Friday, November 3, 2023

Q&A with Pim Wangtechawat




Pim Wangtechawat is the author of the new novel The Moon Represents My Heart. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Mekong Review and the Nikkei Asian Review.



Q: What inspired you to write The Moon Represents My Heart, and how did you create the Wang family?


A: I was inspired to write TMRMH during a period in my life when I was reflecting a lot on who I was as a person and what’s made me the person I am today.


A lot of that reflection led back to my relationship with my father and, by extension, his relationship with his father, who passed away just a few years ago.


This is the reason why many things about the family in the book were based on my own family members, and the book became an exploration and an homage to my Chinese heritage.


The book was also inspired by my own experience living in London in my early 20s. Living in the UK as someone from Asia is a very unique experience; London is such a big and sprawling city, but it can also be very lonely.


I wanted to capture that contradiction in the book and, together with the family relationships, explore how we try and find belonging in ourselves and each other. How we can confront our history and figure out a way to move forward with hope.


Q: How was the book’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The Moon Represents My Heart is a very famous song by a Taiwanese singer named Teresa Teng. I used to listen to her music in the car with my parents when I was young, and they are songs that my grandparents’ generation also know.


I wanted to capture that familial memory in the book. Plus, the lyrics of the song really encapsulates the sentiment of the novel.

I love whenever I come across readers of Chinese heritage who recognise the title of the book as the title of the song, and they’ll have their own family memories related to that song that they’ll share with me. Like, “I just did karaoke to that song with my mum!” or “That was my father’s favourite song!” etc.


People of Chinese heritage are scattered all over the world. Some of us can speak Chinese, some of us can’t. But I love the idea that this song kind of bonds us all together.


Q: Did you know how the story would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I’ve had the ending in my mind from the very beginning of the project. The entire story leads up to that scene, and what happens in that scene sums up the spirit of the novel!


So, no, there were never any changes to the ending made along the way. Everything was written towards that ending from the very start.


Q: Did you need to do a lot of research to write the book, and if so, did you learn anything that especially surprised you?


A: Yes, I did a lot of research for the novel. Besides research into my own family history (I interviewed my father about his childhood and his relationship with his father), I did research on the Kowloon Walled City and the Chinese immigrant experience in the UK.


A time period that I did extensive research on was the Second World War and the decade leading up to it.


What was the most surprising was the story of the injustice faced by the Chinese seamen who fought alongside the British during WWII. After the War ended, these Chinese sailors were treated horribly in Britain, and were later deported back to China by the British government without their families being informed.


Until now, descendants of these sailors in the UK are still trying to find out what happened to their husbands and fathers. This is such an important story in our history that has long been overlooked.


Finding out that London Chinatown was originally in the East End was also fascinating. I went for a visit and it’s so amazing to see that the old street names in Chinese are still there. The London Museum of Docklands and the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth were also a huge help!


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on my second novel. It’s the first time I’m writing Thai characters! The story will explore how our fears and traumas impact how we choose to love each other. Hopefully I’ll get it right!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I hope people enjoy TMRMH! I hope it reminds you of good times with loved ones, and that it helps you feel less alone whenever life gets a little bit too lonely.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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