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City Weekend

How this US writer’s Hong Kong love story got its ‘Ferry Tale’ ending

When Shannon Young moved to the city to be with her boyfriend, she did not expect it to mark the start of her literary career

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 3:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 10 March, 2018, 3:02pm

Not everyone is willing to share their love stories with strangers, but writer Shannon Young finds fulfilment in documenting her own for the world to see.

The 29-year-old American has already penned 15 books, 11 of which are fantasy and science fiction novels. Her early publications though – a memoir and a love story – draw heavily from her life in Hong Kong.

It all started in 2007 at a fencing club in London, where Young met a young Eurasian man who was to change her life forever.

“He was originally from Hong Kong but going to school here [in Britain], and we immediately hit it off. At the time, he was going to be living in London, and I was going to be returning to my hometown in Arizona to finish my degree.”

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The pair’s long-distance relationship went on for longer than they had anticipated. Nearly three years later, in 2010, the bookish then 22-year-old followed her love to Hong Kong after finding a teaching position at a primary school in Kowloon Bay, hoping this would be their happy ending after years of living apart.

But fate had something else in store.

“When I arrived here for the job, my now husband was then immediately posted back to London,” she said.

With a student loan to pay off and a new job to get used to, Young embarked on a wide-eyed newcomer’s journey through Hong Kong – alone. But along the way, she found something else she was passionate about.

“I started writing because there was so much of my experience I wanted to process: the things I observed, the way people acted and the feelings that I was having while expecting this great romance but to actually not have the person I was in love with there with me.”

Fortunately, Young’s solo Hong Kong adventure was cut short when she was rejoined by her boyfriend in 2011. They tied the knot in 2013.

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No longer alone in the city, the American author continued to find that Hong Kong was often the subject of her writing.

“I tend to get ideas as I am working, so while I am working on one book, it would sort of spark something for another one, and I take notes as I go. Sometimes I spend the whole day working on something and feel a little stuck, and I get on the Mid-Levels escalator on my way home then the answers just pop into my head.”

In 2014, Young’s first book, Year Of Fire Dragons – a memoir based on her love story with her husband – was published. Ferry Tale, a novel set in Hong Kong, was born two years later.

“The things that connected most of the readers were not the descriptions of interesting buildings or food but my journey, the story that I was going through in the context of the given place,” she said.

When she was writing her first books, Young was still working as a primary school teacher, but it was not long before she decided to become a full-time author.

“I had a year’s worth of savings, and I had paid off all my student loans, so those were the big things. I thought I had the money for it, so I gave myself a year, I knew that I was not making a full-time living at the time, but I also knew that this was what I wanted to do as a career. It was kind of now or never.”

With the support of her husband, Young was able to continue chasing her passion.

“The biggest challenge is to make sure that there is still a plot. You have to identify what are the turning points in your own stories because there’s a lot about real life that doesn’t function the way a novel does.

“And of course the second challenge is being able to view it through someone else’s eyes – for that I rely on the help of my other writer and reader friends. They read my work, give me feedback, and I go back and do another draft and another draft and another draft.”

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In 2016, Young slowly branched out into the realm of fantasy and science fiction, publishing the Seabound Chronicles, Empire of Talents and Steel and Fire series under the pen name Jordan Rivet.

Even with more than 10 books under her belt, she is still pushing herself to become better.

“Of course there are the J.K. Rowlings of the world, the Stephen Kings of the world, but it’s also OK to be [one of] those middle-of-the-road people who will be able to make a living without necessarily being at the top. And the way to do that is to produce consistent work and not hang all hopes onto just one production but to continue to try different things, to improve.”