Nottingham Writers’ Studio Awards 2018


Rhiannon is surprised and delighted to be nominated for the Novelist of the Year category at Nottingham Writers’ Studio. What a startling range of talented writing across all categories! Good luck to everyone and thank you for the nomination.

The Last Vicereine @ Zee Jaipur Literary Festival at the British Library


I will be talking about Lady Edwina Mounbatten, the charismatic last Vicereine of British India, at the ZEE Jaipur Festival at the British Library from 1.15pm to 2.15pm on Sunday the 10th June 2018.  With Alex von Tunzelmann and Barney White-Spunner in conversation with Sunil Khilnani.

Tickets available from the British Library. Do join us!

Tamil language rights to The Last Vicereine sold


I am delighted to announce that the Tamil language rights to The Last Vicereine have been sold.  Estimated publication date, January 2019.

All rights enquires for The Last Vicereine to A. Pant at Penguin Random House, India

Jawahar’s love letter to Edwina


On the 20th June 1948 the outgoing Governor General of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten and his wife, Edwina, held a farewell reception at Government House.  At the banquet, Jawaharlal Nehru made a speech in Edwina’s honour.  Some may find it uncomfortable to read or remember. History is never clear cut or simple.  But it is worth repeating an excerpt from it here: Nehru’s tribute to the woman who had been the “First Lady” of India for over a year and whom he had loved.

“The gods or some good fairy gave you beauty and high intelligence, and grace and charm and vitality-great gifts- and she who possesses them is a great lady wherever she goes.  But unto those who have, even more shall be given: and they gave you something that was even rarer than those gifts- the human touch, the love of humanity, the urge to serve those who suffer and who are in distress. And this amazing mixture of qualities results in a radiant personality and a healer’s touch.

Wherever you have gone you have brought solace, and you have brought hope and encouragement.  Is it surprising, therefore, that the people of India should love you and look up to you as one of themselves and should grieve that you are going? Hundreds of thousands have seen you personally in various camps and other places and in hospitals, and hundreds of thousands will be sorrowful at the news that you have gone.”

Edwina Mountbatten with Jawaharlal Nehru and Mr Rajagopalachari on leaving India 21st June 1948

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang Reviews Karen Kao’s The Dancing Girl and The Turtle


Mercilessly brutal, terrifying, compelling

When Song Anyi arrives in Shanghai she is already broken.   After her parents die her Uncle tells her to wait at home until he sends for her.  But tempted by thoughts of freedom and bright lights in Shanghai, she disobeys and embarks on the journey alone.  En route she is raped by soldiers and left for dead.

Delivered by farmers to her Uncle’s house in Shanghai, outwardly at least Anyi is nursed back to health.  Her cousin, Cho, falls in love with her but Anyi is offered in marriage to a much older man.  To cope with the shame of her rape, for which her Aunt blames her, she meets pain with pain, and starts to self harm. Determined to escape the arranged marriage and be mistress of her own fate, she has few options.   Constrained by custom and social traditions, she turns to prostitution, specialising in violence.

Anyi becomes the Dancing Girl and her lover, Cho, the Turtle, the name for hangers on at the Metropole Gardens where she works.  The two of them are trapped in the complex world of 1930s Shanghai: fighting to survive the depravities in dance halls, gambling houses, and opium dens against the political back drop of Shanghai’s international concessions, the gangsters, and the coming war with the Japanese.

Kao writes in a minimalist present tense, each word meticulously chosen and exquisitely placed in the manner of a poet. The rhythm of her prose was reminiscent of spoken Chinese.  She carefully manages multiple points of view to good effect.

At first the violence is hinted at, masked, not entirely spelt out, but as the book progresses and the characters sink into more and more depravity and despair, Kao does not shrink from telling it like it was.  The real power of this novel lies in the gradual unveiling of the brutal realities.

The historical setting too is well done. At times I would have liked to have seen more made of the political tensions around the battle for the future of China.  This might have heightened the suspense. However, I appreciate that where to draw the line on historical background is always a tricky one for a historical novelist.  On balance Kao has probably got it right.

The Dancing Girl and The Turtle shocked and horrified me with its brutality. But guided by Kao’s skilful narration, I had the courage to read on.  Every page I searched for a glimmer of compassion.  Just at the end when I thought there would be none, I was rewarded by the genuine friendship between Anyi and the “negro” bouncer at the gambling club.

I almost lost the plot in the chaotic denouement, but then the world of drug addicts, Japanese intelligence officers, gamblers and prostitutes who have lost the will to live, does not volunteer happy endings.

Karen Kao is a master of the Noir. There has got to be more to come?

THE DANCING GIRL AND THE TURTLE (2017) is published by Linen Press.

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang is a UK based author.  THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA was her first novel.





On Will Buckingham’s Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: A Book of Changes, and Being a Nun in my Past Life


Will book cover

‘Travelling without arriving, seeking without expectation of finding; Will Buckingham is a writer and philosopher of great humility and talent. Profoundly spiritual, entrancingly enigmatic, this magical book is about the author’s quest to understand the ancient Chinese art of divination and ultimately himself.’ 

Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang, author of THE WOMAN WHO LOST CHINA, writes about Will Buckingham’s, cycle of stories from The I Ching, SIXTY FOUR CHANCE PIECES, A BOOK OF CHANGES.

It was a summer’s day that was meant to be hot but wasn’t, and I was off to Leicester to meet writer and philosopher, Will Buckingham, in a Turkish café.  I like Leicester.  It has a number of top attractions; the Creative Writing Department at De Montfort University, Halidram’s for Indian sweets, Sufi music, mangoes in season fresh from Pakistan, and the medieval Prince of The Car Park himself, King Richard III, who was recently re-buried in the Cathedral.  But the thing about Leicester, is every time I go there, I get lost.  And as I was driving round the roundabouts,  it occurred to me that reading Will’s wonderful new book Sixty-Four Chance Pieces, A Book of Changes, is like rather like going to Leicester.  You know you are going to get lost, and therein lies the joy!

The I Ching or Book of Changes is an ancient Chinese divination text and the oldest of the Chinese classics. Parts of the book are over three thousand years old.  The divination elements of the book are made up of sixty four hexagrams constructed of broken and unbroken lines.   At some point in the past each of the hexagrams was given a line statement, a sort of name and enigmatic explanation, and over the centuries commentaries were added.  Eventually the book came to be read as a work of philosophy, a jumping off point for greater metaphysical and moral discussions.

As a student of Chinese, I remember being perplexed by The I Ching.  I retreated to the Indian Reading Room in the Bodleian Library with its inspirational views over Oxford’s dreaming spires, and read Arthur Waley’s scholarly analyses, but wasn’t much the wiser.   Then one day in Taiwan I went to see a fortune teller in a temple. He looked long and hard into my young face, threw and broke his divination sticks a number of times, spent a long time huffing and puffing over his charts, and told me that I had been a nun in my past life.  And it dawned on me that probably no one really understood The I Ching at all, not even my professors.  Furthermore, when it came to the ancient Chinese texts with their dragons, ritual bells, blood sacrifices, wandering philosophers and sage kings, the ‘thicker’ one was as a student, the better.

Will mug shot

Will Buckingham

“All very interesting,” I hear you say, “but hardly the subject matter for a good read.” But you would be wrong. The genius of Will Buckingham’s ‘novel of sorts’ is he uses each as the hexagrams as a starting point to imagine fresh possibilities and construct a series of short stories and meditations.  In so doing he creates something unique, modern, accessible, and really rather special.

Since Chance Changes has no linear format you can start to read at any point; in the beginning if you are conventional, in the middle, at the end or anywhere in between.  You can even follow the instructions on how to you use straws and coins for divination, and find a starting point that way. I keep the book by the Aga and dip in when the fancy takes me, often between putting on the hot pot, chopping up the vegetables or folding the ironing.  Thoroughly researched, richly imagined and full of humour, each of the stories is an adventure.   Every day I have a new favourite.  Today’s is The Taming Power of the Small, which tells of the small god who lives between the flowerpots on the windowsill of the author’s house.  I thought a lot about this story a few months ago when my India visa was held up by fickle gods of bureaucracy who considered I might be subversive because I had written a novel.  Perhaps it is, in fact, The I Ching that is responsible for the proliferation of bureaucracy and ministries of circumlocution worldwide?

“I do not believe him.” (The window sill god) “But you can never be certain. So whenever I pass, I make him offerings of flowers, grains of rice, small coloured pebbles, seashells and the occasional raisin.  Just in case.”

Travelling without arriving, seeking without expectation of finding; Will Buckingham is a writer and philosopher of great humility and talent. Profoundly spiritual, entrancingly enigmatic, this magical book is about the author’s quest to understand the ancient Chinese art of divination and ultimately himself.