Lucy Brydon on Shanghai Passenger

Lucy Brydon on Shanghai Passenger


Shanghai Passenger follows Ruby, a young Scottish writer who has just landed in Shanghai, as she attempts to write her first novel in the world’s most exciting metropolis.


In many senses, Shanghai Passenger is a classic coming of age novel, telling the story of a pivotal moment in one young woman's emotional and intellectual development. While writing it, I wanted to borrow popular fiction's conventions - girl moves to a new city, pursues dreams, meets guy - and completely turn them on their head without compromising on a sense of humour and pathos for the characters.


The novel explores the layers of Shanghai's colourful social scene, which is heavily inspired by what I saw when I was living there. The transience of the city - underscored by the dreamy, vignette storytelling - is matched by the intensity and speed of the friendships formed there. It is a place where everyone seemed desperate to avoid being lost. But that's exactly what most people were, myself included. In one of the most populated places on the planet, was also the greatest sense of alienation I have ever experienced. This irony has informed both Shanghai Passenger and other projects I have undertaken on other the years.


The notion of the 'artist as outsider' definitely informs Ruby's character. She is very much a loner and observer, as writers often are. In creating her, I was partly inspired by the late, great Sue Townsend's beloved Adrian Mole – a character who is self-absorbed and fancies themselves for their purported talents, but whom you forgive because they are loveable through the ridiculousness. Rose reflects a more ebullient personality. That she shares Ruby's sense of isolation, however, is apparent throughout the text. In many ways, Ruby and Rose are two sides of the same coin.


The novel weaves a retelling of the ancient story of Zhuangzi's Dream of the Butterfly throughout the narrative. To me, it always seemed that Shanghai was something of a dream world and a place for transformation for most of the inhabitants. Thus to link it with one of Chinese philosophy’s foremost work on dreams and transformation felt like a logical jump. Zhuangzi's celebration of individuality also, I felt, deserved a different way of reaching a contemporary audience.


Whether or not any of these lofty ideas are successful, however, I leave for the reader to judge.