Headland Alumni: Where are they now?
The Headland team love to watch what happens next in the writing lives of authors we have published – we find out through Facebook updates, tweets, emails letting us know that their Headland story will now be published in their first book, or exciting new additions to their author bios the next time they submit.
But we thought it would be fun to find out in a more formal way, and to share the news with the rest of the Headland whānau. So over the next couple of months, we will be sharing a series of interviews with Headland alumni, called ‘Where are they now?’
For our third piece in this series, Theressa Malone has a chat with Sharon Lam.
Theressa: Kia ora Sharon! It’s great to speak with you today. So you first featured in Headland in Issue 10 with a piece of short fiction called ‘The Adventures of Mental Man’ back in 2017. Where were you in your writing career at that point?
Sharon: At that point I was doing my Master’s at the IIML! I applied to the course after writing a column and some features for Salient during architecture school.
Theressa: I really admire that angle into writing from a design field – in your Headland piece there is this great dynamic between the characters and technology: a running dialogue between the speaker and subjects. The tension between these threads almost snaps at the end! Other than architecture, what influences your style?
Sharon: This piece actually came from a writing exercise we did during the first few weeks of the MA. If I remember correctly we picked a paragraph from a random book, and used the lines in that paragraph as the final lines of a piece of writing; i.e. for this story my found and reused lines were: “You are nurturing someone else/nurturing can take a very obvious or tangible form/This could involve holding someone, bringing over chicken soup, or leaving someone alone if that’s what she needs,” etc. I think I used some kind of fortune-telling book from the 90s? Perhaps using an external found text added/set up the tone.
Theressa: Enviably cool. Now, your debut novel Lonely Asian Woman came out in 2019. This text features a similar tension in the relationship between the main character and the outside world. Are the two texts related in some way?
Sharon: Both pieces began in the MA, so I was drinking the same water and peeing in the same place for both, so of course there’s an inherent relation in terms of their milieu. I guess the two pieces also focus on friendship as the core human-human relationship?
Theressa: What provoked you to investigate friendship in that way?
Sharon: I guess during that time I felt more interested in writing about friendship over romantic or familial relationships. Unlike family (who you’re stuck with) and romantic partners (which society rewards you for having), friendships simply are, and with that comes a lot of interesting elements.
Theressa: I noticed many contemporary references in your work, such as Netflix, smoothie carts, commercial blimps, etc... which in some way root the text in a modern setting. But your characters also seem to speak from a world that operates outside of time. I want to ask you about that relationship between thought and lived experience. What does ‘day dreaming’ mean to you?
Sharon: As someone who constantly zones out, daydreaming is a poetic way of describing what’s happening upstairs haha. But no, it’s nice to daydream, to think in a leisurely way, take your brain for an aimless stroll if you can. It’s the best way to find things, isn’t it? Daydreaming could even be considered radical- it’s either rule-breaking (daydreaming at school, at work), or working against capitalism (being oblivious to advertising, not letting social media make money off your time and information, etc).
Theressa: Interesting because when I read Lonely Asian Woman, I felt like I was watching it play out in motion, almost like a film. What’s your favourite film?
Sharon: That’s so interesting to hear! And to me, a great compliment, as I really think films are the best art form, no? So accessible and all-encompassing. This is a very hard question as I truly have five million favourite movies, but my favourite movie I’ve watched or rewatched recently is Happy As Lazzaro or Diamantino or Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.
Theressa: Totally. I’ll add those three to my list. Are you working on anything new right now?
Sharon: Not in the form of sentences, only buildings in my day (and night) job. Although
I’m way too busy to write, I feel lucky I can stretch my creative muscles in this form too.
Theressa: As an architect, do you find yourself impacted by the buildings you are surrounded by? For example, did the architecture of Wellington impact your work in ways that differ from when you’re writing in Hong Kong?
Sharon: Not so much the buildings themselves individually, but more the urban grid. Hong Kong is one of the densest places on earth and Wellington is definitely not. Funnily though, I find Hong Kong way less suffocating than Wellington. There is that amazing anonymity that comes with disappearing into a giant crowd in the city, which I find so calming, whereas Wellington became very claustrophobic for me, with a fear of recognising every second person on the street. I think because of this, writing became a way to breathe.
Theressa: That’s fantastic. OK finally, I have to ask: What are you reading today?
Sharon: I am partway through Donna Haraway’s latest, Staying with the Trouble, and I just finished Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a novel written entirely in Singlish. Suuuuper hilarious and especially great for anyone who’s lived, or at least gone clubbing, in Singapore.