Category Archive: Peony Author Press

Peony News! New author – Chris Allen

I am so pleased to announce that I have signed with Hong Kong based Peony Literary Agency and will be represented by Marysia Juszczakiewicz, which heralds the next stage of my writing and publishing adventure.

As the founder and owner of Peony Literary Agency, Marysia has extensive experience in sales of worldwide rights both in Asia and outside of Asia. She represents many writers in the region and was the first agent to represent the recent Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan.

Partnering with Peony Literary Agency is exciting. We had been looking for the right fit for my writing aspirations – searching for the literary agent who could make a personal connection, had the professional drive and proven experience as well as a thirst for breaking new authors onto the global stage.

When my wife Sarah and I met Marysia in Sydney we knew immediately that she was the perfect complement to my creative and professional style. Working with Peony on the development of my current and new books in the espionage thriller series featuring Alex Morgan and Intrepid is a matter of great fortune. I am inspired to be delving into the new books in the series with Marysia as part of our growing, strong and collaborative team.

Of the new partnership, Marysia says she is “thrilled to be working with Chris Allen. I was immediately taken with Chris’ Intrepid series – exciting and fast moving, the stories grip to the end.  I am very much looking forward to working with Chris and finding him a global readership in as many platforms as possible!”

For more information about Peony Literary Agency please click here.

For media enquiries: / 0412 939 669

Reclaiming Korean Literature

By Shirley Lee

Engaging with ancient literature has its difficulties. Even if we put aside the unfamiliar details of cultural context, there remain factors such as genre, function, and form that can be daunting for the modern reader. The didactic genre is currently out of fashion (Vergil’s bee-keeping manual in poetic form is not a modern favorite); earnest patriotism expressed through poetry is difficult to take at face value today (Wilfred Owen imbued “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” with an irony not present in Horace’s original); and the epic poem as the preferred literary long-form has long been superseded by the novel.

These factors are perhaps felt more acutely when the ancient literature in question is read in translation, as expectations shift closer to the cultural and literary context of the target language, and away from that of the source.

Although contemporary literature from within North Korea is not ancient, an outside reader attempting to engage with it may be confronted by a similar feeling of alienation to that described above. Not only is the language of North Korean literature enmeshed in its distinctive and poorly understood sociopolitical context, but it is severely constrained to serve a narrow political purpose, grinding unpleasantly with our outsiders’ sense of the role we think literature should play.

We generally expect writers to write in defiance of establishment politics, as suggested by the controversy arising from Nobel laureate Mo Yan’s apparent endorsement of Chinese state censorship. And perhaps Bob Dylan’s lyrics are all the more valued by mainstream opinion because they offered an alternative voice to establishment politics.

DPRK state literature may try to appeal to the outside reader in superficial terms of form: the psychological warfare division employs writers whose attempts at “catchy” lyrics are published on YouTube. Yet in terms of function and purpose, the words are fundamentally interpreted as serving establishment politics.

In trying to understand why the work of North Korean exiles is so accessible and relatively easy to translate with a foreign reader in mind, one answer suggesting itself is this: the key is in the familiarity of function, rather than of form. As North Korean exiles write in defiance of establishment politics, they perhaps write according to the values of literary purpose we are most comfortable with.

The literature of North Korean exiles is written from a viewpoint we feel we can identify with, even if we have not experienced what they have; in this way, it provides a bridge of communication between North Koreans and the rest of the world to speak human-to-human—something almost impossible to accomplish when the language of the regime is the mediator between us and them.

Yet I feel familiarity of function does not wholly account for North Korean exile literature’s relatively docile nature when being rendered into English. The bare language and simplicity of the literary web of allusions in this literature plays a large part, too. Perhaps it is a symptom of severe cultural trauma.

During China’s Cultural Revolution, establishment politicians tried to erase their literary heritage, attempting to replace the vacuum with the Party’s vision of Chinese language and literature. Poets of China’s “New Generation,” still little-known in the West but legendary in China itself, rebelled by turning to the classical Chinese literary canon; and thereby reclaimed a Chinese language and literature that did not belong to the Chinese Communist Party.

Coming from a country where history has been set to begin on the dictator Kim Il Sung’s birth year, where allusions that contradict the official literary lexicon are considered blasphemous, where the politicians’ usurpation of the literary canon is more total than in any other nation on earth, North Korean exiles have an enormous task ahead of them once they leave the system: they must claim an alien heritage as their own, or start anew.

Stripped of language and literature, their voices are nakedly human. I am reminded faintly of fables and folk tales—they are a product of their time, but known and enjoyed and passed down stripped of context, and thus easily transferable through languages and cultures. At the same time, the literature of North Korean exiles is more than fables, because their simplicity is owed more to their context rather than to the nature of their  content. This is true also with modern Korean literature from before the war, which can be glimpsed in “Military Jacket Button” by poet Kim Chul.

For these reasons, the developing creation of a non-state North Korean literature—the work of North Korean exiles being the only such literature at present—will go hand in hand with the emergence of a new society: of North Koreans who represent an identity beyond what can possibly be owned by the ruling Party of the DPRK, with the writers reclaiming their language and literature from the politicians.

Published May 22, 2013   Copyright 2013 Shirley Lee

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A Graphic Description of China – Katrina Hamlin

A Graphic Description of China – Katrina Hamlin

Review: Darkness Outside the Night, a graphic novel by Xie Peng and Duncan Jepson, an article from H.A.L. Publishing

page164 Darkness

Darkness Outside the Night is a rare specimen: a graphic novel from China.

That particular novelty is both a hot selling point and a potential flaw.

The book’s raw images and sharp words describe life in an unnamed dystopia. There is a nightmarish city and a small, vulnerable protagonist. He suffers intense pain and fear, chased by monsters and misfortune.

In the beginning we see the creature sitting alone in a dark room with only a blaring  television as a substitute for company. We watch him driven to a rage by boredom. He smashes the television to smithereens.

He breaks free from the apartment that looks and feels more like a prison, but fighting boredom gets him nowhere: By doing a violence to his own confined life he is freed from the dark room only to wander out into another kind of darkness, where he faces a greater rage and more violence.

His ultimate fate is not clear to the reader. There is neither a dramatic escape, nor a terrible demise. The only possible conclusion is that life goes on, as unpleasant as ever. The question of whether or not the protagonist will one day find something better lingers.

In short, it’s a horrific and frustrating narrative, and yet there is something captivating about these scenes and their inhabitant. The book is a deeply disturbing creation, and still it’s hard to look away. As a piece of fiction it is a compelling portrait of a lonely character in a desperate state.

However, despite these qualities, the book’s killer twist lies outside its pages. While very little is revealed about who or what or where this tiny gnome-like creature is in the drawings, the reader has little choice but to imagine that the story reflects the Chinese artist Xie Peng’s experiences in modern China.

Darkness began life as a series of images by Xie Peng, who drew them as separate pieces over six years, returning again and again to the same themes. Though they were never mindfully created as a narrative there was a coherence that hinted at a story. The pictures were only later noticed by the Hong Kong-based writer Duncan Jepson, who saw the potential and took on the task of putting words to pictures. His careful storytelling helps the journey to come together without distracting the viewer from the original illustrations. He also has a strong sense of the China background, having lived in Greater China for much of his life.

With the China link in place the book’s effects as a compassionate picture of pain and loneliness are heightened. The anonymous dystopia becomes someone’s home, somewhere real, adding colour and feeling to the dry accounts of economics and politics that otherwise dominate media coverage of modern China. The result is a very beautiful and terrifying tale, which — like it or not — will be difficult to forget.

But the China link may also be the book’s weakness. What would the story be like severed from this context? Would the story still pique a reader’s interest? Those questions may determine whether or not the book finds an audience beyond China-watchers and China.

It’s possible to argue that the connection is not vital: The setting and the main character do not need to be seen as Chinese since the story is coherent even without that link, and the sense of melancholy and restlessness the authors capture evoke big-city life and loneliness the world over.

But it is the China link that makes the wicked twist of the knife, elevating a gorgeous but miserable cartoon to a hard-hitting social commentary — and a human story.

Katrina Hamlin is a writer and journalist based in southern China. Her fiction has appeared in several China- and US-based journals. She is a long-time contributor to HAL Literature publications.

Darkness Outside the Night, by Xie Peng and Duncan Jepson, is available from iTunesAmazon, Google Play, and Kobo. 


The Market Shall Set North Korea Free by Jang Jin-Sung, New York Times, Op-ed


The Market Shall Set North Korea Free

Sung Choi
Published: April 26, 2013


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I DEFECTED from North Korea in 2004. I decided to risk my life to leave my home country — where I worked as a psychological warfare officer for the government — when it finally sunk in that there are two North Koreas: one real and the other a fiction created by the regime.

Although in my job I had access to foreign media, books with passages containing criticism of our Dear Leader Kim Jong-il or his revered father, Kim Il-sung, had large sections blacked out. One day, out of deep curiosity, I made up an excuse to stay behind at work to decipher the redacted words of a history book.

I locked the office door and put the pages against a window. Light from outside made the words under the ink perfectly clear. I read voraciously. I stayed late at work again and again to learn my country’s real history — or at least another view of it.

Most shocking was what I discovered about the Korean War. We had been taught all of our lives how an invasion by the South had triggered the conflict. Yet now I was reading that not only South Korea but the rest of the world believed the North had started the war. Who was right?

It was after my harrowing defection — in which I bribed my way to a border crossing and escaped by running across a frozen river to China — that I recognized the existence of a third North Korea: a theoretical one. This is the North Korea constructed by the outside world, a piecemeal analysis of the regime and its propaganda that misses the political and economic realities of the country.

All of us at the United Front Department — also known as “the window into and out of North Korea” — learned three tenets of diplomacy by heart: 1. Pay no attention to South Korea. 2. Exploit Japan’s emotions. 3. Ply the United States with lies, but make sure they are logical ones.

Kim Jong-il stressed the importance of these three tenets as the framework within which we were required to implement his vision for Pyongyang’s foreign relations. North Korea’s dealings with South Korea, Japan and the United States always hewed closely to these principles.

Our department’s mission was to deceive our people and the world, doing what was necessary to keep our leader in power. We openly referred to talks with South Korea as “aid farming,” because while Seoul sought dialogue through its so-called Sunshine Policy, we saw it as an opening not for diplomatic progress but for extracting as much aid as possible. We also successfully bought time for our nuclear program through the endless marathon of the six-party talks.

Despite Pyongyang’s deceptive ways, many people in the outside world continue to believe in the theoretical North Korea in which dialogue with the regime is seen as the way to effect change. But I know from my years inside the government that talking will not get Pyongyang to turn any corners, not even with the North’s current leader, Kim Jong-un.

Dialogue will never entice the regime to give up its nuclear weapons; the nuclear program is tightly linked to its survival. And talks will not lead to change over the long term; the regime sees them only as a tool for extracting aid. High-level diplomacy is no strategy for getting the regime to make economic reforms. The key to change lies outside the sway of the regime — in the flourishing underground economy.

All North Koreans depended for their very survival on a state rationing system until it collapsed in the mid-1990s. Its demise was due in part to the regime’s concentrated investment of funds in a “party economy” that maintained the cult of the Kims and lavished luxuries on an elite instead of developing a normal economy based on domestic production and trade. Desperate people began to barter household goods for rice on the streets — and the underground economy was born. With thousands of people starving to death, the authorities had no option but to turn a blind eye to all the illegal markets that began to pop up.

Around this time, the nation’s workplaces were made responsible for feeding their employees. The only way they could do so was by setting up “trading companies,” which sold raw materials to China in exchange for rice. These businesses became part of the foundation of the underground economy, acting as import-export hubs that in time began to import from China consumer goods like refrigerators and radios.

Likewise, party officials started to take part in wheeling and dealing, profiting through bribe-collecting and prohibited financing activities. Nowadays the party is so deeply involved in the market economy that the “trading companies” are staffed by the children of party officials and openly operate on behalf of the party and military. In short, all of North Korea has come to rely on a market economy, and no place in the country is untouched by it.

The social effect of the rise of the market has been extraordinary: The umbilical cord between the individual and the state has been severed. In the people’s eyes, loyalty to the state has been replaced by the value of hard cash. And the U.S. greenback is the currency of choice.

Trading with their U.S. dollars (many of which are counterfeit) for Chinese products, North Koreans have come to recognize the existence of leaders greater even than the Kims. Who are these men gracing U.S. bank notes? North Koreans now see that loyalty to the supreme leader has brought no tangible benefits; yet currency bearing the faces of American men is exchanged for many things: rice, meat, even a promotion at work.

Today, when North Koreans are ordered by their state employer to take part in political activities, they know their time is being wasted. Fewer North Koreans show up for their state jobs. This growing economic and psychological independence among regular people is becoming the greatest thorn in the regime’s side.

It is also the key to change. Instead of focusing on the regime and its agents as possible instigators of reform, we must recognize the power of the flourishing marketplace to slowly but definitively transform North Korea from the bottom up. This empowerment of the North Korean people is crucial not only for a positive transformation of the nation, but also for ensuring a stable transition to the new era after the regime eventually goes.

Increasing trade with China has made the North Korean border porous in many ways, facilitating a flow of information in and out of the country. Many North Koreans can now access South Korean television programs that are smuggled in on DVDs or memory sticks.

One way to accelerate change would be by continuing to broadcast into the country so that North Koreans can access outside radio programming on their illegal devices more easily. Another is to support the work of North Korean exiles, who are a conduit of goods and liberal ideas across the border.

Talks with Pyongyang can only offer temporary solutions to manufactured crises. And I can say from my experience, they encourage only more deception from the North. Looking at North Korea from below, building on the market realities on the ground, is the only effective way to make the regime reform — or go.

Jang Jin-sung, a former North Korean state official and poet laureate, is editor in chief of New Focus International, a Web site on North Korean affairs. This article was translated from the Korean by Shirley Lee.


Peony Literary Agency is delighted to announce a publishing contract for Jang Jin-sung and Shirley Lee for Crossing the Border


Jang photo

Random House imprint Rider is delighted to announce the acquisition of CROSSING THE BORDER by Jang Jin-Sung.  Jang Jin-Sung is former State Poet Laureate in North Korea. He was forced to flee to South Korea when a censored document in his possession went missing. Shirley Lee will be working on the adaptation.

Crossing the Border  is an extraordinary glimpse into life in North Korea. It details meetings with Kim Jong II and reveals the extreme poverty of ordinary North Koreans living under one of the harshest dictatorships in modern times.  Jang Jin-Sung’s account of his break for freedom is riveting and reads like a thriller, full of suspense.

Rider Publishing Director Judith Kendra, in a pre-emptive deal, bought World rights exc USA, Canada, Korea and Japan, from Marysia Juszczakiewicz of the Peony Literary Agency.

Kendra said ‘It is so rare to read a first-person account from North Korea. To publish one so gripping and courageous is a priviledge’

Jang Jin-Sung said ‘To have come all this way from the totalitarian state is such a blessing. I will give this book everything I have’

Rider will publish in Spring 2014.


Peony Literary Agency is a one of the most prolific multi-lingual literary agencies based in Asia. A small but ambitious and client centred business, it represents a number of Asia’s leading and new authors who explore both contemporary and historical Asia It has sold rights into over 20 countries worldwide for its clients during the last two years

Different perspectives … compelling new voices…. Peony brings the authentic and compelling literature of  Asia to publishers worldwide.

For further details please contact Marysia Juszczakiewicz at Peony Literary Agency:


Peony Literary Agency is delighted to announce a publishing deal for Peony client, Chan Koonchung. The Bare Truth about Champa The Driver, Chan’s second novel, will be published in English by Jane Lawson, at Transworld UK


February 2013, Chan Koonchung’s sexually explicit novel, The Bare Truth about Champa, explores politically explosive issues in China today – relations between Han Chinese and Tibetans. Chan goes where no other Chinese writer has gone before. Transworld plan to publish in 2014.

Chan’s first novel, The Fat Years, has been translated into nearly 20 languages, with over 100,000 printed copies worldwide. He is a publisher and journalist, and lives in Beijing.

Peony Literary Agency is a one of the most prolific multilingual literary agencies based in Asia. A small but ambitious and client centred business, it represents a number of Asia’s leading and new authors. It has sold rights into over 20 countries worldwide for its clients during the last two years


For further details please contact Marysia Juszczakiewicz at Peony Literary Agency: Click here to read more »