David T.K. Wong's talk at CHAI House on Saturday was aimed at all those in the audience with authorly aspirations, and came in the form of an extended warning with each point backed up with some well researched examples from the lives of authors. (It was such a well put together talk that I am trying to persuade David to put it into the public domain - perhaps as an article or blog post.)
It can be summarised thus : don't become a writer because you think it will make you rich, famous or immortal - in most cases it won't do any of those things. You have to write because you love it. In his own case :
... writing really enraptured me. it was a kind of madness, I suppose.
it was in the Q&A that followed the talk that David really opened up and talked about himself. The question I was dying to ask, and hadn't (despite having had lunch with him a couple of times) was why he had decided to set up the extraordinarily generous award that carries his name.
He said that he first thought that he would like to write in university. He got himself a room and a typewriter, and he had the money to support himself. After a year though, he says, he was starving to death and no-one wanted what he had written. he had only sold one short story :
Being practical, and Chinese, I thought I'd do something else and make enough money.So for 35 years he did other things and when he had made enough money, he went back to writing. He thought to himself "There must be other peole who are like I was 35 years ago and couldn't keep body and soul together, and if there's a little bit of hope that they can make it as writers, they should have a year to test their determination.
... paying back something to society. Life's treated me decently.But there is a deeper reason:
Most of the problems with the world are at an individual level, and due to an inability to communicate. We don't connect. How do you improve things? As an individual, you can't do much. I beleive in literature is a tool to help human understanding.Furthermore :
Money's no damn good unless you spend it! You can't take it with you.
He also said that one of the reasons he prefers the short story to the novel is :
I'm ancient and I don't know when I'm going to die, and I'd rather not leave something half-completed.But I think that was a tongue-in-cheek reply because he is currently working on a novel!
I had brought along copies of his latest collection of short stories (thanks to Mei Li at Marshall Cavendish who brought over a box full for me) Chinese Stories in Times of Change and David signed copies.
It was a very pleasant afternoon spent with friends and I particularly thank Jo Kukathas for giving us the beautiful space. I hope to arrange more author events there, so if there are any authors out there who would like to talk about any aspect of writing or publishing, please do let me know and I will see what I can arrange.
All the lovely photos were taken by Umapagan Ampikaipakan, so Uma, many thanks for that,