Shanghai author Lynn Pan has written 14 books including In Search of Old Shanghai (1982), Old Shanghai: Gangsters in Paradise (1984), Tracing It Home: Journeys Around a Chinese Family (1992) and Shanghai Style: Art and Design Between the Wars (2008).
Why I write
To be perfectly honest, all but three of my books were written because I was commissioned to write them. Ironically, that’s true of even my most successful book, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, which wasn’t my own idea but my (brilliant) publisher’s. The three that weren’t commissioned are on Shanghai, and I wrote them because I have a thing about Shanghai.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
No, not everyday. I write in spurts and during the last spurt I made myself work office hours, nine to five, with only a half-hour break for lunch.
Worst source of distraction?
Best source of inspiration?
Reading and travel.
How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?
I don’t get writer’s block but I doubt my own ability with every single word I write.
Contemporary writer in any medium who you never miss?
Shirley Hazzard, Anita Brookner, Sybille Bedford.
Favorite Chinese writer?
Zhang Ailing, the only Chinese writer I know who could express a modern (Westernized) sensibility in the prose of classical Chinese fiction. I read her over and over again to see if I could imitate her style but I still don’t know how she does it – it’s extraordinary.
Best book about China?
The Impact of Buddhism on Chinese Material Culture by John Kieschnick.
The Snows of Yesteryear by Gregor von Rezzori. If only I could read it in the original German!
The book you know you should have read but haven’t?
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…