Lau Siew Mei



Lau Siew Mei (b. 1968, Singapore–) is a Singapore-born writer best known for her acclaimed debut novel, Playing Madame Mao. She has also produced poems and short stories, and worked as a journalist. Lau migrated to Australia in 1994 and settled in Brisbane.1

Early life and education
Lau was born in Singapore in 1968. Her paternal grandparents were immigrants from China and her father was born in Singapore, while her mother’s family was from Malaysia.2 Her mother was a former teacher who published textbooks and anthologies of poems.3 Lau completed her primary and secondary education at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, and her pre-university education at National Junior College.4

In 1988, as a first-year Arts and Social Sciences undergraduate at the National University of Singapore, Lau won the second prize in the prose section of the university’s Poetry Writing/Creative Prose Competition (no first prize was awarded). Her entry was The Story of Jonas, a fable about the loss of childhood innocence. The story was published in The Straits Times.5 She was also awarded a special book prize in English literature in the 1987/88 university examinations.6 She graduated in 1990 with a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and Philosophy, and went on to obtain a graduate diploma in Journalism from Murdoch University, Western Australia.7

Lau recalls being surrounded by books as a child, with memories of many books at home and being left at the bookshop with her father while her mother shopped for groceries. She was an avid reader and storyteller, and as a child she made up her own stories and told them to anyone who would listen. Her favourite writers then included Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, and Edgar Rice-Burroughs.8

Work and emigration
Lau worked as a freelance journalist for The Straits Times from 1987, and as a columnist and fashion consultant for Her World women’s magazine.9 She later wrote for newspapers in Brunei and Australia. In 1993, she obtained a visa as an Australian permanent resident. Feeling constricted by what she saw as Singapore’s conservative environment, Lau migrated to Australia in 1994 in search of literary opportunities and freedom of speech. She settled in Brisbane and worked for the public service.10

Literary career
Lau’s short stories have been published in newspapers such as The Courier Mail in Australia and journals such as the Asiatic IIUM Journal of English Language and Literature,11 Australian Short Stories, Overland, Westerly, and Planet: The Welsh Internationalist. Her stories have also been broadcast on the British Broadcasting Corporation World Service and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Radio National.12

Lau’s debut novel Playing Madame Mao was published to critical acclaim in 2000. The novel combined the exploration of oppression and its effects, with myths and literary references including Chinese legends, Singaporean folktales, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and Catholic theology, all in a magic realist style. It was shortlisted for a number of awards, including the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the 2001 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, and the 1999 Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards for Best Emerging Queensland Author. The former, in particular, put Lau in competition with renowned writers such as Peter Carey, Frank Moorhouse and Alex Miller. Playing Madame Mao was also Highly Commended in the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction in the 2000 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. The novel was translated into Greek and published in Greece in 2001, and in the United Kingdom in 2002.13

Lau received the Varuna Writers’ Residential Fellowship from the Eleanor Dark Foundation in New South Wales, Australia, and an Asialink Literature Residency from the University of Melbourne in 2001. She used the latter residency to study Peranakan culture in Malaysia for her second novel, The Dispeller of Worries.14 She also received a A$25,000 Developing Writers grant from the Literature Board of the Australia Council in 2001.15

In 2007, Lau published the children’s book Yin’s Magic Dragon. In 2009, The Dispeller of Worries was published.16

Literary style and influences
Playing Madame Mao played with the notion of time as a linear narrative, and worked in many literary, philosophical and cultural references such as the Chinese Cultural Revolution and Singaporean culture.17

Lau cites J. M. Coetzee, Yasunari Kawabata, Franz Kafka and Fyodor Dostoyevsky as writers she admires.18 She holds an interest in quantum mechanics and reality, and has researched books on the nature of time by authors like Paul Davies and Stephen Hawking.19

Selected publications
2000: Playing Madame Mao
2007: Yin’s Magic Dragon
2009: The Dispeller Of Worries

Awards
1999: Shortlisted in the 1999 Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards for Best Emerging Queensland Author for submitted manuscript of Playing Madame Mao.20
2000: Highly Commended in the Vance Palmer Prize for Fiction in the 2000 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for Playing Madame Mao.21
2001: Shortlisted in the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction in the 2001 New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards for Playing Madame Mao.22



Authors

Alvin Chua & Joanna HS Tan



References
1. Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2016, July 4 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html
2. Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2016, July 4 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html
3. Tan, R. (1988, March 26). Giving unlived lives a chance to breathe. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2016, July 4 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html
5. Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2016, July 4 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html; The story of Jonas. (1988, March 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. AustLit. (2016). Lau Siew Mei. Retrieved 2016, June 27 from Australian Literature Resource website: http://www.austlit.edu.au/austlit/page/A12538
7. Lau, S. M. (1993, July 31). Where’s the NUS spirit? The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mohammad A. Quayum. (2007). Interview with Lau Siew Mei. In Mohammad A. Quayum, Peninsular muse: Interviews with modern Malaysian and Singaporean poets, novelists and dramatists. Peter Lang, p. 284. Retrieved 2016, May 2 from Google Books website: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=vECbRry3LEgC&pg=PA283&lpg=PA283&dq=Lau+siew+mei&source=bl&ots=zIMHMYMuBh&sig=oxUtMKLiSZT4sGjo3GTPkPPRtD8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG3bGF6NPMAhVLpI8KHbJmCOY4HhDoAQgjMAI#v=onepage&q=Lau%20siew%20mei&f=false
8. Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2016, July 4 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html
9. AustLit. (2016). Lau Siew Mei. Retrieved 2016, June 27 from Australian Literature Resource website: http://www.austlit.edu.au/austlit/page/A12538
10. Tan, H. H. (2001, August 18). The critical side of love. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2016, July 4 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html; Pang, A. (2001, October 6). Great leap backward. The Straits Times, p. 17. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Lau, S. M. (2008, June). Bird on the road. Asiatic, 2(1), 125–133. Retrieved 2016, June 28 from http://journals.iium.edu.my/asiatic/index.php/AJELL/search/search
12. Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2016, July 4 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html
13. Seet, K. K. (2001, November/December). Writing away: For these two writers, distance brings objectivity and inspiration to the creative process. Esplanade: The Arts magazine, 50–51. (Call no.: RSING 791.095957 E); Tan, H. H. (2001, August 18). The critical side of love. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Mohammad A. Quayum. (2007). Interview with Lau Siew Mei. In Mohammad A. Quayum, Peninsular muse: Interviews with modern Malaysian and Singaporean poets, novelists and dramatists. Peter Lang, p. 283. Retrieved 2016, May 2 from Google Books website: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=vECbRry3LEgC&pg=PA283&lpg=PA283&dq=Lau+siew+mei&source=bl&ots=zIMHMYMuBh&sig=oxUtMKLiSZT4sGjo3GTPkPPRtD8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG3bGF6NPMAhVLpI8KHbJmCOY4HhDoAQgjMAI#v=onepage&q=Lau%20siew%20mei&f=false
14. Mohammad A. Quayum. (2007). Interview with Lau Siew Mei. In Mohammad A. Quayum, Peninsular muse: Interviews with modern Malaysian and Singaporean poets, novelists and dramatists. Peter Lang, p. 283. Retrieved 2016, May 2 from Google Books website: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=vECbRry3LEgC&pg=PA283&lpg=PA283&dq=Lau+siew+mei&source=bl&ots=zIMHMYMuBh&sig=oxUtMKLiSZT4sGjo3GTPkPPRtD8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG3bGF6NPMAhVLpI8KHbJmCOY4HhDoAQgjMAI#v=onepage&q=Lau%20siew%20mei&f=false
15. Writing grants. (2001, November 2). The Courier Mail. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
16. Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2010, October 25 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html
17. Mohammad A. Quayum. (2007). Interview with Lau Siew Mei. In Mohammad A. Quayum, Peninsular muse: Interviews with modern Malaysian and Singaporean poets, novelists and dramatists. Peter Lang, p. 290. Retrieved 2016, May 2 from Google Books website: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=vECbRry3LEgC&pg=PA283&lpg=PA283&dq=Lau+siew+mei&source=bl&ots=zIMHMYMuBh&sig=oxUtMKLiSZT4sGjo3GTPkPPRtD8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG3bGF6NPMAhVLpI8KHbJmCOY4HhDoAQgjMAI#v=onepage&q=Lau%20siew%20mei&f=false
18. Forbes, E. (2009, July 30). The writing life… Lau Siew Mei. Eric Forbes’s book addict’s guide to good books. Retrieved 2016, July 4 from http://goodbooksguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/on-couch-lau-siew-mei.html
19. Seet, K. K. (2001, November/December). Writing away: For these two writers, distance brings objectivity and inspiration to the creative process. Esplanade: The Arts magazine, 52. (Call no.: RSING 791.095957 E)
20. Mohammad A. Quayum. (2007). Interview with Lau Siew Mei. In Mohammad A. Quayum, Peninsular muse: Interviews with modern Malaysian and Singaporean poets, novelists and dramatists. Peter Lang, p. 283. Retrieved 2016, May 2 from Google Books website: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=vECbRry3LEgC&pg=PA283&lpg=PA283&dq=Lau+siew+mei&source=bl&ots=zIMHMYMuBh&sig=oxUtMKLiSZT4sGjo3GTPkPPRtD8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG3bGF6NPMAhVLpI8KHbJmCOY4HhDoAQgjMAI#v=onepage&q=Lau%20siew%20mei&f=false
21. Mohammad A. Quayum. (2007). Interview with Lau Siew Mei. In Mohammad A. Quayum, Peninsular muse: Interviews with modern Malaysian and Singaporean poets, novelists and dramatists. Peter Lang, p. 283. Retrieved 2016, May 2 from Google Books website: https://books.google.com.sg/books?id=vECbRry3LEgC&pg=PA283&lpg=PA283&dq=Lau+siew+mei&source=bl&ots=zIMHMYMuBh&sig=oxUtMKLiSZT4sGjo3GTPkPPRtD8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG3bGF6NPMAhVLpI8KHbJmCOY4HhDoAQgjMAI#v=onepage&q=Lau%20siew%20mei&f=false
22. Tan, H. H. (2001, August 18). The critical side of love. The Business Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resources
Milliner, K. (2000, June 17). Quiet achiever. The Courier Mail. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/

Wagner, T. (2005). Occidentalism in novels of Malaysia and Singapore (1819–2004): Colonial and post-colonial financial straits and literary style. Edwin Mellen Press, pp. 273–285.
(Call no.: RSING S823.009321821 WAG)



The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Writers
Authors, Singaporean--Biography
Poets--Biography
Lau, Siew Mei, 1968-
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors