Have you always been a writer?
Yes. The first story I ever wrote was when I was six. It was about a man called Mr. Brown who went to the moon, walked on its surface, and returned home in time for tea. As an adult, I wrote constantly in my two-decades-long career as a lawyer and then as a corporate financier. While all those grown-up writings – prospectuses, due diligence reports, agreements – contained truths that made people cry, laugh and stare into space (sometimes in that order or even all at once), they also put them into comas.
It was only in 2019 that I started writing and publishing imaginative and interesting creative fiction and non-fiction of all genres, particularly for young people.
Why do you write?
I strongly believe in the power of stories to elevate, illuminate, heal and inspire, and the power of words to preserve for future generations, memories and traditions that would otherwise be lost. Plus, I am a stationery geek who loves fountain pens and writing is the ideal way to practice and admire my own handwriting.
So … you handwrite everything?
Sadly, not exclusively. I use the computer. And also my smartphone, with which I have a longstanding love-hate relationship. I hate it – I play Pokemon Go and that can be such a time suck – but I also love my smartphone – I use it to take all my photographs and to be creative when I’m on the go. I’ve used it (using Neil Gaiman’s words), to make good art, resulting in two of my smartphone-assisted works being published by respected literary journals. One of my author talks for teens explores this rather surprising notion. You can find out more about my author talks here.
Have you ever run out of ideas?
Not yet. But that’s because ideas are everywhere, if you just look hard enough. I admit, it does help to be insatiably curious about the world and a little bit of a busybody. I’m also lucky to have travelled and lived in lots of different countries, particularly Malaysia, Japan, England and Canada, so it’s become a habit that I record all the new and unfamiliar things that I see, hear, smell, taste and touch around me. This is also why my children and my present home of Hong Kong have inspired so many of my published creative works.
Why are so many of your stories set in Asia?
Because I am Malaysian Chinese and have lived most of my life in Asia. As a diverse writer, I feel that I have a responsibility to help increase the diversity in children’s literature by writing authentic stories inspired by my heritage and the cultures I am steeped in. When I was a child, I didn’t see myself in any of the books I read, and unfortunately, four decades on, this remains true to this day. Each child deserves a story that is a mirror, and if I can create a mirror for even one child somewhere in the world, I will have accomplished something meaningful.
Are you any good?
Hmmm. That’s a tricky one. My mum likes everything I’ve written. Does that count? I won the WriteMentor 2022 Picture Book Award and I’ve also been shortlisted in a few international competitions such as the UK’s prestigious Bridport Prize. I’ve had several stories published by respected publishers such as Oxford University Press and Marshall Cavendish (you can find my works on this website). I guess you’ll have to read them and form your own conclusions.
You call yourself a “Visual Storyteller.” Isn’t that just a fancy way of saying “Amateur Photographer”?
Yes and no. I have no formal training in photography, so it is true that I’m an amateur photographer. But there is a story behind and within each photograph that I post on my Instagram account, Hong Kong Stories, so they are more than just pretty pictures. Sometimes, I share their stories, but more often than not, I prefer to leave it up to the viewer’s imagination. It’s more fun that way. And less work for me.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?
The owner of a bookshop that sells children’s books and doughnuts and children’s books about doughnuts.
Welcome to my worlds.
Love and kindness,
Maureen SY Tai