“I arrived into this world three weeks before my due date, weighing less than two kilos; a tiny unhealthy baby. The midwife attending my birth thought I was going to die – after all, a high proportion of babies died at birth in those days. Of the eighty babies she delivered that month, at least a quarter didn’t live to see their first birthday. It was a minor miracle that I didn’t become one of these unfortunate statistics.”
– Excerpt from The Same Moon, “Journey to the West” trilogy
That was Pearl Zhang, the protagonist of my “Journey to the West”. It was an intended co-incidence that her birth and her creator’s, was only days apart, and in very similar circumstances. Like Pearl, I grew up in China and made a journey from the East to the West as an adult.
One of my earliest, greatest and most constant love is reading, and it has grown and matured with each year I add to my age. I enjoy a variety of books, particularly the fictional works by the Brontes, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Leo Tolstoy, Alexander Dumas, Victor Hugo, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London and many others. I am drawn to well-written stories which explore human relationships, morality, love and loss, life’s twists and turns, and its ups and downs.
One of my favourite genres has been crime thrillers but in general I love books that inform and inspire, enchant and touch one’s heart and soul. Among the authors of modern times, I am a huge fan of Khaled Hossein (The Kite Runner), Stieg Lasson (The Millenium Trilogy), Henning Mankell (Swedish Crime fiction writer with numerous wonderfully written novels), Pearl S Buck (The Good Earth), English novelist Tony Parsons (My Favourite Wife), James Thompson (Inspector Kari Varra series, Finland, also a friend :)), and Leighton Gage (Chief Inspector Mario Silva, Brazil, another friend). I am deeply saddened by the loss of both James Thompson and Leighton Gage whose work inspired me and whose friendship had spurred me on.
Armed with my first degree in English Language and Literature from Chongqing University, I left China many summers ago, on winning a scholarship from the British Council to pursue further studies in the UK. My life’s path took a dramatic turn, signifying a long, often joyful albeit occasionally painful process of self-discovery and professional development.
- I attended Creative Writing courses and was an active member of a writers’ group for a period of time. This has motivated me to further hone my writing skills, driving me to create wonderful stories based on real life, and from the vast well of my imagination.
Over the years, I produced research papers, proses and short stories in Chinese magazines. By 2012, I had completed and published three full length novels: The Same Moon, Trials of Life and Land of Hope.
Of the many professional roles I have played over the years, as an academic, researcher, language teacher, administrator and cultural consultant, I enjoyed my dozen-year stint as a professional interpreter, working for both public service and private clients in Europe and beyond. I frequently travelled to Police stations, Courts, Prisons, Detention Centres, and Asylum and Immigration Tribunals, and once in a while, further afield to business arena in the Far East. I help multinational companies and small businesses when communicating with their Chinese-speaking clients, and vice versa. Not long ago, I started a full-time job at Birmingham City University, as International Partnerships Manager. The career path which I partially chose and partially landed myself in has given me ample opportunities to research my characters who live and breathe through my writing.
Travelling opens my mind and energises my spirits, elevating my soul to new heights. I am thrilled that I am able to interact with people from different races and cultures, learning fascinating customs and meeting amazing people in this wonderful, ever changeable world. Each day and in every way. In this journey through the real and virtual world, My life has been enriched and my vision expanded, across borders, oceans and mountains.
Our world is getting smaller and communications easier and faster than ever before. I feel blessed to live in the era when so many advances have been made, and amazing transformations taking place every day. Being able to write and connect with readers is a wonderful gift and true privilege.
Ever since the publication of my books, I have done a number of interviews with fellow authors and book reviewers, as well as making guest appearances on other blog sites. After many rounds of being on both sides of the interviewee and interviewer, I seem to have perfected my skills :). Read on my self-interview and follow me in a long, winding road of becoming an Indie author.
How did I begin my journey in writing my first book?
I’ve always wanted to write a book, so in 1997 after I finished my PhD in Leeds and without a job to go to immediately, I made a start on The Same Moon. The idea had been with me for a long time, so I wrote continuously for a few months and completed part one of a book of semi-fiction, Under Chinese Skies. In 1998 I was faced with a critical decision of either returning to China after nearly 10 years in the UK, or staying on. I chose to stay and embarked on an MBA course. The incomplete draft was put away on a floppy disk. I picked it up again in 2002 and finished the second part On British Isles in 2003.
Who and what inspired me to write books?
The urge to share, to explore human relations, love, loss, suffering, courage and unwavering spirit to triumph over life’s trials and tribulations. My favourite book is Jane Eyre, one of the first and finest English classics I was able to read while studying in China. I loved those masters of classical fiction from the UK, Russia, France and USA. However, if I have to name one single most significant writing influence, it is Thomas Hardy. I did my first degree dissertation in English Literature on his works. I think his fatalistic views of life appeal to Chinese people, definitely to me.
Where do I get my ideas from?
Mostly from people I interact with in real life, as well as imagination I have been endowed with. I meet people from all walks of life and from different cultural backgrounds. I learn so much from them, each day. Naturally, I also get inspirations from the books I read and enjoy, characters I can identify with, or loathe.
How many books have I published?
Following The Same Moon, the first of my ‘Journey to the West’ trilogy, Trials of Life, its sequel was published in April 2011. I started and finished the 2nd book within three months, burning the midnight oil. It was my first completed work of fiction, and writing it helped me to deal with a very traumatic time of my life.
My third and final novel of the trilogy, Land of Hope, is the most ambitious undertaking. I have travelled to China and USA for research purposes. It is a crime/political/literary type of fiction with all the great elements of a wonderful story. I’m very proud to have written it.
Based on my own experience of an Earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, I have contributed a piece to a collection of short stories to raise money for the Japanese earthquake in March 2011 (With Love).
How long does it take to complete a novel?
It depends. Trials of Life only took three months to complete the first draft, but The Same Moon a few years, on and off. With Land of Hope, from writing to editing it took about 18 months, although I was not working on it full time.
What’s my writing process?
I usually sit in front of my PC, now my iMac and just type away. Sometimes I keep going for hours without stopping. Other times I type a few lines and lose interest, so I wait until my muse returns. I am under no pressure from anyone, except from myself. I guess that’s a bonus for being a self-published author. No deadlines – brilliant!
What kind of promotion have I tried and found to be most effective?
Like many Indie authors, I have a Facebook account and an author page. I promote my books there once in a while. Twitter came later, which I only used sporadically in the beginning but have become more and more fond of it as time goes by. I have met amazing people and made great friends through different social media including GoodReads and G+. However, we only have so much time in a day and I have realised how much a distraction they have become for my writing and other pursuits in life.
In 2011, I started blogging which has been as my main platform, promoting many aspects of my creative interests, sharing my journey as a fiction writer, a seasoned traveller, a fabulous chef, a fine photographer, an occasional mini-video-maker and most of all, a lover of life. I’m delighted that this site has been helping other authors and artists to promote their work. I am really proud to work with my hugely talented fellow bloggers, who have generously devoted their time and expertise, to share their wisdom and wonderful writings on my site, reaching out and touching lives.
Would my books translate well to the big screen? If so who would I like to see play my lead characters?
Absolutely. In the fast changing world, the once mysterious East is no longer shrouded in the clouds and mist of antiquity. My stories and characters are real and relevant in the 21st century, reflecting the transitions many people go through, from one country to another, one familiar culture to something totally different.
Gong Li can play the older version of my protagonist Pearl, and many pretty young Chinese actresses can easily slip into the role as a young Chinese girl growing up during the Cultural Revolution, falling in love for the first time and finding her path through life’s ups and downs.
For the male leads in Trials of Life, I’d pick either George Clooney, Kevin Spacey or Daniel Craig to play Andrew Church. The bad guy Dick? Donald Sunderland would have been perfect, but he was getting on a bit, so his son Kiefer Sunderland will do
Sean Connery, if younger, would have been a perfect cast for Jack Gordon in Land of Hope. Now when I think about it, I’d love to have a talented British actor to play him. So let’s wait and see.
If I was not writing, what would I do to spend my time?
Cooking/eating (not at the same time), reading, watching films on TV or Internet, or socialising with friends around the world online. I have an ‘obsession’ with Facebook and WeChat (The Chinese social media platform) and my following on Twitter is in its thousands even though I do not spent much time there.
Which famous person/s would I like to meet or invite for dinner?
Among those living, top of my lists will be Kevin Spacey (Actor) and Henning Mankell (Writer). Those who are dead but still very much alive and continue to inspire me would include Nelson Mandela, Stieg Larsson, Charlotte Bronte and Thomas Hardy.
Do my characters talk to me?
I live with my characters during the day and dream of them at night. They are part of me, alive and kicking, and doing somersault in my subconsciousness. My readers have commented that they can identify and relate to my characters. To me, that is the best compliment I have received as a writer.
My real life friends are most likely to find the shadow of themselves, and so can my foes if they ever come across my writing. The people in my life really spur me on and drive me as a writer! Life is the best tutor and provides boundless energy and inspiration.
What three things would I do before I kick the bucket?
1) To travel to more unknown places; 2) To write continuously until my last breath; 3) To die a happy woman, so when I meet our Creator/God/Whoever is up there in Heaven, I can tell Him or Her that my life has been one hell of a ride.
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