Jo McMillan

Jo McMillan | News | The Happiness Factory | Motherland

The Happiness Factory, my new novel, is published by Bluemoose Books, January 2022.

The Happiness Factory page 1

“Where the skin of the earth shudders into the foothills of the Shunhua mountains, in a clearing above the mist and fringed with frangipani, Mo Moore set up a factory which, to this day, makes happiness.

Actually, it makes sex aids. Her goods sell all around the globe, and her biggest buyer is a British high-street chain. The boxes say simply: Made in China. In fact, they come from the place where Mo made a family and that she still calls home, a place too small for any map – the tiny, teetering village of Pingdi...”

It's about the families we run from and a love story to the families we make for ourselves – sometimes in the most unexpected places. It’s a portrait of a country as it emerges from a Maoist past into its roaring global present. And at its heart are fathers: the way they make you and mark you, and how they follow you, however far you go – even to the furthest edge of China.

My first novel, Motherland, won an Arts Council Individual Literature Award and was published by John Murray in 2015. It came out with Ullstein as Paradise Ost in German the following year.

I’m now working on my third novel. Set on a small Mediterranean island, The Accidental Immigrants looks at what happens to a long-term relationship in the wake of a political earthquake. It’s based on my experience of living in Germany while Brexit unfolds and as the populist right gains traction across Europe. The Accidental Immigrants holds a mirror up to Britain and asks: what do you do when you’re no longer wanted in your country of adoption and are not welcome back in the country of your birth?

I was born in London to a communist teacher mother and an electrician father I’m still trying to understand. I spent my early years camping with the Woodcraft Folk and running away from home, and when I was eleven, my mother and I ran away together. We spent our winters organising the British revolution and our summers in East Germany, and in my early twenties, I married a man who worked for a Soviet newspaper. I proposed to him in Moscow and honeymooned in Cuba. And not long after, the Iron Curtain fell.

A chronic post-marital condition and successful treatment with acupuncture took me to China. I travelled widely in the countryside, taught English in the big cities and studied Mandarin at Beijing Foreign Languages University. A chance encounter with China's first legally recognised sex shop led to a PhD in Chinese attitudes to sexuality at the University of Leeds.

But sex is a sensitive subject and writing about it not what the authorities wanted. When I was denied a visa, I went instead to Malaysia, living in the Chinese community in Melaka. I have since spent time in the UK teaching Adult Literacy and ESOL, and am now settled with my partner in Berlin where I work with words and in a community garden. I became a German citizen in 2021.

Jo McMillan

You can write to me here, or follow me on @JoMcMillan.

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© Jo McMillan 2023