Cover Images: Courtesy Lauren Ho

Not unlike the protagonist of Last Tang Standing, Lauren Ho brushes aside the counsel of others to listen to the beat of her own heart

Billed as "Crazy Rich Asians meets Bridget Jones' Diary", Malaysia-born Lauren Ho's debut novel will hit the bookshelves next week. The following is an excerpt of our interview with Ho, who is currently based in Singapore:

Tatler Malaysia: From law to literature, how did that transition unfold?

Lauren Ho: I harboured dreams of being a published novelist, but being pragmatic, decided that going to law school and getting a degree was safer. Nobody incepted the idea that law or medicine should be my only choice—my parents never pressured me to pick either—but I didn’t know better. I also blame Ally McBeal for glamorising a hard life.

I went on to work in one of the largest law firms in Luxembourg before becoming a legal counsel with the central bank of Luxembourg. Despite the prestige of my position, I was bored and unhappy. And there was so much work, cascades of it. I started writing a novel around that time but had to abandon it.

It was only after I moved to Singapore and returned to the humanitarian sector did I have the breathing space to write again. I had also matured as a person and had more stories to tell, and the discipline to tell them. Friends advised me to kick-start my writing, so I started writing flash fiction and short stories again. Being shortlisted in a few international competitions gave me more confidence to pursue my dream of becoming a published novelist. In late 2016, I got the idea for Last Tang Standing and finished the first draft in a year.

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Did you pen Last Tang Standing for Asia's young adult audience? And do you believe that a book’s protagonist determines its readership?

I didn’t set out to write the novel for any particular audience, although I’m aware that by virtue of my protagonist’s age and her experiences, it will appeal to people going through the same upheavals or uncertainties in their lives.

It is a well-known fact in publishing that approximately 55 per cent of the readership of Young Adult books, which typically feature traditional coming-of-age narratives, comprises of adults in the 30 to 44 age band!

While there is a tendency to read what you know, it shouldn’t hinder you from exploring different genres.

The age of the protagonist should never be a limiting factor that dissuades you from picking up a book you’re interested in.

Rebellion against one’s elders is a theme that resurfaces time and again in novels, but especially in Asia where high expectations are a stark reality. Your thoughts?

This could be a thesis on its own. Personally, I think that ‘rebellion’ is a strong, somewhat negative word—most of the time people are just trying to stake their claim on something they care about and show the world what that is. That’s how it is for my protagonist, Andrea. Without giving away too much of the plot, in the beginning Andrea is mechanically following the blueprint drawn up by her parents for her life. A series of unfortunate events happen before she realises that she has to start developing more agency in her life or risk never knowing who she is at all.

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Last Tang Standing takes the reader on a journey through Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, the United States, and Luxembourg—a reflection of your own colourful life on the road. Would you have been a different writer (or a writer at all), if it weren’t for your nomadic chapter?

I’m very grateful to have a multicultural extended family. Besides growing up in Malaysia, I spent half my life living in very different countries. Exposure to different cultures with their values, beliefs and norms, has shaped my sense of self, my understanding of how to be, and how to be well. In a way we write what we know, so this exposure has broadened the worlds in which my characters inhabit.

I also find that how I write is influenced by what languages I’m surrounded with. When I was living in Luxembourg, I wrote more forceful, immediate prose; a lazy slinkiness envelops my prose when I summer in France. And words roll off me with a certain musicality when I’m in Malaysia. My English, and by extension my writing, is thus—and I’m borrowing Arundhati Roy’s poetic words here—“widened and deepened by the rhythms and cadences” of other tongues.

Will Andrea Tang make her comeback in a sequel?

I do indeed have plans for another sequel, but it will depend on how things go with the rest of 2020. Let’s hope 2021 is a better one for the humans and the world.

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'Last Tang Standing' is available in Malaysia starting June 9, 2020.

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