The Same Moon 

Today I'd like to welcome the very interesting Junying Kirk on my blog.

About Junying

Junying Kirk came to Britain from China in 1988. She has lived almost as long in her adopted country as in the country of her birth. She was born in the 1960s and grew up in the turbulent times of the Cultural Revolution. She was one of the first to go to University after the death of Mao Zedong. A British Council scholarship led her to study English Language Teaching at Warwick University, followed by further postgraduate degrees at Glasgow and Leeds. She now works as a professional interpreter and lives in Birmingham with her husband.

Briefly describe your journey in writing your 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 a novel called ‘The Same Moon’. The idea had been with me for a long time, writing about a personal journey from the East to the West, from the Middle Kingdom to the United Kingdom. I wrote continuously for a few months and completed part one of the book, Under Chinese Sky. 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 on 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 sometime in 2003. So you can say that it was a long and difficult birth.

What is your latest novel?

I am editing my second book ‘Trials of Life’ which will be ready for publication in April 2011. This novel was written in 2001 after a very bad experience I had with a job which ended up in an Employment Tribunal. I actually started and finished writing this book within 3 months, burning the midnight oil. It was my first completed work of fiction, and writing it helped me to cope with one of the worst traumas of my life. 

What inspired you to write the book?

The urge to share, to explore human relations, love, loss, suffering, courage and strong spirit to triumph over life’s trials and tribulations. My favourite book is Jane Eyre, one of the first English classics I was able to read at university in China. I loved those masters of classical fiction from UK, Russia, France and USA. My favourite novelists range from the Brontes, Dickens, Hardy, Tolstoy, Hugo, Dumas, to more modern authors like Tony Parsons, Khalid Hosseni, Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and many more.

What’s your favourite part of writing a novel?

When I have finished the first draft, no doubt. I feel a huge relief and a sense of achievement.

Are there any aspects of writing you struggle with?

Yes, quite a few. Because English is my second language, I can’t write like a native speaker. I often felt inadequate, wishing I had a much wider vocabulary, a better grasp of the English tenses – I am sure they were invented just to confuse us! Everyone thinks that Chinese is a difficult language, yes, maybe so if you want to write like a calligrapher, but we have the most basic grammar patterns. I guess more than anything I wish I had magic power, so I could write as beautifully as those authors I fall in love with when I read their books!

Where do you get your ideas from?

Mostly from personal experiences; and from people I interact with in real life. I meet people from all walks of life and people from different cultural backgrounds and I learn so much from them, each day. Of course, I also get ideas from the books I’ve read and enjoyed, characters I can identify with. 

How long does it take to complete a novel?

It depends. As I mentioned earlier, my second book only took me three months to complete, but my first took a few years, on and off. I started a third one a few years ago and that will take another year or so to be ready for publication. 

Did you query agents or traditional publishers before self-publishing?

Back in 2003 and 2004, after both my books were completed, I sent samples to some selected publishers and agents. It was disappointing, as the ones who wanted to publish my books wanted me to pay for it. Vanity publishing. So I thought: Damn it, I’m not that desperate.  So I decided to put them away - I also needed time to make them better. 

How did you handle the rejection letters?

Some rejection letters were OK, as you could tell that they hadn’t even bothered reading my books. Overall, it’s discouraging and dispiriting. As a writer, you pour your heart and soul, blood and sweat into this baby of yours, and at the end of it, you can’t get it out there to the public, for readers to share, to enjoy, to feel or to be touched or inspired in some way, it’s not the best feeling in the world, is it?!

What’s your writing process?

I usually sit in front of my PC and just type away. Sometimes I just keep going for hours without stopping. Other times I type a few lines and then lose interest, so I just leave it until I feel motivated again. I am under no pressure from others, except from myself. I guess that’s a great thing about self-publication. No deadlines - brilliant!
What factors influenced your decision to self-publish?

I have been publishing short stories on a number of websites, as well as anthologies when I was a member of a local Writers Group in Birmingham. One of my short stories The Day the Earth Shook was highly commended by an Australian-based website Kaixin – it was a true life story detailing my experience of the devastating Sichuan earthquake in May 2008. That’s right; I am a Sichuan native and happened to be visiting family when the disaster stuck. Then the publisher of Kaixin kindly invited me to be a regular contributor and published a series of my short stories, as well as offering to serialise my book The Same Moon. My friend Mira Kolar-Brown (Mira, hope you don’t mind me mentioning you, as my mentor) saw this on my Facebook pages and told me about Kindle publishing, and as they say, the rest if history! 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Just Do It!

What's next in the pipeline? 

After ‘Trials of Life’ is up on Kindle in April, I shall be back into the more interesting part of writing again. As I mentioned earlier, I started to keyboard my third novel sometime in 2008, which was born out of a short story I wrote for the creative writers’ group anthology. I intend for it to be developed into a full length novel. The working title is ‘Illegals’, but it needs further research and plenty of writing time in the future. However, that is going to be my most creative project, so I am very excited about that.

Do you think your books would translate well to the big screen? If so who would you like to see play your lead characters? 

I think they would. With the world getting smaller by the day, and the once mysterious East no longer shrouded in the clouds and mist of antiquity, I think my stories will have huge relevance to the modern world we live in, and the transitions many people go through, from one country to another, one familiar culture to something totally different. I think Gong Li can play the older version of my heroines Pearl and Joan, and there are many pretty young Chinese actresses who can easily slip into the roles as a young Chinese girl growing up during the Cultural Revolution, falling in love for the first time and finding their path through life’s ups and downs. 

Tell me three random things about yourself.

Like the character in The Same Moon, I nearly died on two occasions and lived to tell the tale; after arriving in the UK as an adult, I suddenly discovered that I had a hidden talent in cooking, perhaps in my Chinese genes; I once won a ping-pong Championship in a county level competition when I was 12, and then surprisingly in the UK another Championship title for Chinese Students and Scholars Annual competition in 1991, even though I had not played for many years and table tennis was hardly my favourite sport.   

What do you do when you’re not writing?

Working, cooking/eating, walking, reading, watching films on TV or Internet, or socialising with friends around the world online.

Do you write in just one genre?

I am not too sure, actually. I don’t even know how exactly to classify my own writing. I’ll leave that to literary critics.

Do you use Social Media for marketing your novels?

Yes, I certainly try.  Facebook is great to ‘force’ my books on friends! and I’m learning how to use Twitter, and many features on Kindle.

Who are your writing influences?

Thomas Hardy. I did my degree dissertation on him. I think his fatalistic views of life appeal to Chinese people.

If you weren’t writing, what would be your favourite job?

I like my current job, which is interpreting. It makes use of my linguistic skills, allowing me to travel, giving me flexibility and opportunity to meet all kinds of people. It is also an integral part of the justice system - I work for the police, courts and immigration etc. and my job ensures that people are not disadvantaged due to language barrier and it is every human being’s basic right to be heard and understood.

Which five people would you invite for dinner?

My husband John Kirk, Nelson Mandela, Professor Lalage Bown (my former supervisor), Henning Mankell and Kevin Spacey.

Describe your latest novel in fifteen words or fewer.

Clash of cultures and power struggle at work leads to intense courtroom drama and death.

What are you reading at the moment?

I usually have about five books on the go at the same time, so I am reading Jo Nesbo’s Nemesis, Yu Hua’s Brothers (English Translation), Mira Kolar-Brown’s Hiding the Elephant and The Water Margin (re-reading the Chinese classic after watching a TV series recently). 

What three things would you add to your bucket list of things to do.

To travel to more places where I have not been yet; to write one book which people will remember me by; to die a happy woman, so when I meet God, I can tell him that my life has been worthwhile.

Do you write full time? If not, how do you balance writing with another job?

It’s not easy, as my job can be demanding and stressful sometimes. I can go months without writing anything at all. I just write in burst, and only write when I feel in the mood. I do enjoy the variety of having a job outside writing, but more time to devote to writing as well as to do a million other things would be great.

Do your characters talk to you?

Yes. All the time. Not just during the day time, they come into my dreams at night – I am a constant dreamer, and my husband often said that I had another life inside my head when I am asleep. 

Have you ever used a friend or foe as a character? 

Absolutely! They are the ones who spurred me on and got me into writing in the first place! Without them, there would be no book for me.

The Same Moon is available from:

Many thanks for your time, Junying. Nelson Mandela would also be on my list of dinner guests!

Happy Reading

Sibel xx