Okay, back to how. How I could write a book about China without going there.
Actually I am surprised that people seem to find it so extraordinary. The answer is, of course, imagination and solid research. The world I was writing about no longer exists in China, the controlling web of International Settlements is gone, though of course the cities like Shanghai (once an International Settlement) are still there but they have changed dramatically from the 1928 versions of themselves.
I was extremely fortunate that a whole stream of books has come out of China in recent years, following Jung Chang’s wonderful Wild Swans, that gave me an intimate insight into the detail of domestic life in China, both pre and post communism. These helped enormously. I adored doing the research and found that the magic of that extraordinary vast country flowed like Yangtze floodwater under my skin. Honestly, it was easy to fall in love with the place and its people.
But then I’m a sucker for research. I admit it. I could go on burrowing in books forever and have to kick myself to say enough is enough, it’s time to get down to writing the book! It was the same with my next book – set in 1933 Russia. But more of that later.