PP Wong is Editor-in-Chief of Banana Writers, a website that encourages and supports new Asian writers from over thirty countries. She has a degree in Anthropology and Law from The London School of Economics and has been touted as “The first British born Chinese novelist to secure a publishing deal in the UK.”
Why did you start Banana Writers?
I always felt there were too few books being published in the western world by Chinese authors. Yet so many Chinese writers had wonderful stories to tell. I thought to myself, I can either moan about the state of the world and society or I can do something about it. So I decided to start the website and through word of mouth and social media, it kind of exploded.
The website has readers from all across the world, where are you from?
I’m a British born Chinese. My parents are originally from Singapore. But they could never make their minds up about where to live, so I spent my childhood moving between countries and moving house. I’ve been to 10 different schools in my life. I think all BBCs go through a period where they feel neither here nor there. So I would say I’m happy being a mongrel – a British Chinese banana mongrel.
What is Banana Writers and how does it work?
Banana Writers is a non-profit organisation that was created to encourage and empower new East Asian and South East Asian writers. We have a team of volunteers that bring a wealth of experience – from a Literature lecturer that specialises in Shakespeare to a non-fiction bestselling author to a comic book artist to an economist from a top investment bank. The team give me useful feedback on submissions and we pass along comments to writers that we feel would benefit. If we see a writer with potential, we give free editorial support to make the piece polished enough to be published on Banana Writers. Since we are a small team, it is not possible to help every writer that contacts us. But we definitely try and do our best to help as many as we can!
Nothing makes us happier than we receive emails from writers telling us that being published by Banana Writers has progressed their writing career.
Why do you think it is so difficult for Chinese authors to get published?
The publishing industry is a hugely competitive money-making game. The majority of publishers will only take on a book if they think it has enough commercial value to sell tons of books. So in that sense, many publishers don’t go with what they see as a “risky” option. Since there are fewer Chinese authors around we have been pigeon-holed into the “high risk” category. Many editors get 50-100 submissions a week (often more) and they may only take on a couple of authors a year, if at all. If you were an English editor would you go with the tried and tested English author, or a new Chinese author writing on a culture or topic you have no idea about?
As we have seen time and time again many bestsellers such as The Life of Pi were rejected by publishers because they are too “different” from the other books out there. But then they end up selling very well. It takes a special editor to take on “risky” books rather than novels of rehashed stories of what is already on the market.
Apart from reading, do you have any fun hobbies?
I grew up with two older brothers so I’m a bit of a computer game geek. But I sadly don’t have as much time to be a gamer as I used to be. I was pretty good at WWE and beat all my brother’s friends with this massive guy called Mark Henry. Boys used to say that I was just being “lucky” but I think that’s because they hated losing to a girl!
I also love travelling. I studied Anthropology & Law at University so I’m really interested in getting to know cultures and the locals in a deeper and more meaningful way. I have some very random friends including Masaai warriors and a guy from who lives in a remote village in India but has thousands of Facebook friends.
Why do you think it is important for BBCs to pick up their pens and write?
I was talking to a Chinese man who lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown for his whole life. He told me that all the books he read about people living in Chinatown were written by Caucasians. He said “We need to write our own stories for the next generation. If not the white people will write them for us.”
What he said struck a cord. BBCs need to write our own stories. Otherwise future generations will be left with a skewed version of what life was really like for the British Chinese community “back in the day.” It doesn’t have to be a novel – it can be a blog, a diary, a play or a poem. Writing is such a powerful tool. So, if you want to voice your opinion or tell your story just keep writing until the noise is heard. With the internet, one good article or blog can reach millions of people, and this can really influence our society for the better.
So what are your hopes and plans for 2014?
Well, I will be trying hard to help more writers get “unpeeled” in Banana Writers and working with my publisher so my novel The Life of a Banana is ready for its release in September 2014. I hope that in 2014 more East Asian and South East Asians create stories they want to write, not what they think people want them to write – stories written from the heart.