The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of The Healing Party
Ten Terrifying Questions
To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Penang Malaysia, and migrated with my family to Australia at the age of eight. My brother, sister and I were the first Chinese kids to go to Ashwood State School. I remember lots of friendly kid fingers wanting a feel of my black hair, and being given special leave to wait inside after school to avoid the racial taunts of some of the Jordy boys who hung around.
What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve, I didn’t think about what I wanted to be; I had quite low self-esteem and mainly wanted to fit in. At eighteen, though I never loved it, I started studying law because I thought that was a good thing for a person with a progressive physical disability to do. By thirty, I had discovered a passion for human rights and for art, and was working as a human rights advocate and a painter.
What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
At eighteen I thought that if I could only research comprehensively and think hard enough, I could always come up with the answer.
What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Emily Kngwarreye’s Sacred Grasses series, her last works before she died, for their energy and purity; Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits for making pain and disability sexy; and Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead for that quiet, truthful voice.
Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I painted for many years but five years ago had to stop because of the progression in my disability. I took up writing- in many ways it was a natural transition because of my love for literature, and the stories I would tell through my pictures.
Please tell us about your latest novel…
The Healing Party is my first novel. It arose from my early experience with the Charismatic Revival, where I became interested in idealisation and the division between who we are and who we want to be, and the schism that can develop where the gap becomes too great.
The story is about the Chan family from Hong Kong who migrated to Melbourne and become Evangelical Christians. It focuses on how the family responds when the mother has cancer and doctors say she has only a few months to live.
The story is told by Natasha, the estranged daughter, whose father receives a message from God that her mother will be healed of cancer and they are to hold a party so many can witness the miracle.
Natasha is torn between the unity and comfort their faith brings to her family, and her sense that they are pretending to believe.
Helen Garner on The Healing Party:
‘A wild family drama, shot through with a furious, pure and grieving love’
What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
If readers gained some solace, enlightenment, and/or pleasure from my novel, I would be very grateful!
Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
I admire Helen Garner’s authenticity, and her power in delving into the parts of us we would rather keep hidden which at the same time affirms what is good and wonderful in us.
Marilynne Robinson I admire for showing the beauty, grace and mystery which pervade ordinary life. Both writers have an eye for detail and a clarity of words that just make you want to sigh.
Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I would like to keep writing or making art which gives something to other people.
What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Don’t worry about whether others will think it makes a good story or not, just write about what is absolutely numinous and urgent to you.
Thank you for playing Micheline!
The Healing Party
An electrifying debut novel about faith and lies, the spirit and the flesh.
When her mother is diagnosed with a terminal illness, Natasha returns to the home she fled many years before. But her father, a Charismatic Christian, has not changed: he is still the domineering yet magnetic man she ran from, and the family is still in his thrall. He comes home one night with astonishing news: he has received a message from God that his wife is to be healed ...