“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). The list goes on.
Armed with my first degree in English Language and Literature from Chongqing University, I left China in the summer of 1988, 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.
I have worked as an academic, researcher, language teacher, administrator and cultural consultant. From 2001, I went free-lance, specialising interpreting and translation between Mandarin Chinese and English, working for both public service and private clients in Europe. I’ve frequently travelled to Police stations, Courts, Prisons, Detention Centres, and Asylum and Immigration Tribunals, and once in a while, further afield to the Far East. I help multinational companies and small businesses when communicating with their Chinese clients, and vice versa. In 2014, I started a full-time job at Birmingham City University, as International Partnerships Manager. My pro folic career has given me ample opportunities to research my characters who live and breathe through my books.
Travelling opens my mind and energises my spirits, elevating my soul to new heights. I am thrilled with the great opportunity to interact with people from different races and cultures. There are so many fascinating customs and peoples in this wonderful world, and so much to learn each day. Experiencing them first hand is a privilege and sharing the vast wealth of such experience and knowledge is truly gratifying.
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.
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. I wrote continuously for a few months and completed part one of the book, Under Chinese Skies. Then 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, so the half finished novel 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 at a university 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 would have been Thomas Hardy. I did my first degree dissertation in English Literature on him. I think his fatalistic views of life appeal to Chinese people.
Where do I get my ideas from?
Mostly from people I interact with in real life, as well as the vast, seemingly unlimited imagination we are 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 ideas from the books I’ve read and enjoyed, 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 was its sequel and 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 the trauma.
My third and final novel of the trilogy, Land of Hope, is the most ambitious undertaking as far as my writing is concerned. 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. It will one day define me an an author, I hope :)!
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).
Prior to becoming a self-published fiction author, I have written and published in both Chinese and English, not to mention the long thesis leading to my Masters and Doctoral degrees, so I have had plenty of training and practice in writing I have also contributed to writers’ anthologies and wrote for a number of international websites.
How long does it take to complete a novel?
It depends. Trials of Life only took me three months to complete the first draft, but The Same Moon a few years, on and off. With Land of Hope, I’d say that 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 leave it until my muse returns. I am under no pressure from anyone, except from myself. I guess that’s a bonus for self-publication. No deadlines – brilliant!
If I were going to mentor a new writer through the publishing process, what pitfalls would I warn them against?
With self-publishing, publishing itself is relatively easy and straight forward. I would advise any new writer that first and foremost they need to have a great story. I would also tell them that hard work began AFTER the publication of their work, because man oh man, how I wish that someone had prepared me for that! I never expected that so much work and effort were needed for promoting one’s work. Writing a book is by far the easiest part for me :).
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.
I started blogging in March 2011 with a basic package, upgraded to a more sophisticated one. It serves 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 many interesting aspects of modern life.
Would my books translate well to the big screen? If so who would I like to see play my lead characters?
Absolutely. With the fast changing world we live in today, the once mysterious East is no longer shrouded in the clouds and mist of antiquity. I am confident that my stories have a huge relevance to 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, if I had my pick, I’d like either George Clooney, Kevin Spacey or Daniel Craig, playing Andrew Church. The bad guy Dick? Donald Sunderland would have been perfect, but he was getting on a bit, so his son Kiefer Sunderland would 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?
Working, 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 my following on Twitter is getting bigger by the day.
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, and I communicate with them through my writings and they are alive and kicking in the real world. My readers have told me that they can identify and relate to my characters. That is the best compliment I have received as a writer.
In my novels, my 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 itself 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 places; 2) To write a masterpiece; 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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