Working with Words: Jamie Marina Lau

Jamie Marina Lau is a writer from Melbourne and the author of a new novel, Pink Mountain on Locust Island. She spoke with us about exploring cultures outside the Western realm, writing what you want to know and shredding documents.

What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?

Photograph of Jamie Marina Lau

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I read it young and expected it just to be this really pretty book, but it was such a tragically apathetic and ordinary version of heartbreak.

Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?

I wrote so many books that just followed the trend of whatever movies were playing at the time. Writing was like imitating scenes and cinematography.

The first full-length novel I wrote when I was 13 or 14 was 60,000 words long and mostly dialogue and was, of course, dystopian. It took me a really long time to understand why I wrote and who I was writing for.

What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?

I’m lucky, I’ve just been a student my whole life so far. So much of my education has informed my work, but a lot of my own schooling experiences also really secluded me in quite a strict Euro-Westernised understanding of the world. Which was cool, it taught me how to read and write in different ways, but it also made me really question what was outside of that.

I’m lucky now that I get to explore deeper what I’ve tried to push away in my own culture and cultures outside of the mainstream Western realm.

I’m lucky now that I get to explore deeper what I’ve tried to push away in my own culture and cultures outside of the mainstream Western realm and include that in my writing. I also have a job at a medical specialist’s room doing admin, reading medical reports and shredding them.

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I think I’d try doing music full-time.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

Worst is to write what you know. Best is to write what you want to know and also not to be afraid of imitation, because your own interpretation is always stronger.

Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?

Yes, I always kept a diary until recently. I kept it more as a log though, and really plainly jotted down the things I did in a day.

The best advice I've received is to write what you want to know and not to be afraid of imitation.

Which classic book/play/film do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?

Claudia Rankine is huge inside the literary world but I think she should have much broader recognition for her work.

Also this poetry book I found in a low-key bookshop in San Francisco called Let’s Let That Are Not Yet: Inferno by Ed Pavlic. It’s this lyric about the experience of daily ‘breaking news’, and he frames it in jazz.

Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?

Sometimes I write with a movie, an album playing and another piece of writing open.

Have you written anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?

Yeah, every piece of writing I wrote as a teenager which refused to acknowledge the diversified world I actually lived in, either tokenising or fetishising my own race, or deliberately excluding any characters or themes which involved my own culture or identity.

Which artist, writer or fictional character would you most like to have dinner with?

Hmmm. Michael Scott from The Office, we’d talk about paper.

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