Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘Ernest Hemingway

How I became a novelist in Beijing — by Carly J. Hallman

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Carly J. Hallman has a degree in English Writing & Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She lives in Beijing, China. Year of the Goose is her first novel.

Carly J. Hallman has a degree in English Writing & Rhetoric from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. She lives in Beijing, China. Year of the Goose is her first novel.

Later this year, through some mysterious cocktail of luck, hard work, and sheer determination, my first novel will be published in the U.S. ‘Year of the Goose’ is a dark comedy about the Bashful Goose Snack Company, China’s most successful fictional corporation. The novel weaves together tales of a deadly fat camp, a psychopathic heiress, a hair extension tycoon, a Tibetan monk reincarnated as a talking turtle, some witches, and an anthropomorphic diary-penning goose, among others.

I dreamed up the original idea for the novel back in America, sparked by a short story I wrote while still a student (about the aforementioned fat camp). I’d traveled and lived in China before, and, hailing from a boring small town in Texas, found it to be a treasure trove of inspiration — China is a place where things are happening, present continuous tense.

After I graduated I lived in Los Angeles for a while, where I worked as a glorified babysitter, sent out endless “real job” applications and resumes, and struggled to find my way out of a bad relationship. At twenty-four I gave up and got out, and moved back in with my parents. Depressed, disillusioned, directionless. The only thing I knew I wanted — needed — to do was to write that novel.

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The perfect story: do all journalists want to become novelists?

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I’ve written one “perfect” story in my life. It’s a bold claim but it’s ironic because the story in question is a Japanese fable about Perfection. I wrote it when I was 15 years old. Before the story materialized I had spent the previous two weeks or so thinking about it late at night while I was in bed. Slowly the rough outline or arc of the story took shape and I kind of vaguely knew how it might turn. But here’s the thing: I didn’t actually know what the story was or what the story would be. But over the two weeks it was what I thought about during the day and before I fell asleep.

Hemingway and a small tiger. Hemingway started his career as a journalist.

Ernest Hemingway and a small tiger. He started his career as a journalist.

Then one afternoon at school, while I was in some form of detention, I decided to write the story, for an English assignment. I was in the library with a few other miscreants. And I just started writing – in longhand, with a blue Biro on lined paper. And what came out was 99% perfect. The story was rounded, full, and did what the story set out to do. My English teacher read it out in class and I distinctly remember the enraptured silence as the story gripped my fellow pupils, and the applause once it ended – the applause! And she showed it to the other English teachers who also praised the story.

But before you tire of this anecdote, here’s the point: I have never, in the 11 years since, been able to reproduce anything approaching the same level of effortless flow, the ease with which that story seemed to shape itself, the logic and momentum, the plot and the ending all taking shape as the Biro made its way across the page. As if brain, arm and pen were one single entity all directed toward the inevitable creation of that story.

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Welcome: misson statement

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The idea of the foreign correspondent still holds a certain pull on the aspiring journalist’s imagination. If you’re of the literary persuasion, you’ll think of Graham Greene gallivanting among the exotica of south-east Asia, or of Ernest Hemingway filing his dispatches from Franco-ridden Spain, braving bullets and swigging Valdepeñas.

Or else you think of crusaders like John Pilger, the Aussie who brought the horrors of the Pol Pot regime to the attention of people around the world.

It’s the most adventurous, intrepid and romantic of journalism’s repertoire.

Hemingway and a small tiger.

Hemingway and a small tiger.

Budgets are tight nowadays and newspapers can ill-afford to maintain many international bureaux and send reporters across the globe as they used to. But some enterprising people decide to head off pretty much on a whim, going it alone.

Deborah Bonello of MexicoReporter.com did it. Graham Holliday of Kigali Wire did it. And Kate Hodal, the Guardian’s south-east Asia correspondent did it.

So perhaps freelance is the best way to do it. You get the freedom to explore what you want to explore. Write what you want to write and travel wherever you want to go.

This blog will track a journey to be an in-demand freelance foreign correspondent. It will be a mixture of journalism tips and tricks, insights and news about the country I’m in and how you can make the most of it, as well as looking at the romance (both of life & love) of a foreign correspondent’s life. Because, let’s face it, that’s part of the fun.