a sneak peek at what’s in store.

Phnom Penh is awash with budding writers seeking inspiration to put pen to paper. This month’s KWRF aims to spark the creative spirit as authors, poets, song-writers and people who just love language gather in Kampot.

“The festival will be full of like-minded people who all share the same appreciation of the word,” says festival co-organiser Julien Poulson. “Creativity sparks creativity, and that’s what we aim to do.”

The party starts in Phnom Penh on Nov. 2 with An Evening with the Writers book signings, cocktails and concerts at Raffles Le Royal, from 4pm to 9pm. Local and international writers will be on hand to talk about their work and what drives them, as well as offer tips.

They include Shane Maloney, Laura Jean McKay, Kosal Kiev, Carlos Andres Gomes, Phina So, Lok Ta and Chath Piersath. In line with the festival’s theme, the historic hotel will be transformed into a writing lounge for the week.

Tony Lefferts, festival co-organiser, says, “This is a great opportunity to meet and mingle with the cream of Cambodia’s literary and arts community, and to have books signed by celebrity guest authors.”

The main event in Kampot kicks off on Thursday, Nov. 3, at 5pm at Kampot Music School, with a jam-packed bill taking in more than 50 artists across three days and nights. This will see a series of talks, panel sessions, performances, book launches, poetry slams and exhibitions take over the river town.

The Kampot festivities will close with a street party in the town on Sunday, Nov. 6, from 2pm to 10pm, while a wrap party, featuring Cambodian Space Project, takes place the following day at The Exchange in Phnom Penh.

“This year’s KWRF acknowledges the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords and is themed on “Peace, Prosperity, Freedom” with an extraordinary programme that shines a light on indigenous voices, emerging writers, new Cambodian literature, arts and culture, and brings to the Kingdom a week-long programme with more than 60 events, in 36 venues, taking place in Kampot and Phnom Penh,” says Lefferts.

Book Launches

KWRF co-organiser Wayne McCallum will be launching his book, A River and A Valley Far Away at the festival.

Having arrived in Cambodia in 2003, the staunch conservationist spent years working in the deep jungle of the Cardamom Mountains, collaborating with communities to protect the homes of endangered tigers, elephants and other rare wildlife.

The New Zealander’s adventures, which include being pecked by Sarus cranes, having his camera wrecked by monkeys and being whacked by an irate elephant, are chronicled in his book.

It will be launched alongside an exhibition of images from his time living in the wild, which will complement an exhibition featuring photo stories about climate change from the Koh Rong archipelago, and an essay competition, supported by WWF’s tiger re-wilding programme, around the history and cultural meaning of tigers in Cambodia.

AsiaLIFE publisher Mark Bibby Jackson will be heading up a crime writing panel at KWRF. Bibby Jackson recently launched the second in his Cambodian-based crime detective trilogy, Peppered Justice, which is aptly set in Kampot.

Picking up where his debut novel, To Cook A Spider left off, Peppered Justice sees affable Major Sorn Satya step into the protagonist’s shoes as he battles – at times almost comically – against the corruption and injustice that is rampant throughout the Kingdom of Wonder.

Having been ousted from his post in Battambang, Major Satya Sorn finds himself transferred to the sleepy riverside town of Kampot.

Convinced that he is destined to living out his days as a police officer solving petty crime, he is sent to cover the case of a missing girl, and quickly finds himself embroiled in a string of brutal murders and a mysterious disappearance.

Excellently conveyed, Bibby Jackson’s strong characterisation conjures up a wealth of personalities, from heavy-handed Harry Best and downright drunk Pierre Duclerc to lawyer Klaus Pederson and, of course, Satya’s trusted red Fiat Spyder.

Tackling some of the issues that are endemic to Cambodia – injustice, corruption and greed – the novel is peppered with humour, perfectly conjuring up chaotic but charismatic Cambodia.Peppered Justice is as much of a page-turner as it is a psychological insight into what makes humans tick, making it a riveting read from start to finish.

“Cambodia is the perfect setting for the crime series,” says Bibby Jackson, adding that the country shines as the novel’s

main character.

“There’s a certain absurdity to Cambodia that I wanted to convey. Cambodia is not a crime noir country. It’s more slapstick; it’s more crime orange.”

For more information, follow KWRF on Facebook.