What was the inspiration for Trail of Blood?
I was fascinated with the concept of a settlement of European Jewish refugees in Shanghai during World War II. It seemed right up Lydia Chin’s alley.
Trail of Blood has a wonderfully complex plot with lots of unexpected twists, did you know how it would all end when you started out? Did you have to do a lot of historical research?
I had no idea how it would end when I started, because I didn’t know about all those unexpected twists – they were as unexpected to me as they are, I hope, to readers. What I did know was the truth about the Shanghai Moon itself, which led me to a suspicion – not sure knowledge, but a suspicion – about where it had been for 60 years. I did a tremendous amount of historical research. That was the most exciting part of this project. That time and place was abundantly rich in people and incident. I’d like to return to it for another book sometime.
While it stands on its own, Trail of Blood is obviously part of your ongoing Bill Smith/Lydia Chin series, since you alternate the stories between Bill and Lydia, we have to ask – who is your favourite to write?
The truth is, as I’m finishing up a book in either voice, I can’t wait to get to the other. She drives me crazy because she’s so chipper all the time; but he drives me equally crazy because he’s so depressed.
Who are your favourite crime novelists?
I never answer this questions as it regards living writers because I always leave people out and then I feel bad. As far as my predecessors, Dorothy Sayers (especially for plot), Agatha Christie (for motive) and Raymond Chandler (for gorgeous prose).
Which classic novel have you always meant to read and never got round to it?
War and Peace. Isn’t that disgraceful?
What are your top five books of all time?
I’m not sure what “top five” means. These may not be the greatest books ever written, but they knocked my socks off:
The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood)
Yiddish Policeman’s Union (Michael Chabon)
Idoru (William Gibson)
A Perfect Spy (John LeCarre)
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (Lisa See)
What book are you currently reading?
Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (Jack Weatherford). I’m a geek.
Do you have a favourite time of day to write? A favourite place?
Morning, about 8-12. In my apartment at my desk, but I’m flexible.
Which fictional character would you most like to meet?
Oh, boy. This could change every five minutes, but I’d have to say Aragorn, from Lord of the Rings.
Who, in your opinion, is the greatest writer of all time?
No way I can answer this. William Shakespeare? Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei? The stunningly poetic translator of the King James Bible? I don’t think, at that level, there’s a pinnacle. Just a wide, rarefied mesa.
What are you working on at the moment?
I just finished a new Bill Smith, a thriller in form (something new for me) and am about to start a new Lydia Chin about the Chinese art market.
And finally, what does S.J. stand for…?
Shira Judith. But I don’t use them. Everyone calls me S.J.
Full author listing
Julian Barnes, Rose Tremain, Sebastian Faulks, Karin Slaughter and many more share their personal writing experience with you in our Q&As. Take a look!