‘PP Wong has blazed a trail for future British Chinese novelists. The Life of a Banana is bursting with original and exciting flavours.’ – Ben Chu, The Independent
‘Life Of A Banana is so refreshingly distinct. Read it, and you will soon find yourself wanting more.’ – The Daily Mail
‘Revealing in its exploration of cultural and generational conflicts and moving in its optimism.’ – The Guardian
This week I’ve caught up with acclaimed début author PP Wong, the first British Chinese author in the U.K. to secure a publishing deal, with Legend Press, for her novel The Life of a Banana. If you’ve not heard of it already, the question is why not! The book is a fierce and moving story of the life of a British Chinese childhood in London told by twelve year old protagonist, Xing Li.
I asked PP 5 questions about about her novel.
1. When did The Life of A Banana begin for you? Was there a moment of inspiration for the novel itself?
When I was a child, I would max out my library card and have a stack of books next to my bed. I was a quiet nerd – so curling up with a good book was my idea of fun. It still is my idea of fun! I guess the only difference between me now and then is that now I don’t have such a bad haircut! I don’t remember reading any stories about Chinese kids when I was young. I did not have any Asian role models to look up to and in my imaginary games I would pretend to be blonde and white. I suppose The Life of A Banana was a story that I always had at the back of my mind. I had a deep longing to read a book about a British Chinese family – to have characters that I could call my own. I don’t think I had a specific moment of inspiration. It was more of a gradual process. The Life of a Banana was a story that was in my heart for many years. I suppose I hoped one day I would be brave enough to write it.
2. The Life of a Banana speaks candidly about modern-day racism in Britain towards ethnic minorities, what made you use a children’s novel, and Xing Li’s character in particular, as a way to approach the topic?
Even though the protagonist Xing Li is 12 years old, the novel was initially targeted at adults. However, the topics of bullying and prejudices are something many young people identify with too. My novel now comes under the “crossover” genre which means it’s for both adults and children. It has been wonderful seeing the positive impact The Life of a Banana has on readers both young and old.
I’ve spent my life moving between London and Singapore and am a mish-mash of two cultures. In this sense, my book is a mish-mash of opposites. I wanted to play around with darkness and light, humour and tears. The novel covers dark topics like mental illness and racist bullying but the light hearted and innocent approach Xing Li has balances the novel out. I like it that even though Xing Li goes through a number of horrible circumstances, she still retains her youthful, inquisitive nature.
3. You’re also the Editor-in-Chief for the website bananawriters.com, brilliant site! How/when did the site form, and did it coincide with your own experience of trying to get The Life of a Banana published?
It was difficult to get a UK publishing deal. After I signed with a publisher, I thought to myself, “There must be other Asian writers who are going through the same struggles that I’ve gone through. Maybe I should start a website?”
I did not know whether Bananawriters.com would be successful. But I felt that I could at least give it my best – even if I helped to encourage just one or two people it would be worth it. After the first couple of issues (and with many famous Asian authors being so supportive) Bananawriters.com started to explode.
4. Gudrun Jobst designed the cover for The Life of a Banana, did you have a say in the design, and what is your favourite aspect?
My wonderful UK publisher Legend Press included me in the publishing process every step of the way. They always asked for my feedback and were open to new ideas. Something I made clear was that I did not want my novel to have the generic cover that many Asian novels possess. For some reason, the cover of many Asian novels are red with Chinese symbols, cherry blossom or beautiful women with black, flowing hair. All that does is categorize all Asian authors in an “Asian genre” despite what topic or style the novel is written in.
I am glad that my publisher got where I was coming from. The cover Gudrun produced reflects what The Life of a Banana is – contemporary, dark, funny and quirky. My favourite aspect is actually on the back of the book where the tortoise is sitting on the ISBN number. Every time I see that, it makes me smile. I think the cover is like marmite – you either hate it or love it. But at least, the cover has an “opinion” and is not boring.
5. Finally, I hear Xing Li is your favourite character; Grandma is mine. What do you think Grandma would make of you?
She’d probably tell me off for not being too tidy and for my terrible Chinese with the British accent.
I have to thank PP so much for featuring on Lose & Find, The Life of a Banana is out in all good book stores and can be purchased for Kindle and Paperback:
And of course, read more about PP on her website ppwongauthor.com.
But ’til next time folks, it’s bye from me