An accidental author
Di An didn’t plan to follow her parents’ footsteps to become a writer. But fate had different plans for the rich-list novelist, Wang Ru reports.
Di An (pen name) says she was “surprised” to receive the People’s Literature Award for her recently published book, Jingheng Street.
“I searched the web to learn about the award immediately after I heard I won it,” she recalls. “I saw the names of famous writers on the list and felt a little tense. I didn’t expect such a recognition.”
She wanted to undertake an easier project after her previous novel was published in 2014.
But authoring Jingheng Street proved even harder.
“I started to write in 2016. But I felt something was wrong and stopped for a while before resuming,” she says. “Every chapter was difficult.”
The story is set in Beijing between 2013 and 2015, when a large number of mobile apps entered the market.
Guan Jingheng struggles to make a living as a migrant in the city. He devotes himself to developing an app called Fendie and hopes to change his life at any cost.
He engages in a romantic relationship with Zhu Lingjing, who works in an investment company. Guan uses their relationship to help his business but ends up losing in both business and love. The awarding committee says
Jingheng Street “integrates office politics, business startups, commercial wars and love in the city. It is well-written with detailed emotions and clear rationality, reflecting the era, social transformation and changes in people’s relationships.”
Di An says: “Anything I write will be judged by readers since the story is set in a time they’ve experienced. They’ll assess whether it’s reasonable or possible. That also made writing it tricky.”
Di An says the original idea occurred to her in 2015.
“I listened to a song when I was driving on a highway. The song touched me and made me think of some unspeakable things about love. I realized I hadn’t written a love story for a long time.”
She finally decided to place her romantic plotline within a framework of startups.
“App development was a trend between 2013 and 2015,” she says.
She has met some people who’ve experienced dramatic ups and downs in the industry and believes the field offers opportunities to change an individual’s destiny.
In 2016, she was impressed by a feature about internet entrepreneurs and investors who encountered difficulties.
“I especially remember a story about an entrepreneur whose app was struggling and was going to be sifted out of the market. He refused to give up and offered anyone who downloaded his app 1 yuan (15 US cents) or 2 yuan as a reward to enlarge the user base. But the money actually came from his family’s personal account,” she says.
“I can find stories in this industry. Entrepreneurs all hope to succeed, but different people have different definitions of success. I want to discuss what success means to Guan Jingheng in this book.”
Di An doesn’t want to over-explain her work.
“Readers have their own understandings,” she says.
But she believes her story is also about desire.
“I want to see what people can do when driven by desires — what they can sacrifice and what they can’t.”
She had to research the industry extensively, since she wasn’t initially familiar with it.
“I asked friends in the industry to tell me what their daily work included, how they worked and what pushed them to make decisions at work.”
Her friends also beta read the novel before publication.
“I asked them core questions I cared about, like if they believed the main characters Guan and Zhu loved each other faithfully. If all of them said no, I knew I’d have to double-check my writing.”
But she refused to change her storyline, even though friends advised her to.
“I have my own stance as a writer,” she says.
Many readers say Di An’s approach is much softer in this book than her previous ones.
She says it may be because she has become a mother.
“My daughter needs an emotionally stable mom. She’d feel very strange if I were too emotional.”
“And fewer things irritate me since I turned 30. The unspeakable emotions that pushed me to write in my teens have disappeared.”
Di An was born in a family of writers. But she didn’t want to follow her parents’ path when she was young.
Her father didn’t believe she was talented enough to write novels at the time.
But she started to write when she studied in France and felt very lonely. Writing became a way to express herself.
She published her first work,
The Sisters’ Jungle, in the literary magazine Harvest in 2003.
Di An later wrote Farewell Paradise and then the City of Dragon trilogy, which together propelled her onto the China Writers Rich List.
She disliked it when people referred to her parents in front of her when she was younger. But she doesn’t mind it today, since she’s more famous than them.
“My father was once asked for an autograph after he gave a university speech because he’s ‘Di An’s father’. He was glad to be called as such.”
Di An doesn’t expect her daughter to become a writer. “Everyone is different,” she says. She just wants the girl to be able to support herself as an adult.
Di An says she sometimes feels anxious since the market is constantly changing. She worries her readers may shift their interests.
“But that uncertainty can be reduced, as long as I write.”
I want to see what people can do when driven by desires — what they can sacrifice and what they can’t.” Di An, writer
Di An’s new book Jingheng Street. The author won last year’s People’s Literature Award for the book on Dec 12.