Most Thursdays in 2019 we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals.
Today interview May-Kuan Lim
Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from.
- I grew up in Malaysia, but travelled to Melbourne as an international student when I was 17.
- Working as a newsroom engineer for a short stint in the 1990s made me realise that I would rather write stories than broadcast them. In 2007, a journalist friend offered me a parenting column with the Borneo Post and I eagerly took up this opportunity.
- I now live in Adelaide where I teach English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), run writing workshops and record oral history.
Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc). What do you write and why?
For my column, I used to interview all sorts of people such from teachers to speech therapists and psychologists. My nine-year column was really an excuse to ask questions that might answer my private parenting dilemmas. Through this, I developed a habit of trying to understand the world through interviewing people and writing. I mostly write other people’s stories, in the form of narrative non-fiction.
Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?
My early articles in the Borneo Post were for the general public – parents, educators, people interested in Australia. (I moved to Adelaide in 2005). In 2013, I self published my dad’s memoirs, Fish in the Well, set in Malaya, which was sold at his church and given to family members.
My latest book, Refuge, is a collection of refugee stories since the Vietnam War. My hope is that anyone touched by migration, displacement or war will read it. For this reason, I am publishing it serially online for free. The book is now at Chapter 5 Iraq, which is the story of a playwright who fell in love with his leading lady. I publish a new instalment every Friday and anyone can subscribe.
I am also adapting the stories so that they can be used as an English teaching resource. As my Port Adelaide TAFE students inspired the book, I like to think that the stories are coming full circle.
Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?
My Facebook page is The Curious Scribbler. My process starts curiosity: something piques my interest or puzzles me.
I try to find out everything on the topic, whether through the library or by talking to people. Then I ask myself – what jumps out? Where is the energy? In other words, I listen to my heart. Finally, I put on my writer’s hat and try to find the voice to tell the story and the structure to contain it.
I love this quote by poet and writing teacher Mark Tredinnick: ‘How a piece of writing becomes a work of art – a plain but unforgettable thing –has everything to do with the integrity and humanity of its voice and the elegance of the work’s composition.’
Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?
The Little Red Writing Book by Mark Tredinnick because it is a pleasure to read. It is also organised into sensible chapters such as Lore (On voice, music, care and thrift), Grace (On style, economy and poise), and Shapely thoughts (On thought, planning, structure and paragraphs). I also love the memorable one-liners, for example: ‘Write to please yourself; make yourself hard to please.’
Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?
Megan Higginson. I first came across Megan’s work via her contribution to the 2018 Stories of Life anthology, Three Dummies in a Dinghy. I then heard about her work organising teen street libraries in her area. What a brilliant idea – generous and practical. Wouldn’t I have loved such a library when I was a teen? Megan has a lovely engaging reading voice and went on to read several stories for the Stories of Life. Megan and Ester de Boer are also about to launch their picture book Raymund the Fear Monster. I hope that it will help me stare down my own Fear Monsters.
Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?
I am also experimenting with other genres. To my mind, the challenge to diversify was best put by vet and budgerigar expert Bob Donely: A real doctor treats more than one species.
Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?
Rebecca Solnit’s words made a deep impression on me: ‘We are our stories, stories that can be both prison and the crowbar to break open the door of that prison; we make stories to save ourselves or to trap ourselves or others, stories that lift us up or smash us against the stone wall of our own limits and fears. Liberation is always in part a storytelling process: breaking stories, breaking silences, making new stories.’
While I don’t think that we can save ourselves, I think she makes a good point about breaking silences, and about storytelling being bound up in the process of liberation. It was for freedom that Jesus set us free. Let us talk and write then about how he set us free. Thinking along these lines motivated me to become part of the Stories of Life team, a team that encourages Christians to write their true stories of faith and testimony.
Jesus is not only liberator of those in chains. He is also light in a dark world. As his follower, I therefore try not to shut my eyes to block out dark and frightening things. Cover-ups and silences don’t please or glorify the God of truth. If I can bear to look at a thing honestly and dig deep, my faith assures me that there is no darkness beyond his redeeming power.
Having said that, I often find myself wrestling with how my ancient and invisible faith is to be lived out in this visible and contemporary world. For me, reading and writing seem to be part of this wrestling. Words seem to be the medium through which I sense God’s heart, and the way I offer back something to him.