Author Mirinae Lee came to Hong Kong from Korea 12 years ago, and this year released her debut novel, 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster. There’s plenty of buzz surrounding this book about Korea too! We find out more about it and about Mirinae Lee’s life in Hong Kong.
Where are you from originally and what do you miss about it?
I’m from Seoul. I miss all the cheap, yummy street food, and my favourite tteokbokki (spicy rice cake) restaurants. I miss the gentle and skilled driving of I.M. Taxi drivers in Korea. I miss Gwanghwamun and Seochon. I miss my family and friends living there. And I miss my Korean cable TV channels where I can binge-watch Korean shows like The Dictionary of Useless Knowledge. Luckily, Seoul isn’t that far from Hong Kong so I try to visit it often, especially after the travel restrictions were lifted.
You’ve just released a book about Korea; tell us a bit about it.
My debut novel, 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster, came out recently in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong from Virago/Hachette, and in the US and Canada from HarperCollins. It will be also released in Italy, Spain, Greece, Romania, Denmark and South Korea.
The book is inspired by my great-aunt, one of the oldest women to escape alone from North Korea. This book about Korea, tells the extraordinary life story of one woman who claims to have been a slave, an escape artist, a murderer, a terrorist, a spy, a lover and a mother, to survive the turbulent course of Korea’s 20th century, from the Japanese colonisation to the Pacific War, the Korean War to the Cold War.
What’s the most enjoyable thing about the writing experience for you? What about the biggest challenge?
The coolest thing about being a fiction writer is that you can create a story, a world of your own, and you can share it with others who may appreciate or be moved by it. (You get paid for it to boot!) The biggest challenge for me as a writer is to drag my lazy ass to the desk, sit down and begin to write every morning! Since this is a job that has no fixed 9-to-5 schedule, and no boss to check on your performance every day, you’ve got to have self-discipline, the persistence to keep going at a steady pace. Even after finishing one novel, I still struggle with this at times.
Do you have a set writing routine?
I try to write in the morning because it’s when I can work the most productively. I like reading books in the afternoon, preferably in a quiet café or in the Central Library of Hong Kong. Often I visit bookstores to look at new books, nearly every other day. So, chances are you’ll run into me all the time if you visit Bookazine stores and Eslite in Causeway Bay regularly.
What book or author have you enjoyed reading recently?
So many! Hmm, I’ll say Choi Eunyoung, a South Korean writer. I absolutely loved her short-story collection, Shoko’s Smile. It’s available at Bookazine as well as many online bookstores, I believe. She is one of my favourite Korean authors. Her writing is tender, poignant, sorrowful, uplifting – all at once. Such an unassuming yet naturally elegant writer.
Favourite book of all time?
Oh, impossible to pick just one book! But if I have to, then I’ll go with Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich. It was probably the most influential book to me when I began to work on 8 Lives of a Century-Old Trickster.
Is writing your full-time job?
Yes, I’m a full-time writer, but I also spend quite a lot of time with my kids as a working mother. One good thing about being a writer is that you can set or change your schedule flexibly.
What do you like to do in Hong Kong when you’re not writing?
I love going out for dinner with my husband. Hong Kong has so many great restaurants where you can enjoy cuisines from all around the world. Like most people here, I love going hiking in the mountains when the weather isn’t too hot. I also love wandering around the busy streets and running into majestic, oddly-shaped Banyan trees and abandoned buildings in the most unexpected places.
Got any new writing projects on the boil for 2023 and beyond?
I’m working on my second novel, Empire of V, which is inspired by the true stories of several rescued dogs in Korea that I came across on a TV show.
Where to find books by Mirinae Lee
Mirinae Lee’s books are available at every Bookazine store in Hong Kong, and for online purchase at Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, Foyles, Bookshop.org, Blackwells, Kinokuniya, and elsehwere
Find out more about Mirinae Lee and her upcoming book about Korea at mirinaelee.com.
Enjoyed reading about Mirinae Lee? Discover what other expats are up to in our Living in Hong Kong section