Yan Ge, here were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in a small town outside of Chengdu, a major city in the southwest of China. And I grew up there. As a teenager, all I wanted was to get out of this place, this muddy, tiny, sleepy town. Years later, when I actually left and lived in Ireland, all I wanted is to go back and to live in the small town where I spent my adolescence. That small town has been lost. It has changed so much. There have been lots of constructions, new buildings, the industrial and high-tech parks and tones of immigrants. The government renamed it last year, making it a district of Chengdu city. My hometown is officially being archived in the history book — there’s no way I can go back now. So I write about it all the time in my stories.
What sorts of books were in your family home?
Both of my parents were Chinese teachers so we have a sizeable collection of Chinese classics, contemporary Chinese fiction, and translated books. I can’t remember I read The Journey to the West for how many times. And I cried a lot when I read Su Tong’s books as a teenager. My parents love Russian writers and I read Gogol and Gorky with them.
Who were early formative influences as a writer?
I was very into Chinese Classic poems, those from Song Dynasty in particular. Su Dong Po is my favorite. Growing up, I recited hundreds of them. These poems taught me the beauty of the Chinese language and inspired me to be a wordsmith.
Do you write every day?
No, I don’t. I wish I could. I write before the deadline. It works like magic.
Do you do many drafts?
Depends. For some stories, yes, others, no.
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
I enjoy writing the most when a story starts to take unexpected paths and when the characters start to tell you who they really are.
Your views on success?
Always be inspired and ready to try new things.
What are you working on now?
A novel I’ve been working on for four years. It is set in a fictional town, Pingle, in the southwest of China. It’s the third book of my trilogy of Pingle Town. The Chilli Bean Paste Clan is the second one. The first one is a coming of age novel called May Queen.
What are your favorite literary journals?
I subscribe to the London Review of Books. Occasionally, I buy The Paris Review.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life? Your views on social media?
I think what is happening in our life is epic. The way the Internet has re-shaped and has been re-shaping our ways of communication, thinking and even the usage of language is revolutionary. It is at the same time confusing and unsettling. As a writer, I’m trying to make sense of it and to find a way to represent my experience/observation of our time. It is very complicated, even dazzling.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
I’d go back to Song Dynasty to visit my favorite poets.
Your favourite feature films?
I always re-watch Annie Hall when I’m feeling down.
Your favourite prose authors?
It’s hard to decide a favourite. My relationships with books/authors change all the time. I loved William Faulkner when I was in my early twenties and then Tolstoy. I read Yasunari Kawabata a lot when I first left China to live in the States. Later when I went back to China I became a fan girl of Jonathan Franzen. And I really enjoyed reading David Szalay this spring in Dublin.
What was an early experience when you learned that language had power?
The most obvious example is the power of naming. When you learn a word, the connotation of it becomes more familiar and recognizable in your life. And your life feels more rich and colorful and sometimes subtle and exquisite. Examples in Chinese: 彳亍(to walk slowly, to wander), 静穆(solemn and quiet).
A favourite recipe from Sichuan?
Since I am from the chili bean paste town, Pixian. I have to say you can’t cook Sichuan cuisine without using the famous Pixian Chili Bean Paste. Use it for stir-fry. It goes with everything.
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