'Sunken eyes and a down turned mouth are offset by thick, wiry hair, which springs from his parting in no particular direction. But when he smiles, warmth rushes to his features, giving him a mischievous look.
'His outfit is well-worn casual. Jeans and a comfy woollen jumper stand out against the sophisticated setting of the lobby bar at Liangmaqiao’s Kempinski Hotel. Although his books have sold over ten million copies, Yu Hua is no celebrity writer. His (slightly mud-caked) boots are firmly on the ground.
'In the lobby, there’s a sense of occasion in the air. The author has not given an interview in over a year. Since the publication of his most recent novel, The Seventh Day (Alan H Barr’s English translation of which was released last month by Penguin), he has refused all media requests, both Chinese and international. Surely, that’s the last thing an author should do after a new release?
'‘I don’t want to be interviewed again for just one book, it’s too tiring,’ Yu says flatly between sips of Coke. ‘I think that once a book is published, [the author] ought to listen more to what the readers have to say, rather than rush to speak himself.’
'It seems strange that the author would caution against being too self-referential, given that in 2013 he signed a contract with the New York Times for a monthly column of his musings on Chinese society. But perhaps there is another reason. In China, the media represents the State, and Yu Hua has not always had an easy relationship with the authorities.'