Gan Yao Ming: Drifting Life of a Novelist
“Life is just like the falling leaves,” Gan Yao Ming’s grandfather once remarked. “Unless a gust of wind alters the process and the leaves take a new turn, they will land directly on the ground.” Back then, the young boy could not comprehend the meaning behind those words. Looking back now, the present is certainly not a matter of course.
Taiwanese novelist Gan Yao Ming was invited to attend the 10th BookFest@Malaysia at Kuala Lumpur to share his journey on becoming a novelist with literary enthusiasts.
An Unrequited Love Letter that Pathed the Way to Literature
Gan was very candid about how unambitious he was – that he strayed into forbidden zone of literature only to express his love for a high school girl.
“Perhaps I’m endowed with a novelist’s imagination.” And the power of love drew him closer to literature. Lines after lines of words flowed from the ruminative thoughts he had when he decided to confess his love in a classic love letter.
Though rejected, Gan remained friends with the girl. However, to pursue her again, Gan filled out all applications related to the Chinese faculties in schools, and his acceptance into the department of Chinese Literature was purely accidental. Nevertheless, he struggled with classical Chinese poetry. In the midst of intense rough times, he managed to score the highest for his essay, and this incident, like a sudden burst of wind, swept him towards the path of a novelist.
A Mysterious Train Leading to the Road of Literary
In composing literary works, there is no benchmark; only self-exploration. To understand the pulse of the society, Gan chose to be a reporter after his military service. Under the constant mix of complex emotions like tension, excitement and expectation, it was actually a preparation for future depictions of the entanglement between natural humanism and the society.
Later, when Gan went to an alternative middle school, his creative passion was ignited. However, as he was fast approaching 30 years old, it was inevitable to be anxious over the lack of published work. At this point, an encounter with a student made Gan realise how fragile his aspiration was for it could not withstand any test.
Brawny railroad fanatic “Calorie” always kept a train schedule in his pocket and could memorise the names of more than 300 train stations around the island. For three years, his essays centred on train stations. As his Chinese Language teacher, Gan attempted to convert him on several occasions but to no avail.
On the last night before leaving, Calorie gave Gan an essay as a parting gift. There was still no breakthrough in its content, yet Gan was moved to tears: why was this child so insistent on writing about trains? The more persistent you are, the more interference you have. By trying to convince Calorie of his views, even Gan had become an opposing voice of influence, just like the others whose interference was an obstruction to his literary creations. Hence, he wrote a novel Mysterious Train, recounting what this student had been trying to tell him – Calorie was yet another blast of wind, enlightening him instead.
A Rustic Tree that Nurtures Writers
The other waft of breeze was Gan’s grandfather who was a great storyteller. From jungle trails to rural fields, they were a huge backdrop to the ‘ghostly’ tales he spun to scare little children. These were not real ghost stories, but the narration was so brilliant that Gan could not help but weave them into his novels.
Besides Hakka language, culture and history, Gan’s novels also incorporated folklore and fables that bordered on magical realism. As such, his works are regarded as Taiwan New Nativist Literature. Finding his own inimitable literary style that is inspired from legends is not only a strategy, but also closely related to his background.
Life drifts like a falling leaf, and barring any accidents, it will land on the ground eventually – this is destiny. From his nurturing grandfather and his admiration for the high school girl that kindled his interest to write, right up to his encounter with the railroad enthusiast who spurred him on with his persistence – all these may have been the unexpected turns in Gan’s life, but without them, his life would not have been this exciting.
About Gan Yao Ming
A Taiwanese novelist, Gan Yao Ming has received various literary awards, including the United Daily News Literature Prize. He is now a lecturer with Providence University and an instructor for children’s creative writing class. His latest literary work Pangcah Girl has been hailed as a breakthrough and a quantum leap from his masterpiece Killing the Ghost.
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