Join Betsy Tobin to talk about CRIMSON CHINA, our July Book of the Month, on Tue 19 July, 8-9pm

(49 Posts)

July's pick has already been Radio 4's Book at Bedtime and is an excellent slow-burn suspense story. CRIMSON CHINA by Betsy Tobin tells the story of two strangers who meet one freezing night in February 2004, in the icy waters of Morecombe Bay.

Angie, an English woman who is drunkenly attempting suicide, finds herself saving Wen, a Chinese cockle picker, from drowning. They share neither language nor experience but Angie offers him sanctuary, soon finding in this enigmatic stranger a refuge of her own. What she doesn't know is that Wen is a wanted man, on the run from a criminal gang...

You can find out more at Betsy's excellent website and our book of the month page.

And get your paperback or Kindle version now.

We're delighted that Betsy will be joining us for the chat on Tuesday 19 July, 8-9pm. Look forward to seeing you there.

JenaiMarrHePlaysGuitar Fri 08-Jul-11 19:33:50

Marking my place. I loved the book.

Now all I need to do is to formulate an intelligent question grin

DoraJarr Sun 10-Jul-11 13:04:22

i really enjoyed it

I finished it today loved it couldn't put it down.

Looking forward to starting the book tonight. Have a special interest as I live in Morecambe and remember all too well that awful tragedy.

Kveta Mon 11-Jul-11 19:05:28

I read it over the weekend, and really enjoyed (if that's the correct word) the book. I hope you don't mind if I write my thoughts here; there's a very high chance I'll have forgotten them in a week. It really left me wanting more though - what happened to Lili after the book ended?!

I actually felt that there were many threads of the story which could have been expanded and would have added to the book (which is so rare to find! it's much more common to find a book exploring every theme to a sometimes contrived conclusion, so this was refreshing to see). The snakeheads, or Wen's relationship with his fellow chinese immigrant (not putting too much here in case it's a spoiler!). Also May's story, and the working conditions of the immigrants. All were beautifully written about, but also all felt like there was more to learn about them.

My question - if you could have explored each 'story' in more detail without making the book 2000 pages long, which bit interested you most of all?

thanks smile

bahookie Wed 13-Jul-11 12:39:15

i really enjoyed the book and agee with the comments re expanding the stories.

my question is - will there be a sequel?

dobby2001 Wed 13-Jul-11 13:26:21

Ooh good questions so far. I read this slowly, over the course of the week (darn kids interrupting grin) but enjoyed every minute. As others have said, I would like to have known what happened to Lili and wether the relationship with May and her father developed?
Or is all this in the sequel wink

SachaF Wed 13-Jul-11 13:34:53

I also really enjoyed reading this book, looking forward to going to bed each night so I could read a few more pages!
I loved the positivity of the author of thinking of that terrible tragedy and grasping at the fact that not every body was recovered, so is it possible that some survived. Most people would just assume that that was the end.
And I have to agree, I felt at the end that a one or two page tie up piece for Lili would have been perfect. As others have asked, does this mean you are planning a sequel based on Lili's relationships with others?

munstersmum Wed 13-Jul-11 20:44:23

Really enjoyed it & have passed the free copy along - thank you.
Was surprised to find Betsy was American - but don't know why! Maybe because other American author living in London I've read most of is Lionel Shriver & her books are clearly by an American.

So question to Betsy:
To what extent did living outside the USA provide the motivation for writing a book from the perspective of immigrant workers / holding up a mirror for Brits?

Great questions, keep them coming - I will send over to Betsy first thing Monday. Looking forward to Tuesday eve..

EsioTrot Sun 17-Jul-11 19:36:12

I loved the book, found it gripping and the characters engaging.

If you don't intend to write a sequel, what was your reasoning behind leaving Lili's story without any definite conclusions?

I don't mean to sound critical, I'm just intreagued as to what conclusions you imagine your reader's will reach.

Thanks for a great read!

champagnesupernova Sun 17-Jul-11 20:17:00

yikes
have 48 hours to start and finish book....

flakemum Mon 18-Jul-11 09:39:57

I am half way through really enjoying it so far. smile dont think I can finish it by tomorrow for discussion like i hoped tho.

vnmum Tue 19-Jul-11 10:16:42

I am nearly finished, hoping to finish it by the time the discussion starts. I do have a question though

What made you choose the morecambe bay tragedy as a focal point for a book and it's characters? Did you have a connection to the area or the tragedy in some way?

MovingtoSolihull Tue 19-Jul-11 18:00:54

I really enjoyed this book... read it in a couple of days . Thank you Betsy !

Firstly I was surprised with your writing style, I hadnt guessed you were American ! Quite often I find American authors have a somewhat different approach and I guess with writing about a tragic UK event that kinda threw me a bit.

As a child I have seen cars being towed off the sands at Morecambe so the events were very realistic.

My question is how did you conduct your research on this event ? as you pulled it off brilliantly.

PS loved the ending too !

moonbells Tue 19-Jul-11 19:34:19

In general, I liked the story and had to stop myself reading through the night to finish it.

But I am also wondering why Lili's story was left hanging. To me, her character was more interesting than Wen (sorry) and to have no closure was annoying. (I think I was yelling BUT WHAT ABOUT LILI when I got to the end and it wasn't there.)

On a style point, why is it written in changing tenses? I personally loathe 'present tense' novels - when Patricia Cornwell changed her Scarpetta stories from 1st person past to 3rd person present I stopped buying them. This book didn't feel like it knew what it was.

southlondonlady Tue 19-Jul-11 19:44:41

Really enjoyed this book though agree I wanted to hear more of Lilli's story!

My question is did you talk to locals about their interactions with (if any) and feelings about the immigrant workers in Morecambe? Because the local characters seemed very believable, I especially liked the old lady who Wen did the gardening for.

Evening everyone

I'm delighted to introduce our excellent July Author of the Month, Betsy Tobin. CRIMSON CHINA is a thought-provoking and deeply engaging novel, with much to discuss, so without further ado....

Betsy, firstly, thank you very much indeed to taking the time to join us. And congratulations on such a gripping and vivid novel. Perhaps we could kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread? And then we'll aim to get through as many as possible over the next hour.

I'd also like to add two questions:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:02:54

Hi everyone. Really pleased to be here, though you'll probably discover I'm a chatroom virgin. Will try to address all your questions!

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:06:13

Kveta

I read it over the weekend, and really enjoyed (if that's the correct word) the book. I hope you don't mind if I write my thoughts here; there's a very high chance I'll have forgotten them in a week. It really left me wanting more though - what happened to Lili after the book ended?!

I actually felt that there were many threads of the story which could have been expanded and would have added to the book (which is so rare to find! it's much more common to find a book exploring every theme to a sometimes contrived conclusion, so this was refreshing to see). The snakeheads, or Wen's relationship with his fellow chinese immigrant (not putting too much here in case it's a spoiler!). Also May's story, and the working conditions of the immigrants. All were beautifully written about, but also all felt like there was more to learn about them.

My question - if you could have explored each 'story' in more detail without making the book 2000 pages long, which bit interested you most of all?

thanks smile

Hi Kveta. Really pleased you liked the book. Wen was at the heart of this book for me, so I suppose I am closest to his story, which I do feel was resolved. I suppose I would have to bow to readers' views that it is Lili who deserves a bit more, so if I was going to expand I would focus on her, and secondly, May, who I am also very fond of.

More on Lili later...

StewieGriffinsMom Tue 19-Jul-11 20:09:02

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:11:18

SachaF

I also really enjoyed reading this book, looking forward to going to bed each night so I could read a few more pages!
I loved the positivity of the author of thinking of that terrible tragedy and grasping at the fact that not every body was recovered, so is it possible that some survived. Most people would just assume that that was the end.
And I have to agree, I felt at the end that a one or two page tie up piece for Lili would have been perfect. As others have asked, does this mean you are planning a sequel based on Lili's relationships with others?

Hi SachaF. Let me tackle the Lili problem. I do feel guilty that you've all been left wanting! Actually the 'unfinished' ending really wasn't deliberate (which is to say, I did not have a sequel in mind at the time...) but you are not the first to feel this way. My own mother has been asking for a sequel! I think I can offer two explanations, tho neither may satisfy. Firstly, I have a tendency to underwrite (which goes against trend). I like ambiguity and think that part of the experience of reading a book is working things out for oneself. But sometimes you get the balance wrong, and I suspect that's what happened here. Secondly, this book went through several drafts, most of which involved Lili. In an early draft she did have an affair with Adrian, but in all honesty, it wasn't working on the page. It was a little too pat, a little too convenient, and maybe a little too Mills & Boon.

Lili's emotional journey is about finding herself, not the man of her dreams. And the person who guides her is May.

I hope that helps.

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:14:23

munstersmum

Really enjoyed it & have passed the free copy along - thank you.
Was surprised to find Betsy was American - but don't know why! Maybe because other American author living in London I've read most of is Lionel Shriver & her books are clearly by an American.

So question to Betsy:
To what extent did living outside the USA provide the motivation for writing a book from the perspective of immigrant workers / holding up a mirror for Brits?

Dead chuffed to read this comment Munsterum! We long term ex-pats can be v competitive about this sort of thing. I've lived in the UK since the late 80s and raised four kids here.

And this is a really good question. The answer is A LOT. Although I am fully acclimatized to the culture there's no question that being a stranger in a strange land has shaped both my identity and my writing. It's a theme that crops up again and again in my work, and it was kind of a relief to bring it to the front of the stage for this book.

I'm really interested by your last answer (to Munsterum) - do you think the States has a very different attitude to immigrants? Is the American Dream still alive? And do you think there is a British Dream equivalent? Is that sort of what Wen (and Jin and others) are hoping to achieve?

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:18:57

MovingtoSolihull

I really enjoyed this book... read it in a couple of days . Thank you Betsy !

Firstly I was surprised with your writing style, I hadnt guessed you were American ! Quite often I find American authors have a somewhat different approach and I guess with writing about a tragic UK event that kinda threw me a bit.

As a child I have seen cars being towed off the sands at Morecambe so the events were very realistic.

My question is how did you conduct your research on this event ? as you pulled it off brilliantly.

PS loved the ending too !

Hi Solihull. Bit of a relief to find someone on thread who is happy with ending, so many thanks! Re research, let me say up front I did not spend months on loc with illegals. For three reasons: first, from their pov, writer is too close to journalist which is just a step from investigator and from there a hop to authority and deportation! So they would have run a mile. Second, I'm a mum 24/7 so not at liberty to go on location like some male writers! Third, i had a strong vision in my head of the story/characters and did not want to derail it. If I'd heard a lot of true stories, I might have been tempted to steal them!

What I did do was read everything I could lay my hands on about the plight of illegal Chinese in the UK and abroad. That came from press reports, academic journals and government immigration documents.

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:23:49

southlondonlady

Really enjoyed this book though agree I wanted to hear more of Lilli's story!

My question is did you talk to locals about their interactions with (if any) and feelings about the immigrant workers in Morecambe? Because the local characters seemed very believable, I especially liked the old lady who Wen did the gardening for.

Hi Southlondonlady. This is an interesting question. I didn't speak to locals about this until after the book came out, actually. I was very struck by the book's reception in the region. I think the locals really owned this tragedy and were greatly affected by it -- they really seemed to appreciate the opportunity to revisit the event, and to commemorate it. So I hope the book has helped the community come to terms with its own grief in some ways. But no, the subject of resentment over outside workers didn't come up in my conversations. Of course it was an issue back then, and continues to be. There are still foreign workers out on the sands, including Chinese workers.

vnmum Tue 19-Jul-11 20:24:56

I finished the book earlier tonight and i really enjoyed it. It is not the usual genre i read and it was refreshing. I too found I wanted to know more of where Lilis life went, and I think you would probably have an audience for a sequel on mumsnet alone.

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:27:15

bahookie

i really enjoyed the book and agee with the comments re expanding the stories.

my question is - will there be a sequel?

Hi bahookie. I've touched on this a little but can elaborate a bit. On the subject of sequels in general, I must confess I get itchy feet as a writer so have never been tempted to do one yet! But never say never -- if this book became a bestseller and fans were clamouring, I would certainly consider revisiting this terrain, as China and the world of illegals is endlessly fascinating to me. I am currently working on a different book at the moment, which I hope to finish by the end of the year, so there'd definitely be a bit of a lag before it came out tho.

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:29:22

EsioTrot

I loved the book, found it gripping and the characters engaging.

If you don't intend to write a sequel, what was your reasoning behind leaving Lili's story without any definite conclusions?

I don't mean to sound critical, I'm just intreagued as to what conclusions you imagine your reader's will reach.

Thanks for a great read!

Hi EsioTrot: The final scene between Lili and May is meant to suggest a resolution of sorts (though clearly for some it didn't succeed!) It is ultimately May who shows Lili the way forward in her life, and gives her a raison d'etre.

moonbells Tue 19-Jul-11 20:30:49

I really did enjoy the book a lot -thankyou! The adoption issue of Chinese girls was a key part for me, too. Too many have been lost that way too, far more than were lost that day in Morecombe, and since I became a mother, reading about people abandoning their children makes me cry as it's not something I could ever countenance doing. I think it's something that most of us would find impossible. The whole novel is very thought-provoking, challenging assumptions about different cultures, and especially the one prevailing in the UK (at least on the surface!)

southlondonlady Tue 19-Jul-11 20:30:50

Thanks - would be difficult to resent them I suppose as probably not many locals would want to do that job! I can understand people being greatly affected. Were any extra safety regulations / controls brought in after the tragedy do you know?

gailforce1 Tue 19-Jul-11 20:32:52

Betsy, I have read and enjoyed The Bounce as well so thank you for 2 good reads.

Which writers do you enjoy reading - when you get the chance!

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:33:59

vnmum

I am nearly finished, hoping to finish it by the time the discussion starts. I do have a question though

What made you choose the morecambe bay tragedy as a focal point for a book and it's characters? Did you have a connection to the area or the tragedy in some way?

Another good question vnmum! While I have no connection to Morecambe, China is a thread that has run thru much of my adult life. When I was at university, I had an opportunity to go to Beijing for a year and leapt at it. China was a harsh and difficult place in 1981,and foreigners were something of a rarity (esp redheads) but I never regretted it. I still speak Mandarin (not v well) and have taken my kids back to China in recent years to experience the country for themselves.

Like a lot of people, I was horrified by the tragedy at MB and I suppose it sort of haunted me afterwards. I knew instinctively that it was something I wanted to write about, tho it took a long time to percolate. I knew from the outset that I wanted to write a novel full of hope and optimism rather than sadness. That's why it's not a retelling, but a re-imagining of what might have been.

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:40:24

moonbells

In general, I liked the story and had to stop myself reading through the night to finish it.

But I am also wondering why Lili's story was left hanging. To me, her character was more interesting than Wen (sorry) and to have no closure was annoying. (I think I was yelling BUT WHAT ABOUT LILI when I got to the end and it wasn't there.)

On a style point, why is it written in changing tenses? I personally loathe 'present tense' novels - when Patricia Cornwell changed her Scarpetta stories from 1st person past to 3rd person present I stopped buying them. This book didn't feel like it knew what it was.

Hi moonbells. Again, huge apologies for leaving you unsated! Re the present tense -- it's a good question, as I am vaguely aware as I writer (and reader) that it has the potential to annoy. I think, for some books, the present tense has an immediacy that is difficult to conjure in other ways. Especially when I was writing about Wen and Lili, and their impressions, I wanted to convey their feelings of estrangement from the world around them, and present tense just felt right to me at the time. This book had a very difficult narrative time frame, in fact, which involved some sleight of hand to resolve. Lili's story starts 8 months after Wen's, but they both finish at the same point. That thwarted me for a time, but I tried to join them as seamlessly as possible.

moonbells Tue 19-Jul-11 20:44:47

ah - thanks. I have huge admiration for writers - I know you have to write most of the time. To me, unless it's something like typing like this, I find it a huge chore (I need to be able to write in my job, though always passive voice) yet I love reading!

Thanks for those comments - I shall bear that in mind next time I find myself with a present-tense book, as the need for immediacy part hadn't registered.

<going away to think now>

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:45:59

TillyBookClub

I'm really interested by your last answer (to Munsterum) - do you think the States has a very different attitude to immigrants? Is the American Dream still alive? And do you think there is a British Dream equivalent? Is that sort of what Wen (and Jin and others) are hoping to achieve?

Hi Tilly. From what I have seen, it is not so much the States' attitude as that of the immigrants themselves. My sense is that immigrants who come to America are more eager to assimilate (or at least they were in my day, 20 years ago) than some of the immigrant communities here, who are looking to prosper in the first instance. Illegal immigrants are of course another subset: in the case of the Chinese, most are not looking to settle permanently or assimilate, but to work hard, pay off their debts (incurred from being smuggled), and earn a nestegg which they can return to China with, build a house and educate their children.

Wen and Lili were not at all typical in this sense. As they are both, in effect, searching for themselves.

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:48:11

moonbells

I really did enjoy the book a lot -thankyou! The adoption issue of Chinese girls was a key part for me, too. Too many have been lost that way too, far more than were lost that day in Morecombe, and since I became a mother, reading about people abandoning their children makes me cry as it's not something I could ever countenance doing. I think it's something that most of us would find impossible. The whole novel is very thought-provoking, challenging assumptions about different cultures, and especially the one prevailing in the UK (at least on the surface!)

Hi moonbells. I have to say I am completely fascinated by the situation of adopted chinese girls in the west. Could have written about that forever!

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:50:24

southlondonlady

Thanks - would be difficult to resent them I suppose as probably not many locals would want to do that job! I can understand people being greatly affected. Were any extra safety regulations / controls brought in after the tragedy do you know?

Yes the gangmasters licensing act was brought in as a direct consequence. But critics argue that it only serves to drive illegals further underground, into even more desperate working conditions for even worse wages.

It is an extremely thorny public policy issue. I'm not sure I have the answers!

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 20:53:09

gailforce1

Betsy, I have read and enjoyed The Bounce as well so thank you for 2 good reads.

Which writers do you enjoy reading - when you get the chance!

Hi gailforce1. As a reader, I respond to anything with a strong voice. The one that comes to mind off the top of my head is Curtis Sittenfield's American Wife (fictitious memoir of Barbara Bush, completely fab book IMHO.
I also love good imagery, as it is my weakest point as a writer. I just read Hisham Matar's In The Country of Men. His metaphors were breathtaking. For me to write a metaphor is like birthing an eleven pound baby!

Just noticed we have 10 mintues left - could I flag up a few questions from upthread (apoloiges if you're already onto them).

gailforce's question about what you like to read

southlondonlady's question about how regulation changed after the MB tragedy

and (rather selfishly!) my own two about childhood book that inspired you, and advice to first-time writers

Sorry, we crossed posts there - you were already onto it.

In the Country of Men was our very first Mumsnet Boocklub book, three years ago. Agree that it is wonderful. And American Wife my favourite read of 2010. I am about to read Prep now, as I was hyperaware of it when it was published but never got round to reading it.

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 21:00:14

TillyBookClub

Just noticed we have 10 mintues left - could I flag up a few questions from upthread (apoloiges if you're already onto them).

gailforce's question about what you like to read

southlondonlady's question about how regulation changed after the MB tragedy

and (rather selfishly!) my own two about childhood book that inspired you, and advice to first-time writers

Yes haven't forgotten the childhood books. I'm afraid I wasn't exposed to some of the English classics, so mine are a bit different from the norm. But when I was ten I loved Nancy Drew (excruciating...) When I was 11 I remember being entranced by Judy Blume (Are You There God It's Me Margaret? Not a book about God actually -- about boys and periods, as I recall.) And when I was 12 I was struck down by CS Lewis.

Not much time for final question re: first time writers. Don't fall at the first hurdle, as there will be many. At one point I wallpapered my office with rejection letters! Writing is about graft as much as talent, so be prepared to labour, and to learn.

Sadly our time is up already - went so fast, and thank you to everyone for brilliant questions.

Betsy, thank you very very much indeed for your illuminating and thoughtful answers. I still can't believe this is your first webchat, you did an incredibly professional job of it!

Good luck with the novel in progress, looking forward to reading it when it comes out, and many congratulations once more on this one (and don't forget to come back here if you ever do do a sequel - you have a serious demand...)

Many thanks again for everything.

gailforce1 Tue 19-Jul-11 21:11:58

Tilly - another great bookclub but WHY does it go so fast?!

Is there going to be a book club next month or will you wait till September?

BetsyTobin Tue 19-Jul-11 21:15:24

TillyBookClub

Sadly our time is up already - went so fast, and thank you to everyone for brilliant questions.

Betsy, thank you very very much indeed for your illuminating and thoughtful answers. I still can't believe this is your first webchat, you did an incredibly professional job of it!

Good luck with the novel in progress, looking forward to reading it when it comes out, and many congratulations once more on this one (and don't forget to come back here if you ever do do a sequel - you have a serious demand...)

Many thanks again for everything.

Really enjoyed it Tilly. As my PFB came into the world at the same time as the internet, I didn't have MN to latch onto, as I'm sure I would have. So a wee bit envious of you all for this fantastic community.

That said, have had a happy few days perusing the site, and was especially delighted by the list of acronyms. Being a wordy sort, I'd like to leave all the MNers with a poem comprised entirely from the list. It proved more difficult that I thought it would be. Especially since I'm not a poet. But for what it's worth:

OTMN (Ode to Mumsnet)

FWIW
RL
MMTI
WWYD
ROFL
HTH

I have no doubt that you lot could do much better!
Happy Reading.
Betsy

munstersmum Tue 19-Jul-11 21:27:24

How brilliant of Betsy to write that Ode. Someone should start a thread........

gailforce (and everyone) - Bookclub will be taking a break for August but we'll be back in September with the rather fabulous and Booker shortlisted David Mitchell, author of CLOUD ATLAS, NUMBER9DREAM, GHOSTWRITTEN, BLACK SWAN GREEN and his latest book THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOOT. He's coming to chat to us on 28th September. The official page and thread will go up soon, but meanwhile you have a headstart in planning your diary (and keep an eye out for the thread as we're giving away 100 free signed copies...)

See you all then, and hope everyone gets a chance to kick back with a book at some point this summer...

LadyInPink Tue 19-Jul-11 21:54:51

Bugger, missed it sad Loved reading all the questions and Betsy's answers though so feel i've not missed out completely!

The book was gripping and I found it hard to put down - thanks Betsy for a fab read smile and to mn for my free copy which i'm passing on smile

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