Song

By Michelle Jana Chan

The story of a young boy who travels half-way around the world — from China to British Guiana — hoping to strike it rich

Non fiction
115% funded
257 supporters
Published

Publication date: Summer 2018

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Set in the post-slavery years of the 19th-century, this is a story about a young boy, Song who travels from China to British Guiana to seek his fortune. He begins his new life as an indentured labourer on a sugar plantation, eventually finding success as a gold prospector. Yet not all his dreams are realised; he never succeeds in sharing his wealth with his family back in China, nor is he accepted into the ruling colonial class. He is between places, between peoples, and increasingly aware that his circumstances of birth carry more weight than his accomplishments or good deeds. He will forever live as an outsider.

In many ways, Song’s story is a contemporary one. He travels half-way around the world searching for a better life. We live today during the greatest movement of people made up of individuals such as Song. For many of these economic migrants, as it was for Song, they never find a place they can truly call home.

Through my father’s line I am descended from indentured Chinese immigrants who journeyed to British Guiana in the mid-1800s driven by the desire to improve their lot. My father grew up there but left in the 1960s — searching for a better life in England. I began my career writing for Newsweek magazine in New York before moving in the 1990s to China — where there seemed to be the most opportunities for a young journalist. My migration, inadvertently, brought my family story full circle.

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  • Michelle Jana Chan avatar

    Michelle Jana Chan

    Michelle Jana Chan is an award-winning journalist who began her career with Newsweek magazine in New York, Beijing and London, before moving into radio and then television as a news producer for CNN. She is now travel editor of Vanity Fair, Contributing Editor at Conde Nast Traveller and the BBC’s presenter of ‘Global Guide’. She writes regular columns for Conde Nast Traveller (Where I want to be right now) and for The Daily Telegraph (Action Packed), and is the Telegraph Travel’s Asia Expert. She also writes for the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, Travel & Leisure and Tatler.

    In 2016, Michelle was the Travel Media Awards’ Travel Writer of the Year, the AITO Travel Writer of the Year and Latin American Travel Association’s Writer of the Year.

    She is a Performance Coach accredited by ARVON/NAWE with a focus on performance in writing, and is teaching an travel writing course at Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre.

    Her writing has been included in three anthologies: travels along the Silk Road in Last Call for the Dining Car; the essay Identity in a Virtual World in the collection Mirror on America exploring US pop culture, and a work of fiction in 222 autobiographies of Robert Kaplan.

  • The crowd started to grow agitated. Song felt someone shove him from behind. There was pushing and shouting as they were hustled towards the carts. A family was being split. An elder brother was yelling. The Englishman was telling him to shut up but the brother was panicking. He pushed the Englishman away from his family. Three Englishmen moved in and one hit him with the butt of his shotgun. The brother slumped to the ground. Everyone fell silent climbing quickly on to the carts.

    “Name?” A man was taking note of each passenger. He looked down at Song. “Name?”

    “Song.”

    “Forty-three,” the man said.

    Song used the spokes of the wheel to climb into the back of the cart. They pulled away. The bumping of the wheels on the uneven road felt good after the swaying motion of the sea. Song hung on to the side studying the tall trees and spotting colourful squawking birds flying in pairs. He sniffed the dusty heat of the earth and the freshness of leaves. A man rode by in the other direction on a bicycle with a basket of okra and squash. There were odd ramshackle houses and children playing out front. Some pointed at the cart. Song and the others stared back unsmiling.

    The roads widened and there were trees planted neatly on both sides of the street. The grand whitewashed homes resembled those Song had seen in Guangzhou with their large windows and wraparound porches. There were rattan lounge-chairs and knotted hammocks on either side of the front door with gardens of rolling green lawns and beds of red and pink flowers. Song saw a young man in sky-blue clothes trimming a bush with clippers and thought how he would like such work.
    On the pavements women dressed in soft colours carrying parasols walked with men in pale suits wearing hats. They looked away as Song’s cart rolled past.

    The tree-lined streets narrowed and houses bordering the road became more modest. Paint was peeling off the walls. The front-yards were filled with junk. Men slept in hammocks in the shade. An old woman rocked in a chair.

    As the cart rolled on the sugar plantations came into view, just like Song had imagined. The cane fields spread out as far as he could see, rising and dipping like a swell, revealing huge stretches of cultivated land beyond. The sugar cane was tall and green and dense. It whispered with the same sound Zhu Wei had described. Song allowed himself a smile. It was as beautiful as he had hoped.

    The cart stopped at a clearing beside the road where there were several wooden buildings. Song was taken to the one furthest away.

    Inside there was a row of bed mats running along each wall with a number painted above. At the foot of the mats was a metal bowl. Song looked for his number 43 and lay his jacket down on the mat.

    Read more...
  • 11th February 2019 Coming up/talks this month/Thursday 14th and Wednesday 27th February

    To my Song supporters... 

    Song has gone forth steadily...and I'm grateful to you all for that. For buying Song, for reading Song, for sharing Song. Thank you. 

    Meantime, I have a few (free) events coming up in London in case you are able to join. 

    Firstly this week -- an alternative Valentine's Day: Voices of the Enslaved: Tales of Love and Longing with an incredible line-up on either side…

    16th August 2018 Reviews!!

    What a wonderful wondrous month it has been. I still can't believe Song is out there and being read. Sounds obvious perhaps, but not from here -- in this vulnerable, post-publishing silent bubble. Song is in the hands of readers. Joy.  

    I've put together quotes and links from reviews. 

    Another update soon! Michelle 

    "A strong picaresque element powers this saga." 

    — The Daily Mail 

    29th June 2018 Song hits the bookshops

    It's just past midnight and I can now say, in the past tense, that Song is published. But I still can't quite believe it. 

    I was passing Heywood Hill today and poppped in -- just in case. And there was Song on the shop's bookshelf so I knew it was for real. I had a couple of photos sent to me during the day adding to the body of evidence. One from Imo Denny at Unbound -- thanks Imo! 



    In…

    27th June 2018 Tomorrow!!

    Song is about to launch. Tomorrow!

    Thank you so, so much for all your support getting me to this point. On the brink of.  

    We are mid-way through the Blog Tour, which is a daily online review starting on Monday and continuing all week. Do follow the bloggers to read the reviews. And I'll be retweeting them all @michellejchan. 

    Here are the first two

    https://thepaperbackpiano.wordpress…

    4th June 2018 A month to go before the official launch date

    Hello to all Song supporters!

    Am heading to Unbound on Wednesday to sign books. It feels like it's a-happening now. Soon after, the publisher should be sending books out to all supporters. Silghtly earlier than they'll be appaearing in bookshops. 

    Meanwhile I thought I'd send news of a few events, etc. 

    This one in Gloucestershire on June 25th. 

    http://www.calcot.co/event/michelle-jana-chan…

    18th April 2018 Song is in my arms!

    Dear friends, 

    The first advance copies of Song are out... and I have one in my arms. 

    I'm surprised how good it feels. After numerous to-and-fro pdfs and attachments and loose-leaf manuscripts, I thought holding the book would be only mildly satisfying. LIke it is when I've edited a magazine. But it is nothing like that. I fell quiet. Smiled. Nodded. Held it close. Relief, perhaps, was the…

    25th March 2018 100 days to go

    Dear all, 

    I have a publishing date! July 5th. Although Song should be in the bookshops perhaps a week earlier. And your advance copies should be in your hands about a month prior to that. 

    Backstage, we're now trying to push the book. Hoping for reviews. Hoping for namechecks. Hoping for interest in the themes of the book -- the timeless tale of the economic migrant, and its strong thread of…

    28th January 2018 One year since Song became fully funded

    Dear all,

    Happy New Year, if it's not too late at the end of January.

    It's been a while since my last update because there's not been a whole lot going on. Corrections were being incorporated. Jacket art was finalised (see attached -- although the tagline will change). What do you think? I hope you like it. We're now plotting a marketing plan. Backers should receive their copy of Song in May…

    21st November 2017 A few days to go till the Supporters' List closes...

    An exciting update... 

    I hand-delivered the annotated proofs to Unbound last week. That's a print out of the manuscript -- not bound and in an A4 format, yet resembling how a page will look. It was covered in my scribbles making last-minute tweaks and corrections. Imogen Denny, my wonderfully rigorous and perceptive Unbound editor, assures that she can read my handwriting, which I find extraordinary…

    29th September 2017 PUBLISHING DATE, and more

    To all my backers,

    Do hope everybody's had a great summer...

    It's been a busy head-down few months trying to get Song into good shape. The manuscript has been edited (rewrites/reworks) by the incredible Liz Garner; copyedited (to make it bang-on accurate) by the astute Miranda Ward, and now I'm looking at dust jacket designs (presently verdant, lush imagery). It feels almost tangible now.

    23rd February 2017 WHERE I WANT TO BE RIGHT NOW

    Dear all,

    I write a weekly column for Conde Nast Traveller and this week is about the rainforest of Guyana -- the setting for  much of the novel. 

    More here http://www.cntraveller.com/recommended/culture/where-to-go-right-now

    Also, I wanted to update everyone on Song's progress. As you might know, the book is already written but happily I have a few sessions with an excellent editor... and…

    28th January 2017 The next chapter

    Song is fully funded. Pinch me. I can't quite believe it. Thank you to everyone for getting me to this point. I confess I'm as nervous as I am excited. 

    The view from here 

    This image is from a few years back when I was making a short film for the BBC on Guyana. I climbed to the top of a hill to capture the view above the rainforest canopy in Iwokrama. When I think back to that trip, I start…

    23rd January 2017 Into the 80s

    80 percent! Thank you so much to everyone for their support. Unbound tell me that Song is their best performing book of fiction in terms of pace of pledging.

    What a rollercoaster weekend it has been. Friday was unthinkable. Saturday, some solace. 

    It's Monday here (on the banks of the Ganges, in the foothills of the Himalayas) so I'll be refreshing my weekly column. This past week it was…

    9th January 2017 Happy 2017

    Happy New Year!

    It's a month since Unbound launched Song and today we reached 60 percent of the target. Thank you to everyone for helping us reach this milestone. 

    My last column for Conde Nast Traveller -- 'Where I want to be right now' -- was one of reflection, wondering about what went right last year, what went wrong. And musing on plans, hopes and dreams. For me, so much of 2017 is about…

    22nd December 2016 Almost half-way

    A big thank you to everybody who's pledged. It's not yet two weeks and we're nearly half-way there. THANK YOU. 

    I've had some press to help me on my way (thank you, Conde Nast Traveller).

    And I'd be grateful if any of you might be willing to share the link: http://www.cntraveller.com/recommended/video/song-michelle-jana-chan

    In case you might want to read some of my writing over the holidays…

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  • Richard Price
    Richard Price asked:

    As Book Review Editor of New West Indian Guide, how do I request a review copy so we can publish a review for our several thousan readers?

    Michelle Jana Chan
    Michelle Jana Chan replied:

    Hi Richard, lovely to hear from you. Charlotte, my publicist, at charlotte@unbound.co.uk can provide a review copy. Or do let me know your email address if you'd like me to put you in touch. Thanks so much for your interest. Michelle