Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Interview with Author Joan Hon

Today, I have the great honor of hosting an interview with Joan Hon, a remarkable author and academician. Besides writing books, she also taught Physics to Junior College students and mentored Olympiad students in one of Singapore's top Junior Colleges.

The Penang-Born Singaporean author, already in her sixties, was here in Penang on Tuesday, October 12 to share about her journey as an author. The engaging Book Talk was held at Precious Ones Collections. And now, she shares more on my blog!

The author with some of the happy participants at the Book Talk
(read my story and view all pictures here)

She wrote a science-fiction romance Star Sapphire (1985) under a pseudonym Han May, which won a High Commendation Award from the Book Development Council of Singapore in 1986, the same year she was awarded a Commendation prize for her book Relatively Speaking on her father and childhood memories in Penang. Please join me in welcoming Joan Hon!

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Describe Star Sapphire in 5 words.
Space romance with time twist.

Yva, your protagonist, a young scientist, is intriguing. Tell us more about her character development.
From a naive and idealistic young woman, Yva meets the realities of living in the world of space travel and learns to mature, come to grips with her feelings and limitations and cope with her overpowering affection for someone whose love she is certain will never be reciprocated.

Fred Pohl, the 4-time Hugo Award winner, read SS on the way to Bangkok. He said, "I thought it lively and full of invention." Could you share how Pohl came to possess a copy of the book and gave such a glowing review?

It was at the Science Fair 1985. Great authors are usually invited to come in for this event. Fred Pohl was one of them. Dr. Kirpal Singh who taught science fiction under "Technology in Literature" was the one who invited him to lunch, and me as well, being the new author of a sci-fi book. Fred was wonderful to talk to. I gave him a Star Sapphire book of course, and he took it gratefully. I never expected him to write to me to express how he liked the book and was delighted that he did.

Describe Relatively Speaking in 5 words.
Family history of the Hons.

The book is about your Penang-born father and childhood memories in Penang. Please tell us more.
It covers the period before, during and after the Japanese occupation. The Hon family lived mostly in Balik Pulau. So the book tells of how the rural folk fared in life, and how some of them found a better future with higher education. It traces how the Hon brothers, Yung Sen and Sui Sen found a niche in Singapore, the first as a Physics professor and the second as Minister for Finance. It follows the events in the life of Hon Sui Sen until his death in 1983. The narrative is peppered with anecdotes and stories of haunted houses, and home-spun wisdom given by Hon to his children.

Do you have a standard writing routine?
No. I write when the ideas hit me. For a spell, I could type 17 pages a day when the ideas flowed.

You have written a fiction (SS) and non-fiction (RS). Are there any differences to the process you adopt for them?
Of course. Fiction allows me the complete freedom to do what I want with the content and characters of my book. It is sheer bliss to be in a "state of flow" when the creative juices are at work. Non-fiction is fine if the facts are known and writing is then easy. But it is a constant checking with other people for facts, accuracy of events, names, dates, opinions and criticisms. At times it can be a hard slog. There is a feeling even after the book is printed that that is not all there is. There is much more to the story that is yet uncovered.

How do you make the setting of your story in Star Sapphire believable?
I had to write as if the reader was familiar with all the things in Yva's environment. If Yva was naive, like the reader, her cousin Io was there to tick her off and explain things to her, and hence at the same time explain things to the reader. Yva's psychical make-up is no different from someone in our day, so that one reader said that the book was present-day concerns superimposed on a futuristic setting. A few readers known to me swear the book is not science fiction. The characters feel and act in the same way as anyone would today.

Could you give us a few tips on writing a good memoir?
Actually, to ask a question like this, you have to define what you mean by "a good memoir".

Simply jot down what you remember best. Write down all the important events in your life that have meant a lot to you. Then find a way to string them up, make the events flow from one to the other, and get connected. And finally find a suitable title or heading for the whole story. This is a few tips of course, but you must know that there are as many styles and ways of writing as there are authors. So as long as you can convey to the reader enough details of an event in your life without making it boring by too detailed a description then you would have a "good memoir".

Who are the authors that influenced your writing?
Other than reading Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind), Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse) and Joseph Conrad; the one author who influenced me most was Walter M. Miller Jr. (A Canticle For Leibowitz, The Darfstellar, etc.). He won the Hugo Award for the two titles mentioned. I was in contact with him by snail-mail throughout the period I was trying to get Star Sapphire published and he was cheering me on. Or teasing me mercilessly. This would be another long story. In my childhood, I read Enid Blyton, Richmal Crompton, A J Cronin, Zane Grey and anything the National Library had at that time.

(Me: I would definitely like to make another appointment with you to hear all about your interaction with Walter M. Miller! We all love a good story. Enid Blyton was my childhood favorite and my friends who read my blog would know, because I've said this like a broken record, over and over again here in my blog. Blyton got me started on serious reading while I was in primary school.)


What are the plans you have for your books?
I'm contemplating getting them reprinted again but not by my own company Hope Publishers Pte Ltd. Other publishers have already a set-up for the marketing and distribution of their books. I am also exploring the idea of having my books done by POD publishers, and also turning them into e-books. Perhaps Amazon.com would get my books on the Kindle list.

(Me: That's really exciting! As a proud owner of Kindle, I would definitely purchase your books if they're available in that edition. I have a substantial amount of e-books in PDF format stored in my Kindle and they read beautifully in that format, so in the meantime, you could also explore that option. This would enable readers who buy your e-books from your own publishing company to download them into their Kindle or other e-Reader devices.)

What would you tell beginning authors?
Write on! Enjoy what you are writing and readers will enjoy reading what you write. Don't give up after many rejections. JK Rowling got many rejections with her first Harry Potter book.

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Thank you, Joan, for this wonderful opportunity to get to know more about you!

Related Posts:
  1. Joan Hon Book Talk: The Scoop
  2. Joan Hon Book Talk