Thursday, September 29, 2011

Penning the Orient

Hong Kong author DAVID T.K. WONG’s pride in his Far Eastern culture shows in his dazzling, wonderful novels set in the Orient and beyond, writes KASHINI KRISHNAMURTHY

“LOVE is only as much as you are willing to sacrifice for it, the same goes with writing,” explains David T.K. Wong. This author of two novels and several short-story compilations was born in Hong Kong but spent his formative years in China, Singapore and Australia, and studied political science and journalism at the University of Stanford in America. All that travelling must have influenced Wong’s perception of life in both Eastern and Western cultures as his stories reflect a worldly balance where protagonists live in harmony with both.

As a young boy, Wong chose to read comics like Beano, Hot Spur as well as Chinese comics. These publications were famous for school stories lived out by drawn characters and hit newsstands once a week. This may have very well been the start of Wong’s exposure to storytelling. As he got older, he started to browse through the masses of books around the house, and despite not quite understanding the thick textbooks, a curiosity to decode these books was soon born. Wong also admired the wise-cracking tough guys and precocious women in Raymond Chandler’s detective novels. “We all go through phases. We all move on. Right now, I’m reading The Tao of Physics. There is so much in this world that I know nothing about and I want to know.” The book challenges conventional theories by demonstrating striking parallels between Oriental and Greek mystical traditions and the discoveries of 20th-century physics and Wong finds himself immersed in this book solely out of pure curiosity.

He always felt a burning desire to write, but understood that he needed to make some money for himself before he could do so. This explains why it took him 40 years of reporting, teaching and managing companies before he had the time to sit down and write. “But now I feel an internal satisfaction when I write and I write primarily for myself.”

When asked of the fundamentals of a good fiction novel, Wong explains, “When you want to write, you have to think whether you have anything to say. If you don’t, then don’t write. You must also find a way to write in an interesting way that will give the reader some sort of amusement or pleasure.

“You go through all these intellectual questions of what you want to do, and if at the end of the day, there is something that you want to share, then you start this long process of putting words down on paper.” He also explains that there is no perfect way to pen a novel. It is something that comes from within. “Read classics like Orwell and Kipling and observe their style of writing. I find that if you read too many contemporary novels, your mind tends to absorb their style of narrative, so always be aware when you write that what is coming out is personal.”

When quizzed about the future of publishing with the introduction of e-books and e-readers, he explained, “I have never seen, held or read an e-book so I don’t have an opinion on one. But what I do know is that if I wished to lie in a field with a girlfriend and read a poem to her, a book could document that memory. If I were to pick a daffodil and press it between the pages, that same daffodil would still be there 20 years later.” Wong’s home is also very much like his collection of books. Each painting, ornament or artefact tells a story of a memory, one he holds dear and wishes to revisit.

Wong’s latest book, The Embrace of Harlots, vividly explores the Orient, London and even the United States. He paints an amazing picture with carefully chosen words that most contemporary writers today lack. He has also spent a lot of time researching the era which his protagonists live in, thus giving accurate insight to one’s life in 20th-century Hong Kong.

“It started some time back that you’re not even conscious of. I was young and all I wanted to do was write, and I thought I would write and everyone would cloak me in glory but that never happened. Now that I finally have the time and silence to reflect, I managed to write The Embrace of Harlots in six years.

“The process may be long but I thoroughly enjoyed finding words that matched exactly how I felt about a character or situation. I was also very conscious to not adopt any other author’s writing style. I took particular care in ensuring that what I have written came from deep within me.”

Wong, who currently lives in Kuala Lumpur, is looking to start research on a book about his ancestors. He hasn’t decided if he will write this book as he explains that all truths must be told, unfavourable ones as well, and that could cause some discomfort to others. He continues to read and learn, absorbing as much knowledge as he can and always allowing his curiosity to get the better of him.

Reproduced from the July-September 2011 issue of Quill magazine


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