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Korean Authors


Writer Lee Kyung-Hye

Writing is About Getting the Thorns Out of Your Chest




People say that books read during childhood and adolescence have a profound impact on later life. It’s because it’s when the ego develops, and life values are formed. Writer Lee Kyung-Hye, who has been writing and translating various fiction, is also known as the writer of steady-selling children’s and young adult fiction such as One Day I Died (Baram Books). She is a writer who describes not only unlimited, dreamy stories but also frustrating and painful stories like thorns stuck in your heart, through the language of young children and teenagers. Following is an interview with writer Lee, who shows her love for her readers and the world through her stories.


정재승 박사



It’s an honor to have you with us for K-Book Trends. Please introduce yourself to our readers.


Hello, everyone. I’m a writer who likes all kinds of water like the ocean, all kinds of animals like cats, all kinds of gods like the guardian spirit of mountains, and all kinds of stationery like the fountain pen. I have been writing stories of various genres - from picture books to fiction - as I like writing itself, including keeping a journal. I have also been translating picture books.


Your major area has been children’s and young adult literature. Was there a reason for choosing it? What’s the unique appeal of children’s and young adult literature that you feel?


I didn’t choose to write about a specific field. But, I always think about what age is best to tell the story I want to deliver. I mainly got to write children’s and young adult literature as readers liked them more than my other works.
The charm of children’s literature is that it has no limitations. The biggest draw for me is that I can do whatever I want – jumping into an imaginary world or the mind of an animal. Also, the biggest appeal of young adult literature is that I get to dig into the most complex and ambiguous beings, who are neither children nor adults but are, ironically, children and adults at the same time.


It seems that children’s and young adult literature requires a different approach compared to works targeting adults. Is there something you particularly pay attention to when writing children’s and young adult literature?


When I write literary works for children and young adults, I imagine they are sitting in front of me. I actually post a picture of them, too. And, I try to think that I’m telling a story to them. Well, when you’re trying to write for someone your age, you don’t have to have them sitting in front of you like this. But, if you’re writing about the lives of people younger than you, you must keep that in mind at all times. I think this is good manners. It’s not about ignoring them or giving them special treatment. It’s just that you’re being considerate, like speaking slowly to foreigners that are less fluent in our language or refraining from using difficult words in front of children. The message remains the same – it’s the way of delivery that matters.



It’s important to be considerate and polite to children and adolescent readers,
instead of trying to include something special.



You have been meeting adolescent readers in person by attending the “Make Big Steps in Literature (Munhak, sungkeumsungkeum)” event hosted by Kickkick, a cultural alliance of teenagers. We heard that you’ve had a great response from your readers. So, what was it like to meet adolescent readers in person for such a long time?


Whenever I meet students at this event, I feel grateful that I write fiction for adolescents. In fact, the adolescent period is when a human being goes through great changes. With so much going on in their lives, they must carry big darkness in their hearts. But, they never reveal them – they only show their bright, energetic aspects when we meet at the event. Well, it’s the same with me. It’s how we live. So, I always feel happy and recharge myself through the event.


Korean children’s and young adult literature has been recognized globally. Your book One Day I Died was also translated into five languages and was highly loved by international readers. What do you think is the reason behind the book being so popular in other countries as well?


The most common phrase I heard from students who read the book was, “It was good as you understood our feelings.” The phrase I heard the most from parents was also “Thanks for letting us know about our children’s minds.” I think that was the biggest reason in the Korean market. It feels as if I have made a small connection between them, who could not be understood and could not understand.
In other countries, well, I’m not so sure as they are in a different environment from us, but I think they could empathize with the story as the grief of losing a loved one to death is something that everyone takes similarly.


『정재승의 인간 탐구 보고서』 시리즈

One Day I Died



You have been translating English and French children’s literature as well. What are the characteristics and strengths of Korean children’s and young adult literature that you think of as a writer and a translator?


Compared to the literary works published in Western countries, children and teenagers in Korea are under tremendous pressure as they compare themselves to others in terms of academic performance, financial gap, and appearance. So, their resistance to such pressure tends to be more intense than their Western counterparts, where the kids are more stable and respect diverse values. Plus, environmental changes that children and teenagers experience in Korea are influential, too, as Korea is such a dynamic country. Children’s and young adult literature is bound to be dynamic and powerful, as it vividly depicts their struggle to fit in as independent beings. And I think that is the most powerful strength of the genre.



The dynamic and strong power of resistance and struggle is the strength of
Korean children’s and young adult literature.



You have recently published your first non-fiction book, One Day I Started Writing a Diary (Bori Publishing Co., Ltd.). We heard that you have been keeping a diary for 50 years. You are known to be a diary enthusiast, extreme to the extent that you call yourself a “human that keeps a diary” and a “diary addict.” What attitude do you have everyday when writing it? Also, does that have an influence on your literary works?


There’s no special attitude or mindset about writing a diary. It has become a habit like washing my face. My head clears when I write the journal for the day, just like how washing your face clears your face.
Yet, there are quite a lot of times when keeping a journal helps me write stories. When I write a story based on my own experience, the journal helps me restore the forgotten memory so vividly. Even though I don’t write down every detail of what happened, keywords bring back the moment alive. Besides, it is hard to recall how I felt about certain events in the past as time goes on without such a record. Also, on top of it being practical, my journal is the biggest supporter for me as it allows me to re-live the time in the past endlessly. It helps me to have an open mind, and not be stuck on my age. That’s the best part for me.


『어느 날 일기를 쓰기 시작했다』


『그들이 떨어뜨린 것』

One Day I Started Writing a Diary, Sadosaurus, and Something They Dropped



Can you recommend any of your books that have not yet been published overseas that you think international readers might find interesting?


I recommend reading Sadosaurus (Baram Books), a full-length fiction book for children. It’s about dinosaurs living on an island named “Sado.” The main character, Sua, a purple dinosaur with ears, loves to listen to different sounds. She also likes to sing. The story revolves around her and talks about music, friendship, and solidarity. Even though I’ve written it, I can confidently say it’s a book that will immerse you in the world of dinosaurs.


Last question. What are your next plans or goals?


Well, I’m planning to “not write” things. I might be writing children’s books or general fiction but for young adult fiction – one more and no more. Young adult fiction has been the toughest genre for me, and I think that I have delivered all the messages that I wanted to tell them.
So, the last young adult fiction would be a collection of serial novels about young children that were sacrificed during the Gwangju Uprising in 1980. I have already announced the first story with the title The Command (included in Something They Dropped (Baram Books)). But I haven’t been making progress after that. I will write the following stories and put them into a book one day.
For me, writing is about getting things off my chest that have become thorns somehow. So, my goal in writing is to “take at least one more thorn out of my chest.” No matter how fine, thick, ticklish, or painful they are, I will pull them out one after another.




#Lee Kyung-Hye#Children’s Literature#Young Adult Literature#One Day I Died
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