The festival of families


This week in East Asia – when the moon is its roundest and brightest on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar - we celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Traditionally, the festival gives thanks for the harvest, but it is also a time to appreciate harmonious unions and families coming together.

A timely coincidence, because my in-laws are visiting from the UK. We’ve been experiencing Hong Kong tourist hotspots including the bright lights of Victoria Harbour, the Big Buddha that commands a view over Lantau Island, and a boat ride to the remote island of Po Toi.

During every adventure we have witnessed other families – smiling, arguing, laughing, but nonetheless spending time together. This same week, I attended the funeral of a talented friend who left us too soon. Her estranged family arrived from opposite sides of the world to mourn her loss, each in their own way but united in grief.

The tensions between the family members stretch vertically and horizontally through the ages

Families. They unite us and they tear us apart. My first novel is one of a trilogy covering four generations of familial shenanigans. The tensions between the family members stretch vertically and horizontally through the ages, like a delicate web that masks its strength. Families make for complicated dynamics, and I am grateful to Beth Miller – author of When We Were Sisters - for her thoughts on how to deal with families when writing fiction:

“The key thing I do when writing is to focus on the dynamics between each of the various members. If you have four people in a family, you have at least eleven possible configurations of relationship, all with their different complexities, secrets and tensions. How does what A say or do impact on B? How do things change if C comes on the scene? The writer here is like a family therapist. Both writer and therapist have to tease out the dynamics, work out how each pairing, each triad, each quartet, changes depending on who’s there, what new stuff they’re bringing, their shared and separate histories.”

Gotham Writers provides helpful guidance on determining which family member should be the main protagonist and how to write different POVs to tell the broader family story. At the same time, it warns of the risk of more than one character taking centre stage and diluting the focus and cohesiveness.

Over the centuries, brightly lit lanterns have become symbolic of the Mid Autumn Festival. Just like family members, lanterns come in all shapes, sizes and colours. As my family sat on the rooftop, and marvelled at the glorious full moon and the array of colourful lanterns bobbing in unison in the warm sea breeze, we chatted about everything and nothing, and were grateful for our differences and for our unity.

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