Malaysian British Writer took a Long Road to Printed Page
You may have heard of Tang Aw lately. His first book, The Harmony Silk Factory has just been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize, the UK's most prestigious literary award. The beautifully rendered story of the mysterious and rakish Johnny Lim in 1940s Malaysia is being hailed by critics and readers alike, which is particularly satisfying for Aw, who spent five hard years writing it after leaving his family-approved career of law.
Growing up in Kuala Lumpur, Aw was encouraged to read "on the assumption that you are going to go on and read lots of books that will make you interested in law or banking," he tells The Age of Australia.
After dutifully attending law school at Cambridge University, he tried to work odd jobs and write, but was struggling financially and artistically and decided to go be a lawyer. "I like the idea of law as an academic subject... The practice of law is something else completely; it's awful," says Aw.
Five years later he had socked away enough money to quit and write for a while but faced another considerable road block. He had no idea what he was doing. Aw enrolled in the creative writing program at the University of East Anglia, which boasts alums such as Ian McEwan and Kasuo Ishiguro. The program, where Aw started The Harmony Silk Factory, is not for the faint of heart (or the untalented, it seems). "It really is horrible," Aw says of his time in the program. "It's basically just workshops in which four people's work is discussed. That is handed out in advance and everyone has a week to tear it to pieces and that's what they do." Nevertheless, Aw is finally what always wanted to be.