Junying Kirk, Author of Journey to the West Trilogy
“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
Pearl Zhang, the protagonist of my “Journey to the West”, was born and raised in Southwestern China, a region I know well. Together we embarked on a journey from the East to the West.
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 is 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). I am deeply saddened by the loss of both James Thompson and Leighton Gage whose work inspired me and whose friendship spurred me on.
Armed with my first degree in English Language and Literature from Chongqing University, I left China many summers ago, 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.
Writing has been part of me for many years, from personal notes in diary form to longer pieces, such as research papers, proses and short stories in both English and Chinese. By 2012, I had completed and published three full length novels: The Same Moon, Trials of Life and Land of Hope.
I am currently writing a new book, first instalment of my second trilogy: “Journey to the East“. I anticipate to finish the draft in a year, and greet my readers as soon as it’s ready for publication.
Professionally, I had the fortune to play different roles, as an academic, researcher, language teacher, administrator and cultural consultant. I also enjoyed a dozen-year stint as a professional interpreter, working for both public service and private clients in Europe and beyond. I frequently travelled to Police stations, Courts, Prisons, Detention Centres, and Asylum and Immigration Tribunals, and once in a while, further afield to business arena in the Far East. I helped multinational companies and small businesses when communicating with their Chinese-speaking clients, and vice versa. The career path which I partially chose and partially landed myself in has given me ample opportunities to research my characters who live and breathe through my writing.
Travelling opens my mind and energises my spirits, elevating my soul to new heights. I am thrilled that I am able to interact with people from different races and cultures, learning fascinating customs and meeting amazing people in this wonderful, ever changing world. Each day and in every way. Navigating through the real and virtual worlds, my life has been enriched and my vision expanded, beyond my wildest dreams.
Our world is getting smaller and communications easier and faster than ever before. So many advances have been made, and amazing transformations are taking place every day. Being able to write and connect with readers is a wonderful gift and true privilege.
Following the publication of my books, I did a number of interviews with fellow authors and book reviewers, as well as making guest appearances on other blog sites. Overtime, I seem to have perfected my interview skills :). Here we go.
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, so I wrote continuously for a few months and completed part one of a book of semi-fiction, Under Chinese Skies. 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. The incomplete draft 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 as a student 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 is Thomas Hardy. I did my first degree dissertation in English Literature on his works. I think his fatalistic views of life appeal to Chinese people, definitely to me.
Where do I get my ideas from?
Mostly from people I interact with in real life, as well as from imagination I have been endowed with. I meet people from all walks of life and from different cultural backgrounds. I learn so much from them. Naturally, I also get inspirations from the books I read and enjoy, characters I can identify with, or loathe.
How many books have I published?
After The Same Moon, the first of my ‘Journey to the West’ trilogy, Trials of Life was published in April 2011. I started and finished the draft of this book within months, burning the midnight oil. The final instalment, Land of Hope, was the most ambitious undertaking. It is a crime/political/literary type of fiction with all the great elements of a wonderful story. I’m very proud to have written it.
Based on my own experience of an Earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, I contributed a piece to a collection of short stories to raise money for the Japanese earthquake in March 2011 (With Love).
How long does it take to complete a novel?
It depends. Trials of Life only took three months to complete the first draft, but The Same Moon a few years, on and off. With Land of Hope, 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 wait until my muse returns. I am under no pressure from anyone, except from myself. I guess that’s a bonus for being a self-published author. No deadlines – brilliant!
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 too. I have met amazing people and made great friends through different social media including GoodReads and LinkedIn. I started Instagram in July 2017. 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.
In March 2011, I started blogging which has become 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 my site has been helping other authors and artists to promote their work.
Would my books translate well to the big screen? If so who would I like to see play my lead characters?
Absolutely. In the fast changing world, the once mysterious East is no longer shrouded in the clouds and mist of antiquity. My stories and characters are real and relevant in 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, I’d pick either George Clooney or Daniel Craig to play Andrew Church. The bad guy Dick? Donald Sunderland would have been perfect, but he was getting on a bit, so his son Kiefer Sunderland will 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?
Reading, watching films on TV or a DVD, and socialising with friends around the world online. I have an ‘obsession’ with Facebook and WeChat (The Chinese social media platform) and my following on Twitter is in its thousands even though I do not spent much time there.
Which famous person/s would I like to meet or invite for dinner?
Among those living, top of my lists will be my husband John, and my former supervisor from University of Glasgow, Professor Lalage Bown – she is such an inspiration for many! Those who are dead but still very much alive and continue to inspire me would include Nelson Mandela, Stieg Larsson, Charlotte Bronte, Thomas Hardy and Henning Mankell.
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, alive and kicking, and doing somersault in my subconsciousness. My readers have commented that they can identify and relate to my characters. To me, that is the best compliment I have received as a writer.
The people in my life really spur me on and drive me as a writer! Life is our best tutor and provides boundless energy and inspiration.
What three things would I do before I kick the bucket?
1) To travel to more unknown places; 2) To write continuously until my last breath; 3) To die a happy woman, so when I meet our Creator/God, I will tell Him that my life has been one hell of a ride.
It’s my great pleasure to welcome visitors to my blog. Thank you for joining me in my journey through images, words and this wonderful virtual world, big and small at the same time, within reach. Enjoy the ride!