Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Posts Tagged ‘what i’ve been reading

What I’ve been reading #2

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Near the Cliffs of Moher (all images LHL)

It’s been over 8 weeks since my last round-up of interesting articles, but here is a selection, plus an update on my writing life. First up, this piece on BBC WorklifeWhy some people are impossibly talented

Super science-writer David Robson (he’s also been a commissioning editor for me) writes about the secrets of polymaths, and how you too could learn to be more multi-talented.

Modern society teaches us to specialise; to become highly skilled in a niche as an expert in a specific subject or skill comes with a certain cache. But it seems that having diverse interests might be better for creativity and life satisfaction. A key tip I gleaned was that shifting between different interests might boost overall productivity. So no need to feel guilty if you decide to take a short break from writing to practice the trombone.

Next, an interview on LitHub with one of my all-time favourite writers — John Jeremiah Sullivan: There’s No Such Thing as Wasted Writing

Sullivan is an Southern American writer whose sentences have a cocaine-like* quality in their smooth clarity and whose paragraphs flow and sing like no other is a bit of a hero of mine ever since I stumbled onto his journalism collection Pulphead.

*don’t do drugs, kids!

It was interesting then to learn that he finds the act of writing torturous: “I sit down to write the way you’d sit down with your parole officer. Any buckets are for puking in”.

Sullivan knew writers from a very different generation: the kind of writers who walked in the shadow of giants like William Faulkner and it was instructive to hear him talk about one of these geezers: “I felt grateful to know people like Lytle, who had come from a previous era that possessed a kind of egomaniacal passion we hardly have access to now. Lytle was someone who talked about prose as a vocation, with no irony. It wasn’t florid either, it was very…tough, you know?”

Lastly, I’ve been reading Nikesh Shukla’s writing tips newsletter. Shukla is a novelist and screenwriter who came to prominence for editing the landmark anthology The Good Immigrant. His advice about editing (don’t edit as you go) and “what’s it really about” I found especially useful.

My writing life 

Last month, in November, I wrote thousands of words for a nonfiction book sample. I also did some copywriting for a few clients. Journalism work has been thinner. In the past couple of weeks, I dashed off a couple of articles for two publications. One is a feature about life as a freelancer in Beijing, the realities versus expectations, and the other is about a video game.

I’ve just got back from a holiday to Ireland with a few friends. We drove around, stopping in scenic villages and driving the western coast. Ireland is very beautiful and the people are lovely. We were blessed with good weather seeing lots of clear skies and sunshine, and although it was cold, it was very cosy to get to the evening and finding yourself in an Irish pub looking forward to a hearty meal and a pint of Guinness. (It really does taste different in Ireland.)

Tomorrow, I journey to London for a writer’s lunch and afternoon meeting, which I am looking forward to. We’ll be having dim sum and we’ll talk about our work and I hope there will be some readings.

While I was on holiday, one of my friend’s made mention that it’d be nice to live in one of those small coastal towns, overlooking the sea, while writing a book. To me, and everyone else, that didn’t sound too bad.

These days, I am reading a lot more poetry than I ever did before, which isn’t difficult as I hardly ever read the stuff. I bought Ocean Vuong’s poetry book; John Burnside’s Black Cat Bone; and in Ireland I picked up a collection of W.B. Yeats. The movement and movie-like quality found in poetry I’ve found hugely edifying. It’s entire stories and narrative compressed into strange, mythical shape. I really recommend getting into poetry, especially if you’re starting out as a writer. There is no other form that is more potent.

To end, here is a 2,000 word feature I wrote about money for the BBC, which has just been published.

5 December, BBC FutureDoes e-money make you spend more?

I pitched the idea for this article in Taipei, in July, and I conducted some of the interviews for this piece while living (alone) in a four-bed hostel room. Such is the glamorous life of a nomadic freelance writer. I filed it while living in a friend’s house in Beijing. And after receiving feedback from my editor, I finished off the piece with edits while living in a pod hostel in Singapore, in August, where I happened to meet an Irish girl who I caught up with while I was in Ireland, in Dublin, just a few days ago. Such is the rhyme of life!

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

December 7, 2019 at 6:37 pm

What I’ve been reading #1

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This is a roundup of interesting articles I’ve read recently, a collection of ecletic pieces that come with my recommendation.

First up, this article in WIRED — Why Are Rich People So Mean?

Christopher Ryan weaves together a tale involving his personal recollection of traveling through India combined with scientific and anecdotal evidence that being rich might not be all it’s cracked up to be.

He profiles Silicon Valley millionaires, successful and wealthy men, who feel unfulfilled and stressed out from a life that should be charmed and gilded with happiness. It is a rich, powerful, and redemptive read.

I was in India the first time it occurred to me that I, too, was a rich asshole. I’d been traveling for a couple of months, ignoring the beggars as best I could. Having lived in New York, I was accustomed to averting my attention from desperate adults and psychotics, but I was having trouble getting used to the groups of children who would gather right next to my table at street-level restaurants, staring hungrily at the food on my plate.

Next, a much shorter article in The Guardian which I found relatable — ‘I swapped a job in Cumbria for blogging from the beach in Bali’

For those of you who don’t know, Cumbria is a county in the northwest of England, famous for the Lake District. A regular series that looks at how people spend and save their money, it was an insight into the decisions that led to such a move. I have never been to Bali and it was interesting to get a glimpse of the life there, and to see, in detail, the income and expenditure of someone who decided to swap the cloudiness of Cumbria for the surf and sea of Bali.

Name: Stephanie Conway
Age: 29
Income: About £1,700 a month
Occupation: Digital marketing

I booked a £300, one-way plane ticket from the UK to Bali in May. I didn’t tell my family I was leaving at first as I was worried it might seem irrational.

A soulful and perspective-changing read from One Zero MediumOn Using Tech While Poor

The writer John Bogna details how he gets by using tech he can afford, such as a laptop from 2009 which he still uses. It was a peek into how much technology can mean to people, how something we might take for granted might mean a world of difference.

Reading the article reminded me of the days when I used a super crappy smartphone, back when I was heavily intent on saving money as a newcomer to Beijing, and without job and income.

It was a model with a low-res screen, crappy rear camera (front-facing selfie cameras were not common back then), and I remember it even had an aerial! Yes, a radio aerial that you could pull out from a hole, and which I played with distractedly.

Still, this smartphone was the first Android device I ever used and it was a gateway to a social life, the Internet, and the low-res pics I took on that phone are ones I treasure.

Finally, a long read by Jiayang Fan in The New Yorker — a profile of an actress —  Constance Wu’s Hollywood Destiny.

Here, the fact the author of the article is herself Chinese-American gives the piece a more perceptive and dynamic charge. It is not, and has never been, correct that a profile or an interview should be 100% objective (it’s not even possible, in fact). We relate to other people as people and thus a successful profile piece should see the writer really engage with her/his subject.

People are not just objective facts. To really see the person behind the celebrity, the wealth, the achievements, a writer has to subjectively gauge the truth. Truth and facts are not the same thing. And in this wonderfully perceptive profile, Fan allows us to glimpse the true Constance Wu, a version that we may never otherwise see, with the details she decided to include in her piece.

To end, here are some of my own pieces I have had published, which may be of interest.

10 October, WIRED (UK)Blizzard and esports can’t win the battle against Chinese censors

Sport has always had moments when politics has suddenly invaded the athletic spectacle, and now the same thing is happening in esports, in what could be a watershed moment for the burgeoning industry.

8 October, Inkstone The surprising place some Korean women are going for a career boost 

1 October, Underpinned I chose to become a migrant, and learned to be a freelancer

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