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An Interview with Hua Ai


Hua Ai (Nikolina) is from Shanghai, China. She is an educator based in London. She holds an English Literature degree from King’s College London. She is a published feminist fiction writer in Mandarin. Her English poetry has been featured in print by Crumps Barn Studio and online by The Field Guide Magazine, The87 Press, Otolith, Literary Yard, and Writing in a Woman’s Voice.

Her poetry explores themes of spiritual animals within her mind palace, cultural feminism, and sisterhood. Alongside her literary pursuits, Hua Ai actively researches pragmatic approaches to promote animal rights in China and advocates for education reform.

In 2023, Hua Ai completed the first draft of her English novel, Honest Orphans. The novel delves into post-colonial climates in developing countries and the immigrant experience in London through the perspective of international students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. It navigates themes of trauma resulting from political upheavals, cultural displacement, and defiance of patriarchal norms, both in the Western world and back home. Ultimately, Honest Orphans portrays the journey towards unity among the cultures and ethnicities through mutual respect and understanding.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

With a penchant for the art of expression and a yearning for freedom, my journey began with the gift of the Harry Potter book series on my 11th birthday. This ignited my determination to embrace the enchantment of words and employ them to document social inequality, moments, and sensations in my surroundings. Supported by my encouraging parents, who affirmed my right to creativity and freedom since my toddler years, I embarked on this path.

Surrounded by animal friends from my childhood, from my bunny Moby to four rescued cats, I found it captivating to observe the world through various animal forms and elements. Conversely, the diverse groups of friends I encountered during my studies in London further inspired me to chronicle their lives, their joys, and sorrows in this rapidly evolving world. I reflected on how individuals navigate their identities through cultural hybridity and claim their spiritual autonomy

What inspired you to start writing this book?

It’s my daring attempt to expand the influence of my writing extends to languages within my capabilities, with English standing as the most plausible choice after Mandarin. I firmly believe that literature transcends the barriers of language;all it requires is a leap of faith and a deep dive into the cultures I seek to comprehend.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

For me, Honest Orphans as a book title is as effortless as the flick of fingers, as it closely mirrors my identity as a nomad of nature and space, finding home wherever my heart feels at peace. Yet, in the same light, it also conveys a sense of rootlessness, a sentiment I believe resonates with a sizable community.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“Storms in the Stars” – Amelia Warner (Mary Shelley, 2017)

“Atlantis Love” – V.K 克

“Suffragette” – Alexandre Desplat

“Grand Amore” – Il Volo

Describe your dream book cover.

A human form looms in the shadows, contorting as it bends the bars of a door, struggling to break free.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

So far, my career has been centered in the education sector in the UK. However, my friends find it rather surprising when I tell them that I am practicing and learning Shamanism to advocate for an inclusive, universal approach to animal rights.

What books did you read (for research or comfort) throughout your writing process?

Virginia Woolf’s essays, particularly “Moments of Being,” along with her novels The Waves and To the Lighthouse, hold a special place in my collection. The introspective exploration of human consciousness in her writing resonates deeply with me.

Anna Karenina, with its portrayal of transient desires and enduring humanity, remains a beacon in my mind. Despite the passage of time, it continues to capture my imagination with its timeless themes.

Stroika in London, the third book I recently finished reading, came highly recommended by a close friend. Through its light banter and sharp humour, it depicts the lives of immigrants from the former Eastern Bloc in the UK during the 1990s. Despite its humorous façade, it delves into the political traumas that linger in the minds of the older generation, offering a poignant portrayal of their experiences.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

The sole wish I have for my readers is for them to emerge with a strengthened and replenished heart after delving into my book. I hope they come to recognize the vital significance of claiming their autonomy, whether they find themselves abroad or back home. Through the lens of a Chinese international student, I aspire to offer readers a unique perspective on London as a city and a voice for its diverse communities.

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