I wanted to spotlight the lives of those who had been shuffled offstage: I wanted them to be seen. Finally, I sat down at my desk and began typing.Cecile Pin
The first boyfriend I ever had was a bookseller. He wooed me with his 50% discount, the extra stamps he could lavishly add to my loyalty card. For birthdays and Christmases and anniversaries there were books, sometimes simple paperbacks, sometimes extravagant, limited editions of literary gems. I remember one evening, he gave me a clothbound, hardback and beautiful reissue of Stoner by John Williams, which I got to take out from my bag when I interviewed at VINTAGE all those years later, when my interviewer asked me, What book are you reading right now? I got the job.
Years later, the boyfriend is long gone but my love for books, and booksellers, remain. I remember the early days of lockdown, getting weekly parcels of books I’d greedily (and panically) ordered. There was Jenny Offill and James Baldwin and Maggie Nelson, Han Kang and Joan Didion and Xiaolu Guo. Every week there were more books, and every week the feeling in me grew that yes, perhaps I could write something too.
I noticed that there were very few East/Southeast Asian stories specific to the UK. This surprised me, especially as this population was and is growing: the UK is now the most popular destination in Europe for Vietnamese immigrants, and has a higher intake than the US. And as anti-Asian racism grew across the globe; as my mother was being insulted on the metro and the news showed me women who looked like her beaten and bloodied, my longing to make visible the ESEA presence in Britain grew. I wanted to spotlight the lives of those who had been shuffled offstage: I wanted them to be seen. Finally, I sat down at my desk and began typing.
I wrote Wandering Souls in the midst of lockdown while trying to manage my full-time job in publishing, often well into the early hours of the night. Partly based on my mother’s story, who lost her parents and five siblings while immigrating to France, it is the culmination of years of me trying to find out more about my identity and family history, and my role in it. And, perhaps even more crucially, it is the culmination of years of devouring books; of bookseller recommendations, of picking up well and lovingly-displayed hardbacks and paperbacks that inspired me in return, and kept alive the nagging feeling in me that yes, perhaps I could write – perhaps I could be a writer too.
You can download a version of this letter for reader copies of Wandering Souls here.