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Hannah Cao




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May 2021

Behind the scenes of my debut novel

I received so much love and excitement after the announcement about my book coming out in November, and even though I try to thank every single person I see interacting, I still wanted to say Thank you here!

Maybe I like to repeat myself because I can’t believe my luck, or I just feel helpless not knowing how to possibly show you how grateful I am. It’s both.

A cafe in Soho, London, 2017

It all began in Soho, London, circa 2017. I was living in London then, and working at a travel agency from 8 to 5. After work I liked to explore the city, almost always leading back to this coffee shop in Soho, where I would sit, sip on my coffee or tea, and watch people. To say this place brought me inspiration would be an understatement as it was the main inspiration for what would become my debut novel.

Not only had I fallen in love with that part of the city itself, but I fell for the baristas, the people, the atmosphere, and the fact that I could always come back and feel at ease, no matter how anxious I felt about money issues, how exhausted I felt after work, or whatever was happening in my love life in that time.

It wasn’t home, but truly felt like it.

I knew I wanted to open my own cafe in the future then, as I sat there and took everything in. I romanticise a lot in life, so when I thought about writing a found family story based in a cafe, I was already in love with the idea of exploring 2 or 4 characters’ lives and how they would end up in a web with each other. Since the cafe brought me so much comfort, I wanted the story to explore real life struggles, represent issues and people which and whose representation I care a lot about and I wanted the story to become a comfort read for other people.

︎︎︎ From the author interview on TEATIMELIT
In the past two years that I’ve been writing and editing this book, I kept the story character-driven, which is something I always appreciated about my favourite books. I was able to flesh out who the main characters Hanh, Winston, Clementine and Alexander truly were in their core, so much so that I was proud I had made them into such realistic characters. I hope I did it justice in the book; of course an author can’t always tell if things will come across as intended to the reader.

I would say Hanh was most like me because she, too, is of Vietnamese descent. She is not a self-inserted character by any means – her character is very different from mine – but I always wanted my work to represent young Vietnamese women like me, secluded from stereotypes as seen in the media. Clementine was least like me, because her character is quite loud, eccentric and confident; she was someone I rather admired and respected. The easiest character to write was Winston, the strictly sober bartender feeling estranged in his familiar environment, constantly running for nothing. The hardest character to write was Alex, the shy baker who discovers his sexuality as a person who has always merely adapted to other people throughout his life. Writing from these characters’ perspectives honestly made me feel a big deal about all of them [...]

︎︎︎ From the author interview on TEATIMELIT

[…] And I can’t wait for you to meet them.
I now realise how hard it is to talk about the Behind-The-Scenes without spoiling anything, or much at all. I might write about some backgrounds again, after the book is actually out there. For now, I’ll indulge in the excitement that is being a nervous ball behind a screen, frantically sipping on iced coffee all the way to Month 11.

I picked November 1st as release date which is perfect not only because it happens to be my birthday month but also because it is quite the comfort read and to me, fall is the epitome of cosiness, warmth (cuddled up inside) and rainy days.

After announcing the release date, it really dawned on me that I am actually coming out with this novel. As if it had been all a fever dream before that. I’m excited, of course, but most of all I am terrified.

I guess it is normal to feel that way, as people will read and judge my book, my work, my characters, and it is nerve-wracking to think about. I thought maybe I should not read the reviews but I honestly think that I should! As an author as I am publishing a book, I absolutely care what readers think of it - it is my debut novel after all and I should take constructive criticism as it will only be helpful for my journey.

I can’t wait for you to read it if you do give it a chance! Thank you for following me on this journey.