Tammy Ho Lai-Ming is a Hong Kong-born writer. She edited Hong Kong U Writing: An Anthology (2006) and co-edited Love & Lust (2008). She is also a founding co-editor of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, the first Hong Kong-based online English literary publication. She is currently studying in London, UK. More about Tammy can be found at her web site.
LR: First question to ask any writer—how did you start, or what are your memories of first starting to write creatively?
TH: Until university, I wrote almost exclusively in Chinese, mostly just scribbling and half-thought out ideas. I think it took English to really get me started. When I was an undergraduate student at the University of Hong Kong, I spent a great deal of time in the library. One day, I picked up a copy of Ambit off a shelf I was sitting near and started reading. I was especially drawn to the poetry and shortly afterwards I began trying to write creatively in English. I showed my first poems to one of my professors and received positive feedback, which encouraged me to continue writing. I have been writing ever since.
LR: As a Hong Kong native and member of the HK Writer’s Circle, you’ve remarked that the size of the HK writing community has been underestimated, even by yourself. As a young writer, who did (or do) you look to as models and as peers?
TH: This question is interesting as recently I was thinking about the smallness of the Hong Kong poetry writing scene. I think that my opinion of the scene probably waxes and wanes, sometimes it seems full of great writers, other times it feels a little bit constrained. The truth is that there are some strong writers in the city but as English is not the first language of most residents, the number of English writers is always going to be limited.
My models, I think, vary through time. I often find inspiration in the works I am reading at the moment and in recent personal experience. I don’t think that there is someone I return to over and over again as a source of inspiration or as a guide for my creative writing. That said, the following Asian writers have inspired me at different points of my writing career: Shirley Lim, Louise Ho and Leung Ping Kwan. As for peers, I would have to say first and foremost Reid Mitchell, my writing partner and sometime friendly editor. Also, I would like to mention the Singaporean poet Eddie Tay and Hong Kong poet Arthur Leung.
LR: What would you say is special about being a writer in HK?
TH: I guess the mixture of Chinese and English influences is probably the most obvious characteristic of writing in Hong Kong.
LR: Interesting–could you elaborate? What is it like to be composing in a language that may not be your native one? How does actually writing in a different language feel different from, say, translation (if it even does)?
TH: Personally, when I write in English, I think first in that language. But I do wish to have more Chinese/Asian elements in my creative works. I don’t want to ever lose touch with my linguistic and cultural roots.