I started writing in earnest in 1997, although I had been writing prior to that. I wrote short stories in Chinese, regular diaries in both Chinese and English, and a number of research papers and never-ending dissertations. But one day in the spring of 1997, after I handed in that awfully long PhD thesis, I sat down and started typing The Same Moon, the book had been brewing in my head for as long as I could remember but didn’t have time for till then.
One of the most important aspects of any story, in my opinion, is description. Often either overdone or underdone, what is your best advice to writers on how to strike the perfect balance?
In my humble view, balance is relative. It all depends on which kind of books authors write and the kind of stories they want to tell. Every author has his or her own style, and if you have established a unique style, stick with it. There is no perfect formula to writing, and if there were, the books we read would be so boring, wouldn’t it?
I find much of my inspiration in coffee shops, and many of the conversations and interactions I have witnessed there have proved to be influential in my tales. Has anyone you’ve ever witnessed become the inspiration for a character, or at least a particular part of a character?
Oh yes, people I meet become characters, unwittingly, both to them and to me at the time. When I start writing, characters form in my head and it is then I know what kind of characters I want to build, and their characteristics become crystal clear – they are taken from people I know, whether it’s the way they look, they talk, they walk or even how they think, if I know them well. It helps me to create characters which are authentic and credible – it’s funny that often the characters I’ve created become more real than the people I based them upon, because I spend so much time inside those characters that I feel that I know them inside out, they are more than simply characters to me, not unlike a mother giving birth to a baby. When you think about it, authors often carry their ‘babies’ for nine months, or longer.
Finding your voice in writing is one of the most important aspects of it. Some writers, myself included, wrote in a myriad of genres before discovering where our style was best suited. Is there a particular genre that speaks the most to you? Why? And how did you find it?
Lisa, I am totally with you on this point. From what I have read from your writing, we are similar in a way that our books are, as you said, a myriad of genres. When I set out in writing my first book, it never occurred to me to write in a certain genre, as stories just poured out of my mind like a broken dam. There was no stopping till it was done and dusted. I had trouble when I was asked to categorize my book. In the end, I put it down as contemporary, literary fiction, but some readers commented that it read like a memoir, and others said that it could be called historical fiction, because it dealt with issues of particulars times in our recent history.
When I began the final installment of my Journey to the West trilogy, Land of Hope, again I allowed the stories and characters took over and did not set to write in a particular genre. I just had a compulsion to tell the stories of the people I have met in my current line of work, as a professional interpreter. I was a little surprised when one of my first reviews described my book as “a totally, captivating, and powerfully potent suspense thriller” (Amazon) – There is certainly an element of crime fiction in Land of Hope, and I’m thrilled to bits with the positive response I have received so far. My love for Scandinavian Nordic crime thrillers must have got under my skin – I’ve produced a suspense thriller without even realizing it :) How awesome is that!
Speaking of voice, when you write, do you find that you become the characters, or are you more of a guest at their dinner party where they share their story with you?
I became the characters, absolutely. I put on my ‘thinking hats’ for different characters, men, women, good, bad and evil, I imagine myself in their shoes – what would be my motivation? why did I have to do that? I LOVE entering the minds of different characters and ‘acted’ like them, so to speak.
For the life of me, I can’t act, far too shy to be an actor :) However, I remember one comment which I’ll never forget. During one of my many occasions an an interpreter in a police station, a guy from FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) said to me: “You’re the best interpreter I’ve ever worked with. Not only you interpreted quickly and fluently, you even sounded like the person you were interpreting for” – I was interpreting for a male, illegal immigrant who was selling counterfeit DVDs and got caught!
Tell us a little about your editing process.
Apart from it being boring ;)? After I finish my first draft – I try not to do much editing when I was writing, I go back to MS. I guess I am quite lucky, in the sense that I already have the basic structure in my head before I put thoughts into words, so my final draft is often not too different from the one I started with. For Land of Hope, I used beta-readers, and I found that extremely useful – I did make quite a few changes due to their constructive comments. I also use an editor who tidy up my MS, ridding it off typos, and other errors. It pays to get my work to look as professionally as possible, even as an Indie author.
What is the worst writing advice you’ve ever received?
Never had any. If I had, I ignored it and forgot about it :)
Just over a couple of weeks ago, I sent out a round robin to some on-line friends, asking if any of them would like to help me with promoting my new book. Shortly after, I received a reply from my friend Sandra Valente and she said: “You should create a badge and do a blog tour”. Not only that, she immediately created a fabulous badge for me and offered me a space on her blog. I think that’s the kind of advice I really needed and the practical help I could not do without! Thank you, Sandra, and you Lisa, for having me here talking to you :).
For those writers who have not yet completed their first novel, what advice would you give them?
Keep writing and finish it the best you can.
What is one book (besides one of your own) that you think everyone should read?
Can I recommend three at once? It’s Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy – Modern literature at its very best!
If you could be interviewed by one famous person (besides me… ha!), who would that be and why?
Kevin Spacey, and I won’t tell you why, so keep guessing :)!
Can readers expect more from you in the not too distant future?
Most definitely – for those who have not read any of my books, go and get a copy of Land of Hope now :) It is my hope to turn my stories into screen plays for the small or big screens either here in the UK or in China. There are more stories in the pipeline, but my priority is to prefect my trilogy, so I’ll revisit The Same Moon and Trials of Life, with a view to bring out paperbacks in the near future.
I’m a Kindle girl, myself. E-readers – love them or hate them?
Love Kindle, and now my iPad. No going back!My paperbacks on my shelves are craning their necks in a very long queue at this moment in time :). My recent orders from Amazon are all e-books :).
Biggest problem in the publishing industry you see?
Too many authors and too many books, and I must admit that some books are just not good enough!
Weirdest unknown fact about you (that you are brave enough to share)?
One of the most exciting, also weird experiences I have had was to raid a Brothel with the Police in the UK – well, it was an unknown fact about me until you read Land of Hope- I did write about it in my most recent book, but not many people know about it, as I do not go around boasting about seeking a naked girl with her equally naked punter :).
Any other updates?
Come and find me at http://www.junyingkirk.com/, where I regularly blog about my travels, fabulous food and books, and future projects.
Finally, I would love to see some of you the day after tomorrow, on the 18th of October when I will be spending time with the author of School of the Ages Matt Posner, where I’ll introduce to you a special character from Land of Hope.
Book Blurb: Junying Kirk completes her ‘Journey to the West’ trilogy with this inter-racial saga. A complex love story is interwoven through a tale of international crime, broken dreams, human trafficking and sexual exploitation. ‘Journey’ is just that, a merciless trek from the coast of Southern China to the drug farms in the heart of England, exposing worlds you never would have imagined exist.