>> So basically in the Chinese after life you can never get away from your responsibilities to your dead relatives. So most of the classic Chinese literary stories about girls, are actually about young men. Usually scholars to whom all these strange things happended. So the archetype would be, you know, once there was a poor scholar who was studying alone late at night when there was a knock on the door. And of course he opens it to find a beautiful girl who turns out to be either a ghost, you know a fox, or a flower spirit. And then all sorts of trials ensue. Usually with the not so subtle warning that you shouldn't be tempted away from your studies. But in my case I wanted to tell a story from the point of a view of a girl. Because you know respectable women even in late 1890s Colonial Malaya were still had fairly restrictive lives. So, when I was writing this book, I was actually fascinated by the idea of parallel worlds. And there are echoes of this throughout, such as the historic Melaka versus the world of the dead. You know day versus night. Lim mansion versus the ghostly other Lim mansion which is made out of burned offerings. So the pace of the book also reflects this, with the first half being more deliberately constructed to reflect Li Lan's life which is hand put with social and financial constraints. And also I had in mind a lot of late nineteenth century novels like Swiss Family Robinson, and, you know, Jules Verne 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Which were essentially written for armchair travelers who would never get a chance to either travel to the depths of the ocean or go to a tropic island. and this to me, mirrors Li Lan's real world dilemma. She longs to travel, but it seems unimaginable in her situation. The second half of the book is much faster. And in terms of pacing and it takes place in the elaborate, fantastic world of the Chinese afterlife, where the mansions, the horses and the servants are all made out of burned paper offerings. and this is where Li Lan gets her wish, although her travels turn out to be to this sort of shadowy, in between border between spirits and humans. And now, I'm going to read a short passage from the second half of the book where Li Lan has gone to the Plains of the Dead, and she's wandering around a ghostly reflection of her home town of Malacca, which is all made out of burned paper offerings. The streets became increasingly familiar in a strange way. Parts of them looked nothing like what I had remembered, yet there was a spatial recognition, some trick of proportion that sang out to me. In some places where there ought to have been buildings, there was nothing but old trees and rocks, while in others, there were three or four fine dwellings occupying the same spot. And of course, everything was much further apart as though the original streets had been stretched to twice or even thrice their width and length. On one corner which in the real Malacca held only the shell of a decaying house. It was a grand mansion. From behind the imposing gates came the faint sound of laughter and women's voices. I shouted as I passed. Despite the gayety, I couldn't help remembering what that house looked like in the living world. With it's roof fallen in, and wild grass breaking up the cracked stone floors. There had been tales about that house ever since I was a child. Some said that a plague had killed all the inhabitants. Others, that the last master of the house had gone mad and butchered his wives and concubines. Laying their bodies out in the courtyard until the stones ran purple with old blood. As a child, I had avoided that house. My head full of frightening tales told by Amah. Now, seeing it as it might have been in its days of glory, I felt terrified, yet drawn to it. What would happen if I knocked upon those doors? With an effort, I pulled myself away. Curiosity was my besetting sin, I told myself. Thank you very much. I'm happy to take some questions now, if you have any. >> Yes, I actually want to talk about a specific passage. it's near the end of, midway through chapter eight, er, chapter 38. I'm sorry. On 337, near the bottom. But most of all, I wished for Erlang. If I had, if I had still had the scale I could have called for him but there was a vast gulf between his position and mine. I had no right to expect anything further. Gritting my teeth I told myself that I wouldn't call him even if I could. I was too proud to do so. I would rescue myself. And then a little further down, death was always in the air and despite my brief break from its clutches, it would soon claim me again. I had escaped once from the Plains of the Dead but I had not been alone. And perhaps in the end it was hubris for me to claim I needed no one. Erlang I shouted, Erlang where are you? So I was interested in sort of several things in this passage. mainly you mentioned in your talk just now about the dis-empowered female role in traditional Chinese society. And I was wondering if the fact that in this passage Li Lan first has this really strong moment of I will rescue myself and sort of be my own heroine and then, so shortly after she realizes she really can't save herself. And I was wondering if for you that was more a sign of that sort of dis-empowered female moment. there's another point earlier on where she says he was a man even in this world of death and make believe and I was only a weak girl. And I was wondering if this was an extension of her weakness or if you were talk, like you were talking about how everything in Chinese society was sort of seen through the family. If this was more of a moment of strength and her realizing connections to other people, because I could see it either way. So. >> Mm-hm. Yes, I, I think that's a great question. And in writing this book, and I think in writing historical fiction in general, I wanted to put the character in her proper historical context. and to a certain extent, you know, we have a lot of modern sensibilities. And there's a real, at least I felt, a real temptation to, let her be really strong, you know, be sort of a super hero, do some Kung fu, which you see in a lot of movies. And I thought, that historically, it would've been very inaccurate. You know, women were very, extremely dis-empowered. Not even 100 years ago actually, I was talking to my mom who was visiting me. And she was just telling me about her aunt, and how they were all married off, many of them were married off as children. She had one of her aunts had an arranged marriage, and she they would often take these little daughters-in-laws, like children, six or seven years old. Girls will be sent to a family to be the daughter-in-law. And you know, they would grow up with the son, and they would say this is my son. You are going to be his wife, now serve him. And this poor girl would grow up basically as an unpaid servant for the family. women had very little recourse in those days. My mom told me that her aunt was actually very unhappy. That she had a terrible time with her husband's family. And growing up, they all, she basically did all the heavy work at the household. His sisters, his mother, did nothing to help her. And she had no way to leave him. in the end, she sort of made some excuse, and became a vegetable seller, and she moved to another town. But it was really really difficult for her. So, in writing this book, I had to sort of balance that, that historical reality. in some ways I actually had to make Li Lan a bit weaker than I would have preferred, cause I thought that, honestly speaking, if you spend most of your life in the house you are going to feel a bit bad if you, if you're dead. [LAUGH] You're wandering around outside and it was, I think it is also the manner of thinking. If you were brought up in a certain way and then you realize a lot of paths are closed to you it's very difficult to change that way of thinking. So in, to a certain degree I think it was deliberate. I had to make her be reflective of the context that she was in. >> You know, that, that brought up a question for me about did you, did you give any thought to the, the notion of supernatural elements in historical fiction, which is a genre that's always kind of prided itself on realism, you know, hard core earthly realism. And one of the, the things that I really like about what you're doing with the genre is that, that combination of authentic detail and, and of supernatural speculation. And I wonder if you, you had thought about that in relationship to yourself as a writer of historical fiction, if you think of yourself that way. >> you know, I think this goes back to the, there is, because there is, there is a Chinese tradition of this kind of story that I mention in one details, I think, is the word for it. and so I sort of grew up, grew up on a diet of reading these Chinese stories, and it, it is a strange blend of fantasy and the mundane. so as I mentioned earlier a lot of these are written as almost like fake biographies. If you read them, they'll start off as official records and they'll say things like this is the record of the life of so-and-so, governor of, you know, whatever province. And they'll say, and I think it was a writing style, but they tried to make it sound as historically accurate as possible and yet these bizarre things would happen to them. Things like, in his 33rd year he was taken away by the God of the river of whatever. So there's this sort of seamless blending of the fantastic and the everyday life in, in Chinese literature. So when I started writing this book it, it was felt quite natural to me because it was a lot of context for this. but I enjoy that. When I was writing this book actually. The book is a bit of a weird book, because it's sort of like two, two genres mashed together, at least for Western audiences. And you know, when I spoke to people about it in the beginning, and I was looking at literary agents I was lucky enough to get a number of offers of representation. People had wanted to basically pitch the book in different ways, so there were some agents who said, you know, this is straight historical fiction. And other people said let's, let's move this into fantasy. and I was, you know, in the end we ended up with general fiction, because that's where I felt it belonged. But I think for Western audiences, it is a bit of what you would call a, a crossover, right? So I, I thought that was interesting. It's a different cultural context.