Tony Chan, tell us a little bit about yourself
Well, I’m the kind of person who finds these kinds of questions a tad difficult; perhaps that tells you enough about me!
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Pretty much the usual: pilot, football superstar … but also, for about six months, a hotel concierge.
What books have had a lasting impact on you?
Le Petit Prince has always held resonance, primarily for the way that it deals with distinction between a child’s and an adult’s ability to imagine things. From the canon, Joyce, Yeats, Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn and Catch-22 have all won my affection at some time. Also, there’s definitely something that has always grabbed at me, out of Steven M. Newman’s biographical Worldwalk – a copy of which I received as a young teenager, after my mother fished it out randomly from the bargain box of a low-end bookseller in Sydney.
Why do you write?
Two reasons come to mind. First, it’s a chance for me to inhabit a façade of sorts – I can step out of being Tony Chan, and rather, be Tony Chan the author, or the omniscient narrator, or even the characters that are on the page. Second, I sometimes see words, the composition of lines and pages, as a puzzle. I suppose that some people like crosswords or Sudoku, whilst I prefer to play games with the choice of words, and with their arrangement.
Your advice to new writers just starting out?
I am the new writer, who seeks such advice!
As an author, what are you most proud (or embarrassed) of writing?
Last year, I wrote a long poem in defence of the fast-food chain, McDonald’s. For all the faults of its restaurants and of its food, there’s no doubt that they are still places that provide a space of belonging for the lonely, as well as a sanctum of happiness and connection for children, families and lots of people who are increasingly disconnected from a non-virtual existence. It remains a piece – absolutely uninteresting to any publisher – that I’m still glad to have written.
What is your biggest failure?
Falling in with the ways of the normalised world. You know: study hard, work hard, work a way up a corporate ladder; and not seeing that I had to break away from that pattern until I was past thirty and some of my best years had passed me by.
Your views on success?
Not important one iota. Almost everything else in life has more value.
What are you working on at the moment?
As is ever the case with me, a series of ‘projects’ – many of which will not move to completion. Among my present explorations are a book of lullabies, a photo essay that celebrates migrant-run ‘hand car washes’ across the country, and a series of vignettes cataloguing the actual stories of homeless people in London.
Your views on book publishing?
Far too romantic – a remnant of my teenage years when I picked up a book containing facsimiles of the letters sent by Hemingway to Max Perkins at Scribner’s.
Your views on how new technology has (or has not) changed your writing life?
I don’t doubt that it has opened up a much broader audience for me, and also, mad interaction between reader and author much closer to instantaneous. Indeed, this Four Points Fourteen Lines project might not have been possible without the daily connection through the interweb.
Your views on social media?
I’m not averse to it, but it’s not my thing. I use a dumbphone, so that I physically don’t have the hardware to be connected constantly, nor to run any apps.
Do you enjoy reading ebooks?
I tend to throw books around, so in my country of the analogue, the physical book is still king.
If you could go anywhere in time for one day, where would you go and why?
I’m quite happy not to time-travel: I believe that we live in the here and now and that existence in itself is awesome enough.
Who are the five people, living or dead, you’d invite to a party?
Wouldn’t it be nice to get some of the real movers and shakers together? Foremost, Martin Luther and Martin Luther King – I wonder how they might react to their shared names? I’d like to invite Zelda Fitzgerald as well, who probably saw so much and got to say so little in those days of the génération perdue. Then there’s Bob Dylan – I ought to thank him for getting me interested in how words and sounds work (I’d love to claim that the source of my literary education was a little more highbrow, but I’m happy to admit that my earliest influences were some CD recordings of the folk-rock of Dylan). Finally, whoever randomly walks past the party first – always nice to share the fun.
Which characters in history do you like the most?
Cicero, Lincoln – hmmm, probably showing the influence of my education in Law – King Canute and Hector of Troy.
Which characters in history do you dislike the most?
I don’t really have any – even despicable characters make for fascinating study.
Your idea of happiness?
I should defer to that oft-misunderstood Danish word, ‘hygge’.
Your greatest unhappiness?
Regret. Though I feel that it serves a purpose in shaping future decisions.
Your bedside reading?
Presently, a couple of Christian books, including the snazzy-titled Preacher, keep yourself from idols.
Your greatest achievement?
Still to come – we live in hope!
Your favourite motto?
FIAT LUX. The phrase is blind-embossed on my stationery.
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