Author Interview: Junying Kirk – Journey to the West Trilogy

Today, I’m honoured to have fellow writer and dear friend, Junying Kirk, on the blog. Junying is author of the Journey to the West trilogy which charts the early life of Pearl Zhang as she grows up in China and later moves to England. I have to admit that I have read this trilogy in the wrong order, starting with the third which I loved (you can read my full review here). I’m currently half way through the first and thoroughly enjoying. The second is already on my Kindle.

This trilogy is highly recommended for anyone that is interested in Chinese history or culture and her interview here celebrates the re-release of the second in the trilogy, Trials of Life. Let’s hear what Junying has to say.


I understand that this is the second book in the ‘Journey to the West’ trilogy. Without giving too much away, tell us about a bit more about it?

Yes, Jane. In The Same Moon, we follow Pearl, from the time when she was born in that remote Chinese Interior, going through the different phases in her life, all the way to her ‘great leap forward’ to the United Kingdom. We have witnessed some of the trials and tribulations in her rather eventual life. In Trials of Life, we continue to get up close and personal with Pearl, and only this time around, the story has a more sinister tone to it – she became a target of harassment and bullying, by none other than her senior colleague Dick Appleton. Her Journey to the West can hardly be described as smooth sailing, as more trying times await her.

This book was originally released in 2011. Why are you re-releasing it now?

The first draft of Trials of Life was completed nearly 10 years before it was released in 2011. It was a very tough book to write, and I pretty much spent three months writing day and night to get it done. As most of the events in the book actually happened, and writing it had been a largely therapeutic process, it was extremely challenging for me to get back to it and do a thorough editing before its e-book release. However, having had both my first (The Same Moon) and the 3rd (Land of Hope) released in paperbacks early this year, it came to a point when I could no longer ignore this demanding ‘middle child’. No matter how hard it was to relive the unhappy events, this baby of mine deserves her place between her two ‘siblings’. My writing, especially in the last few years, has seen great improvements, and I felt ready to dive in and polish it to a worthy paperback edition. I am glad that I did and now I have a complete trilogy on my bookshelf, and hopefully they will grace many other book lovers’ shelves around the world :).


What gave you the idea to embark on this trilogy?

Good question, Jane. Initially I just wanted to write, so I began The Same Moon in the middle 1990s. In my own journey to the west, I have had some amazing experiences and met a great many fascinating people, the good, the bad and the ugly, as people do come in all sizes and shapes, I felt the urge to share some of the stories of my life, and life of many I’ve come to know. By 2003, I have completed two full length novels, although initially I had given Pearl Zhang (Protagonist of my Trilogy) a different name in Trials of Life. By the time I decided to self-publish The Same Moon and Trials of Life, I had a chat with my author friend Mira Kolar-Brown and she suggested that I should do a trilogy. Why not? I thought. I was already planning on writing Land of Hope, and so Pearl Zhang was called upon to continue her journey under my pen/keyboard :). All three books have Pearl Zhang in them, featuring different phases of her life. These books are independent stories so each can be read on its own, or as part of a trilogy.


Pearl Zhang is your main character and works as a police interpreter, much like yourself. Are there any other characteristics that you share?

Absolutely, Jane. Many readers come to believe that Pearl Zhang is Dr Junying Kirk in real life, and I don’t blame them. Pearl and I share a great deal, even though she is fictional and I am real :). Yes, Pearl’s career path has very much reflected that of mine, and some of her personal heartaches too. However, it would be wrong to assume that Pearl Zhang is me in everything she does or whatever she has gone through in her life. She is a character I’ve created, whom I hope will be believable and easy to identify with. I have given her characteristics I like, yet she is not a perfect heroine. She has weaknesses like many of us do, and makes mistakes and wrong decisions. Ultimately I think that she has a life of her own, which will outlasts mine, indefinitely!


Are any of your other characters based on people you know or have met?

Oh yes, almost all my characters are inspired by real life friends and foe alike. In Trials of Life, Pearl Zhang’s arch enemy Dick Appleton certainly lived and walked the earth, like a modern-day chauvinist dinosaur. Some characters are a combination of people I know or imagine them to be. Interestingly, these characters become more real to me than those who are behind their creation – am I bunkers?


Which is your favourite chapter/scene, and why?

In Trials of Life, Chapter 22 is titled Head to Head, where Pearl Zhang’s strong personality clashed with with her nemesis Dick Appleton – there was a scene in a Beijing pub where Dick threatened her to bow to his wishes, while she stormed off after a rather heated exchange (You can read it in an exclusive excerpt on the 25th August at It is one of my favourite scenes because she stood up to a bully, twice her size and with power to destroy her. Pearl Zhang has guts and I think that is why despite her imperfections, she can inspire other women to fight for their dignity.


How much research do you do for your novels?

It depends. Each book is different so different amount of research is required. I did most research for Land of Hope, because it involves many immigrants who come from a part of China which I did not know much about. So I travelled there in 2011 to get a feel of the place and culture there. I also read up and researched quite a bit on British Army and SAS, because my protagonist Jack Gordon was a former SAS man turned Police Inspector. It helps me a great deal that my husband is so informed about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, so I am able to pick his brain when necessary. Of course, the biggest help has been my decade-long career as a Police and Court Interpreter, which has allowed me great insights into the workings of the British Justice System, not to mention my love for and ‘obsession’ with Scandinavian Crime fiction and drama series.


What can readers expect from you next, and when can they expect it?

A new book has been crying out for attention in my head for months now, and I have a rough idea what it will be. It will again use my knowledge of both the East and the West, especially my cultural understanding of China and UK. However, it is a hot potato politically and a very ambitious project. I shall take my time to research and plan it. If there is no major change in my career, I shall start writing it at the end of this year. Given the huge amount of research and sensitivity required in this new project, I will not rush it out until I am completely satisfied with the final product. If everything goes according to plan, hopefully I’ll release it in 2015.

What is your writing routine and how do you balance your writing with your other commitments?

I’ve been very lucky so far, blessed with ample time to write when I am in the mood. Yes, I write when I feel the need or the urge, and I don’t otherwise. Although I can write anywhere, I prefer to sit down in front of my computer and write uninterrupted, any time of the day when I am in the zone, so to speak. I spend far too much time in front of my iMac these days, but thanks to the distraction of social media, I don’t write as much as I probably should 🙂


Name one of your favourite books and how it has influenced your life.

Jane Eyre! If you happen to love this book, you’ll know why, and if you don’t, and you’re interested in finding out why, please read The Same Moon, or my blog post  Simple Love:

I know that one of your other passions is for travel. Let’s see what you make of our Quick Fire Questions:

Desert, Mountain, Forest or Sea? Mountain for views, and sea for serenity.

5 star hotel or backpack? 5 star hotel now for tired bones, but backpack when younger 🙂

Espresso or latte? Latte 🙂

Favourite country? Difficult choice but I’ll say UK, as my adopted country 🙂

Favourite city? Oh dear Jane, you’re not making it easy – there are SO many! Birmingham in England, since I have lived here for 12 years, longer than anywhere else on earth! But I must add one for good measure – Glasgow in Scotland!

Favourite culinary dish? Anything spicy, so Sichuan food it is!

Sports car, campervan or bicycle? Easy one at long last, sports car :)!

Safari  or Cruise? Cruise for luxury and eating non-stop 🙂

Author bio: Junying Kirk was born a spice girl, hailing from Sichuan Province in southwestern China. In the summer of 1988, a British Council scholarship led her to study English Language Teaching at Warwick University, followed by further post-graduate degrees at Glasgow and Leeds. In her career spanning from the East to the West, she has played various roles as an academic, administrator, researcher, teacher and cultural consultant. Currently working as a professional interpreter and translator, she reads vivaciously and writes with passion and dedication. She enjoys drawing from the wealth of life itself to create stories, which are both engaging and exciting. She travels widely and keeps her mind and heart open for the new, the good, the bad and the ugly. Her ‘Journey to the West’ trilogy, “The Same Moon”, “Trials of Life” and “Land of Hope” have been published in both electronic form and paperbacks. She lives in Birmingham, UK with her English husband.


To follow her worldwide travels and other creative pursuits, please visit

Next stop of the tour: Guest Post & Book Spotlight


Buy Links for Junying’s Journey to the West Trilogy: Amazon UK, USABrazilCanadaSpainFranceGermanyJapan and Italy.

Blog Tour Schedule August 2013

22nd August: Author Bio, Excerpt, Blurb & Give-away

23rd August: Interview with Jane Issac:

24th August: Guest Post & Book Spotlight

25th August: Blurb, Bio & Sample:

26th August: Book Blurb & Give-away

27th August: Blurb, Author Bio & Review

28th August, Book Blurb & Excerpt:

29th August: Book Blurb & Review & Give-away:

9 thoughts on “Author Interview: Junying Kirk – Journey to the West Trilogy

  1. Thanks a bunch for hosting my book tour on your fab site, Jane. Really enjoyed chatting with you about my books and writing, as well as fun questions towards the end of the interview.

    Really pleased to get to know you through your work, and I very much look forward to sharing a real cup of coffee with you soon – after all, caffeine is not a crime :).

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