When I was young I read somewhere — don’t remember who said it any more — that if you want to be a writer, you should write. You should sit down and write for ten years and at the end of that time you’ll be a writer.
So that’s what I did. That was my way. I thought it was good advice. I still believe it to be good advice. But these days, if I say that to someone, I have to qualify it by stressing that one should also read. Read, read, read…
Which is what Australian poet Bruce Beaver said years ago to the young writers in Neos.
I have just read John’s novel The Chinese Girl (2000). Set in the northern English city of Hull, the novel is really strong on character, relationships and creating a noir atmosphere, with more than one tribute to Dashiell Hammett. Well worth reading.
I knew of Ouyang Yu ten years ago, but I met him just last year, just before he went to take up an appointment at Wuhan University. My current read is his The Eastern Slope Chronicle (2002), a copy of which I found in the local bargain bookshop.
In The Eastern Slope Chronicle, Ouyang Yu takes the reader on an epic journey to a famous literary town in inland China with his protagonist, Australian-Chinese poet, Dao Zhuang in search of a new life, where Dao revisits his past in Cultural Revolution in the 1970s and events in the lead up to the June 4th Massacre in 1989 while working on the English translation of his Chinese novel written during the Massacre as well as doing a research for an Australia-based company. Identity, marginality and postcoloniality are explored on a massive scale in this intense Australian-Chinese story.
The pun on “slope” is quite deliberate. Ouyang quotes a nineteenth century issue of the Ballarat Star among several epigraphs to the novel: “In our time at least… [Chinese] will write us no books, edit no journals, add nothing to science or the arts, serve on no juries nor in any legislative assembly.” He further cites Henry Lawson: “A time will come when the Chinaman will have to be either killed or cured — probably the former.”
Not that either of those is racist, of course; Australians have never been racist, have they? Just ask John Howard, or Keith Windschuttle. Lawson may have been drunk at the time, and the Ballarat Star was just joshing of course… Not.
I will let you know later what I think of the novel.
I have added some interim thoughts and more information on the second comment below; and thanks also to John Baker for his comment.