China Underground > China Book Library: Uncover Rich Chinese Literature and Art > The Heavenly Sword: Interview with Alice Poon

The Heavenly Sword: Interview with Alice Poon

A Journey through Chinese Mythology and the Wuxia Literary Tradition

From Hong Kong to Canada, Alice Poon’s experiences and love for Chinese history and mythology have culminated in her captivating fantasy novel, “The Heavenly Sword.” Drawing from her background, Poon expertly weaves a rich tapestry that combines fantastical martial arts, sorcery, celestial magic, and the complexity of human emotions. With her vivid imagination and skilled storytelling, Alice transports readers to a world where immortals, demons, and mortals coexist, and where love, loyalty, and sacrifice take center stage. In this interview, we explore Alice’s inspirations, creative process, and the unique elements that make her novel an enthralling journey into the realm of Chinese fantasy.

BUY THE BOOK

What inspired you to write “The Heavenly Sword”?

In a nutshell, the impetus was nostalgia for the magical world of wuxia that Jin Yong (1924-2018) created in his renowned novels, which were my favorite childhood reads. I began reading those novels when I was ten and while growing up, I never stopped watching TV and movie adaptations. Even in recent years, I’ve been hooked on China-produced webdrama adaptations of his novels. Wuxia stories are in my blood! I just wish I realized this sooner.

Alice Poon - The Heavenly Sword - Character Portraits
Publisher: Earnshaws Books

How did you go about merging Chinese mythical folklore and speculative history in your novel?

Chinese mythology has always been an integral part of Chinese folk culture and history. It was not hard to link myths with speculative history. I would just cite one good example: the mythology classic Journey to the West. The story was set in the Tang dynasty when the Tang Emperor Taizong sent the Buddhist Monk Tang Xuanzang (or Tang Sanzang) to present-day India to search for and bring back Buddhist scriptures. The novel is based on the real-life Monk Xuanzan’s journey to India, but is filled with fantastical stories involving supernatural beings like Sun Wukong (a monkey), Zhu Baijie (a pig) and Sha Wujing (a man-eating demon). In The Heavenly Sword, I blended the Chang’e folklore with the historical life story of a Ming woman rebel leader Tang Sai’er. The inspiration of creating Tang Sai’er as Chang’e incarnate came from a Qing novel titled Unofficial History of the Female Immortal 女仙外史. In the novel, Chang’e’s unhappy relationship with the Lord Archer Hou Yi impacts on Tang Sai’er’s coming-of-age story. In real history, Tang Sai’er raised rebellions against the tyrannical Yongle Emperor but finally escaped capture. So that leaves a lot of room for speculation on her adventures. To add more mythical colors, I also included the retelling of the popular fable about the conflicts between Nezha and the Green Dragon, which bear on Tang Sai’er’s celestial mission to rein in the tyrant, who is a Sky Wolf incarnate.

What challenges did you face when creating a magical world where mortals, immortals, and demons coexist?

When I planned for the protagonist, a woman rebel leader, to be Chang’e incarnate, I already had in mind a magical world involving mortals and immortals. To allow for more conflicts, I created the antagonist Zhu Di (Prince of Yan, later the Yongle Emperor) as a Sky Wolf incarnate. To thicken the plot, the Green Dragon was made into the Sky Wolf’s twin who gets demoted to the underworld as a demon. At that point, the three realms already took shape, and what remained was to populate each realm with suitable characters. As I already have a fair knowledge of the Chinese gods and goddesses and a good grasp of Ming history, creating such a magical world did not pose particular challenges.

Alice Poon

How did your interest in Chinese history and mythology shape the narrative of “The Heavenly Sword”?

When I did research work on Ming history for my previous two historical novels (Tales of Ming Courtesans and The Green Phoenix), I stumbled on the story of Tang Sai’er and decided that she would make a memorable protagonist. Then I came across the novel Unofficial History of the Female Immortal written by the Qing novelist Lu Xiong (1642-1723) and it planted the seeds of ideas for a fantasy project. Also, I’ve always been a fan of the classical novels Journey to the West 西遊記 and Investiture of the Gods 封神演義, and particularly love the immortal characters Nezha, and the androgynous Lan Caihe of the Eight Immortals. Hence, I picked them as key side characters in the immortal realm of The Heavenly Sword.

What research did you do to ensure the accuracy of historical – settings and characters in your book?

Well, for the fantasy genre, there is no stringent requirement for historical accuracy such as that for the historical fiction genre. That’s the main reason why I enjoy writing fantasy more than historical fiction because the former affords me much more freedom in flexing my imagination. Be that as it may, I still tried not to veer too far from reality in the portrayal of historical events and characters, although I did take creative license in depicting details and characters’ motives. For research, I relied on official Ming history texts.

Can you talk about the challenges of writing in the Chinese fantasy genre and how you overcame them?

The challenges have probably to do with teasing out the most authentic versions of myths from the available horde of different tellings and retellings. In the end, one has to pick a version that is to one’s liking.

Alice Poon - The Heavenly Sword - Character Portraits

Are there any characters in your book that you personally identify with, and if so, why?

I admire the character of Tang Sai’er, but I don’t think I have what it takes to fill her shoes. She’s somewhat larger than life. I guess we all like to see heroes and heroines with supernatural powers to fight for us, to protect us. This is why fantasy novels always speak to us.

 Can you give us a sneak peek into what readers can expect from Book 2 of the Sword Maiden from the Moon series?

There’ll be more explosive action scenes including an undersea fight and a couple of land battles. As well, there’re heartbreaking blood family betrayals and star-crossed love episodes.

Are you planning to explore any other genres or write more books set in the world of “The Heavenly Sword”?

I think I’m having fun writing in the Chinese fantasy genre. My future projects will probably have settings different from the world of this duology.

Last Updated on 2023/04/14

Post Author

Previous

China’s No-Fly Zone Over Taiwan: An Insightful Analysis

Celestial Love and Immortality: Unraveling the Myth of Chang’e, the Chinese Moon Goddess

Next

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.