Readers will know Graeme Hall for his Fly on the Wall August short story collection: The Goddess of Macau. Now Graeme is excited to launch his first novel independently in early January 2021, which is bound to be a wonderful read. Today we share the cover and a preview excerpt...
More about the release:
‘On Borrowed Time’ by Graeme Hall
On Borrowed Time is set in Hong Kong and Shanghai over the period 1996/1997 - including the handover of Hong Kong to China. The novel explores the choices that people have to make; in particular between doing what is easy and what is right.
In Hong Kong, Emma Janssen discovers the truth behind the death of her brother four years earlier. Meanwhile, in Shanghai, a PhD student meets a woman with an unusual degree of interest in his research. These storylines converge at the time of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, and Emma finds that she has to choose between revenge or the future happiness and safety of both herself and those close to her.
While being a work of fiction, On Borrowed Time is rooted in the author's own experiences of living and working in Hong Kong from 1993 to 2010, in particular the final years of British rule and the transfer of sovereignty back to China.
Exclusive excerpt from the book:
‘You must be excited about Hong Kong returning to China.’
Once a week the basketball players would go out for beers, and Kwok-wah found that after a few drinks his new friends started to open up to him a bit more. But he was already getting tired of this question; the question everybody seemed to want to ask him.
‘Glad to be rid of the British, I expect.’ This was from Zhao Zhanyuan. Kwok-wah didn’t pay much attention to politics but even he had recognised early on that Zhanyuan was the most hard-line. Li Lao had warned him that Zhao Zhanyuan’s father was a major in the People’s Liberation Army and Kwok-wah learnt to be careful and non-committal in anything he said. In truth Kwok-wah never knew how to answer these questions, if they were questions at all. They seemed more like slogans that had been learnt by rote. He had never thought of himself being under any colonial yoke; he had grown up under British rule and had simply accepted it as a fact of life. Just one of those things, as inevitable as June rain and cockroaches. His answers were always quietly neutral, and if he could he’d try and change the subject.
Mostly though they talked about girls. A couple of his room-mates had girlfriends back in their home towns, but that didn’t seem to stop them eyeing up their options.
‘Have you seen that girl in the calculus class?’ asked Li Lao in a typical conversation one evening. ‘The one that sits in the front row wearing a short skirt. She keeps crossing and uncrossing her legs until Professor Wang mixes up his second order derivatives from his partial integrals.’
But Kwok-wah soon came to the conclusion that they were all talk. He never saw his room-mates actually go up and speak to any of the female students. Kwok-wah himself was unattached. There had once been a girlfriend in Hong Kong but she had dumped him when she concluded – completely correctly – that he was more interested in his research than in her, and he wasn’t particularly looking for anyone.
The bar they were in one Friday was one of their favourites. A little away from the university, there was less chance of bumping into any of their teachers and it was also popular because it had an American theme with a jukebox and pictures of NBA stars on the walls. The fact that his friends could switch so quickly from praising China as the next great superpower to a fascination with all things American never ceased to surprise Kwok-wah, but he was learning discretion. He knew better than to say anything.
‘It’s your round, Hongkonger,’ Zhanyuan said. He’d taken to calling Kwok-wah that as if to emphasise the difference between him and the rest of them. Kwok-wah was far from sure it was his turn to get the drinks, his round seemed to come more often than the others, but he didn’t feel inclined to argue. Anyway, the drinks were much cheaper in Shanghai than back home. The waitresses seemed busy so Kwok-wah went to the bar himself. Once he’d ordered, his eye wandered over the room. It was busy, as always on a Friday. Mainly young, probably mostly students since the bar was close to Fudan University. Some slightly older customers, dressed more smartly as if they had jobs in media or law but were not yet ready to move on to the expensive downtown places.
Four women sat at a table beneath a large action photograph of Michael Jordan. Kwok-wah looked at the picture, trying to work out when it was taken. He couldn’t tell who the Bulls were playing; was it the Phoenix Suns? If so it might have been from the 1993 Finals. Or was it Portland from 1992? While he tried to decide, Kwok-wah realised one of the women at the table was looking straight at him. Slim, long hair in a ponytail, she smiled at Kwok-wah, who immediately looked away, embarrassed that she might have thought he was staring at her.
‘Here, let me help.’ Li Lao appeared on Kwok-wah’s shoulder as the barman set down the last of the glasses. ‘I’ll take these.’
About the author
Graeme lived in Hong Kong from 1993 to 2010 and still keeps a close connection to the city. His first novel was set in Hong Kong and Shanghai over the period 1996/97 and most of his writing comes from his love of that part of the world. Graeme first visited Macau in 1993 and he quickly became fascinated by the oldest European settlement in Asia. His short story collection, ‘The Goddess of Macau’ was published in August 2020 by Fly on the Wall Press.
He has won the short story competitions of the Macau Literary Festival and the Ilkley Literature Festival, and his writing has been published in anthologies by Black Pear Press and the Macau Literary Festival. He is an active member of the Leeds Writers Circle whose members have been a constant source of advice, support and encouragement. Graeme lives in Calderdale, West Yorkshire with his wife and a wooden dog.
On ‘The Goddess of Macau’:
“There is a subtlety to Graeme’s writing, which is characterised by a sensitivity to the nuances of character and setting. His stories unfold in a lyrical, understated style – a literary equivalent of pointillism.”
- Dr Rachel Connor, novelist, dramatist and Lecturer, Leeds Beckett University
Twitter: #OnBorrowedTime @hongkonggraeme
Where to pre-order On Borrowed Time: