Monday 14 November 2022

Indie Spotlight: Returning East - from life to a story

Indie Spotlight is a column by WWII historical fiction author Alexa Kang. The column regularly features hot new releases and noteworthy indie-published books, and indie authors who have found success in the creative world of independent publishing.

As someone who had lived overseas and traveled in many different countries, I know first hand one can fall on love with places we visit to the point of wanting to become part of that world. When we are fortunate enough to have a chance to actually do that, the experience is a deep and transformative one that we wish to share with the world. In her debut novel Returning East, author Lauca took her experience of living abroad in China, used it as her inspiration, and created a historical fiction story that follows a young man's journey to the East. Today, she tells us in her own words her own journey in turning life into a story. 

Returning East - from life to a story

I started learning Mandarin when I was sixteen and going to China was one of my dreams, which became reality in 1996. From then on, I spent about 10 years of my life breathing China, speaking the language, learning about the culture, either at the university, back in Italy, or living in China. I went to China when I was twenty-three, about the same age of my hero in the novel Returning East, and like him, it was a journey which deeply affected me. 

The starting point of my story was though not the wish to write about China. I simply wanted to challenge myself to write an entire novel. When browsing the internet for inspiration I came across an old advertising poster of a French shipping company, the Messageries Maritime, promoting their routes to Africa and Asia. I discovered there was a website with a mine of information about the shipping company, its ocean liners, passengers relates and many pictures.

This was the sparkle which revived my interest in Asia, and my long connection with China brought me quite naturally to choose it as destination for the journey of my hero, who by then I decided would be a French guy. I have also been fascinated by the stories of the French colonies and when I read that the ocean liner Cambodge took service in 1952 and sailed first to Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) I decided that my story would take place around that time.

I thus chose to write a historical novel and set it in China purely because of this one poster I saw on the internet! Or so I thought . . .  

To present the book I was a guest in different podcasts, which is a communication tool which I absolutely love. Answering the hosts’ questions has always been interesting and it allowed me to look at my novel from different angles and to understand better why the story developed in that way.

I have chosen for example a male character, despite identifying myself as a woman. One host raised this point, mentioning that some might find such choice inappropriate. That was such a surprising remark. I believe that being a writer, at least a creative writer crafting stories, you are allowed to write in whatever form, point of view, or genre you want, regardless of your background, experience, race, age, or whatever else which might limit your craft. Whatever you don’t know, you can either imagine or do research. In the end, you are a storyteller and an historian. 

Once I decided to set my story in China, I knew that I would draw inspiration from my experiences. Yet, I did not want the novel to become autobiographical, thus the use of a male perspective allowed me to keep some distance and I believe it was the right choice, because even with this ruse, my subconscious has been able to sneak many parallels between my hero and myself, as I briefly mentioned above.

The journey of self-discovery when travelling to a country with a very different culture is one of those parallels, and this is something many can relate to. It is fascinating to see how someone reacts when facing a difficult choice or a perceived life-threatening problem in a little-known environment. While some people are gripped by fear and unable to react, others thrive and seem to find resources within themselves they did not know they had. So it happens with my hero, who is presented with many challenges but at the same time with an amazing opportunity to grow.

I spent my first three years in China in smaller cities (by Chinese definition) and even lived for three months on a remote island where not even natives wanted to go to work after studying somewhere else. Foreigners were still an unusual sight, Western food was available only in selected places, and you could not call abroad from every public phone. Despite speaking the language, having Chinese colleagues and some Chinese friends, I also needed connections with foreigners closer to my culture, to be able to laugh at the same things, and have a conversation without explaining yourself too much. The choice of foreign friends was so limited, that as long as the person spoke a common language, it did not matter the age, the background, the political views, or the country. Thus, you realize that nobody is completely right or completely wrong, and friendships develop with the most unlikely persons. You see what unites you instead of what divides you and you go for help to the person you know, even if it might have done something wrong in the past. 

Returning East has absorbed all this, and the twists and turns of the story have been influenced by my own experiences as expat in China. It is though far from an autobiography and many historical details have been researched to give as good a picture of the time and atmosphere as I could. 

Lauca is a European writerauthor of micro stories inspired by everyday life, while her historical thriller draws inspiration from her adventures across China and Chinese history. Her writing also reflects her interest in foreign languages and crossing cultures. Sometimes she also loves creating micro stories which stretch the reality. She started publishing micro stories in May 2020 on her website and a collection is now available as e-book. She has self-published her first novel Returning East in February 2022.

Returning East is available as print on demand on Amazon and in bookstores (upon request) as well as e-book. You can also go to her website to know where to purchase the e-book.

Find or follow her on:

Facebook, where you can find podcasts about my writing and the book, as well as her micro stories, which she publishes twice per month.

Instagram, where you can join her monthly newsletter to receive micro stories and news about her writing directly in your mailbox.