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.

China Daily - - LIFE - Con­tact the writer at wan­gru1@chi­

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.

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