Today I have a very special guest on my blog. It’s the sensational Junying Kirk!
– Hi Junying!
– Hi Vanessa!
First of all I want to welcome you to my blog. You are amongst a very select group of novelists because I do not often give space on my blog for interviews with authors. Normally my reviews are all one-way and I don’t allow my victims to answer back.
But, I have to say, since I read and reviewed The Same Moon, I have been following your career with great interest and I’m very excited to have this opportunity to ask you about your latest novel, Land of Hope.
Let’s begin by telling everyone about the three novels in your Journey to the West trilogy, of which this is the third.
The Same Moon introduces us to the Chinese girl, Pearl Zhang, who lives through one of the most turbulent periods of Chinese history before moving to the United Kingdom as a young woman.
Pearl continues her journey in Trials of Life. Thwarted and terrorised by an evil academic, she endures many setbacks before finding love at last with the man she eventually marries.
Land of Hope launches Pearl into a new phase of her life. Acting as an interpreter for Inspector Jack Gordon of the Serious Crime Squad, she becomes entangled in the sinister underworld of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
So, tell me, Junying, do readers need to read the books in sequence or can they dive straight into the murky criminal underworld with you in Land of Hope?
No, it is not necessary to read my trilogy in sequence, as each book has individual story-lines and can be read as a stand-alone. A reader once told me that after he had read and really enjoyed Trials of Life , he went back to The Same Moon, because he wanted more of Pearl :) Quite a few readers are now reading Land of Hope without reading the previous two books. Even when I was writing it, I knew and expected that the my final instalment would have a wider appeal – it addresses some serious issues in this world, which need to be exposed and to make many more people aware.
Land of Hope is something of a departure for you, moving away from the semi-autobiographical style of your earlier novels and moving more towards crime fiction. Did this present you with new challenges as a writer or was it a natural progression for you?
Ha, of course. To be honest, I did not set out to write a suspense-type crime story when I started Land of Hope, so I was delighted, also a little surprised when my early reviewers labelled it as “a totally, captivating, and powerfully potent suspense thriller.” In recent years, a very large proportion of my leisure reading has been the genre of crime fiction, especially that of Scandinavian Noir. It must have influenced my writing much more than I have realized :). Yes, you’re right, it is certainly a departure from my previous writing styles – I have had the characters (immigrants) in my head for quite sometime and I wanted to write a book which has more action and pace. As for the writing process, I think you can call it both a challenge and a natural progression. After my first two books, I have matured as a writer. I’m much more confident to experiment with other writing styles and to challenge myself as to what I can do. I’m pleased to say that this bold approach seems to have worked. I have produced a book which has achieved something extra – a book I would love reading as a fan of crime thrillers.
Although this is a fictional work, you’ve actually worked as an interpreter, haven’t you? Did you draw upon real-life stories for this novel? Did you meet people who are victims of the the crimes you’ve described?
Yes, absolutely. I have met so many people in my line of work as an interpreter that I have enough raw material for another ten books :) I have seen comments about my characters being real and credible, and that makes me extremely happy and proud. Quite a lot of incidents in my book, as well as several characters, are based on real life. All I had to do, as a fiction writer, was to give them a voice, flesh and bone. Personally I think that it’s an incredible honour and a great skill, to transform ordinary folks we meet into something extraordinary, characters who speak to us and take us on a journey.
Is that what motivates you to write? Do you want to highlight social problems and bring about change or are you simply trying to distil your own experiences and make something meaningful out of them?
It’s the teacher in me :) I have a need to educate people. I have worked as a researcher and academic in my previous guise and I’m afraid that it is hard to get rid of that habit. I guess I do consider myself a kind of a messenger. I am a woman with a mission – if I could change the world with a super power, I would :) Since I don’t, I’ll make do with changing some people’s minds :). As a Police and Court interpreter, I have gained a lot of insights into a dark, underworld where there exist heartbreaking misery and suffering. On the other hand, in the shining world I live in, I am surrounded by staggering wealth, glamour and amazing beauties. The inequality and disparity between different social classes and people from different cultures sadden me. Through my books, if I can touch someone else’s soul and broaden their horizons, it means that I have achieved something worthwhile. Of course, if at the same time, I can entertain readers with my words and stories, then all the better :)
Well, Junying, I know you to be a very sincere and courageous fighter for social justice. But I think it’s true that anyone can read your books and feel enthralled by them. Not only this – those of us who read your blog know you have another talent – you are an excellent cook! Since you are very interested in food as well as books, are there any mouth-watering passages in Land of Hope?
Thanks for the compliment, Vanessa. Yes, I absolutely love food and enjoy cooking for friends and family. Entertaining is also in my genes :) I have included a very special recipe in my book – although it’s a popular dish in China which most people know about, but my secret recipe is the best – it has sealed approval from my husband, who is quite a harsh critic where Chinese food is concerned :) – now I know you’re going to rush to that special section of my book as soon as this interview is over :)
Now I am going to reveal a secret, Junying. I have already been there! :) But wait! There is one question I have been dying to ask you. You obviously chose to write your novels in English although English is not your native language. Was this something you had to think about or was it a very natural choice for you? Is it harder to write in English than in Chinese?
Great questions, Vanessa. I know you share my cultural heritage and the same mother tongue. For me, writing in English is natural and easy nowadays – it wasn’t always like this. When I first arrived in the UK nearly a quarter of a century ago, I struggled to write short essays. Following several postgraduate degrees in UK universities, I can now sit down and write anything I like in English :) I’m finding it much harder writing Chinese instead – I would not be able to write a trilogy in my mother tongue, and in fact, if my books are ever translated into Chinese, it won’t be doing the job, even though I am supposed to be a translator :) I think in English and dream in English, and even my family in China never hesitate in telling me that I behave like a westerner :)
I know that feeling! Someone asked me the other day to write a particular word in Chinese and I discovered that I’d forgotten one of the characters! In my defence, it was a very complicated character that isn’t used very often but still! It’s very embarrassing to forget your native language. Do you have any plans for your next novel, Junying? Can we expect more gritty crime fiction?
I certainly have more tales to tell, but as for whether they are going to be gritty thrillers or otherwise, it’s a top secret right now :). My priority is to go back to my previous two books in my trilogy and rewrite certain parts – I’m planning to turn my stories into screenplays for big or small screens, so I’ll have my hands full for a while just yet. I also want to produce paperbacks for the current e-books, and that would take time too.
Oh, you are right! It all takes time and I know you are meticulous in what you do!
I would like to thank you, Vanessa, for giving me the privilege of your space and for asking such thoughtful and intelligent questions. As a fan of your writing, it’s truly a great honor to talk with you :)
Thank you Junying! Now… the kitchen is calling, I think.
To learn more about Junying and her fabulously and thoughtful trilogy of novels, why not visit her blog? (You might find some tasty recipes too!)