Cam Dang had burst onto the NiTH scene recently with the tragically hopeful “New Life”. We sat down for a chart with the Melbourne based author to talk family, celebrities, and finding time to write.
Who are you? Where are you?
I am a blessed wife and mother who is currently utilising her maternity leave to read and learn more about writing in English – Vietnamese is my first language. I live in Melbourne, Australia, among family and friends who are probably my only fans, the biggest being my wonderful sister, who has had my back since day one.
Have you got and other stories we can read? What about a website?
www.camdang.wordpress.com is where I post my most current short stories and blogs. I try to keep it up to date but most of my time is consumed with nappies and food mess, reading and underlining, and writing and refraining myself from editing before I reach the end of my first novel, ‘Fighters’.
What is Fighters?
Fighters’ tells the story of two brothers who inherited a business empire built on missing people and underground inhumane entertainments, only one of them wanted nothing to do with the family legacy. They struggled to reconcile after the deaths of their parents, and both were fighting a lone battle with demons of their own. Together with disagreement in a new, unthinkable business venture, the abduction of a new victim whose wife was involved with one of the men had turned brother against brother. Consequently, neither of them realised a new power had arrived at their front door, threatening to take away everything they owned. Facing evil and good, instincts and virtues, lust and love, it would take an unbreakable faith between the victim and his wife to trigger a chain of events leading to the final battle where everyone went in with everything they had.
Don’t get intimidated by difficult books. Everyone has his or her own style. Find yours, and focus on your story, what you want to say, how you want the readers to feel. Last time I checked, feeling is a universal language. – Cam Dang on writing and reading in a second language
That’s incredible! You mentioned your sister as your biggest fan. Do you think it’s important for writers to seek our support from their families?
Absolutely. Knowing you have your family’s support motivates you to work harder because you want to make them proud, and because you want them no longer having to say, ‘here’s some money.’
Absolutely! How did you find NiTH?
While writing the first few chapters of ‘Fighters’, frustration and self doubt prompted me to Google short story competitions – I needed to see where my writing stands. I found NiTH from www.austwriters.com. I feel fortunate to be welcomed with open arms and haven’t stopped grinning since ‘New life’ was short listed – it was the first time for me.
What was the inspiration for New Life?
The prompt in Triumphant Return Award gave me the idea of writing about a woman visiting her homeland, Viet Nam. Originally I intended to write a light hearted piece focusing on the simple life in the countryside. Unfortunately I started to yawn half way through, so I thought, ‘Stuff this, let’s kill somebody.’ Hence spawned a darker plot for ‘New Life’. I remember bashing away at the keyboard and shaking my head as I thought, ‘Goodness, what did this character ever do to me?’
Have you read and other stories you’ve liked at NiTH?
I love ‘Rest Now’ by Joanna Li and ‘Identifying Ogres’ by Alicia Bruzzone. I haven’t had a chance to read previous awards’ shortlisted stories, and I cannot wait to do so.
What about favourite authors?
Shamefully I admit I have only begun reading books written in English since 2009, and even then I was reluctant – given my background, I had to and still have to work twice as hard reading and writing in English. I try to read and learn as much as I can from best selling authors. Stephen King will always hold a special place in my heart. My childhood was influenced by translated novels from Victor Hugo, Hector Malot, Mark Twain, Denis Diderot. I absolutely worship Hector Malot’s ‘Nobody’s Boy’. These authors’ timeless novels will always be a huge part of me, because not only I read them at the stage when a person is most impressionable, I was introduced to them by my late father, a man who would save a meal for two reasons: more food for his daughters, or more books.
Your father sound like a great guy. Was he the influence for the uncle in New Life?
I think whether I do it consciously or not, my father exists in almost everything I write. The uncle in ‘New Life’ is an example – I didn’t actively think about my father at the time, but both men have a lot in common. They were calm, caring, respectful. Both had rough lives, yet still remained selfless, kind hearted, dignified men. Although, there’s a huge difference between them: uncle stayed away from the ladies, whereas my father actively searched for the right woman – he was getting awfully lonely, but more importantly, my sister and I needed a mother.
Do you have any advice for writers trying to build confidence in their English, or indeed writing in any language?
Here’s my daily chant: Read a lot. Write a lot. Edit later. For writers whose English is their secondary language, don’t think ‘My English vocabulary is not good enough.’ That’s what dictionaries are for. Just think: Can your favourite English speaking author write in your language? Don’t get intimidated by difficult books. Everyone has his or her own style. Find yours, and focus on your story, what you want to say, how you want the readers to feel. Last time I checked, feeling is a universal language. When in doubt, read and read some more – a good book will inspire you, and a bad book will give you courage.
Do you have any rituals or routines when you write?
I write with a kid on each side, both cheering me on with their snores. I write while I eat. I write sitting in the toilet. I write staring at mountains of dirty clothes and dishes. Every day I read and write with guilt riding at the back of my mind: I should be spending these minutes with my kids or doing chores. Sometimes I tried doing exactly that: abandon my books and laptop. The result: a lot of shouting and crying and tantrums, none of which came from my children. Living with kids, my writing routine is best described as an affair with words: sneak in some time and just write the heck out of it. There is no luxury of setting the mood or preparing a writing space. Seize the moment when Peppa Pig is on, and make it count.
Finally, what’s the secret to Jai Courtney’s perfect, flawless skin?
Having sleep deprived, exercise hating, binge eating mothers as his fans.