© 2016 Coral Walker
Q: When did you first want to be a writer?
A: In 1988 in Sichuan province, China, a bored university freshman studying Physics wrote a letter to her parents. In the letter, she told them with her head teeming with stories she was bursting to write, and would give up everything to write.
That bored university freshman was me. With my head teeming with stories that I was bursting to write, I realised I could not live my life without writing. So I wrote it down in a formal letter addressed to my parents, knowing they would disapprove, as they always had, but still hoping my absence from home might make a difference. Doesn’t absence makes the heart grow fonder?
A letter duly arrived two weeks later. Instead of the untidy and scrappy handwriting I expected — my mother’s usual style — it was neat and elegant with every square character carefully shaped and evenly paced along the scarlet lines. The sight of the handwriting itself gave me a sense of foreboding — it was in my father’s hand. My father never wrote to me unless he had something authoritative to say. It was five pages long, but the concept was simple: my desire to be a writer was an irrational, vain, time-wasting, childish fantasy.
Q: Did the letter deter you from wanting to be an author?
A: No, it never did. I was silent for a while and then wrote to my parents again a couple of more times. Each time I got a similar reply from my father. So I stopped talking to them about it. I had never stopped wanting to be a writer, but life is like a conveyor belt, once you step on it — job, marriage, children — it moves fast, giving you little room to negotiate. To start anything fresh, you must somehow jump off that belt and prepare yourself to be bruised all over.
Q: When did you start being a writer?
A: In 2011, I signed myself onto a ‘Novel Writing Workshop’ taught by Lynne Barrett-Lee. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Also, I had changed my job from full-time to part-time the previous year. I started writing ‘Children of Swan’ during the workshop and haven’t stopped writing since.
Q: What did it feel like when you published the book(s)?
A: Imagine you have been stumbling for a long while up a lengthy, indistinct and rocky path, when the sudden sight of a summit fills you with delight. So you suck in your stomach, puff your chest out and hasten your way to the top.
Stepping onto the high rock, your heart is bursting with pride, you want to swing your arms and tell the world you’ve done it, but the silence perplexes you. Suddenly you realize — the high hill you thought you are standing on is nothing but a hummock. There are mountains ahead, one loftier and more magnificent than the other ...
This is how I felt — an emotional rollercoaster, and then I hit the ground — publishing a book is only the beginning. Platform building, getting reviews, selling books, writing the next book ... now I know these are the next peaks to aim for.
Q: What do you think makes for good storytelling?
A: In John Yorke’s words: “Storytelling with all impurities removed; a hit of pleasure; minimum effort for maximum reward.”
Q: What inspires you to start a novel?
A: Emotion always comes first to me, fear, desire, longing, revulsion ... or some mixture of them. It comes with a protagonist who is under the spell of the emotion. I follow the emotion, like chasing a butterfly in a labyrinthine wood. The story starts to unfold itself before my eyes.
Q: What is your work schedule like when you are writing?
A: It depends on the day. When I am working (I work two days a week at a university), or at weekends or on school holidays, I write from 4am to 7am. On the other days (three days a week I am home alone) I write from 4-7am then from 9.30am to 4pm.
Q: What do you like to do when you are not writing
A: I am a full-time mum when my children are off school. I work two days a week at a university teaching MSc students Python programming, supervising my Ph.D. students and doing research. I run four times a week and scoot to work and back. I read a lot — any fragment of free time, I read.
Q: What is your next step?
A: I am a stranger to marketing. Whether I like it or not, it is an essential skill for any self-publishing author. I will allocate time to learn, to think and to act upon a marketing plan. Also in this year, I plan to finish the second Children of Swan book.
BACK in her school days, bored in lessons, she would often take a pencil and drew faces on her fingernails. Those fingers came alive when she started wiggling them. Five fingers, five figures, five characters, a story in her head and a hell of a good time.
For many years, she have been on an academic path, and her unvarying school days have been superseded by the hustle and bustle of university teaching and research. But something has been missing.
She rises early and often runs. The wind always blows, the river is never still. Things are awakening in her – characters, stories and a hell of a good time.
She is married with three children. The years have hurried by, and children have grown. When silence falls after they have gone to school, she sits down, absorbing the quietness, and writes. Within her, she is once again that wisp of a school girl, with characters on her fingers and stories in her head..