Steve Noyes drew on his time in China to write his first novel
The cultural divide between Canada and China is separated by millennia, a gap that can only find a common connection through love. Or can it?
Steve Noyes, a poet, writer, government policy analyst and one-time mill labourer, has transformed his time teaching English in China into his first novel, It is Just That Your House is so Far Away.
Noyes weaves a story about a 40-ish Canadian who, while drifting around China, meets a young Chinese woman who lives north of Beijing.
The story draws from his own experiences, but is not quite an autobiography, he says. It explores a relationship confronted with impenetrable and ancient cultural rules, liberal Western ideals and the vast distance between homelands. Kind of a Romeo and Juliet meets China emerging as a global superpower.
The story flows into the back alleys of Beijing, as Noyes tries to give readers a glimpse into the aspects of Chinese peoples’ lives that remain hidden from foreigners. Lovers try to push through the cultural barriers and confront the realities of managing the geographic divide.
“It’s a love story about a Canadian man and a Chinese woman and there are huge complications,” Noyes says. “Ultimately it’s not successful, it doesn’t end in marriage, but they learn about themselves and each other.”
Esquimalt resident Noyes, 50, has lived, worked and travelled in China three times since the mid-1990s. In 2007 he lived there with his wife and daughter, while teaching English.
He’s fascinated with the Mandarin language and has studied it for 10 years, long enough to read simple texts and “do daily transactions in Chinese.”
He wrote the novel to explore the relationship and cultural clashes from Chinese and Canadian points of view.
“I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve figured the Chinese out,” he says. “You can’t do that without being fluent in the language and living there many years. There is a public face and a private face. It’s hard getting below the surface.”
Noyes has published six books of poetry, but It is Just That Your House is so Far Away – a line borrowed from a Confucianist saying – is his first published novel.
Diving into fiction rather than poetry is “pure economics,” he admits.
“I realized if you want to be a writer by vocation and reach a wider audience, you have a better chance writing fiction. I also started having ideas for stories that were larger than could be put in a narrative poem or a short story.”
The book was finished in 2000 but only went to press last year. Mirroring the experience of many writers, it took a long time to find a publisher, Noyes says. In the meantime, he started his next novel, again involving a blend of Chinese and North American cultures, although with a darker theme surrounding the end of the world.
“I had given up and started working on another novel,” he says.
“Out of the blue I got an e-mail from Signature Editions. They asked if it was still available. I had forgotten I’d sent them something. It was a nice surprise.”