Who inspired you to write? Your primary school teacher?
Author (Also Me):
Yes, my mom, who happens to be a teacher. She got me addicted to books and my dad fueled my obsession with words. My favourite childhood activity wasn't going to playgrounds or parties, but going on trips to a dingy bookstore in Kowloon City underneath a bridge, where books were sold by weight, and we would choose the flimsiest paperbacks to make the most out of every kilo.
What's behind your first story about Hong Kong?
Having lived in Hong Kong my whole life, I realise that there are hardly any stories that tell of the real Hong Kong, not just Hong Kong in the eyes of others: not Suzie Wong's Hong Kong, not Jackie Chan's Hong Kong; and certainly not Hong Kong in a Crazy Rich Asians’ alternate universe. So, like J R R Tolkien who was motivated by a desire to write an epic for his own people, I, on a much, much more humble scale, want to do the same for Hongkongers.
Why do you consider yourself qualified to write about this city?
I don't think I am, but someone has to do the job! (self-deprecating laugh) I was born and bred in Hong Kong, a city I love with all its strengths and flaws: its gritty pavement, super highways, soft earth, and calm waters. Believe it or not, I even love the pollution, the humidity and density, the brashness, the no-nonsense morality of each and every one of the seven million people living in this land.
And how would you describe Hong Kong in one word?
Hong Kong is messy, fun, humourless, exciting, lonely, shallow, complicated, pious, ruthless, insulated, embracing, impatient, tolerant, indefatigable, tenacious. I want to tell of extraordinary stories that happen to ordinary Hongkongers. Because what I see in this tiny city is unique but at the same time, not so different from anywhere else in the world.
That's more than one word.
The heroine in the story, Jasmine Spitfire -- where does the inspiration come from?
I've always been a big fan of local pop culture and history -- ancient TV programmes, black-and-white movies we had in those good old days: Chinese gods and goddesses with their celestial dramas, the monsters and their slayers, detectives, triad bosses, tragic figures, and comic heroes.
But amongst them, my beloved is Lui Sark Sau, 女殺手，The Woman Assassin. She is my perfect protagonist -- spunky, stubborn, unstoppable, and a little reluctant; definitely a character, never a caricature. She is the reason I started writing the Human Whisperer series.
She is my Jasmine Spitfire.
Do you see a lot of yourself in this character?
Not one bit. While I can describe myself in seven words—“an enthusiast of everything, master of none”—Jasmine Spitfire is different. She is big-hearted, and a drama-queen. She makes things happen and everything happens to her, amplified a hundred-fold. She is my Walter Mitty. I can leave the old and saggy husks of my pedantic self and transmogrified into her sassy, alluring costume, at least for a few hours a day. So does everybody, to a certain extent.
In her, I am the reluctant hero; a feminist who doesn't know she's a stunning feminist; a counsellor who gets up from her armchair to go fix the world.
Through her, I can be fun and spontaneous. I toss out pithy one-liners, excellent come-backs and my humour is unstoppable (because I have all the time in the world to craft each and every word sprouting from my mouth. Type, delete, re-type, until I smile smugly at wit). I unearth truths, catch perverts, abort terrorist attacks, save damsels and princes, decode complicated ciphers, read unreadable minds, and come face-to-face with murderers, psychopaths, arsonists.
I even have a true adversary. I've broken my legs, shattered bones, dislocated shoulders, singed hair, busted spleens. No, I haven't busted my spleen yet. Maybe next time. And yet I'm still intact; hunted, haunted, but undaunted.
My last question. So, should we say your stories are social commentaries of Hong Kong?
Oh, just let them keep you up all night! I hope you enjoy Jasmine Spitfire's adventures as much as I did writing them. While it is fiction, sometimes, life imitates art, or is it the other way around?
About TM Tam
TM Tam is a Hongkonger. She was a banker, a photographer and now, a writer. For her, it's a natural progression of life, alphabetically, at least.
Penny Dreadful is her fourth novel. Having written about the city's past and present, TM is inhabiting the thrilling world of 2033 Hong Kong.
She has a husband, two sons, two cats and a dog who hates walkies.