Why Hong Kong Makes a Great Setting For a Book
Ever thought you could write a book? Author Andrew Carter was so inspired by his time in Hong Kong, that he made it his setting for his first novel, Bright Lights and White Nights.
A Writer’s Inspiration
I ended up living in Hong Kong by accident really. Like many people, after graduating from university, I found myself in my early twenties with absolutely no idea what I was doing with my life. After moving back home and treading water for a couple of years, I took a punt, did an online TEFL certificate and moved to Chengdu, China to teach English for a term.
My girlfriend Louise met me afterwards and we went on what has now become the rites-of-passage travelling trip around South East Asia. Whilst we were in Thailand, a job opportunity came up in Hong Kong for Louise and rather spontaneously, sunburnt and broke, we decided to go and live in the Fragrant Harbour indefinitely.
Even through the tricky settling in phase where we lived in a fly-ridden serviced apartment with holes in the floor, I knew that I was going to enjoy living in Hong Kong. We based ourselves in Wan Chai, an exhilarating hub of all kinds of people, shops, bars, noises and odd smells and I could instantly see why people chose it as a good setting for a book.
Like I imagine every new arrival does, I’d read the World of Suzie Wong prior to moving to Wan Chai and thoroughly enjoyed living amongst the streets described in the book. Gweilo, Fragrant Harbour and more recently Eating Smoke are further examples of excellent books set in Hong Kong, all painting very different pictures of a city that has so many different faces. I soon found I was making tenuous plans to write my own book.
One of the wonderful things about Wan Chai and Hong Kong as a whole, is the huge contrast between the familiar and the unusual. For example, seeing pigs and ducks hung up in the windows of a café next door to a McDonald’s or walking past monks and old ladies burning incense on the pavements on your way to a British pub for a Sunday roast. These disparities make it a fascinating setting for a book and are a recurring theme in my book.
Bright Lights and White Nights is about Troy, a relatively normal English man who moves to Hong Kong and finds himself embroiled in a bizarre narrative after making a bad decision. The start of the book touches on the wider difficulties of settling in to a new, foreign city but features lots of scenarios that are very much exclusive to Hong Kong such as Sunday afternoons in the bars of Wan Chai, junk boat outings and having lift doors slammed shut in your face. After Troy’s aforementioned bad decision, the second half of the book becomes a fast-paced crime plot which I think works well against the backdrop of a buzzing, bustling 24-hour city.
In aesthetic terms, Hong Kong is the perfect setting for a novel. You have Victoria Harbour and the skyscrapers that you instinctively associate with the city (and come up when you type Hong Kong into Google Images), but there are also mountains, beaches, fishing villages, swanky restaurants, grimy karaoke pubs etc. – all in what is essentially a very small place.
As an ignorant idiot, before I lived here, I had no idea about the incredible countryside and beaches that Hong Kong has on offer. Although I did, of course, enjoy the lively aspects of city living and was partial to the flashing lights of Wan Chai and LKF, some of my fondest memories are hiking the Hong Kong, Maclehose and Lantau trails. Troy and the other characters dot around all over the place throughout the book and I tried to shoehorn as many Hong Kong-specific locations as I could into the story.
You can’t just write a novel about places though can you? Living in Hong Kong, you meet an interesting and diverse mix of people from all over the world and while none of the characters in my book are based on real people, my experiences here and the friendships I made with people coming and going through Hong Kong’s revolving door certainly helped to get some ideas flowing.
I hope that Troy’s experiences paint an accurate and amusing portrayal of expatriate lifestyles in Hong Kong. Becoming an informant for the Hong Kong police as they chase a drugs mob is perhaps not something that people will directly relate to but it is fiction after all and hopefully readers will enjoy his adventures!
Please check out my book in Dymocks DB or on Amazon.
I also do a weekly Goodreads blog called Monday Musings which often refers to my time in Hong Kong.