Dorothy Tse on how she writes

The wards-winning Hong Kong author on the job of writing

Hong Kong author Dorothy Tse is increasingly picking up awards and critical praise for her haunting and occasionally gruesome fiction, which combines beautiful prose with disturbing imagery. Her latest book Snow and Shadow, expertly translated by Nicky Harman, has just been published in English. It’s a breakthrough collection of short stories that explore identity from the vantage point of modern Hong Kongers. Time Out ask her how she goes about the job of writing.

I often have dreams of my work, and sometimes they wake me up early in the morning, leading me to my computer to write. In these moments, I consider eating breakfast as harmful to my writing. Walter Benjamin wrote once about a German tradition that one shouldn't tell dreams on an empty stomach. He says that the person who is awake but hasn't eaten, is, in fact, still possessed by the magic of dreams. But this is exactly what I want: the spell of a dream is important to a writer. 

Dreams lead you to the unconscious, and sometimes they are the essence of reality that you don’t see in daily life. My stories may seem dreamlike: ‘Woman Fish’, for instance, has a main character whose upper body transforms into a fish. However, I wrote this story after looking at a set of photographs by Lu Guang. They showed people’s deformed bodies due to diseases that are a result of pollution in China. 

When I need to, I can write anywhere and anytime. I like especially to write on the back of an inch-thick agenda during a three-hour meeting. Life is very busy in Hong Kong, and I feel like the city forces me to squeeze every free moment into time for writing. At the same time, it’s difficult for a writer’s imagination to dry up in a city like Hong Kong. People from all over the world move in and out, buildings and landscapes emerge and disappear suddenly, not to mention the radical cultural, social, and political changes in Hong Kong now. 

Writing is a slow method for catching up with all of these fast-moving transformations – not like taking dozens of photographs in a few seconds. It takes me at least a month or more to write a short story. Writing is a process not of recording the surface of the world, but of contemplation, of resistance and being true to one’s visions.

Snow and Shadow is available from for 107RMB.