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The man behind the author

Sunday June 12, 2005

The man behind the author

By KEE HUA CHEE

SO far, The Harmony Silk Factory has taken Tash Aw to New York, Oslo, Paris and Prague, leaving the first-time author a little disoriented – as well as bemused at appearing in glossy magazines and posing for elaborate photo shoots around the world. 

“A stylist was assigned to me and I was asked to pose in a blazer by Martin Margiela, shirt by Dsquared2, jeans by Helmut Lang and boots by What Comes Around Goes Around! I felt like a model!” grinned the soft-spoken, pleasant 33-year-old when this writer sat down with him recently for some carrot cake in the Tate Modern’s cafe that overlooks the Thames. 

His real name, it seems, is Aw Ta Shii, but it sounds so Japanese, everyone calls him Tash. “My mum only calls me Ta Shii when she is pissed with me!” 

Though he was born in Taiwan, Aw is thoroughly Malaysian, he assured. “I was born in Taipei but that was only because my parents were working there.” Dad is an engineer from Kota Baru while Mum is from Ipoh and Aw himself grew up in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur; he’s a La Salle boy, all those Old Boys out there will be interested to know.  

Aw went to Britain to study law at Warwick University and Cambridge but had no desire to be a lawyer. “I did it just in case I failed at writing but writing is exactly what I wanted to do.” He then went to London and enrolled in the Creative Writing Course at the University of East Anglia. This is, obviously, a sensible lad, not an impractical, starry-eyed Artiste?. 

The unflappable Aw also demolishes the notion of the starving author writing feverishly in the garret before tuberculosis sets in. “I was at UEA (in 2002) on an Arts Council scholarship but even before that, I was financially okay. I was working as a paralegal in a law firm and earning a decent salary. 

“It annoys me, this traditional model of the scrawny, wild-eyed novelist whose manuscripts never get read. Would-be writers are practical and usually work to survive in ordinary jobs. I don’t look eccentric nor am I that way.  

“If on the surface you look entirely normal, some think that you must be screwed-up inside, that once they get to know you, they’ll discover you are actually mad or something. This is not true. Of course, you get the odd flamboyant writer who’s insecure inside and hides it under a grand personality. That’s just false confidence and they come across as wankers.” 

Not this one. 

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