5 February 2015

Author Q&A Session #30: With Lucy Cruickshanks

Good morning Folks!
Welcome to another new session of Author Interview and today I present you with the debut author whose compelling novel, The Trader of Saigon took us into a beautiful land where evil sustained over goodness. Lucy Cruikshanks is here at my blog to talk about life, Vietnam, books, and life beyond books, read on to know more about this amazing writer!

Read the review of The Trader of Saigon

Me:  Hello and welcome to my blog, Lucy. Congratulations on your debut book, The Trader of Saigon. Please tell us briefly about the story behind The Trader of Saigon.

Lucy: Hi Aditi. Thank you so much!
The Trader of Saigon is a literary thriller, set against the backdrop 1980s Vietnam. It follows the story of three seemingly unconnected characters as they navigate the chaos, corruption and destitution of the post-war society.
Alexander is a US Army deserter. He’s traumatized by his time at war, and falls under the influence of a Russian pimp known as The Herder. He begins trading Vietnamese women, deluding himself he’s helping the girls to a better life and atoning for the wrong he’s done. Hanh is a rural girl who moves to Hanoi to escape poverty and provide for her mother, and for whom Alexander seems like the answer to a prayer. Phuc is a former businessman who lives in Saigon. He backed the wrong side of the war and is now unable to pay his financial and political debts to the government, and it’s his struggles that pull the narrative together.
The context to the novel is incredibly bleak, but in a way, it’s a redemption story really – and a story of self-determination. Each character is battling to take control of their life when personal, cultural and political odds are stacked against them.

Me: What was your inspiration behind The Trader of Saigon, though you already mentioned about it in the back of your book, but it'll be really great if you can tell us one more time for the readers who want to read your book?

Lucy: Trader was inspired by a chance meeting on a flight between Singapore and Vietnam in 2007, when I sat beside a man who sold Vietnamese brides. He described himself as a matchmaker; someone who helped aspirational young women find better lives with Chinese or Western men. He told me how desirable Asian women were – they were loyal, obedient and hard working – and how he was doing them a service by helping them to find love. He was incredibly proud of how rich this had made him. I was shocked by his arrogance and flippancy, but utterly fascinated.
Back in Britain, I looked him. His business was licenced by the government of Singapore and apparently operated entirely within the realms of the law. I started to take a wider look, however, at the Asian marriage industry. It didn’t take much digging to find that whilst some genuine matchmakers do exist, many more ‘legitimate’ companies are fronts for traffickers; groups that mislead, coerce or kidnap women and girls and sell them into forced marriage, prostitution and slavery.
The man I met may or may not have been involved in trafficking, but he made me think hard about where the line between matchmaking and trafficking lies – and who draws it. This question became the basis for the novel.
I always wanted to set the novel in Vietnam because my experience on the flight had rooted the issue of trafficking there in my mind, but also because the country has such a fascinating, turbulent history. American involvement in the civil war – and the war itself – is well-documented, but what happened next, when the soldiers, film crews and journalists left, is much less so. I felt there was scope to explore what came after. From an author’s perspective too, it’s exciting to write about somewhere so beautiful and diverse. There is so much to play with. 

Me: So that means you traveled extensively for the purpose of research?  How will you summarize your journey to Saigon/ Ho Chi Minh City?
Researching in Vietnam

Lucy: My favourite place in Vietnam is easily Hanoi. It’s such an energetic city – probably my favourite in Asia – and the Old Quarter has endless charm and intrigue to spark the imagination. When I was researching Trader, I spent days sitting in Hanoi’s open-front cafes and watching the world go by. That’s the beauty of revisiting a country. You don’t feel obliged to ‘see the sights’ and can slow down, just sit, observe and absorb it.
I found Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) less overtly romantic than Hanoi, but just as fascinating. For me, the point of travelling is to have experiences that are different from those I’ll get at home; where I’ll meet different people, learn something new, or be surprised. Places with strong political, social or cultural context excite and inspire me – they are always so full of stories. Ho Chi Minh City provides all these things by the bucket-load. There’s so much variety.
I have a real love affair with Asia as a whole for the same reason. Every time my husband and I get itchy feet, we pull out the atlas and say “this time we’ll go somewhere other than Asia” but we always seem to end up going back there. 

Me: Tell us one trait of each of your primary characters, Alexander, Hanh and Phuc, that intrigue you the most?

Lucy: The trait I love most about each of Trader’s main characters is the same; their moral ambiguity. It is easy to see the world as very black and white, to filter what is right and wrong through a privileged viewpoint, as – particularly in the West where I grew up – we generally live such comfortable lives. With the characters in Trader, I wanted to show that for many people, decisions of morality are not clear cut. Parts of the world are still incredibly poor, and for some, the simple task of feeding your family on a day to day basis can become an issue of life and death. When faced with genuine survival situations, the boundaries of ‘acceptable’ behavior are stretched. Like nowhere else I’ve been, Asia shows the world is full of moral grey areas. I hope the characters in Trader encourage people to think about that.

Me: Was it always your one true dream to be a writer? How will you describe your journey so far an as author?

Lucy: My husband persuaded me to write Trader. Like a lot of people, I suspect, I had been saying ‘I want to write a novel’ for as long as I could remember, but without ever picking up a pen. I’d been bouncing between jobs that I struggled to get excited about, and travelling as far and as frequently as I could to try to escape them. He encouraged me to think about writing and travelling differently, and to see that I could make these things my career if I stopped procrastinating, took a risk and actually wrote something. I left my job, enrolled on the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University in the UK, and gave myself a year to write a novel and get a publishing deal. Of course, this was wildly optimistic, but at the end of the year I had a first draft, and real drive to see just how far I could go.
When the MA ended, I spent the best part of two years editing and redrafting, and doing the rounds at agents and publishers before getting my deal. All in all, it’s almost exactly 4 years from first putting pen on paper, to publication.
I always wrote Trader with the ambition of being published and trying to make writing a career. I knew that giving myself a tangible goal was the only way I’d be able to motivate myself over such a long process. I’m really proud of how the novel has turned out, but I don’t trust myself to look at it too closely. I know I will still find things I don’t like. I don’t think I’ll ever look at my writing and think ‘that’s finished’. If I didn’t have an editor and a ticking clock to stop me, I would never be able to stop tweaking.
The main things I’ve learned are to persevere and not be precious about my writing. You need a thick skin if you want to be published – not just for the slog of getting an agent and publisher, but for facing readers too. Reading fiction is a completely subjective, personal experience. I’ve been really lucky that Trader has had such a positive response, but not everyone will like what you do. Some people will hate it. You have to get over that.

Me: Your debut book, The Trader of Saigon was Shortlisted for the Guardian Not The Booker Prize 2013 award? What was your initial reaction when you heard that your book was nominated for such a prestigious award?

Lucy: Of course, I was thrilled! I’ve been thrilled with the reception Trader has had in general, in fact. It was also shortlisted for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, longlisted for the Waverton Good Read Award and voted a Top Ten Book of 2013 by the Bookbag.
As a debut novelist, publishing is a tough nut to crack. There are many, many great books and great writers who sink without a trace, because getting people to read your work when they haven’t heard of you and there are so many competing voices wanting you to read their work instead, is incredibly difficult.
I think a lot of people assume that getting a novel published is a mark of success – and whilst I am very proud of what I’ve achieved so far, really getting published is only the very beginning. Just because my book is sitting on a shelf, doesn’t mean anyone will buy it. To be able to build a career as a writer, I need the support of individual readers. I need to them to buy the book, hopefully enjoy it – and then tell their friends and spread the word. As someone just starting out, rather than a celebrity or other known name, the support of individual readers is what will ultimately make or break me. That’s why being shortlisted for Not The Booker and the other praise I’ve received is so important. It has given me exposure I greatly needed and helped – and will continue to help – in reaching readers I may otherwise not have found.

Me: What is your normal writing day like?

Lucy: My brain works much better in the morning, so when I was writing Trader, I was up and at my desk as early as possible and would stay for as long as the words came – be that two hours or ten. Now, as I’m finishing my second novel, I have a toddler in tow and another baby on the way very shortly, so all routine is out the window. It’s a matter of snatching precious hours to write whenever I can!

Me: How do you get away from the stress of writing? And tell us about your other passions apart from writing.

Lucy: I absolutely love writing, so other than when I have a deadline looming, I don’t find it too stressful. If anything, having a young family means I’m scrabbling for more hours to write, and though spending time with them is always my priority, if anything, writing becomes my time to slow down and relax. Aside from writing, reading and family, my other biggest passion is to travel, so I’m thrilled I can combine it with writing and try to do so as much as possible.

Me: What's next up on your writing sleeves? Please tell us briefly about it.

Working on my second novel with some Burmese tea
Lucy: I’ve spent the last couple of years working on my new novel, THE ROAD TO RANGOON, which will be released in September 2015. It’s a thriller set against the backdrop of the ruby trade in 1980s Burma (now Myanmar) and looks at how the battle between the ruling military junta and ethnic insurgent armies for control of gem mines impacted ordinary lives, following three characters as they navigate through the precariousness of a society suffering from dictatorship and civil war.
Here’s what my publisher has to say about it:
“In 1980s Burma, the British ambassador’s son goes missing. Taken north from the capital Rangoon, Michael soon finds himself used as a pawn in a rebel war against the government. His best hope of salvation is to trust Zeya, a ruby smuggler with her own desperate past who offers to help him escape. Enigmatic, deeply scarred and desperate to find her parents, Zeya has spent her entire life in a frontier town between rebel and government forces, never choosing a side but trying to make a living from both. For Zeya, the ambassador’s son is her salvation. For Than, an ambitious military officer, rescuing Michael and returning him to Rangoon offers an opportunity for promotion and distinction. But as all three learn to their cost, in this exotic, mysterious and savage country, everyone has a price. This is a tale of ambition, salvation and hope that confirms Lucy Cruickshanks as a master storyteller.”

Me: Thanks once again Lucy for sparing time to have this interview with me for my blog. I can only wish you luck in all your future endeavors and wish you a very happy and glorious New Year.

Lucy: Thanks for having me, and for reviewing Trader!

Lucy's Bio:

Lucy Cruickshanks was born in 1984 and raised in Cornwall. She holds a BA in Politics and Philosophy from the University of Warwick and an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She has traveled widely in Asia.
The Trader of Saigon is her debut novel and was published by Heron Books, an imprint of Quercus, on 4th July 2013. The story was inspired by a chance meeting on a flight between Singapore and Vietnam, in which she sat next to a man who presented his business card, and casually told her how he made his fortune selling women.
She is currently working on her second novel - a thriller about the ruby trade in 1980s Myanmar, due for release in February 2015.
Visit her here

Connect With Lucy On:  Facebook | Twitter | Author Website | Goodreads | Email



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