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Wojciech Chmielarz x Cai Jun: Horror, Thrillers and Crime – Beyond the Genre

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At 5 p.m. on November 15th, 2020, the forth event of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival was hold online. The Polish writer Wojciech Chmielarz, together with the Chinese writer Cai Jun, had a discussion under the topic of “Horror, Thrillers and Crime – Beyond the Genre”.


In this online share, both of the writers discussed about their works, genres and sub-genres, how to tackle with the challenges in writing and how to keep creating hits. The prolific Polish writer Wojciech Chmielarz is known for his crime novels, with his works also involved in psychological thriller, horror and dark genres. At the same time, the legendary Chinese writer Cai Jun, with his unique writing style on terror and suspense, has attracted a large group of loyal fans from home and abroad. The host of the conversation is Zhang Weina.


Wojciech Chmielarz (born in 1984 in Gliwice), one of the most popular Polish crime writers, arrived at the world of literature through journalism – he was editor-in-chief of the website dealing with security issues, terrorism, organized crime, and economic intelligence. At the beginning of his writing career, he created the series about Commissioner Jakub Mortka. For his Takeover, Chmielarz received the prestigious ‘Nagroda Wielkiego Kalibru’ award in 2015 for the best Polish crime novel. In recent years, the author has changed his writing interests a little by moving away from the crime novel to a moral and psychological thriller. It was a good move: Zmijowisko (2018), Rana (2019) and Wyrwa (2020) turned out to be bestsellers.


Cai Jun, who was born in Shanghai, is the most popular suspense novelist in China and the editor-in-chief of Suspense World magazine and website, and a member of the Chinese Writers Association. With wild imagination, fascinating suspense and strict logic, he devotes to creating the psychological thriller which belongs to Chinese people. He won the Bertelsmann People’s Literature Award for a Newcomer, and his representative works include The Nineteenth Floor of Hell, The Barren Village Inn, Mortal World, Revolving Door etc.


At the beginning of the conversation, they answered each other’s questions. When asked about the target readers, Chmielarz said, “in Poland, most of his readers are females. So sometimes I will write from the perspective of females.” When asked about the contemporary interests of the Polish writers, Chmielarz answered, “we consider more about the problems we meet up to date. The new generation will concern more on the modern society and the current issues happened in Poland and in Europe.”


When it turned to Cai Jun, he first introduced “the genres and sub-genres of the suspense novels as well as its development process in China”. He divided the suspense novels into several sub-genres as detective, reasoning, crime, horror, thriller, Gothic, etc., and he also mentioned the change of his writing styles from the horror, thriller genre from early times of his writing career to the crime genre with his own thoughts to the social issues in the middle period and to now.


Cai Jun had a review on his writing career. “In the spring of 2001, my first 100,000-word long novel was published on, which might be the first long suspense novels published on the Internet. I suddenly found that I had got a large number of readers who were generous with their praise. In the following year, Virus was published as a physical book. This was a successful intrusion because at that time in China it was almost a blank area but it had already blossomed all over the world as colorful as the Amazon. The intrusion made me exhilarated like a horse freely running in the world. From 2001, I have written more than 30 long novels and most of them are suspense novels.


To Chmielarz’s surprise, after hearing Cai Jun’s answers, he felt that they shared the similar experiences. Not only in China, but in Poland the suspense novels also went through a period of neglect before it slowly came to readers. Then he briefly introduced how he was influenced by the European literatures and the outstanding contemporary writers in Poland on crime and suspense genre. At the same time, Cai Jun also mentioned several names who greatly influenced the Chinese writers like Seicho Matsumoto, Keigo Higashino from Japan, Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie from Europe and America. He also thought that although Chinese writers were influenced by them, they should still find their own writing styles.


Both of the writers also shared their views on the theme of this year’s China-Europe International Literary Festival – “Recovery/Reflection”. Cai Jun asked, “I know the pandemic wreaks havoc in Europe and it may become the most serious event this year. As a writer, a novelist, I would like to get information from Mr. Chmielarz on whether the pandemic has affected and will still influenced our creation, and whether the pandemic in Poland will affect to the literary world in Poland.” Chmielarz answered, “Actually, we are still in the pandemic. We recently had 20,000 new cases in Poland, so the situation is still serious. Besides, the outbreak of the pandemic also proves that people still need to read more, need the input of culture and need good stories because we need spiritual comforts under such circumstances. For me, I am still writing crime novels and I am not quite sure whether the pandemic will influence my writings.”


In the Q&A session, a reader asked the two writers, “Before starting a new suspense novels, especially those with multiple structures and plots, is it necessary to have a complete and thorough outline in advance?” Chmielarz said, “I definitely will plan and prepare in advance before I write a crime novel. To surprise readers at the end, the author first has to get the layout right. But the fact is that what prepares before the writing is not the final version because during the writing, there may be new inspirations and changes.” Cai Jun added, “I agree with Chmielarz, I have revised the outline more than 20 times for my latest novel.”


The China-Europe International Literary Festival has been hold for 4 years. Every year, the Chinese writers, together with the writers from Europe, discussed the creation of literature works and provided the public with a series of high-quality conversations. The 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival will continue to give readers inspirations and reflections with the spark ideas coming from the conversations between Chinese and European writers.


At the end of the event, the two writers extended their warm greetings to each other and were very happy to be part of the conversation. They wished the future of the crime and suspense novels would be better, and they were looking forward to the reunion in the literary spring after the pandemic.


By Zong Cheng

Translated into English by Sarah Sa