How long have you been writing?
I was born with a pen in my hand. Seriously, I started writing very early on, as a child. My earliest memory of writing was writing letters to my parents on behalf of my illiterate grandma, who raised me, as my parents lived in a different county and were too busy with their revolutionary activities, under the great leadership of Chairman Mao.
So to answer your question, I have been writing for a few decades. I cannot be more precise than that as that would reveal my age, fatal for a lady.
My first attempt at writing fiction was when I was at university. I wrote a story about my crush on a boy. Then I destroyed it because I did not want to get myself into trouble with the authorities.
Writing in English came later, after I arrived in the UK in 1988. So in the past 25 years or so, my main writing medium has been English.
Yes, most definitely. I enjoyed my composition class when I was at school, and Chinese language was my favorite subject, until English came along, of course.
What books or stories have you written? Published?
I have kept diaries since I was at university back in China. I wrote research papers while I was doing my doctoral research in Cultural Studies and Education. I also published a few short stories in Chinese magazines in the early 1990s, when my Chinese was still pretty decent, and not as rusty as it is now.
The first two novels of my “Journey to the West” trilogy were published on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords in 2011, and the third and final book is now being edited, and will be ready for publication in September 2012. I’m very excited about that.
Can you tell us a little about your books? What are they about?
In book one “The Same Moon,” we are introduced to the protagonist, Pearl Zhang, a feisty girl who was born in southwestern China and grew up during the Cultural Revolution. Through her eyes, we get to see and experience what life was like under chinese skies from the 1960s to early 1980s.
Then Pearl seized an opportunity to study in the United Kingdom – and stayed. We follow her footsteps in Europe in pursuit of professional achievement and personal happiness. She is in a new world, both foreign and exciting – under the same moon.
“Trials of Life” begins with a love story – Pearl meets Andrew Church, and they fall in love. Pearl gets a job at a UK university, but her senior colleague, Dick Appleton, does not welcome her. When Dick discovers that Pearl has a secret mission, he decides to use it to his full advantage.
“This wonderful book dissects and lays bare the entire course of a harassment claim, from the events leading to the claim through the hearing and its aftermath. A beautifully crafted work, the book tells the story from a series of changing viewpoints of the many people involved.” – Review from a Goodreads reader.
Finally here is a short blurb from the soon-to-be-published book three “Land of Hope”:
Jack Gordon, former Special Forces soldier (SAS in the British Army), now an inspector in the SCS (Serious Crime Squad), and Pearl Zhang, a professional Chinese interpreter, join forces to fight the snakeheads of the corrupt underworld of human trafficking, including prostitutes, drug farmers, cockle pickers and smugglers.
You will meet fascinating characters, raw, colorful and multi-dimensional, and you will be taken on a roller-coaster ride across continents, diving into a world which has been hidden and little known to the world, until now.
Every year, millions of illegal immigrants cross borders, suffering unimaginable hardships, searching for their dream of wealth and a life of ease in the Land of Hope. This is their story.
How did you get inspiration for the characters?
Good question! I find inspiration from everyday life, from people I meet and interact with. I’ve been exceedingly lucky and have met many fascinating individuals. Having worked as a teacher in both China and the UK, as well as a couple of other interesting jobs, especially as a professional interpreter for the British justice system, I come across people from different walks of life. They provide me with an amazingly varied and unlimited source of wonderful characters.
Yes, a lot of events in my books really happened, either to me personally, or to people I knew, some I loved, some I loathed. My first book has a strong autobiographical feel to it, so much so that many of my readers believe that Pearl Zhang is a carbon copy of Junying Kirk.
But I can assure you and others that Pearl Zhang is my artistic creation, something extremely close to my heart; yet she is much more than me, and she will live on, long after I’ve turned to ashes, I hope.
Is there any advice you have been given that you could give to a young up-and-coming writer?
I have not received any specific advice where writing is concerned, although I have had my fair share of inspirational mentors in my long writing career. I do have something to pass on to people who aspire to be writers: Go for it, if writing is your thing. It’s the passion for the written word that really matters. Not everyone who has a flair for languages can sit down and complete a novel. Being a writer is not a given, it’s a natural talent combined with a strong motivation to tell stories and share them with the rest of the world. It’s 90 percent hard work and determination, and 10 percent genius and luck. Or perhaps the other way around for some.
It is hugely beneficial. I rushed off the first editions of my first two books without them being fully edited, except by someone very special, who was actually a professional editor at one time. Still, there were mistakes, which were not acceptable. I was a lot happier after someone from Good Reads offered to do a full copyediting, which I have since used, and my current editions have been properly edited.
My WIP will go to her in two weeks’ time. This time around I am using beta-readers, an editor and a proofreader, the whole package. I think it is important that we present our books as error-free as possible. I write books in English, which is my second language, so it is even more essential to hire a professional editor where we can. I do understand that many indie authors may struggle with the budget etc., but in my view, it’s an author’s responsibility to publish their work to the highest standard they can.
What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a writer, in order to be published?
Writing has been the easiest part for me, that’s for sure, but publishing is altogether a different animal. I won’t go into how difficult it is to go through the traditional publishing route here, but I’d like to share something about self-publishing. Personally, I needed help with my formatting and book cover designs before my books were ready to be published, even just electronically. I admire authors who have the capabilities to design their book covers, format the manuscript to whatever requirements necessary and promote their work tirelessly. I’ve found the technical side of publishing demanding, as well as the post-publication marketing and promotions.
I’m extrmely lucky that I seem to be blessed with a lot of writing time, not entirely by choice, but because of the nature of my current profession. For the past decade, I have been self-employed, working as a professional interpreter and translator. This type of work is very unpredictable at the best of times, and right now with the recession and public funding cuts in the UK, it has shrunk so much that I am forced to stay at home and write!
How did you find time to write your books?
As I just said, I have a lot of free time, which I prefer to spend writing, while some people may choose to do other things they enjoy. Besides, even when I had lots of job offers, because I am self-employed, I had the freedom to pick and choose whether to accept work or turn them down. Writing has been a passion for me, so I make time. Give me a choice of washing dishes or writing a blog, I think it’s a no brainer, don’t you? Ask my husband if I qualify as a good housewife, he’ll tell you that he irons his own shirts. Having said that, I do make sure that he gets fed when he comes home from work. Even a fiction writer needs nutritious food for her brain, as well as for her stomach.
Where can I begin? I mean to count the benefits. There are too many! Why would an intelligent woman like me choose to write if there were no benefits? Kidding aside, I am not sure why other authors write, but for me, it gives me satisfaction and happiness, and a mixture of feelings I can’t quite explain. I think writing allows me to express some of my inner most feelings, which may not be otherwise articulated. I’m a better writer than a speaker.
Several of my guests have often said writing is therapeutic and relaxes them. Can you talk a little about how writing relaxes you? Any specific examples you can share?
Yes, I totally agree. I wrote my second book, “Trials of Life,” for exactly that reason. I had a terrible experience with my last full-time job in a prominent UK university where I was subject to bullying and sexual harassment. I took a nasty man and my employer to an employment tribunal and then left. That episode was so harrowing and hurtful that writing about it helped me deal with it. As we all know, there is no perfect justice in this world, but somehow in a fictional world, we can achieve some kind of power balance, and we can at least attempt to explain why there was no justice or why it is hard to attain it in reality.
In a way, writing my other books serve more or less the same purpose. Some things that happen in our lives are beyond our control and sometimes beyond our comprehension at the time; however, if we look back, or when we examine what has happened with a analytical and objective view, we begin to detach ourselves emotionally and are able to reach some kind of closure, so to speak.
Has writing made you a better person?
Absolutely! I was never a bad person, but writing has brought out the best in me, of which I have not a grain of doubt.
Do you like to read? If so, what are your favorite genres and why?
I LOVE reading. Fiction is my first love and will remain my last love, I believe. Unless I become blind, I’ll be reading when I draw my last breath on earth, I hope. Perhaps I’ll put in my will that I am allowed to take my Kindle or iPad to my grave so I can carry on reading in the other world.
Of all the genres, on top of my list are contemporary literary fiction, classical literature and crime fiction, especially Scandinavian crime fiction. I am a huge fan of modern writers like Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell and Khaled Hossein.
I enjoy novels with a combination of good writing style, action-packed stories and fascinating characters. I do read a wide range of genres, but they must contain what I have just listed to make it a compelling read. If it’s something I can visualize and relate to, then it’s my kind of read.
Can you talk about how important reviews are to writers?
Yes, extremely important. First and foremost, I’m a reader. When I go to Amazon to buy a book, I will browse through the reviews and see how good or bad the book is, before I decide to buy or not to buy. The same goes nowadays when we book a hotel – people check reviews from the Trip Adviser.
As an author, I have produced something for readers to enjoy. If they don’t like it or hate it, is there a reason for me to continue writing? Perhaps not. I’m not talking about a minority, or one or two bad reviews. If the reviews are predominately bad, I would question why the author bothers to write – well, write by all means, if that’s what drives you, but don’t publish it for public consumption, when the public does not like what you are offering.
I hope I don’t get shot by what I have just said. Anyway, I think it is not important how many reviews we have received, but those who have read and bothered to write reviews have my unreserved respect. I have read books for which I can’t be bothered to write reviews. If I do, it means I like them enough, and I want to share what I think with other readers. So here is my big thank you to those who not only spent time reading my books but came back and posted what they think of them. For this reason, I’m eternally grateful – YOU are the reason I shall continue writing, and I pledge to write better and to the best of my ability anyway.
Have you ever received a bad review? If so how did it make you feel?
Thank God I have not received a single bad review! I have received critical comments, all of which are helpful to me as a writer. I know my books are not everyone’s cup of tea, which is fine. I know people who chose to read my books knew more or less what to expect from the book blurbs; however, I hope that once they get into them, they would be pleasantly surprised with what’s in there, and they would have learned something they did not know before.
I was trained to be a teacher and have a teacher’s genes, so with all my books, I have in mind what I want to achieve with my books. They are to inform and to inspire, to entertain and to enchant, perhaps not all at once. If, by the end of it, my readers tell me that they have benefitted from reading my books in one way or another, then I consider that as my best reward of being a writer!
Junying Kirk grew up in the turbulent times of the Cultural Revolution. A British Council scholarship led her to study English Language Teaching at a top English university in 1988, followed by further postgraduate degrees at Glasgow and Leeds. She has worked as an academic, administrator, researcher, teacher, cultural consultant and professional interpreter. She loves reading and writing books. The first two novels of her “Journey to the West” trilogy, “The Same Moon” and “Trials of Life” were published on Amazon Kindle and Smashwords in 2011. The third and final of the trilogy “Land of Hope,” will be released in September 2012.
Based on her experience in an earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, she has contributed a piece to a collection of short stories to raise money for the Japanese earthquake in March 2011 “With Love.” She writes and maintains a blog, where she regularly shares interesting short stories, fantastic travel logs, tantalizing food recipes around the world, original music videos and fabulous pictures, insightful interviews with inspirations individuals, anecdotes about different cultures, and many aspects of modern life. She publishes regular guest posts from fellow writers and bloggers, as well as contributes to writers anthologies and a number of international websites.
Before becoming a self-published fiction author, she was published in both Chinese and English. She lives in Birmingham, UK with her husband.
Many thanks, Jason, for inviting me to your lovely site. I’ve very much enjoyed our chat.