How Amy Tan gained confidence to write her first novel

Amy Tan had always been interested in creative writing and, although she works as a copywriter, she wasn’t confident in her fiction skills. So she turned to an Australian Writers' Centre course. One of the exercises that she worked on during that course eventually evolved into part of her debut novel, Katie Goes to KL. This has now been published in Australia and Singapore by Penguin under her pen name Su-May Tan.

“The AWC course was flexible enough to fit around my work and family commitments. I learnt the basics of fiction such as structure and plotting, and some industry insights. Most importantly, it gave me the confidence to explore my ideas and to keep writing,” Amy told us. “I am thrilled and excited to have the book come out into the world.”

Confidence to write fiction

Although her work as a copywriter is fairly creative, Amy never formally studied literature. “Being born and raised in Malaysia, I never really studied creative writing as part of school. I was in the science stream so English as a subject for me was quite basic. We learnt things like writing business letters and comprehension. I didn’t do English literature,” Amy says. “ I studied commerce and accounting at university so I felt I just needed some basic skills in creative writing.”

Amy started writing Katie Goes to KL several years ago, but as a first-generation migrant she felt that writing fiction wasn’t a priority.

“It took me a long time to finish it as I got derailed by life, such as work, kids, and having another kid. Being a new migrant, you don’t get the luxury to write as you have to prioritise re-establishing your ‘real’ career,” Amy says. “As a result, this project was often put on the back burner.”

Taking courses at the Australian Writers' Centre, including Writing Young Adult Fiction, gave her the permission she needed to write, as well as the connection and support of other writers and her tutor.

“The courses are good because of their flexibility and the tutor I had was supportive. Writing is such a solitary activity, it’s good to have a place to get feedback and being able to study in your own time.”

The inspiration behind the story

The inspiration for Katie Goes to KL came from Amy’s own experience with her children. “I have always wondered how my children would view their ‘home’ country if they visited. How would they see the country, where would they fit in? This book questions the notion of where home is – what do immigrants gain when they move, what do they leave behind?”

In the book, 16-year-old Katie Chen lives in Narre Warren with her somewhat reclusive Malaysian father. Coming to Australia when she was five and losing her mother at seven, she has always struggled with issues of identity. When she goes back to Malaysia for her grandmother’s funeral, Katie discovers that her mother is actually alive. Navigating Kuala Lumpur’s underground music scene and the underlying tensions of a country she doesn’t understand, how far is Katie willing to go to find a place to belong?

After finishing her manuscript, Amy submitted it to competitions which gave her the impetus she needed to keep pursuing success.

Amy continues to work as a copywriter at an international not-for-profit organisation, which she is immensely proud of, and fits writing fiction into her spare time. She is currently working on a historical fiction manuscript set during the communist insurgency in Malaysia in 1955.

Congratulations on your first publication, Amy. We look forward to seeing your many future successes!

Courses completed at AWC:

Browse posts by category
Browse posts by category

Courses starting soon


Nice one! You've added this to your cart