Q & A with Linda Jaivin

Q & A with Linda Jaivin
Authors at the National Library
10 March 2016

On Saturday 19 March, Linda Jaivin will visit the Library to discuss the perils and seductions of writing about China in the context of her own experiences as foreign journalist, memoirist, travel writer, librettist, essayist and novelist. A prolific writer, Linda has recently published two books about China, one fiction (The Empress Lover) and one non-fiction (Beijing), in addition to previous works on the subject.

We snuck in a chat with Linda before her visit to ask about her recent projects, her writing, and her reading.

Photograph of Linda Jaivin at the Forbidden Palace in Beijing

Forbidden Palace, Beijing, courtesy Linda Jaivin.

What are you reading right now?

Stan Grant’s Talking to My Country. The cover says it’s ‘the book that every Australian should read’ and it’s right.

How would you describe your latest book?

My last two books, the travel companion Beijing and the novel The Empress Lover, came out within months of each other, so I’ll answer for both: in one word, inevitable. I have long considered Beijing a kind of second home, and have been travelling there for over thirty-five years, so I think I was going to have to write something like this – a popular history with essays on food and art and so on – at some point. And for similar reasons, plus the emotionally intense experience of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and aftermath in 1989, I needed to write The Empress Lover. Plus, having tackled George Morrison in A Most Immoral Woman, I needed to write an homage of sorts to Morrison’s legendary frenemy Edmund Backhouse, the great scholar, linguist, forger, scam artist and eroticist. The Empress Lover is that homage.


Book covers of The Empress Lover and A Most Immoral Woman

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked about your writing?

‘Do you write in the morning or the evening?’ Does it matter?

What are you working on now?

A new novel, The Education of Proofreader Ding. Which is also, in a sense, my first novel, given that I completed a very early and (in retrospect) terrible draft of it back in the late 80s. It’s proving very difficult, so I am extremely grateful to both my publisher for her patience and the NSW Ministry of the Arts for awarding me the 2014 writers fellowship, without which it would have proven even more difficult. I’m now writing by hand, in notebooks, usually in the park first thing in the morning (damn! I’ve answered that question) and this is turning out to be very liberating. When will it be finished? Who knows. Living as a freelance writer in the age of free, I am also doing many other things to pay the rent. They’re good things, mind you – a bit of travel writing for Qantas, making a radio documentary for the ABC and helping to edit a China Yearbook for the Centre on China in the World at the ANU. Keeps me off the streets. 

Courtesy Linda Jaivin.

What do you love about libraries?

That they exist. The smell of so many books in one place. The idea of books as important enough to merit their own house. Everything.

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