- 1978: Born in East London, to a Malaysian Chinese mother and English father.
- 1997: Begins studying for a degree in Philosophy at The University of Leeds.
- 2000: Graduates from Leeds and goes to Japan on the JET Scheme. Teaches English in elementary and junior high schools in Nagaokakyo, a small town outside Kyoto.
- 2002: Returns to England, and studies for MA in Novel Writing at The University of Manchester. Whilst on the MA programme writes half of her first novel Sayonara Bar.
- 2005: Sayonara Bar published in the U.K.
- 2007: Is an artist in residence at Yaddo in New York, The Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers in Edinburgh and The Red Gate Gallery Beijing. Sayonara Bar published in the States and several other countries. Emigrates to Beijing.
- 2008: Her second novel, The Orientalist and the Ghost is published in the U.K.
I live in Beijing, I first came here last June to be an artist in residence at the Red Gate Gallery. Within days of my arrival in Beijing I knew that three months in China wasn’t enough. I knew I wanted to live here, to learn mandarin and be part of the city.
For many years I have been fascinated by Chinese history. Not just twentieth century history, but the history of China over the last two millennia. I have an illustrated book called The Chronicles of the Chinese Emperors that I read over and over. The lives of Emperors, with their magnificent palaces, the eunuch servants and concubines, are like fairytales.
I am now writing a novel that moves back and forth in time between modern-day Beijing and other historical eras, such as the reign of Taizong of the Tang, Kublai Khan, Jiajing of the Ming, and Kangxi and the Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing. My inspiration for the historical tales I want to weave into the main narrative of my novel, is the surreal fiction of writers such as Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges and Georges Perec. The research I have to do is daunting, but fortunately the National Library has a good collection of english language history books!
I think this China novel may take a several years to write, but I am excited about taking my obsession with Chinese history and turning it into literature.
Sayonara Bar (Doubleday, 2005)
My first novel Sayonara Bar is about a western hostess bar in Osaka, Japan. Hostess bars are places that business men go to and pay lots of money for the company of pretty hostesses who dance, sing karaoke and flirt with them, flattering their egos. I was drawn to that shady nocturnal world and was intrigued by the power dynamic between the hostesses and businessmen. The narrative moves between three main characters; Mary, an English hostess, Watanabe, a teenage kitchen hand, and Mr Sato, a lonely businessman. The novel is a mixture of genres; I was inspired by tales I’d heard about the Japanese yakuza (gangsters), kaidan (ghost stories), and sci-fi Manga animation.
The Orientalist and the Ghost (Doubleday, 2008)
My second novel The Orientalist and the Ghost is set in Malaysia, the country my mother is from. It’s about an English man who goes to Malaysia during the Communist Insurection in the 1950s and falls in love with a Chinese woman. The relationship ends in tragedy, but they have a daughter together. Their daughter grows up 1960s Kuala Lumpur and gets caught up in the race riots between the Chinese and Malays in 1969. She then emigrates to England and settles down and has children there, but finds she cannot escape her past.
The Orientalist and the Ghost is about how the echoes of tragic events are passed down from generation to generation. It is also about how people get caught up in social and political movements and how this can change the trajectory of their lives.