Many things in life happen by chance.
I met my partner by chance. Russian-Malaysian combinations are rare; we met only because, while attending a networking event for professional gay women, we found ourselves seated next to each other at a lunch. Seating was on a first come, first served basis along an extremely long table; if either of us had turned up a few minutes earlier or later, or if anyone else had come in at a different moment, we might never have struck up a conversation. How serendipitous is that?
And now I have just returned from New York, holding in my hand a signed contract from a literary agent. This too, came about by chance.
At the start of Chinese New Year celebrations in February, my partner and I invited a Russian family to her house in France. There, over a meal of Malaysian-Chinese fondue, otherwise known as steam-boat, I got to know our guests – a couple and their son. I had not met them until then, even though they live in Paris. I had heard that she was a respected psychologist, he a journalist and published author, but I had no idea quite how well-known he actually was in his native country.
This is just as well, because it meant I felt no inhibitions. Malaysian steam-boat is a very interactive meal; basically, you cook what you eat – meat and vegetables, seafood, tofu and noodles – in a boiling vat in the middle of the table. When your food is ready, you fish out the tasty morsels with metal nets. The smell is wonderful and so close to your nose too, which always puts everyone at ease.
Being writers, Sergey and I began to discuss books. When Sergey asked about my novel, I told him how it had been inspired by my great grandmother, and that the story contained a unique mix of family drama, history, business, food as well as mythology. I’m sure I must have sounded passionate – I can’t help myself. Before I knew it, Sergey was asking for a synopsis. He casually mentioned that he had an American agent who might be interested in my novel. Would I want an introduction?
I jumped at the chance. As fate would have it, our dinner guest turned out to be Sergey Kuznetzov, whose novel Butterfly Skin achieved cult status in Russia and has been described as ‘Russia’s answer to Silence of the Lambs’. There I was, happily fishing out bits of chicken and pak choi leaves and dropping them into the bowl of a Russian literary star, and I didn’t even know who he was.
In turn, Sergey’s American agent is none other than Thomas Colchie, who specialises in representing international writers. Could I have had better luck?
Of course, there was always the possibility that Thomas and his wife would not like my work. Fortunately, they loved my manuscript and immediately offered to represent me.
Suddenly, I had hit a milestone in this journey of my novel.
I now have as advocates two people who are passionate about my book and who are highly respected in publishing circles. The Colchie Agency has represented and continues to represent many great Latin American/Iberian authors, among them Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Chocolate), Reinaldo Arenas (Before Night Falls), Manuel Puig (Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Carlos Ruiz Zafón (The Shadow of the Wind). It has notable Asian authors too, including Shazaf Fatima Haider (How it Happened). I am proud to be their first East Asian novelist and short story writer.
There remains a long road ahead: the path to publication is slow and not without pitfalls. I’ll be sure to keep the readers of this blog informed of progress. Meanwhile, it’s back to writing, this time a work of non-fiction – about the many surprises of France!