My book, THE GHOST BRIDE, is a historical fantasy set in 1890s colonial Malaya (the old name for Malaysia where I come from) and is about a young Chinese woman who receives a marriage proposal for the son of the wealthiest family in town. The only problem is, he’s dead.
I had a lot of fun writing this book, based as it is on the blurred borderline between spirits and humans. In fact, there's strong Chinese literary tradition of strange tales set in the shadowy, elaborate Chinese ghost world, where nothing is as it seems and beautiful women turn out to be foxes. I enjoyed reading a lot of these stories when I was young, and I also heard many odd stories about ghosts while I was growing up in Malaysia. One of these, in fact, led to the creation of the character Old Wong.
When people ask me who my favourite character in this book is, I have to say that besides the main character Li Lan, my favourite has to be the cook, Old Wong. He's a crotchety old Chinese man who has worked for Li Lan's family since she was a child, and has seen their household fall into penniless straits. I based him on the numerous grouchy old Chinese people in my life who have constantly lectured and loved me. Writing dialogue for Old Wong was surprisingly easy. I just had to listen to the little voice that berates me in my head and translate what it said from Cantonese into English, retaining, of course, the occasional exclamation of "Cheh!" and "Aiya!" for good measure!
Old Wong has a secret in the book that I'll reveal to you (much to his displeasure). He can see dead people. This is also based on a real story told to me by friends. In fact, when I first watched the movie "The Sixth Sense", I let out a yelp of surprise and told my husband that this was exactly what had happened to my sister's friend's husband back in Singapore. I've actually come across two people who claimed to see the dead. I think it is, in some ways, a difficult gift to live with, and in writing Old Wong's character, I made it part of his general taciturnity and reluctance to talk much about himself. Still, because he can see ghosts, he's able to help Li Lan when she gets stranded in the spirit world. I really enjoyed writing about Old Wong - he is an unexpectedly funny character and I hope that readers enjoy him too.
Thank you so much for having me - it's been a pleasure!
[Photo caption: Characters from THE GHOST BRIDE, illustrated by Singaporean comic book artist Sonny Liew who is working on the graphic novel with me]
Yangsze Choo is a fourth generation Chinese from Malaysia. After graduating from Harvard, she worked in various corporate jobs while secretly writing fiction in her spare time. Yangsze eats and reads too much and often does both at her blog http://yschoo.com/
THE GHOST BRIDE
Oprah.com’s Book of the Week, a Carnegie Medal nominee, and Goodreads 2013 Best Fantasy finalist. THE GHOST BRIDE is a historical fantasy.
“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”
Li Lan, a young Chinese woman, lives in 1890s colonial Malaya with her quietly ruined father, who returns one evening with a proposition — the fabulously wealthy Lim family want Li Lan to marry their dead son. After a fateful visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets, before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever