This past week proved a purple patch for me as the UK hosted President Xi. China’s State visit chimed in weird and wonderful ways with my debut novel, Monkey Steals Plum. As Xi visited Manchester and the Graphene Institute, he inadvertently echoed the visit of my protagonist, Feng, to scope out a fictional Graphene applications lab.
The week was brim full of intriguing counterbalance. There was pomp inside the palace (pictured, below) while vocal protests persisted in the streets outside. Numerous photo opps piled up including the obligatory selfie with a so-called star (in this case Aguero, a footballer playing for Manchester City F.C.). Meanwhile much criticism, from unaligned corners, racked up a bigger picture – a kind of collage involving human rights, women’s rights, China’s economy and so on. Perhaps oddest of all, was the balance being struck between the UK State’s clear cut eagerness to court Xi and the Chinese State, with the kind of dispassionate caution (even disdain) with which the UK traditionally ‘views’ China and its role in the world.
My hope is that the political rhetoric, alongside the various media obsessions and wrangles over China that are undoubtedly growing around the world – and which were felt acutely in the UK this past week – will help The Feng Trilogy. Xi’s visit was rampantly reported by the UK press corps and widely regurgitated by international media. The Chinese State visit was peppered with messaging to promote a new dawn for China-UK relations, and has been summed and echoed as a “Golden era”. This uncannily shadows the attitude of my protagonist, Feng, and his UK counterparts found in Monkey… helping to make it, hopefully, a topical story and helping to make the trilogy a timely read for the foreseeable years ahead.
‘Permanently smiling’ Xi was taken by British PM Cameron to a pub for a pint (and another photo opp). In the week that saw ‘life imitating art’ this was a funny twist as it happens to be a pub in Buckinghamshire that I have popped in to when visiting my brother who lives nearby. I kind of wish that I had been in there on the same night as Xi so as to hand him a copy of Monkey…
Also this past week I paid a visit a different pub, in Manchester. In the course of the evening I experienced some utterly randomised serendipity as I met a reader by chance (I’m guessing a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of chance). It was a true first, a face-to-face encounter in which a reader (hello “Anthony”!) enthused about Monkey…, and smiled his way through recounting favoured scenes and characters and so on. How wonderfully weird and how weirdly wonderful. (By the way, Anthony asked when the next book would be available. Book two of the Feng Trilogy remains in draft mode and should make it through the proofing and publishing stages by early 2016. So please watch this space…)