The author of Vietnam’s first ever crime thriller novel, award-winning novelist and short story writer Di Li is at the forefront of a new generation of Vietnamese writers. Photo by David Harris

 

I started writing… when I was 22 years old. It was a short story, written after I had a shock (although I started my journalism career when I was 19). Fortunately, it was printed just four days after I sent it to a newspaper. I guess everything that happens is fate. For a long time after, anytime I had some sort of a shock, I wrote a story.

 

The reason I love writing is… that I love reading. Since I learnt to read when I was four, I have read anything I’ve found, including Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, which I read when I was nine. I find it difficult to share my feelings with others. Writing is my way of sharing.

 

The short story medium is good because… it is suitable for people who don’t have time to read and write novels. But I feel I fit better with the novel than the short story.

 

Red Flower Farm… is my first crime thriller novel, as well as the first crime thriller novel in Vietnamese literature.

 

The mystery and horror genres… are my passion. Most of the classic novels I have read have something adventurous, thrilling, mysterious and horror-like about them: The Count of Monte Cristo, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Alexander Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades. I write what I like to read.

 

The market for novels in Vietnam… is changing. Now it is easier to sell novels than short story collections. Of course, I’m talking about good novels.

 

The internet’s effect on literature… is great. Now anyone can be a writer. Before it was difficult to get published, but now a lot of short stories or chapters of novels are being posted online every day. They are read by thousands of people. If a story has a lot of readers, it will be picked up by a publisher. These days, publishing houses don’t have as much power as a crowd of readers.

 

Receiving literature awards… encouraged me a lot. It made me think that I was professional, while I used to consider myself as an amateur.

 

I like authors such as Stephen King, Agatha Christie and Nguyen Nhat Anh because… they can keep the reader’s attention for so long.

 

I am presently working on… teaching English and Public Relations in universities, journalism, translating novels, organising events as a PR expert, MCing and writing.

 

The Vietnamese literary tradition is… about the transfer of messages. When a panel of judges at a literature contest read a work, the first thing they want to see on the opening page is the message. They also like easy-to-understand work. We don’t have endings with twists. Vietnamese writers also feel uncomfortable with the genres of science fiction, adventure, crime thriller, fantasy — all need too much imagination. The readers here are used to romantic stories rather than stories with a complicated structure.

 

If I could change one thing about literature in Vietnam, I would… diversify subjects and genres. For me it is very monotone.

 

My goal is… to complete a crime thriller every year. By the time I retire, I hope to have written 20 (laughs).

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