Zen Cho was born and raised in Malaysia. She is the author of Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad and editor of anthology Cyberpunk: Malaysia. She has been nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer and honour-listed for the Carl Brandon Society Awards for her short fiction. Her debut novel Sorcerer to the Crown (Ace/Macmillan), about magic, intrigue and politics in Regency London, won a British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer and was a Locus Awards finalist for Best First Novel. She lives in London.
Tell us 5 things we need to know about you?
I’ve worked on five books you can check out:
1) Sorcerer to the Crown – an awardwinning fantasy novel set in early 1800s London about England’s first African Sorcerer Royal (published by Penguin Random House/Pan Macmillan)
2) Spirits Abroad – a collection of short fantastical stories about Malaysian characters, which also won an award (published by Fixi Novo, also available in ebook)
3) The Terracotta Bride – a fantasy novelette set in the Chinese afterlife about first love, bad theology and robot reincarnation (available in ebook only)
4) The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo – a historical romance novella about a Malayan Chinese woman making a living as a writer in 1920s London (available in ebook and online)
5) Cyberpunk: Malaysia – an anthology I edited of short cyberpunk stories by Malaysian authors (published by Fixi Novo, also available in ebook)
My books say all you need to know about me.
What is the hardest part in the writing process?
Writing the first draft is the hardest for me. Once I’ve got a draft done I revise a lot and that can be challenging, but I find it easier to work with something I’ve already made than to carve something new out of thin air.
What do you do when you have writer’s block?
I make myself write 100 words, or one sentence if I can’t do 100 words, or one word if I can’t do one sentence. Currently I’m contracted to produce books, so I don’t have the luxury of not doing it. But sometimes it can be more effective to take a break and refill the creative well before coming back to the writing.
How has your move from Malaysia to England influenced your writing?
Some of my fiction is directly inspired by the move, so e.g. I’ve written short stories about going to boarding school and university in England. More generally, I moved around a lot as a kid anyway, so that sense of cultural dis-junction appears in almost all my work, in one way or another.
What is the next adventure in Zen Cho’s life?
Because I really like what I’m doing now, more of the same, I hope! I’m working primarily on my next novel, which is set in the same universe as my first novel Sorcerer to the Crown but focuses on new main characters. I’ve also got a couple of other writing projects going.
Name a woman who inspires you and, tell us why?
My maternal grandmother Chan Siew Eng. I didn’t know her very well as she lived in Kedah and my family was mostly based in Selangor, plus my Hokkien is really bad so there was a barrier to communication. But she was a very loving, strong woman who had a huge and continuing impact on my extended family, even now that she has passed away.
I like being both. There have been times when I would rather have devoted all my energies to writing, and other times when it would have been a relief to get to focus exclusively on the law. But I value having the balance of two careers – most of the time I find it stimulating, if occasionally tiring.
Having lived around the world. How would you describe Malaysia to a foreigner?
Hot sweaty country with dubious politics, amazing food and a lot to offer.
What makes you Malaysian?
I grew up there. My family and many of my friends are either based or from there. I’m obsessed with good food, speak multiple languages badly, and enjoy afternoon naps when it’s raining.
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
I wish every day was International Women’s Day – or better, no day. Because when women have a truly equal position to that of men, we won’t need it anymore.
How would you like to see women roles change in the future?
I think most women are on the right track. I’d like to see men step up to the plate and make changes so that we have a truly equal society.