“Better to be a dog in peaceful times, than a human in a time of war.” Feng Menglong, 1627, Stories to Awaken the World.

This, and I won’t attempt the Mandarin (my Mandarin, sketchily acquired in a distance learning course when I was an undergraduate, is strictly limited to "Hello", "Thank you", "I love you" and "Could I buy that cabbage, please?"…), is apparently the closest that anyone can find to a Chinese saying in any way equivalent to the much bandied-about so-called "ancient Chinese curse": "May you live in interesting times."

The use of this phrase, and the reference to it as Chinese, apparently dates from an English diplomat writing from Beijing in the 1930s, and it has gained such currency partly, I would guess, because of the elegant ambiguity of the phrase itself, and partly because it plays into the whole Western mythology of the devilishly clever, inscrutable Chinese. It makes for a much better story than Feng Menglong’s wise, well-observed, depressing little epigram.

Where do your stories come from?

Often there is a kernel of something heard, seen or read which will catch our attention as writers and then take root in our imaginations, demanding that we notice it. Questions dance around like butterflies (or maybe more like pre-schoolers) – how did that happen? What did she feel when…? Why did he…? and suddenly there’s the whole mishmash of a story demanding to be written.

Do let us know if you’ve had a particularly offbeat or striking spark which caught the tinder of your imagination and set your writing on fire.

In the meantime, enjoy the magazine, and enjoy (is that the right word?) your writing.


Sarah Williams