Interview & Giveaway: Tales of Ming Courtesans by Alice Poon

Happy Monday all! Today on the blog I have two posts that will be up. First up is my interview with Author Alice Poon! Alice is currently on blog tour for Tales of Ming Courtesans and I am super excited to host her today and I can't wait to read the book! My review for that will be up later this week. Enjoy the interview & be sure to enter the giveaway for a copy of the book!

Hello Alice and welcome to Passages to the Past! Thanks so much for stopping by today to talk about Tales of Ming Courtesans!

To begin, can you please tell us a little about yourself and your writing?

Thank you so much, Amy, for hosting me.

I am just a retiree trying to fulfill a school-days dream of becoming a good fiction writer. Born and raised in Hong Kong, I was lucky to have received my education first at a Chinese primary school (which initiated me into Chinese poetry), then at a Catholic convent English secondary school. This bilingual education attributed to my proficiency in both the Chinese and English language.

In my early teens, I was drawn to Jin Yong’s martial arts novels which are all set in China’s distant past. The stories of bittersweet romance and heroic feats serving justice in a fantastical world (called “rivers and lakes”) parallel to the imperial order provided me with a perfect escape from an unhappy childhood. As I grew older, Chinese History, Chinese Literature and English Literature dominated my curricular interest. In my early twenties I also achieved basic proficiency in French, which introduced me to French Literature. I guess all that early reading has had an impact on my creative writing.

During my working years, my leisure reading inevitably took a back seat, but upon retirement it resumed with a vengeance. My reading interest is diversified but I am particularly drawn to historical fiction, world history and classics. In terms of writing, I have developed an affinity for stories set in China’s dynastic past featuring real historical characters, especially unsung females of strong character, often overshadowed by the men in their lives.

What inspired you to write Tales of Ming Courtesans?

The inspiration was sparked by a cursory reading of the biography of courtesan-poet Liu Rushi written by an eminent historian, which I stumbled upon while doing research in 2014 on Chen Yuanyuan who plays a minor role in my earlier historical novel The Green Phoenix (2017). An idea for a story of sisterhood with both of them as leading characters immediately sprang up. Then I chanced to read the famous historical drama The Peach Blossom Fan which features another late-Ming courtesan named Li Xiangjun, and the thought of including her as a protagonist leaped to mind. Thus, a story outline for Tales began to take concrete shape.

What research did you undertake when writing Tales of Ming Courtesans?

My research basically relied on well-known literary works in Chinese language.

The main source of information for Liu Rushi was the 800,000-word, 3-volume epic biography of her written by eminent historian Chen Yinke (1890 – 1969). On and off, I plowed through this biographical tome between 2015 and 2018. As for Chen Yuanyuan, the key sources were Ming poet Wu Weiye’s famous narrative poem Song of Yuanyuan and elitist scholar Mao Xiang’s memoir Reminiscences of the Plum-Shaded Cloister. Information about Li Xiangjun mainly came from the renowned historical play The Peach Blossom Fan and scholar Hou Fangyu’s short biography of Li.

Other information about the period and cultural details was found in Ming poet Yu Huai’s Banqiao Zaji (Diverse Records of the Plank Bridge), historian Jonathan D. Spence’s Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man, and Ming historian Zhang Dai’s memoir The Dream Recollections of Taoan, plus various English-language reference books related to women, culture and the literary world in Ming China.

What would you like readers to take away from reading Tales of Ming Courtesans?

Tales is a novel that celebrates how women transcend oppression and abuse to create goodness around them. I hope my novel sends this key message to readers: that tyranny over the weak and powerless has no place in humanity, and that love and hope ultimately triumphs over evil.

What was your favorite scene to write?

I think I enjoyed writing the scene where Yuanyuan’s husband Wu Sangui decides to abandon her and how she accepts her doomed future stoically and retorts with clear-headed audacity.

What was the most difficult scene to write?

The most difficult scene to write is probably the one related to Liu Rushi’s wedding, which ought to give the sense of a climax and an anticlimax rolled together.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

A vague idea formed in my mind perhaps as early as my Form Four year in secondary school. That year, my English Literature teacher Mrs. da Silva one day surprised us by picking up a piece of my composition (which describes how a hunter aims to shoot a tiger with arrows in a forest) and reading it aloud to the whole class, with compliments. The idea was buried deep in my subconscious. Then life got in the way, and I didn’t revisit that latent dream until my retirement from the corporate world in my late fifties.

What does your daily writing routine look like?

When I am in a writing spell, I would write four days a week, and would start my daily writing session right after breakfast, usually around 9:30 am to 10:00 am, which would continue until 2:00 pm. Then after a short snack lunch break, I would write for another couple of hours.

What has been your greatest challenge as a writer? Have you been able to overcome it?

So far I’ve written one non-fiction title, two historical novels and one contemporary novel. The greatest challenge has probably been the need to find a balance between satisfying my desire to write historical novels based on Chinese history and suiting the current taste of the English historical fiction market. I’ve discovered that this presents a hard challenge not easy to overcome. Suffice it to say, with due respect, that the historical fiction genre is a Eurocentric one. If I may add, Chinese history is grossly under-represented in this genre.

Who are your writing inspirations?

I would say Jin Yong, Emile Zola and George Orwell for their take on morals, and Sarah Dunant, Hilary Mantel, Sharon Kay Penman and C. W. Gortner for their storytelling skills.

What was the first historical novel you read?

In Chinese it was Jin Yong’s The Book and the Sword. In English it was, if I remember correctly, Gone With the Wind.

What is the last historical novel you read?

The last historical novel I read was Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky.

What are three things people may not know about you?

One, my first love interest was my French teacher from Alliance Francaise. Two, I’m an agnostic. Three, my comfort food is Singaporean laksa.

What appeals to you most about your chosen genre?

To be transported to faraway time and places and be able to explore human emotions, desires, hope, fear and life choices and understand the reasons behind them. I think reading historical fiction does help me understand our present human condition a lot better, as I do believe that history always repeats itself.

What historical time period do you gravitate towards the most with your personal reading?

For my reading in Chinese, I tend to gravitate towards 17th century China (i.e. the period straddling the Ming and the Qing dynasties) and 12th – 13th century China (Southern Song dynasty). For my reading in English, I love the Plantagenet dynasty and War of the Roses period, and the French Revolution and Second Empire époques.

What do you like to do when you aren't writing?

When I’m not writing, my greatest joy comes from burying my head in books.

Lastly, what are you working on next?

I’m mulling on a story idea about a Song dynasty female warrior.

Thanks so much for stopping by today, Alice! It was wonderful to get to know more about you!

Tales of Ming Courtesans by Alice Poon

Publication Date: June 1, 2020
Earnshaw Books
Paperback; 354 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

From the author of The Green Phoenix comes a riveting tale of female friendship, honor, and sacrifice for love, set in 17th Century China and featuring the intertwined stories of three of the era's most renowned courtesans, escorts skilled in music, poetry and painting who could decide themselves whether or not to offer patrons bed favors.

Inspired by literary works and folklore, Tales of Ming Courtesans traces the destinies of the three girls from the seamy world of human trafficking and slavery to the cultured scene of the famously decadent pleasure district of the city of Nanjing, evoking episodes in Memoirs of a Geisha.

The girls all existed - Rushi was a famous poet, Yuanyuan became the concubine of a general who changed the course of Chinese history by supporting the Manchu invasion in 1644 and Xiangjun challenged the corruption of court officials to try to save her lover. Rushi's daughter, Jingjing, gradually pieces together the stories of the three from a memoir left to her by her mother.

Betrayal, tenacity and hope all come together in a novel that brings to life an important era in China's history, and particularly highlights the challenges faced by independent-minded women.

Amazon |Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

Praise for Tales of Ming Courtesans

"In Tales of Ming Courtesans, Alice Poon masterfully brings to life three fascinating women who had a lasting impact on China's culture and history. This beautiful telling of their turbulent lives and devoted friendship is a reverential testament to their memories." - Kelli Estes, bestselling author of The Girl Who Wrote in Silk

"Tales of Ming Courtesans is a poignant and captivating exploration of the lives of three extraordinary women.... Ultimately an enduring tale of the power of sisterhood and the bonds between women." - Jeannie Lin, USA Today bestselling author of The Lotus Palace

"Tales of Ming Courtesans is a brilliant, 'own voices' alternative to Memoirs of a Geisha....An exquisite reading experience. Highly, highly recommended." - M. H. Boroson, author of The Girl With Ghost Eyes

"Alice Poon's excellent Tales of Ming Courtesans follows the intertwined lives of three seventeenth-century courtesans..... Poon's real achievement is to create believable depth to her characters' known histories....She has clearly written Tales from the heart." - David Leffman, author of The Mercenary

About the Author

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Alice Poon steeped herself in Chinese poetry and history, Jin Yong’s martial arts novels and English Literature in her school days. This early immersion has inspired her creative writing.

Always fascinated with iconic but unsung women in Chinese history and legends, she cherishes a dream of bringing them to the page.

Her new historical novel Tales of Ming Courtesans will be released by Earnshaw Books on June 1, 2020.

She is the author of The Green Phoenix and the bestselling and award-winning non-fiction title Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong. She now lives in Vancouver, Canada and devotes her time to writing historical Chinese fiction.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, May 25
Excerpt at Journey in Bookland
Review at Historical Fiction with Spirit

Tuesday, May 26
Review at Gwendalyn's Books

Wednesday, May 27
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Friday, May 29
Review at Reader then Blogger

Monday, June 1
Review at A Chick Who Reads

Wednesday, June 3
Guest Post at Chicks, Rogues and Scandals

Friday, June 5
Review at YA, it's Lit

Monday, June 8
Interview at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, June 10
Feature at What Is That Book About

Friday, June 12
Review at Passages to the Past


During the Blog Tour, we are giving away a copy of Tales from Ming Courtesans! To enter, please use the Gleam form below.

Giveaway Rules

– Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on June 12th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
– Paperback giveaway is open to the US only.
– Only one entry per household.
– All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
– The winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner is chosen.

Tales of Ming Courtesans

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