Question 3: Sharon Cho
The third question on my Writer of the Day was from the author of A Slice of Quietude, Sharon Cho.
Hi GR, I have The Stone Road (thanks to you) but have only just started reading it. I was wondering too about the Ancient China setting and had a couple of questions. 1) What kind of background about Ancient China did you bring to the story (like do you have Chinese relatives? Did you do research?) and 2) Considering that "Ancient China" has a more prevalent presence with modern Chinese as opposed to Medieval times and today's Westerners, did that have any bearing on your writing? What I mean by this is, it's still possible to go to China and find "ancient" type settings in today's world. (Yes, you can go to Europe and find Medieval towns but are they slaughtering livestock in the back of the shops?) Hope this question made sense.
That question makes perfect sense!
1) I have absolutely no Chinese relatives - I had a girlfriend for a few weeks, but that's it :) Lovely girl wistful thoughts of the past... erm... right... back.
The genesis of The Stone Road is rooted in my love of martial arts movies, the good, the bad, and the dubbed (never dub a martial arts movie, or any foreign language movie. I can read and the cadence, rhythm of the original language make the films. Along with info-dumps, I loathe overdubbed films). From there I read the book China: A History by John Keay and thoroughly enjoyed it. Within that tome, there is a one sentence, maybe two or three, that describe the myth of the Stone Road - two cities at war, a peace treaty, and the building of the road (and yes, the cattle are really in it too - you'll know when you get there). It really resonated with me - it stuck in my mind.
Then I was completing my Diploma in Creative Writing and had intended my fantasy retelling of this to be my final piece (I was lucky to have a mentor/tutor who liked fantasy and saw its worth). However, the story was too big, it would take many more words than I was allowed to tell it. So the idea was there.
Research, research, research... I love learning and finding out things. I did do some research - mostly books and internet. Mark Lawrence makes a comment, somewhere, sometime, about 'heavy lifting' - using tropes and genre to have the reader fill in the blanks. Stephen King says a similar thing when it comes to descriptions - the reader's imagination will create the scene (and the beauty of books, everyone creates their own unique scene). Now, if you use stuff that everyone knows and can relate to - medieval Europe, modern day Chicago (even if you've never been there) then the reader's mind will do the 'heavy lifting'.
It is a bit more difficult when it comes to places and ideas that are less familiar. So, at the outset, I made a decision - I wanted to ease readers into the world, not overwhelm them with it. I wanted to give readers a flavour of the world, morsel by morsel, create and reuse some simple ideas to reinforce that (tapping the table before tea) - once you create an image in the mind, it stays and develops. All I hoped for, is that I succeeded more than I failed.
2) China is a country that is so modern in many aspects, but still reflects its past, its history, in its architecture (though some of that has been lost to development and regime change), in its people and customs that we, in the UK even surrounded by castles, barrows and henges, do not.
For me, writing the book, this was a definite advantage. I couldn't visit China, though if someone wants to pay for me to go then I will happily take donations... maybe a kickstarter? There are so many internet sites, so many films (Chinese and HK) that make use of the historical locations and customs that research was, in that regard, easy.
The Jiin-Wei in The Stone Road really existed, however I didn't know that they had been portrayed in a film (14 Blades) until I had finished and released the book. I was strangely chuffed (happy - I am translating from the English there) to find that out.
China has the rich cities and the incredibly poor rural areas - such an interesting country to study and learn about, even if, quite rightly, you might disagree with their record on Human Rights.
I think I could talk about the research - some I used, some I didn't - all night long!
Thanks for the great question!
Since you bring up Kung-Fu movies and then mention the Hammer movies, I take it you've been watching 70's kung fu to the present. So, I have a few more questions for you but off-topic a bit in regards to Chinese kung-fu films. 1) Which decade has the best Kung-fu movies in your opinion? 2) Who is your favorite Chinese Kung Fu star and why? 3) Do you prefer the wuxia type movies (has sorcery), the weapons type (Most Shaolin movies fall under this) or the boxer type (Most set in the 19th & 20th centuries are like this, weapons at most are knives and guns)?
I got into Kung-Fu movies via Jackie Chan and Channel 4. I loved the artistry of his movement, clever use of objects and the fact that when you got kicked it hurt - you didn't just shrug it off. I learned Kung Fu for a while and got kicked in the face a few times - it hurts :)
Which decade is tough - the 1980's were great. A move away from the attack, block and stand still to admire the stance, before attacking again. But there are some truly fantastic ones from the 1970s :)
Favourite? At present, you can't go far wrong with Donnie Yen. Ip Man is such an incredible film... but then Iron Monkey is also great.
Jet Li is hard to ignore - Hero is breathtaking.
Jackie Chan begun much of my love - Drunken Master, Project A, Wheels on Meals. Too many to mention.
Sammo Hung - not only a great fighter but an actor with range. Watch him in Ip Man 2 and compare that with Wheels on Meals or similar film with Jackie Chan.
Chinese Ghost Story and Ninja in the Dragon's Den both contain some aspects that I looked to when writing.
Guns though... no, you can leave them at the door. I like the message in Kurosawa's Seven Samurai... all the Samurai are killed by guns, the end of an age. Which isn't to say that there are not good movies set in the modern world - Police Story, when Jackie Chan got serious :)