Lauren is a reformed legal counsel who writes funny stories. She has previously worked for Doctors Without Borders and UNHCR. Hailing from Malaysia, she lived in the United Kingdom, France and Luxembourg before moving with her family to Singapore, where she is ostensibly working on her next novel. LAST TANG STANDING is not based on her mother. At all. Seriously.
She can be found here @hellolaurenho on Twitter, IG, FB and hellolaurenho.com.
1. Congratulations on publishing your new book, Last Tang Standing! It’s been described as Crazy Rich Asians meets Bridget Jones’ Diary - but how much of Andrea Tang, your protagonist’s life, is based off of yours, and where does the line blur into fiction instead?
Andrea Tang shares certain similarities with me in the sense that we're both Malaysian and worked in a law firm, but she's a woman striving to make partner in a top law firm and dealing with all its attendant challenges, while my most exciting daily activities are preventing my toddler from swallowing LEGO pieces and smearing jam over hard-to-clean surfaces. And the only plotting I do involves fictional characters.
2. Your new book appears to touch on both the pressures of traditional Asian familial expectations and the uphill battle that women face in the professional working environment. How did you personally grapple with these challenges, and did you find that they were commonplace everywhere you worked?
I think working women, Asian women maybe in particular, are usually the ones that bear the brunt of household chores and childcare, even when they are somehow working full-time. It’s the way society has shaped these gender dynamics and roles. I was lucky to have a partner who is very progressive and hands-on in the household, but I recognise that he’s still in the minority. In general, we should all be advocating for gender equality in the workplace and at home, as far as that is possible.
3. As someone who’s worked in various countries and across multiple fields, how would you describe your experiences in adapting to new environments and starting afresh at various points in your career?
I transitioned back to the social sector when I moved from Luxembourg to Singapore, as I started out in the humanitarian field before I worked in investment funds law. I very much wanted to go back to that sector as I felt it was more in tune with my values and my priorities as a person. I don’t mind being in the legal profession, but I didn’t love it, so following my heart and going back to the social sector was not too hard. Of course, it’s never easy to start afresh, whatever stage in life you’re at, but everything depends on your mindset—if you can humble yourself and learn from others, you will have it easier. The willingness to learn and to humble myself has helped me find my footing at each juncture. This is a form of resilience, and resilience is important as the world moves and evolves really fast these days.
4. How did your law degree prepare you for being an author, and did the substance of your law degree assist you in your current profession?
There’s a lot of research and plotting needed to write a novel, plus attention to detail that was probably honed during my time in the legal profession.
5. Having reflected upon your adult journey in your book, what would be your one piece of advice to a young Lauren Ho just starting out at university today?
Be bold and try new things. I wish I’d started stand-up comedy earlier. I was an amateur stand-up comic for 2 years in Singapore, and I loved it. It really helped me become a better writer.
6. What advice would you give to law students who are uncertain about their careers and have yet to make up their minds about which fork to take on their career paths, especially those who also aspire to become authors?
Don’t be afraid to try new things and do get some extracurricular activities that have nothing to do with the law. If you’re not sure about what type of law or which type of organisation you’d like to have a legal career in, do try to obtain legal internships in such organisations and take your internships seriously. And if you’re looking to write (part-time or full-time, like famous Malaysian lawyers-turned-authors Tash Aw and Yangsze Choo), then do read widely and across genres—and write regularly with clear targets, such as to enter a fiction writing competition, to have a piece published, etc; for aspiring novelists, you should also join a writer’s group with a goal of producing a manuscript by a pre-set deadline. And network, network, network! Twitter is especially good for that, and many an aspiring writer have found agents through online pitching competitions.