I’ve always had a story arc in my mind for Ava and Uncle, but it was one that moved their lives forward, never back. It was never part of my plan to write a prequel. Then in September 2012, at the Kitchener, Ontario literary event called Word on the Street, I was approached by a man who had read all the books in the series.
“Have you ever thought of writing a prequel?” he asked. “I’d love to know how Ava and Uncle first connected.”
“That’s a great idea,” I said.
Then I began to remember other readers at other events asking similar questions. The idea of a prequel took root.
In the winter of 2012–2013, as I was finishing the edits to The Scottish Banker of Surabaya and writing The Two Sisters of Borneo, I found myself distracted by thoughts about Ava’s early life. She was in her mid-twenties, just out of school, living in a tiny apartment in Richmond Hill, and struggling to establish her career. Then dialogue began to pop into my head as I was driving or lying in bed. Uncle and Ava were speaking to each other for the very first time. It was their initial meeting and conversation, and they were feeling each other out, tip-toeing towards the formation of a partnership.
I didn’t have to think about how they actually met. I knew that, and had always known that. Fleshing out the details of their lives at that time, though, was something I hadn’t given great thought to until that meeting in Kitchener. After Kitchener, it became a bit of an obsession and I decided I had to write it down.
I don’t remember exactly when I raised the idea with my agent and my publisher, House of Anansi Press, but their reactions were immediate and positive, and my plans for the summer changed.
Every book I’ve written has a life of its own. Length is never pre-determined. The storyline drives each book to its logical conclusion. So it was with The Dragon Head of Hong Kong, which ended up being the shortest by far of any of the books. But in my mind its novella length doesn’t diminish the strength of the story. In fact, in some ways the simplicity of the plotline allows for a brighter light to shine on the characters of Ava and Uncle. And what great characters they have, forged by lives and experiences that couldn’t be more different but in perfect harmony when bonded.
When the manuscript was finished, we began to talk about a publishing schedule. Eric Jensen, the VP of Marketing at Anansi, made a convincing case that we time the publication with the release of The Two Sisters of Borneo. The books are almost linked, and the more I thought about it, the more sense it made.
Then we talked about format, and the idea of publishing the prequel initially as an e-book was put forward. Then the idea of serializing The Dragon Head of Hong Kong emerged, and I loved that concept. In fact, I had wanted to suggest that I write a book in serial form, but thought the idea might be too off the wall. Now, with The Dragon Head, I could go off the wall.
I’m not sure who had the idea of offering the serialized version free for a limited time. I do know I embraced it. The concept of the prequel had come, after all, from a reader, and without him and the support of other readers the opportunity to write it in the first place wouldn’t have existed.
I think of The Dragon Head of Hong Kong as a small way for me to say thanks to that man in Kitchener, and to all of the rest of you who have welcomed Ava Lee and Uncle into your hearts and minds.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.