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Writer Kim Keum-Hee

The Warm Consoling Power Melted Within the Letters




The Novels of writer Kim Keum-Hee could not be warmer. The heartwarming stories would melt every reader's heart. There are sources from daily life that readers can relate to, and the social issues she covers make you have a profound look at them. The in-depth impression and healing you get after finishing her books make you wait for her next work. Following is an interview with writer Kim Keum-Hee, who has been an active writer of short, medium, and full-length novels ever since she won the New Writers' Contest of Hankook Ilbo with her ‘Your Document’.



Please say hello and introduce yourself to readers of K-Book Trends.


Hello, I am novelist Kim Keum-Hee, and I've been writing novels for 11 years. I've released Dear Bokja (Munhakdongne) recently.


If you have a specific work or sentence from your stories that you would like to introduce to our readers, what would it be?


I became well-known among readers with my short novel ‘Too Bright Outside for Love’. Readers picked "I love you, today as well" as their favorite line. The characters in their 20s say that they love the other when they are in a frustrating and challenging situation where they cannot predict the future, even the next day, but have blasting emotions at that moment. The line entails anxiety that tomorrow might be different from today. It is highly meaningful to me, as many readers liked that sentence.
I would also recommend Kyungae's Heart (Changbi), my first full-length novel. The story's primary issue is the "heart (mind)" as they overcome pains in their life. As minds are uncontrollable, they are more critical and challenging to manage. In this story, Sangsoo says, "Don't discard your mind." In difficult and challenging situations, we get to think, "It would be better without having minds," but getting rid of minds actually means giving up being the owner of your life. So this sentence, which asks you not to give up on your mind, is special to me.
I talked about failures in my newest title Dear Bokja. All of us experience certain times of failure in life, but the big deal is "how to overcome" those failures as we encounter. When someone has failed, it is important to understand how that person had to experience failure, cherish the fact that the person he/herself is a precious being, and not entirely stigmatize the person as a "failed" one. There is a line in the story that goes, "It's not that I didn't like you for failing. I just hated the failed situation itself." I think the key takeaway from this sentence is "I hated failure."


<Too Bright Outside for Love>

 <Kyungae’s Heart>

<Dear Bokja>

Too Bright Outside for Love (Munhakdongne), Kyungae’s Heart, Dear Bokja


Could you please tell us more about your newest novel Dear Bokja?


It's a story about two friends, Youngchorong and Bokja, who have spent their childhood on Jeju Island together. The main character Youngchorong experiences environmental change as she moves to a dependant island of Jeju. It is Bokja that helped her to get used to things in many ways. But just like how human relationships go in childhood, a trivial misunderstanding splits the two, and they end up growing away from each other with the tie between them left entangled. Then 20 years pass, and Youngchorong, who has become a judge, is assigned to Jeju Island. There she meets her friend Bokja again, her long childhood friend. The progress of their relationship and whether the affection and friendliness they feel for each other will return are mainly described in the story. You can also see how the two girls from totally different backgrounds will be remembered by each other.


You've been saying that you want to write a story with Jeju Island as the background. What was Jeju Island to you?


Well, Jeju is a totally different environment from the city I am living in, and its people are also quite different from those in the mainland. So I've always wanted to write a story with it as the background when I build up enough capacity as a writer. Luckily, I had a chance to apply for a residence program for writers where I could stay on Jeju Island for a season. I thought it was like destiny to me. I could learn many things and make many sketches of places on the island. If anyone asks me why I was so eager to write about Jeju, I would say, "attracted by something that I have zero knowledge about." I began writing when I returned to Seoul after finishing sketches on Jeju Island. As I was put in a situation where I had to write about Jeju – an island that I always wanted to go to – when traveling is limited due to the pandemic, I think I reflected too much of my mind missing the island. Maybe that's why the work feels a bit ardent. (Laughs)


We heard that the tragic 1999 Incheon Pub Fire was the motif for Kyungae's Heart, and the industrial accident of nurses on Jeju island was referred to in Dear Bokja. You tend to cover various social issues in your stories. Could you please tell us why?


I've always been thinking that I am also related to social issues as I live. I could turn the fire incident into the novel Kyungae's Heart as I have lived my whole life in Incheon, and my heart broke when I heard of the news. For Dear Bokja, people that particularly came into my eyes in Jeju Island were workers. So, there were quite a lot of people working in the fishing and tourism industry like Haenyeo (female divers), and when I was thinking of writing a novel about their life, I got to know the heart-breaking industrial accident that took place on the island. I felt that talking about such incidents in a novel would be a big step toward regaining rights for more female laborers. And I think that was how I naturally got to cover social and historical issues within an area and mix them with individuals' lives.



The Audio-book series was quite an amazing experience,and it was nice to have greater readership.



Dear Bokja was first serialized as an audiobook before the official publication. How was it different from your previous works, and how did you feel?


When I was first suggested about serializing an audiobook, I had to think about how I would write it. Because listening and reading are different in how long readers can concentrate, I had to consider how well the story can be delivered to the listeners. And the answer I got was writing the story in the style of a letter. It was the most effective way of delivering the story considering the composition and scenes of the book. As a letter is a highly private medium exchanged between individuals, I thought writing the story in a letter might be helpful. It would enhance narrative delivery by recalling the listeners' experience related to it. So I came up with this letter format as it would be serialized as an audiobook. Literary works mainly revolve around the writer's values and the overall quality of the story, but I had to think of who is going to enjoy my work as the platform is different. It was quite a new experience, and I felt the warmth from readers as they were mostly nice and friendly. If a second chance is given, I might give it a try again.


What was the most impressive comment that you received during the series of the audiobook?


The audio clips were uploaded at midnight, and I would always go to bed after reading the comments the first-listeners left. Some of the listeners would correct some wrong information, for example, the nuance of the Jeju dialect and information about the real figures that appeared in the story. Such interaction with the listeners was a magnificent experience for me.
Also, I could recognize that quite a lot of the readership was in more than their 50s as I got to see the statistics during the series. It was good news as I felt like my readership expanded through the new medium.



Readership expansion is indeed important,but I really like how readers remain fans of the author they like.



The news says Dear Bokja began its third printing during the pre-sale period before the official release. What do you think about this explosive popularity?


What really helps me is the readers that read my previous work move on to my next work. Expanding readership is important, for sure, but I really like how readers remain fans of the author. It's because, you know, I can write for more than several decades, and my readers, they are really precious to me. (Laughs). When I released my second full-length novel, I was worried how much the readers from my previous work would have interest in it, but how it turned out in the market sounds so positive that I am relieved now. I also grew some confidence that even though I make new attempts, my readers would accept them.


What are your plans for the future?


I'm thinking of publishing a short-novel collection in the first half of next year with all the short stories I've released since 2019. You know, this short novel as a genre vividly reflects the changes of the writer or the writer is going through. So, I think you might be able to take a glimpse at what kind of things I am doing lately through the collection.


Before wrapping up, what would you like to say to our subscribers?


We are undergoing an unprecedentedly challenging time due to the pandemic. All of us, not only Koreans but overseas readers, too. Some may fear why we are going through this and how the world will change in the future. I think it is like an empty schedule where we can think about future changes in our life. So, please, stay healthy. Good moments will follow after, so I hope you spend this hard time preparing for those moments that will be back someday.






Organized by Lee Ji-Hyeon


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