INDONESIA FOCUS: Q+A Reda Gaudiamo

Previously a copywriter, journalist and publisher, Reda Gaudiamo spoke to us about her recent visit to to the UK and the upcoming London Book Fair.


My name is Reda Gaudiamo and I’m a writer/singer. I started writing a bit late, I think. I used to work as a journalist for an Indonesian teenagers' magazine and then along the way I pushed myself to write short stories out of curiosity. I stuck with short stories for quite a while, until one day I decided to make a kind of journal of my childhood days and posted it on my Facebook page. People asked me to publish it as a book, and I worked on that. One day a friend of mine found it in a café and she liked it so much she decided to sell the book in her tiny bookshop, Post, in Pasar Santa. Then the books started getting more popular, and they decided to reprint it and send it to the book fair. The English rights were acquired by the Emma Press in the UK this year.

You’ve just been on a residency in the UK. Can you tell me about that, what were you doing there?

Actually I picked London because I believed this city would give me a lot of ideas and inspiration for the third part of my book. I spent most of my time in libraries and museums. I think the best time I ever had was being on my own digging for ideas. I almost feel overwhelmed by all the things that I plan to do after I come back home.

Meeting with my editor Kate Wakeling was very inspirational for me. We spent a lot of time discussing the books and children’s poetry - which is new; we don’t have that in Indonesia. I’ve found that poetry is really intimidating sometimes so that’s why singing the poems is a way to understand the poetry better.

Looking at how the children absorb and are really into [poetry] at a really young age. Why don’t we have that kind of work in Indonesia? That idea of introducing poetry much earlier to children shifted my perspective. I’d like to go and see the book scene and the libraries and bookshops for children in the UK and find out more.

On writing and singing…

In the first phase of my career, I was mainly singing with my partner. We wrote the music and the lyrics were taken from the poems of Indonesian poets. Then my partner passed away last June, and I had no choice but to keep on going. So this is the phase where I started doing both - making music and also writing lyrics, which is very difficult! I think it’s easier to write a short story!

With short stories, you just write whatever comes to your mind and your heart, you just write and put it down, you just don’t care, there’s just someone with a story, someone getting into trouble, or falling in love, or whatever...you don’t care about the format. But with a song, you have two count the syllables.

You’ve been selected as one of the 12 Indonesian authors for the London Book Fair. How are you feeling about that?

Very excited! I’m really looking forward to it.

And what are you hoping to learn there?

I think it’s more about getting excited. It’s about all the ideas coming up. It wows me what I saw [in London], especially when I visited the museums. I really enjoyed the Natural History Museum and Design Museum and the way they presented design - through user and maker.

I went to the Oxford University Museum of Natural History which has another way of presenting artefacts. I think Indonesian museums can learn from that. You put the exhibitions by subjects, like - birth. How people all over the world think, or talk about birth. It’s a different way of doing things.

And the other way around?

I think it’s more about knowing and understanding Indonesia. Not many people know about Indonesia at all - apart from Bali, of course! People get mixed up with Malaysia, and I think that’s a bit sad because there are so many things that people can learn, that they should know about Indonesia.

Have you got any recommendations of Indonesian authors and books?

I really love Yusi Avianto Pareanom. I like all his work but I really like his short story anthology, it’s so witty and so well written. His ideas always surprise you - the way he writes is so beautiful.

Reda Gaudiamo’s book The Adventures of Na Willa will be published by The Emma Press in March 2019.

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