Rural Wiltshire may seem a world away from the challenges of life in China during the Cultural Revolution, but writer Liu Hong has drawn on her own Chinese heritage as well as a love of England and its language, to become a successful novelist.

Ms Hong's first novel, Startling Moon, was published by Hodder Headline in 2000 and her new novel, Magpie Bridge, will be released on July 7.

But her love affair with the English language began a long time ago, when English was the secret, personal language in which she wrote her journals, and English novels provided a window on an exotic new world.

"I have always been interested in literature, and as growing up in a traditional and conservative family, reading opens you up to how life could be different," she said.

Ms Hong, 38, moved to Ogbourne St George, near Marlborough, eight years ago, and lives with her husband John Cannon, who is also a writer, and three-year-old daughter Ann.

She combines parenthood with part-time teaching of Mandarin Chinese, as well as writing.

But her early life was very different, growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution.

She lived in the coastal town of Dandong but her family became a target during the Cultural Revolution because her grandfather was a nationalist during the civil war, and was labelled a reactionary.

Ms Hong's mother took the difficult decision to send her five-year-old daughter away from the family home to live with her paternal grandparents, to protect her from the taint of living with a 'bad' family.

She drew on these early experiences of life with her grandparents in Startling Moon, which vividly and sensitively depicts life from a child's eye view in a very different place and culture.

Ms Hong lived with her grandparents for about five years, before returning to live her parents until she was 18, when she went to university in Wuhan, in south central China to study English literature.

After graduation she worked as an interpreter, and a romance with a Westerner, while working in Mongolia, engendered a desire to visit the West for herself.

So Ms Hong gained a place at St Anthony's College at Oxford on a postgraduate women's studies course and arrived in England in 1989.

"The first three months were a honeymoon period for me the country seemed so green, like a garden," she said.

"People were very interested in me, and there were women from all over the world on the course."

Later she felt homesick and isolated, but it was people's narrow view of China and the Chinese that made her think about writing a novel.

"All people knew about China was Tianamen Square and the one child policy," she said.

"There had been many negative reports about China and I wanted friends to understand me. My mother had to send me away but that was to protect me, and I had a fantastic time with my grandparents. The situation had many complexities."

But it was to be some years before the seed of an idea became a reality.

Ms Hong moved to London to study social anthropology, where she met her husband. They were married in 1993 and moved to Wiltshire because they wanted to live in a more rural location.

Then when Ms Hong was pregnant she wrote Startling Moon. The manuscript was picked up by agent Jessica Woollard, and sold to Hodder Headline.

Now Ms Hong has another two-book contract, and her future writing career is looking bright.

Her new novel, The Magpie Bridge, is set in both England and China. A house in Hampstead is haunted by a Chinese ghost, and the novel tells the story of the woman living in the house and her pregnancy, as well as the story of the ghost.

"The idea came to me when I was writing my first book, partly to do with my grandmother who told me lots of stories. She was very open minded and I am so grateful that she was there for me," said Ms Hong.

After 14 years living in Wiltshire, Ms Hong feels very much at home here, though her spiritual roots are still tied to China.

"I love the local countryside, and especially the open downs. While I hate to generalise, the English people give me space to be myself, which I like. And I have made friends with all sorts of people."

But she said life in England does have its downside namely the food and the weather.

The Magpie Bridge will be available in paperback in local bookshops, and from price £10.99.

Sarah Singleton