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Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38
Xiaolu Guo was born in a fishing village in the south of China in 1973. She was awarded an MA in Film from the Beijing Film Academy in 2000 and has worked as a novelist, essayist, screenwriter and filmmaker. Having studied documentary film at the National Film and Television School in London, she now lives in Berkshire and is working on a new novel. Village of Stone was published by Chatto last year, and has been shortlisted for the 2005 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers?
Xiaolu Guo: It's just when I arrived in London from Beijing 4 years ago, everyone laughed about the way I spoke English and they though it was a crazy way to speak. I thought this might be a good idea to start writing a book in English, or about English culture. So the idea was really starting from the difficulty of the communication as a native Chinese in England.
MT: Why did you decide to tell your story in this particular form (each chapter starts as a definition of a word), rather than via a more straightforward narrative?
XG:The only book I read during the first year I came to london was the Oxford edition of the English dictionary. I thought my western mind was shaped by that dictionary. Words after words; that is the key towards everything.
MT: How long did it take you to write it Xiaolu?
XG: Three years. But at the same time i made three films too.
MT: This is the first of your novels to be written directly in English. Writing in a second-language must have been a huge challenge -- how did you vercome the hurdles?
XG: I don't think 3 years living in England, for a native Chinese like me, is enough to write in English. It is impossible. But with this novel, it is possible because it is all about broken English. It is not a very usual experience I guess. And I don't think I can use this word "overcome" -- how can I?
MT: You are also a documentary film-maker. Which do you prefer, writing books or making films!?
XG: Both. First I am a writer. That is my identity. Then I make films, because some stories are very good working with visuals - images and sound.
MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?
XG: I wrote notes and most details on my notebook, especially when I was in cafes or on the road. Then I would edit them on my laptop. Not much editing. I am a raw author and I want to keep my feeling flows in a certain speed when I write.
MT: What do you do when you are not writing and not making films? Is there any time left for anything else!?
XG: When I'm not writing or filming, then I read books and watch films, also eat and look around the world. I travel a lot, with my films. Because I am kind of free, I am the boss of my own life so I don't really work in a crazy way. I can sleep 9 hours a day.
MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?
XG: Well first of all, I imagine my friends will read it and they will have a say about my books. I don't think of the mass media and all the invisible readers very much. If they like my book then it is a special bonus.
MT: What are you working on now Xiaolu?XG: Two films, then a short story collection, then some crazy novel ideas which jump in front of me every morning when I am fresh.
MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?
XG: I would repeat reading some books I have already read in Chinese translation before, like JD salinger, or Boris Vian's Foam of Dazes, or Margrite Duras, or Charles Bukowski. I have been reading The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa as if reading my own diary. I love those old books and I am worried I would never read any new authors with rest of my life.
MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?
XG: Skill of writing is one thing, feeling or sensitivity is another thing. I think feeling is so important for an artist or a writer. I read so much of bad writings without feeling and heart but only with skills, and I hated them.
MT: Anything else you would like to say?
XG: Thank you. And you can read some more of some writings on my website: guoxiaolu.com.
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