Q&A with Guo Xiaolu

We were fortunate enough to have Guo Xiaolu agree to answer a few questions for us here at Brighton Plot Bunnies. She’s a great writer and her native language being Chinese means that the way she expresses herself is very precise.

She is the author of several books, some of which have been translated from the Chinese, but others, such as A Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers and UFO In Her Eyes, she wrote directly in English. She also writes and directs films such as How Is Your Fish Today? and She, A Chinese, the latter of which explores what it’s like for a rural Chinese girl who makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to go to London. The sense of alienation it portrays is extremely vivid.

As English is not her first language, we kept it short and sweet. This is what she said.

PB: Have you ever been part of a writer's group? If so, what did you get from the experience?

GX: I was a part of middle school literature group who regularly wrote poems and essays for the school magazine, I think that was the only group thing I participated in as a young writer – when you are young, that kind of participation makes you write more seriously and more consciously, and that is the basis to become a writer I guess.

PB: Is there anything – a word, a line, a page, a chapter... a whole book – that you wish you could write?

GX: A poetry book in the line of Charles Bukowski style, maybe that is something I would love to do… I believe a sensitive and great work doesn’t have to be [over] 800 pages of wordy exhaustion. I love short and non-dramatic pieces.

PB: What is your opinion of writing manuals? Do you think they can help make people’s writing better or is it easier to write more freely without following rules?

GX: I think one has to find his way and his style. One rule doesn’t apply to everyone. Some people learn by [themselves] through writing, others prefer to go to literature school. In my own case, I have never had literature training in school. I studied filmmaking but I find writing is a much more natural expression.

PB: Has a reader ever made a comment on your work that made you look at it in a different way?

GX: That is interesting. I think I feel warmed and alert by a reader’s reaction but I don’t think I change my way of looking or writing for a reader. I try to have a dialogue with invisible readers, that is something I am always aware [of], but in the end there is no reader so alien as yourself.

PB: As a Chinese, how does the writing experience change for you when you write directly in English? Does the way you write differ if you write in Chinese first?

GX: Of course, language is an identity and a way of thinking and logic. Choosing a different language to write [in] is a huge and profound thing for a writer. It involves the usual and unusual political view and a foreign eye to look at the world, and it also changes some level of morality and censorship in your writing. It is an incredible business.

PB: In A Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, Z’s English improves as we progress throughout the book. Do you believe people think differently when they use a language other than their own? How does this affect your own writing?

GX: It depends on which level you think differently. On the surface it is very different and one might think differently when you use a second language to express, but underneath it one might not change his thinking at all. Language in this sense is only the expression for deep social and historical memory regardless [of] the technical differences of all sorts of languages.

PB: We’d like to invite you to become an honorary Plot Bunny. Do you accept?

GX: Yes, I hope it does something [useful]. Thank you.

Thanks go to Xiaolu for her time, especially as she was travelling when she answered the questions. If you would like more information about her work, please visit her website here.