10 Minutes With…best-selling author R. F. Kuang

Our summer reading list is just getting longer. And at least one of R. F. Kuang’s novels should definitely be high up on your reading list.

Especially her latest novel, Yellowface.

When she jetted into Dublin this summer, VIP Magazine caught up with the author.

Here’s how we spent 10 minutes with R. F. Kuang.

Hey Rebecca. How are you? Is this your first time in Ireland?

It’s my second time, I came to Dublin for WorldsCon in 2019 but I only really saw the inside of my hotel and the convention centre. [Laughs]

Yellowface, your new book, which is obviously very different from your other books. What was your inspiration behind that?

I just love trying out new forms of storytelling and people keep asking me, you know, why did you pick such a drastic switch but it feels very natural. I get bored really easily and I didn’t want to write epic fantasy forever so I started writing historical fantasy. Then I didn’t want to do that again for a few more years, so I switched to contemporary psychological thrillers.

I read really broadly and I love authors who are so very different from each other. I just have fun setting creative challenges for myself in every new project.

You wrote your first book in 2016 and now you’re now working on your 6th book?

Yeah, I guess that’s right, that’s how the math adds up.

I know it must be like taxing to write like you said epic fantasy, historic fantasy, this very intense thriller. How have you managed to get them all out?

I mean it is taxing and exhausting but there’s also no better feeling than sitting down and being alone with the many scripts and just seeing the words come together and feeling like you’ve made something.

Your first book series, The Poppy Wars, is huge on TikTok. How has the reaction been and how do you handle people like knowing your work?

I just try not to think about it very much. I think I’m in a really healthy place about it, I don’t go looking for reviews. Obviously when my team sends me the really nice ones I’ll read them but otherwise I don’t go looking on TikTok or Twitter. I don’t think that’s healthy, I don’t think writers should.

I think humans were just not engineered to be able to process what thousands and thousands of people are saying about us so it’s best not to know. For me the most important thing I can present about any point is focus and I just have so much to work on so If I’m letting anything invade my brain space than its just a distraction it’s not helpful. So I find that the only way to sustain the focus and energy to work on the next thing is just not to care very much about reviews.

You mention that you read very broadly, so what I suppose are the milestone books, what are the books that kind of made you?

That’s like an impossible question because there are so many, I think recently an answer I gave was Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book which I really love. I read it in elementary school and you just really feel the power of storytelling when you’re reading Neil Gaiman stuff. You feel really transported, I got tingles when I was reading it. I think that’s one milestone for me but it’s one of so many.

When you started writing did you think right I’m gonna write this book and it’s gonna be my job or did you just sit down and you were like I have to get these thoughts out on paper?

It was more so the latter, I didn’t really know anybody who had a writing career and I hadn’t really envisioned it for myself. I still don’t really know what my career will look like in 20-30 years from now but all I know is in the moment is that I love writing and I love being alone with my manuscripts so I’ll keep doing it as long as they let me.

You have published five books in quick succession. But are there drafts just hidden around the place that you’ve abandoned? 

Yeah, I got like 15,000 words into a book last year I ended up stopping work on, I just didn’t understand where it was going and it didn’t seem right. I wasn’t having fun working on it and yeah maybe some of the characters and the ideals will show up in future drafts but I think it’s good to know when you step away from a project instead of forcing it.

What advice would you give to aspiring authors about the industry?

I think one good piece of advice is no matter how much the industry changes just be kind and find community. Everybody’s so insecure when they’re early in their career and I know because I was terribly insecure and it’s easy to believe you’re everybody else’s competition. That’s just not how reading works you know readers aren’t reading you as competition with one another. Readers are just excited that there are more stories out.

I think social media makes it so easy to project onto each other and like form negative opinions of others who don’t have any basis but your life in the industry will be so much happier if you’re able to look past all of that and make friends.

The most important thing is to be kind, there are so many people who are dismissive or rude to others because they don’t perceive that they have value. It’s a very cynical networking mindset but this industry is so volatile the author you refuse to talk to today might be the bestseller tomorrow. You know there is just no need to play high school games it’s just best to always treat everybody with respect and kindness.

How would you spend your perfect day?

I would go hiking for hours and nobody would be able to reach me until I got home

Who are your three ideal dinner guests?

I mean I guess my fiance and two of our closest friends but that’s kind of a boring answer

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Your ability as a writer will only extend as far as your understanding of other people.

R.F. Kuang with Digital Editor Bronwyn O’Neill

Who is the person you look up to the most?

In the world, I don’t know because there are so many people I admire for specific things that they’ve done but there is nobody that I’m kind of like I want to replicate every part of your life, I guess I look up to Suzanne Parks.

What is a film that you wish you could erase from your brain and watch for the first time again?

The Spiderverse Movies.

If you couldn’t be an author right now what job would you be doing?

Maybe a yoga teacher, I really love yoga classes they’re so relaxing and you feel so good and I do want to do like a yoga teacher training programme at some point when I have time.

Where is your favourite place on earth

Edinburgh in May

And before we let you go, what is on your bucket list?

I mean there’s all these seven-day walking tours in the UK and I’ve only done several hour-long hikes but I’ve never just hiked all day long for weeks straight.

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