An Interview with Lee J. Mavin

What inspired you to write Li Bai’s Shadow

I was living in Shanghai, teaching at an international school when I asked a colleague what he was teaching. He told me about the poem A Quiet Night’s Thought by Li Bai and gave me the English translation to read. When I found out this poet who lived in the Tang dynasty (618-907) was a heavy drinker, a bohemian traveler and a former assassin, I was instantly inspired to characterize him. He is China’s most celebrated poet, yet little is known about him in the west. So I researched his poetry and biography for three years and built a novel around him.

Is there anything you find difficult in writing?

Reading translations of poetry is quite difficult at times as the meanings are sometimes lost. I am constantly questioning my western interpretation of these ancient Chinese texts and all the socialized cultural bias I bring to my understanding.

Where are you from? 

I’m from Sydney and grew up in Coffs Harbour. For those of you who don’t know Australia, Coffs Harbour is the typical Australian beach town, filled with sunburned blondes, golden sand and squawking seagulls.

How much of your book is realistic? 

I researched the Tang dynasty for three years under the supervision of Dr. Xiaohuan Zhao at the University of Sydney. I learned about the rise of Taoism and its contrast and integration with Buddhism, especially its influence on Chinese poetry. This made it easier to develop Li Bai’s voice and his character as he found his own voice between two dominant philosophies. The royal family included here are all well known historical figures and have been characterized in many plays, musicals, dramas, TV shows and movies. I read about Yang Guifei’s (the Emperor’s most prized concubine) and her ambitions to rise up. However with the presence of Caitlin in this ancient world, Li Bai’s path changes as she guides him away from the capital, to a new spiritual link in time and space that brought them together when she was so young.

When and why did you begin writing? 

I started writing fiction in grade three. I know I wasn’t very good but all it took was a little encouragement and I addicted. Even though my mum couldn’t quite read my handwriting, she kindled my interest and a fire of stories followed.

Is there a message in the novel? 

The power of friendship is stronger than time and can cross cultural boundaries that seem vastly different.

Tell us your latest news 

I’m writing a new novel set in the future. It is all written in the form of an online blog. I have created a world where two continents are divided by a dictatorship and a democracy. My main character starts the Liberate the women of North Afriland to bring women to his democratic utopia, but soon finds that his own society isn’t what he thought it was and falling for a particular suppressed North Afrilander woman, doesn’t help his cause either.

Can you share a little of your work 

Here is a sample of Li Bai’s Shadow

It appears I have undoubtedly been mysteriously transported to a young child’s bedroom, her name is Caitlin and she is of course very fond of my poetry. However despite this unusual occurrence I miss my homelands, dreadfully. This dry and scorching hot city, that she calls Sydney is beyond any distance I can comprehend, but I have always been a traveler, so I am contempt with the path I have stumbled upon. Her mother has faded into the shadow, so I must guide her, keep her safe and share a glass or two of good wine. It is rather odd that her father behaves like I don’t exist, it is at the very least disrespectful, doesn’t he know who I am? Why I am none other than the world’s greatest poet to have ever lived, Li Bai and my words have been etched in history and sang throughout the ages with the guzzling of wine. Yes indeed, I have informed and educated the girl on the most important pleasures of the world, to drink wine whenever one desires to, though she is still a youngling, it is rather amusing to watch her chant my poems in a drunken stupor. Together we will drink and recite my old rhymes and perhaps not long after I will figure out how to get home.

Do you have to travel much for your writing?

I travelled to China, Shanghai, Hangzhou for family and work and wrote along the way.

Do you have anything specific to say to your readers?

I would like to encourage you all to read about Li Bai and the Tang dynasty. It is a fascinating era in Chinese history where art and poetry flourished.

Author Page: