With two novels under his name, Paul Letters talks about his life in Sai Kung, being struck with a disability, and his passion for history.
My wife, Joanne, and I have been in Sai Kung since we moved to Hong Kong in 2001. We came here to see more of the world. We didn’t think we would be here more than a couple of years.
Living in Sai Kung means being within striking distance of one of the world’s greatest cities yet still having beaches, islands and mountains all around. What’s layered on to that over the years is the community, the longer you’re here the more people you know. People were so friendly and helpful when I was launching my first book.
My novel, A Chance Kill, is based partly on my own grandmother’s experience as a teenager in Poland during World War II. A few years ago, I was on holiday in Greece and I couldn’t get to sleep. Suddenly, ideas and plotlines started to come together. I started to put those thoughts down on paper and began to write.
Being struck with a disability – a nerve condition in my legs – jolted me a bit. I had this feeling that you only live once and I realised if there’s things I want to do then I better get on and do them.
Writing my novel was slow work at first as I didn’t really know how to go about it. Gradually, over a couple of years, I mapped out the story. I had interviewed my grandmother 15 years earlier so I had those notes stashed away.
Friends and ex-students helped with the editing process. It was like a mini Sai Kung community project.
My second novel, The Slightest Chance, is based almost entirely in Hong Kong during World War II. A few of the major characters from A Chance Kill and The Slightest Chance are going to end up in the same time and place. I would like to publish the book next autumn.
A lot of interesting historical events have gone untapped in Hong Kong. Local historians are beavering away trying to expose these stories to the public. It’s exciting to feel a part of that.
I’ve got so much to say about World War II. It has always been the most fascinating period for me. The way history affects the world today really interests me.
At six years old, my son shares my passion for history. He usually asks me to tell him about war… I’m trying to open his mind up to there being history beyond war.
I’m gradually writing more and teaching less. I teach history but also Theory of Knowledge and Global Development. The ideal balance would be 50/50 teaching and writing.
Writing this book has opened many unexpected doors for me and it’s been great to meet other people who share a common interest and a passion for what I love to do.
A Chance Kill is $170 from Dymocks, 7 Man Nin Street, Sai Kung, www.paulletters.com.