Hello readers, today I am sharing the PRIORHOUSE May 2022 Interview featuring author Mabel Kwong.
Priorhouse: Mabel, it is so nice to have you join us for an interview.
Mabel: Thank you so much for inviting me, Yvette, to be a part of your interviews. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Priorhouse: For those that do not know Mabel Kwong, she enjoys writing about multiculturalism, cultural habits, and what it means to be Asian in Australia. She also writes about “writing” and enjoys motivating others “to be creative, no matter their cultural background.”
Mabel: Living in different countries has helped me to appreciate diversity. I was born in Australia to migrant Chinese-Malaysian parents. My family moved to South-East Asia when I was six. We spent a decade living in Malaysia and Singapore before moving back to Melbourne, which is where I’m based now. Living in different countries opened my eyes to how different each of us are, and how similar we can also be.
• Can you tell us about your writing?
Writing is a big part of my life, and I’ve always been a writer. When I was a kid, many of my days after school were spent writing fictional fantasy stories about adventuring through magical forests with fire-breathing dragons. Fast forward to today. I’m a non-fiction writer. I write about cultural identities, exploring the challenges of being Asian Australian and different cultural lifestyle habits.
I’m also highly introverted. Having quiet time is important to me, and that’s when I usually get my best writing ideas.
Through my writing, I aim to encourage people to be proud of their unique cultural identities and embrace cultural diversity.
Priorhouse: What is your current Work in Progress (readers can also check out your December 2021 post, “Why it Takes So Long to Write a Book”)
Mabel: I’m currently writing a book about what it means to be Asian Australian. It’s non-fiction and part memoir. The book explores what it’s like to be too Asian, to be Australian, and too Australian to be Asian, and then offers ideas for ways to rise above cultural limitations to achieve creative dreams.
I started writing this book about ten years ago. It has been a stop-start process for a number of reasons: inspiration comes and goes, the struggle to get the right flow of words, life gets in the way.
At one point I was almost done with the first draft. But I wasn’t happy with it and restarted the book.
At the end of last year, I finished writing the first draft and it felt like such an achievement.
I am now currently editing my book.
Priorhouse: I am so glad to hear about the book progress.
• Can you explain some of the challenges you face as a writer?
Mabel: In 2018, I hit a brick wall with writing for my blog and book. I had writer’s block. I wasn’t in tune with my writer’s voice. Writing made me tired. At one point, writing just didn’t feel exciting at all.
I stopped writing and the break was refreshing. I took more walks outside in nature. I reminded myself why I was a writer in the first place.
What got me back into writing was accepting that I was an introvert.
For so long, I tried to be an outgoing writer: showing up to writer groups, writing with others and going to literary festivals. As a person, I sought to be extroverted: talking about ideas out loud and socialising to be popular. All of that drained me.
Switching gears to staying home more, allowing myself to be sensitive and being more reserved, writing once again flowed for me.
One of my favorite books right now is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.
In her books on introversion and solitude, Cain shares that “a quiet temperament is a hidden superpower” and helps reader gain a deeper understanding of introversion and how ideas can be shared quietly in our own style.
For me, solitude helps me to not only think but to also listen to the words and visualise the bigger picture as I write.
Picking up where I left years ago, I studied planetary positions and patterns in my natal chart. From what I learnt and upon personal reflection, I gained possible insights into my character and potentials as a writer. I realized I might be someone who needs a lot of alone time, loyal supporters and is highly intuitive. Reflecting on these insights, I let go of desiring attention from a million people on my work and took a more low-key instinctive creative approach to writing – and enjoyed writing again.
- Any tips for writers?
Mabel: Remember that you will go through different phases with your writing. Sometimes the words just flow. Sometimes you read more than you write to explore what’s been written. Other times you struggle to even write one sentence, reassessing your worth as a writer.
“Like many forms of art, the hardest part about writing is actually writing and more writing, actually going at it again and again.”
There are many ways to stay on top of writing or any other creative passion. Everyone has different writing habits and different ways to stay inspired and write at their own pace. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Take a break and indulge in a hobby you’ve always wanted to try. It can be a good way to destress.
- Reflect on why you write to find clarity on your purpose.
- Adjust your writing schedule. A change of environment can help you feel refreshed get creative again.
- Try writing something completely different to challenge your writing skills.
- See writer’s block as an opportunity to develop writing techniques.
- Socialise with your friends to gain fresh perspective. Or just to have fun.
- Deal with pressing pressures you may have in real life and come back to writing with a clearer mind.
Priorhouse: Thanks for those tips. In a recent Priorhouse post (here), the topic of “How to Write” books came up. It was so interesting to see how varied the topic can be. we could read about mechanics, fictions strategies, non-fiction approaches, etc.
- Do you read any “How to Write” books or have any thoughts on the topic?
Mabel: I love that ‘How to Write’ books came up on your blog. I haven’t read much about this topic, even though I have studied ethnography and audience reception in college. When I think of ‘How to write’ – the topic of the audience comes to mind.
The audience has always been something I consciously keep at the back of my mind when I write.
Here is what I tend to keep in mind when remembering to ‘know your audience” and considering ‘how to write” for a specific group:
- Know your audience and try to put yourself in their shoes.
- Perhaps ask yourself what stories and themes might resonate with them
- Understand what problems the audience might face and approach it from different angles in writing.
- It also helps when you have a connection with your audience in some way – creating powerful stories speak intimately and directly to your audience. For instance, I tend to write for a culturally diverse audience and tackle problems that they may face, which draws on my personal experiences as a cultural outcast.
Priorhouse: Wow, “cultural outcast” is such a powerful term. And when I was looking through your blog for an image to share in this post, I realized that you sure do connect with diverse and culturally-minded folks.
- I decided to share a few of the comments from your blog, because they show some of the diversity and rich connection we were just talking about.
Priorhouse: Also, I found this photo from your blog, I liked the rich cultural layers.
Priorhouse: You’ve been blogging for ten years (2012 to 2022).
By the way – I am glad you did not walk away from blogging. I know sometimes folks exit for good – and so I am glad you found a new flow and stuck around (kind of like Ally Bean did as well – found a new flow rather than exiting completely – and Ally was featured in last month’s interview here).
- So Mabel, what was it like when you were new to blogging compared to being a seasoned blogger?
Mabel: At the start, the aim of my blog was to share stories about cultural habits and diversity. That’s still the aim today. However, when I started blogging, it was also about figuring out what and how to blog, finding my niche, and then discovering which blogs I wanted to engage with. These days, I have a schedule that helps me stay consistent with blogging. The schedule also helps me make time to visit blogs and I know how to ignore the trolls. Along the way, it has also been lovely meeting some blog friends in person.
Priorhouse: Well I hope we can connect in person someday. Maybe for a book reunion party or something. Thank you, again, for being one of the authors in the Lady by the River (2017) book.
Looking back on the chapter you wrote, what’s memorable about that chapter?
Mabel: For Lady by The River, I wrote Confidence to Chase My Passion. It was at a time when I questioned if I actually had what it takes to be a writer. This uncertainty stemmed from being Chinese. In Chinese culture, pursuing creative paths is looked down upon and seen as not materially viable.
Priorhouse: Yes, and in your blog post Art vs Science (here), you addressed that topic as well. Mabel, I really enjoyed working with you as we all brought Lady by the River to life. I also loved how you ended your February 2017 post (here) noting that Lady by the River was ready. It was in fact ready for the world and I am proud of its success.
Mabel: In my chapter, I talked about the resistance I continually faced from my Chinese parents who wanted me to be a doctor or banker. But I kept on writing, finding inspiration from respecting my Chinese values, not taking criticism too personally, and pushing boundaries with my craft.
What’s memorable about this chapter in Lady by the River is the emotional connection it offers: a story about believing in yourself as both an artist and individual to achieve your creative dreams. You could be anyone – anyone from any background – and work hard and go places. So many people often feel unhappy with their mundane lives and ignore the deep desire to pursue their true passions. When you try, the chances are very good that different possibilities and new paths will open up.
Priorhouse: I have to say again that I was pretty excited that you had the chance to share a copy of Lady by the River with Lindsey Stirling. Here is the photo I shared on the Lady by the River page HERE:
Mabel: Yes, Lindsey Stirling is my favourite musician. She is a dancing violinist.
My favourite song from Lindsey is Transcendence.
I love the meaning behind it, and to quote Lindsey:
“To transcend something means more than just getting past something; it is to overcome something and become better as a result of an obstacle.”
~ Lindsey Stirling
I have felt that many times with writing – I get stuck, work through that stuck, and then have some words in the end that could help or inspire others within or beyond.
Another song from Lindsey Stirling, a close second favourite, is Crystallize, which Lindsey says is about ‘creating inner beauty in yourself first‘ – which reminds me to believe in myself and my art first – and then set it free.
Priorhouse: Thanks for the delightful splash of the talented Lindsey. It was a nice music lift.
- Also, just in case anyone missed it, in the video above, with the Transcendence song, at the end of it, Lindsey shared about the Landfill Harmonic Trailer:
Priorhouse: What does a typical day look like for you?
Mabel: Having time to myself and quiet time is important to me. It helps me feel settled and centred. I also enjoy decluttering. I’m a neat freak. At some point in the day I make time for reading, typically in the mornings. I usually end the day by journaling or writing down what’s on my mind.
Priorhouse: Tell us a little more about your journaling?
Mabel: I’m quite old school with journaling, putting pen to paper. Journaling for me is a time to reflect on what I’m grateful for, where I’m currently at and where I want to be. Some days I’ll reflect on the progress of what I’m writing, work through writing difficulties, acknowledge the feelings I get while writing, or flesh out both sensible and strange ideas to possibly write about in the future. Journaling can be a way for writers to take a step back from their other writing and look at it from the outside. Through journaling, we can take ideas, thoughts, and feelings to uncharted territory – getting all of that out in front without the constraints of writing for structure. That can be cathartic.
Priorhouse: As we wind down this interview, can you share some of your life aims?
Mabel: I’ve always wanted to bring people of different cultural backgrounds together. To be a cultural connector of some sort. I’ve also wanted to inspire and give a voice for the introverted creatives in a world where extroverts are heard the most.
It’s interesting how each of us can be so different yet so similar. Fascinating how it’s in human nature to be competitive with each other yet at the same time, we all desire peace. We also all desire to love and be loved, be it the romantic or platonic kind.
In the midst of competing with each other and trying to be the one on top, that’s usually where our cultural and personality differences are most pronounced – and we’re ever more divisive. We assert ourselves through dominant identities to get in front, and usually that comes across as someone or one cultural group being better than the other.
Priorhouse: Mabel, you sure said that well.
Mabel: Thanks. People often see the world in black and white. To many, it’s either yes or no, good or bad, this or that. It isn’t always the case, especially when it comes to getting to know and understand someone whom you’ve just met. There’s always more than meets the eye, and always more to someone than first impressions. Everyone has a nuanced cultural background just as much as a nuanced individual personality.
- Let us all remember that there’s a lot of work to be done to cultivate harmonious cross-cultural relationships.
- Let’s remember what Mahatma Ghandi said: ‘Relationships are based on four principles: respect, understanding, acceptance, and appreciation.’
- We can start by acknowledging that no one is better than the other and we can all learn from each other.
Links to Connect
Thank you for joining us for this interview.
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