I’m the author of eleven books (seven novels and four book-length works of non-fiction including the Quarterly Essay Found in Translation: In Praise of a Plural World). My most recent novel is The Empress Lover, and my most recent non-fiction book is Beijing. Both were published in 2014 but I’m currently working on The Shortest History of China (yes, really), to be published in May 2021, and a new novel, largely set in Beijing in the 1980s.
Just as I love reading all kinds of books and essays, I enjoy writing across a great variety of forms and about topics that include the arts, sexuality, politics and society as well as cultural criticism. I’ve been published in a number of magazines and anthologies. I’m also a public speaker and have been a frequent participant in writers festivals and spoken at other forums as well.
There are a number of issues that are close to my heart; one is justice for and fair treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. I was a regular visitor to asylum seekers in the Villawood Immigration Detention Centre in Sydney from 2001-2005, and still stay in touch with a number of the people I got to know there, most of whom are now Australian citizens. This issue has inspired me to write short stories (you can read ‘The Promised Land‘ free here), a novel (The Infernal Optimist), essays and plays, Seeking Djira and Halal el Mashakel, the latter of which was published in the Currency Press anthology Staging Asylum.
China is another very big topic for me. I studied Asian History at Brown University, after which I continued my study of the Chinese language in Taiwan. I lived in Hong Kong and Beijing as well. My first trip to mainland China was in 1979. Several of my books are about or inspired by China: the memoir The Monkey and the Dragon, and the novels A Most Immoral Woman and The Empress Lover as well as (obviously!) Beijing. I also do literary and film translation from Chinese – among the films I’ve subtitled are Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine, Zhang Yimou’s Hero and Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster. I’m an associate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at the Australian National University and a co-editor of the China Story Yearbook.
I am a proud member of Amnesty International, Sydney Pen, the Australian Society of Authors, the Australian Writers Guild, Asia Pacific Writers and Translators, and the International Association of Art Critics (AICA).
(The photo on this page was taken by fellow author Jane Cornelius at the Bateman’s Bay Writers Festival June 2015. I now have blue hair, so really should retire this photograph, but I do like it.)