An Indies Introduce Q&A with Cecile Pin
Cecile Pin is the author of Wandering Souls, a Winter/Spring 2023 Indies Introduce Adult selection.
Pin grew up in Paris and New York City. She moved to London at eighteen to study philosophy at University College London and received an MA at King’s College London. She writes for Bad Form Review, was long-listed for their Young Writers’ Prize, and is a 2021 London Writers Award winner. Wandering Souls is her first novel.
Sara Rishforth of Roundabout Books in Bend, Oregon served on the panel that selected Pin’s debut for Indies Introduce. Rishforth called it, “A compact and powerful novel about a family torn apart by immigration. Set in the 1970s, three siblings leave Vietnam with the dream of living in the United States. It’s a story of survival, family, ghosts, and love.”
Here, Pin and Rishforth discuss Wandering Souls.
Sara Rishforth: What are some takeaways you hope the readers leave with after reading Wandering Souls?
Cecile Pin: I wish (ambitiously, perhaps!) for readers to leave the book with a better understanding and sympathy for the refugee plight, and a sense of hope that healing is possible, even from the most traumatic of events.
One of my aims while writing Wandering Souls was also to reclaim, if only a little, the Vietnamese diaspora’s part and presence in the UK’s history, as it has remained very much in the shadows. So, I hope the book will inform readers on the matter, and that it will make Vietnamese-British people feel seen.
SR: How did you deal with the emotional impact of the book on yourself as you were writing Wandering Souls?
CP: There were definitely days when the book, and the research it required, took a toll on me. I tried to maintain a healthy lifestyle: keep seeing friends at least a few times per week, go to the gym, eat healthily, have seven-ish hours of sleep. I also listened to a lot of uplifting music (a lot of disco and 80’s French Pop!) and watched some comedy series (Curb Your Enthusiasm and RuPaul’s Drag Race were favorites) to keep me upbeat.
I wrote the book while having a full-time job, which meant I had to schedule my writing in the evening, often until the early hours of the night. But I think the fact that I was kept busy during the day also helped me from overthinking and spiraling into a too-dark place.
SR: What books or authors have influenced your own writing?
So many! I was interested in writers who play with form, such as Max Porter, Jenny Offill, and Maggie Nelson (The Red Parts, especially, which I quote in the epigraph). I also owe a lot to the writings of Ocean Vuong and Cathy Park Hong, who gave me more confidence in writing the story I wanted to tell.
Other books that influenced me were Human Acts by Han Kang, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. All use multiple narrators (including a ghost in Human Acts) and all taught me how to be ambitious in my storytelling, and to juggle different storylines and characters. Lastly, I love how Atonement by Ian McEwan engages with the reader by way of exploring the power of storytelling as a mean to provide catharsis — something I explore as well in Wandering Souls.
SR: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
CP: When I moved to New York City when I was 9 (from France), I couldn’t speak or understand any English. I remember the debilitating feeling of being unable to communicate with most of the city, unable to voice my needs or thoughts without the help of my parents; of turning on the TV to watch cartoons and only hearing foreign noises (turns out, watching Nickelodeon and Disney Channel are great ways to learn English).
Thankfully I went to a French-speaking school, but some classes were still taught in English. This was the case for the much-dreaded PE class, in which I had to rely on my new classmates to translate for me the teacher’s instructions as everyone around me broke into various exercises.
These were confusing times, but that taught me the power of language as a tool for self-expression. And also, that language is more than just words: it is also facial expression, tone of voice and hand gestures, amongst other things. Body language is an incredibly powerful, universal tool, which can express a lot when words are missing.
SR: What has been your favorite part of the publishing journey so far? Has publishing your first book changed your view on the industry since you’ve worked as an editorial assistant?
CP: I’ve been lucky to have two amazing publishers, 4th Estate in the UK and Henry Holt in the US. I really enjoyed working collaboratively on the edits with both my editors, and the satisfaction of the book improving every time I took their notes on board. I’ve also found the reaction around the book very heartwarming, especially from the East/Southeast Asian British and American book community, who really rallied around the book and have been incredibly encouraging throughout the whole process.
My view of the industry hasn’t changed too much. It mostly reaffirmed to me how much work goes into publishing each book, and how competitive the book landscape is at the moment, with lots of great works being published at the same time. I’m also now more aware of what’s required of authors post-edits: it’s easy to think that once they’re done, authors can rest on their laurels, but turns out that’s not the case! Promoting the book is the whole other, much more extroverted part of the job, which I’m still learning how to do.
Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin (Henry Holt and Co., 9781250863461, Hardcover Fiction, $26.99) On Sale: 3/21/2023.
Find out more about the author on her Twitter account @CecilekvPin.
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