Well, here goes. My first ever blog. It’s a bit of strange activity for a sane adult really. What to put in and what to leave out? But if you stick around, I’ll get the hang of it. Fingers crossed.
The first thing I want to say is why I’m starting this. My novel The Russian Concubine is the reason. I wrote this book about love and death and survival in an International Settlement in 1928 China, and strange things have been happening to me since.
The story of a young girl struggling to survive, who falls in love with a Chinese guy, just gripped me and wouldn’t let go. Lydia is her name. I wanted her to look at the China of that time (1928) with fresh eyes, to see its beauty and its violence (hell’s teeth, was it violent!) and to learn from it. But learning is hard. I loved writing it and fortunately for me an agent and publisher loved it too.
Why China? Good question. It’s the one I’m always asked, how I could write a book about China without going there. Or, more to the point, why? So here’s why.
My mother was a white Russian. They’re the ones – in case your history is a bit rusty – who fought against the Communists after the Revolution in 1917. My mother was two years old at the time in St Petersburg and fled with her Russian mother across Siberia (have you actually seen how enormous it is on a map?) and down into China to the city that was then called Tientsin. There they were stuck with no papers and no money – until her mother came up with the bright idea of marrying an Englishman to become ‘respectable’.
What a story. How cool is that!
I grew up in the UK, enchanted by tales of cheongsams and rickshaws, of markets with songbirds by the thousand, of snakes that slithered into bathrooms. Looking out at the dull Welsh rain when I was young, I used to dream myself into that exotic world, and all these years later writing about it came with surprising ease.
Interestingly, I couldn’t have attempted it before my mother’s death in 2000. It was as though until that moment the story still belonged to her and only after her death did it pass on to me. My inheritance, in a weird sort of way.
But hey, don’t get the wrong idea, or I’ll be in bad odour with my siblings. The setting of The Russian Concubine comes from my mother, but the actual story is totally my own. Lydia – who in the book is a thief and a liar – is a creation from my mind and is definitely not my mother. Thought I’d make that crystal clear!
Okay, sis? Happy now?