I am so pleased to be part of The Walled City blog tour this month. I loved the book so much and you can read my review here. As part of the tour, the author, Ryan Graudin has written a post about Kowloon, the real walled city, alongside her fictional version, Hak Nam.
Picture this: A hive of buildings with no formal architecture, stacked fourteen stories high, interconnected with bamboo bridges and ladders, crammed so thickly together that sunlight cannot penetrate the lower levels. There is no formal drainage, so water from rains long past drips down walls in a constant flow. The streets are more like tunnels, usually no more than one to two meters wide and covered with pipes. These are lined with a plethora of human activity: illegal dentist shops, apothecaries selling powdered sharks fins and various herbs, steel mills, noodle makers, brothels, kindergartens, opium dens. The upper levels consist of apartments, most no more than twenty-three square meters. The window and verandas of these places are covered in bars to deter thieves.
This neighbourhood is only six and a half acres wide, but it is crowded. More that 33,000 people live within its walls. Shop owners, prostitutes, school children, street hawkers, enterprising dental hygienists… people from all walks of life thrive in this place. It’s a no-man’s land in terms of the law, which means that heroine and gang activities abound, but the city’s inhabitants manage to keep a strange balance of crime and community.
This is the Hak Nam Walled City, the setting of my YA novel THE WALLED CITY. The place my three characters—Jin Ling, Mei Yee, and Dai—all find themselves trapped in.
This was the Kowloon Walled City. A real neighbourhood that existed in Hong Kong in the 1980s. I first found out about this place in 2011, when I met a woman named Jackie Pullinger who lived in Hong Kong and worked in the Kowloon Walled City for over twenty years. She described it much as I did in those first two paragraphs. The place sounded so surreal, so much like a setting out of a dystopian fantasy, that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of it before. I was fascinated, and started to research the place by watching documentaries (made by film crews who explored the city before it was torn down in 1993) and reading all of the literature I could get my hands on.
The more I researched the Kowloon Walled City, the more I knew I had to write a story in its setting. Instead of letting my plot build my world, I did the opposite. The concrete, unique setting of the Kowloon Walled City helped me develop my plot. As I started thinking about the neighbourhood's inhabitants, three different characters came to mind. Jin Ling lives under a tarp in the Walled City’s streets, disguising herself as a boy to stay safe as she searches for her lost sister. Her sister, Mei Yee, was taken from their farm and is now trapped in one of the many brothels that line the city’s sunless streets. In order to get a look inside these places, Jin Ling must complete drug runs for a mysterious boy named Dai, who has his own life or death mission.
Although I altered some of the city names to highlight how surreal this neighbourhood was, most of the details of the actual city are unaltered in the novel.
It’s written to be read on two levels. It can work as a dystopian-esque story, or as realistic fiction. It’s my hope that readers, when they get to the end of THE WALLED CITY and read the author’s note (where I talk about the real Kowloon Walled City) will be driven to research it on their own and discover more about this truly fascinating place.
Thank you Ryan for a fantastic post.
THE WALLED CITY will be published by Indigo on 6 November 2014 9781780621999/ Trade paperback at £9.99 and eBook at £5.99
Ryan Graudin was born in Charleston, South Carolina with a severe case of wanderlust. When she's not travelling, she's busy photographing weddings, writing and spending time with her husband and wolf-dog.
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