where grows creativity, in wilderness?

Food for thought at the upcoming discussion in Hong Kong Literary Festival on 11 October, 7.30pm, Dr Hari Harilela Lecture Theatre (Shaw Campus) Baptist University. Simon Armitage (author of many collections including Seeing Stars by Faber and Faber), Prof Daniel Chua (Head of School of Humanities, HKU), Prof Lo Kwai Cheung (Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Baptist University Hong Kong), Prof Hans Lagegaard (Professor, Department of English Language and Literature, Baptist University) and I will be in dialogue on creativity and world cultures. Come along with a question.

Creativity wears its deceptive mask. It looks like thought but resembles athletic exercise, requiring consistent discipline and no-nonsense action.


I have never met a good writer or a good artist who is lazy. No matter where they come from, or what past they have left behind.

There’s no rule nor confine for creativity, but is there a condition that promotes it?

For full event details and other happenings in this year’s festival, check out festival.org.hk. Register for this free event at martintcho@hkbu.edu.hk.

Colm Toibin, author of Brooklyn and Empty Family, will talk about Ireland as land of literature on 13th October, 2.30-3.30pm at Kee Club.

Time management: the art of juggling

Lately I have been reflecting on the art of juggling – the ways and implications of good time management.

One interesting finding is that, most people I know are very busy. They give up going to places or trying out things on the grounds that they are busy. There isn’t enough time.

You would think that if the average person has a hard time juggling everything in life, those more senior business executives or entrepreneurs – taking more flights than we take the cab or train – will be much busier than the average office worker and have a tough time fitting things in.

Apparently not.

I remember years ago I discussed the same issue with a reporter from ELLE magazine. She told me that, having interviewed so many celebrities and business leaders, she realised those people who are top in their fields tend to be more hardworking than anyone, getting up very early and going to bed very late at night. You would have wondered why they need to be so hardworking now that they have reached such a peak in their lives, but hardworking they remain.

I have had the luck to meet a handful of highly successful business, government and artistic leaders in the past, and from their life stories I realised that they approach time and priorities in a very different way than most people. To put it more simply, they are very aware of the need to prioritise. They are very keen to spend their time wisely and productively. Yet they are much less likely to stop doing things simply because of a lack of time. In other words, they are much more ferocious in getting what they want in life.

I once received a one-to-one coaching/lecture by a business entrepreneur for hours. He is one of the richest persons from my home city (if not globally), and one of the most intelligent guys I have come across. When he finished talking to me, he asked me if I was aware he could have easily earned millions of dollars in those hours he just spent. Looking back, I always felt that I learnt much more from what he said than from years spent working away in a given role in any typical office.

That business entrepreneur taught me the need to value time more passionately than anything else. He sees the urgency in accomplishing even the most minute task. If he says he wants a thermos flask, he doesn’t mean he want a thermos flask tomorrow, but today, in an hour or less if that is possible. If he wants to have a chat with you, he doesn’t mean let’s schedule a time to talk next week or next month, but today, as soon as you can. That probably means you should get dressed right away and hail a cab to go to wherever he or his office is. Even during lunch time and you haven’t had any food yet.

Do you know how much my time is worth?

It sounds a crazy and unreasonable way to live. It sounds unreasonable, but it has also opened up a new way of thinking for me. Nothing is too unreasonable, if justified by your own priorities.

Most of us like to postpone things. There are a million things that we want to do or places we want to go or people that we want to see, and we put off the meetings or ideas or thoughts to ‘when we’ll have more time’. But the time ‘when we have more time’ will never come unless we make it happen. There is never enough time and there never will be. All we have is today.

The same applies to writers. Especially to writers. A lot of good books are borne out of an urgent, burning desire to write, not out of necessity. They are written not because the writers feel they are talented and lucky or have the time to do so, but because they realise they have only so much time left on their hands and that they should give it all they have.

For a long period in his life, Murakami used to run a jazz bar until the small hours in the morning. Every night when he closes the bar he has to do the cleaning and finish the accounting, before he can sit down at his desk and write. By then it will be 3am, and he can almost hear the birds start singing. For most people, it will be unreasonable to write in that small space of time. There is just not enough time to do this. But he did. And oh he did well.

Writing and research

Went to a free talk by Hanif Kureishi, author of The Buddha of Suburbia, The Black Album, Intimacy, Love in a Blue Time, The Body, Gabriel’s Gift, Midnight All Day, Something to Tell You and now the latest released The Collected Stories, at Foyles bookstore. It was a full house event.

Hanif kureishi collected stories

I read his first book Intimacy during university and it was one of the books that influenced me most. I was so taken aback by the rebellious voice. I found it thrilling to read. Reading is not a sedate or escapist activity, it is rebellious and highly uplifting.

Kureishi points out the need for research. Then there is also writing about families and love which need lesser research because all the time you live your life, you have been researching on these themes. Finding out more about your partner, your family members, your children. He said his kids said to him one day: “Dad, the problem with you is that you do not realise how much we hate you.” He has a brilliant way of capturing the readers and the audience.

He said we are all inspired by the way we love and hate our partners, and that those hours you spent in the kitchen arguing with your wife are real-life research. He points out that there must be a certain degree of understanding before you can write confidently about the subject. Fantasy is fine, but you do have to feel that you have the depth of insights and freshness of perspective before you can dive in. He said there are subjects that he cannot imagine writing, because of that reason.

Unsurprisingly he was also asked if he felt the need to disguise characters in his writings, since they might have to do with his closest people. He said that writing is not so much to expose other people’s stories but to make a good story. The judgment lies in what makes a good story. He tends to be more general in the use of other people’s story. I think it is an important area to think about for those being writers. Inevitably your knowledge about yourself and your close ones inform your way of thinking and creativity, but as Kureishi mentioned, there is no necessity to expose other people. The point is to project a voice of your own.

I find it curious the way writers connect. I see myself as a Chinese writer, and we are so different in terms of background, nationality, knowledge, career, language…yet when he spoke, I found no difficulty appreciating what he thinks.