Alice Pung: award-winning author, inspiring speaker, 100 Story Building ambassador and ‘Bogasian’ shares with us her thoughts about writing memoirs.
Both of your books are memoirs. What drew you to writing memoir?¬†
I never started out deciding to write memoir. I set out to write family stories, of the sort pioneered by Maxine Hong Kingston. I was only nineteen at the time and just beginning to realise that Asians had a voice in literature that went beyond the stories of immense, stoic Wild Swans sort of narrative. I realised we could write stories that were joyful, witty, scatological, inventive. Not full of the usual metaphors about leaves and fans and gendered oppression. So¬†I wrote short stories about my family and when my first book was published six years later,¬†it was called a memoir. I’m glad it was because at that time people were really into memoirs, and so many people read a narrative about a distinctly Chinese-Cambodian Australian family and realised that¬†we were not some kind of ‘other’. If anything, we were a mixture of Asian and Bogan. We were Bogasians, and my first book was praised for being so ‘Australian’.
Do you have an audience in mind when you write?
I first started just writing for someone like myself. When you first write, it is intensely private and personal and you think no one will ever read it. So there was a great sense of¬†freedom and playfulness in it, and the sort of earnest rabid intensity¬†you have in your early twenties.¬†But it was very hard to write my second book, Her Father’s Daughter, because I was no longer a nineteen-year-old narrator but twenty-nine.
Is there a question or a problem you are trying to address in your writing?
In my writing the questions I try and answer relate all to character. What makes a father? How well do we know our parents? What things would you hide from your children to protect them? What expectations do you have for your kids? And more importantly, what are the multitudinous ways we express love?
Your second book, Her Father’s Daughter, shares some particularly harrowing family stories. Was there resistance from your family to these stories being told?¬†
My family have been very supportive. They give my books away as presents even though they are the main characters in them – or perhaps especially because of that!
Are you a memoir reader as well? What are you seeking when you read memoirs?
I love reading memoirs. A recent one I read that I found really moving was one I found in a Salvos store, Still Me, Christopher Reeve’s autobiography. You’d expect a memoir like that to be full of Hollywood Cliches because of his background, but he was a university-educated theatre actor before he was Superman, with a very rich internal life before Hollywood; and because his internal life was so furnished, after his accident he could still be a man of incredibly interesting thoughts.
Want to learn more about memoir writing? Alice will be conducting a 100 Story Studio class, Tracing the Past: Writing Memoir, on Saturday 18 May at The Wheeler Centre. Places are limited, book now!
And thanks to the good folk of Black Inc., we’ve got a copy of the amazing¬†Her Father’s Daughter to giveaway. To win, simply share with us via Twitter, Facebook or Google+ the answer to this question: what is your favourite memoir and why? #100SB. UPDATE: Sorry folks, this giveaway has already been given away! Get in quick next time.¬†