Rising Writers #4 – Dean Tsang
Who are you, where are you from, and what makes you tick?
I’m Dean Tsang (pronounced with a silent T, it tricks a lot of people). I was born in Blackpool, and I’ve lived near that area for practically my entire life. As for what makes me tick, I’d say it’s a mixture of having enough sleep and the occasional Chinese.
Why do you write? What got you started?
I write because I have to. As a kid I was very shy and I found writing to be the best way to internalise my experiences. With poetry/rap it’s because I have something that I really want to say to a lot of people. Creative processes work differently for everyone, and for me prose tends to be escapist, whereas poetry is confrontational. I started out with prose when I was six and my obsession with Pokémon had just begun. With poetry I watched a lot of Epic Rap Battles and then challenged one of my good friends to a rap battle. Then I discovered spoken word, and it all spiralled upwards from there.
Who are your biggest influences? Inside and out of literature.
Inside literature the biggest influence is definitely Audrey Niffenegger, simply because she stuck with The Time Traveller’s Wife even though it took her ten years to write. Also Andrea Levy, because Small Island showed how the first person can work so damn well.
With poetry the list involves a lot of poets who have videos on Button Poetry, as well as W.H Auden, Frost and touches of Plath and Marvell. Outside of literature my biggest influences are rap artists, the biggest of which are Sage Francis, Eminem, Akala, Dan Bull, Eyedea, Tech N9ne, Street Light, K-Rino, the rap battlers on Don’t Flop and Andrew Huang. I listen to music almost compulsively, and sometimes it annoys me because it’ll be about 3am, and I’ll want to go to sleep, but then I’ll hear something fantastic and I’ll refuse to fall asleep for the next two hours because of it.
What would be your favourite poem?
It would definitely be ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost. I studied it in Sixth form and it really reached out to me. Especially that last verse, I mean damn.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Top five novels/story collections?
I remember George Orwell’s 1984 terrifying and exciting me at the same time. It was also the first book that I read where I didn’t care about the page number and convinced me that I could read for fun. Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go was such an intense reading experience that I didn’t feel worthy of being a writer after I had finished. It also helped me decide to study English literature at university. Replay by Ken Grimwood is just brilliant, and reminded me of why I love science fiction in the first place. Vurt by Jeff Noon had me turning the pages frantically because the story hooked me that badly, and the ending was just extraordinary. I stumbled upon The Book Thief by Markus Zusak in the library randomly and loaned it on a whim, and it’s the reason why I sometimes close my eyes and point to random books when I’m trying to decide what to read next.
Do you have a favourite song lyric?
I’m going to say I don’t, because choosing a single favourite lyric is the toughest thing ever. The last time I had a really big ‘wow’ moment with lyrics though was when I was listening to Once Upon a Blood Moon by Sage Francis. The whole song chilled me, but this worked particularly well:
They skimmed rocks for the whole day
He imagined he was throwin’ rotten parts of himself that broke away
So he couldn’t stop, fascinated by the way they skip up top
Give up and then drop, he sank with them
What inspires you/where do you find inspiration most? Are there any themes you feel particular affinity for? Political, personal, etc.
When I was a kid I tended to remember my dreams quite vividly, and as a result that’s become one of the major places where I draw inspiration. Solitary walks also help. Nowadays music plays more of a role, with the energy motivating me to just do it. Without music my creativity would be dimmed quite a lot.
With prose, I love experimenting with ideas, especially if they have an impact on the story’s physical structure. So the ideas can be anything really- most of the time they’re based off a writing prompt, so it’s hard to say. It’s very similar with poetry, although I like to offer a mix of both personal and political topics, because I think variety provides a refreshing challenge.
Do you have a specific technique, or routine to your writing?
I never delete. When redrafting I will always keep the old sentence and type the new sentence below, comparing it to see if it really works better. I also seem to like writing in the early mornings or the late nights, which was a rather inconvenient hobby back in university.
Where are you with your writing right now?
Currently I’m trying to see how I can fit writing around my fulltime job. It’s proving slightly difficult, but I’m working something out. Normally I’ll go to the library in the morning before work and write some prose before celebrating with a quick hot chocolate.
I also secured the opportunity to get my spoken word poetry critiqued by Mark Grist as a reward for helping to fund his Kickstarter. I’m both excited and nervous as I’ve spent many nights being overwhelmed by the punchlines he’s used in his Don’t Flop rap battles (I still have his Dead Poets Deathmatch CD to listen to as well!)
What are your plans for the future? What’s the ultimate goal?
The goal at the minute is to save up for either a Master’s or a PGCE- I’m currently taking a gap year to find out what I really want to do. Ideally the ultimate goal is to publish this novel that I’ve been slugging it out with for the past six years. It’s called Intensity and is supposed to be about a drug that makes you see from the other person’s perspective. But something goes horribly wrong, and then things happen with eldritch abominations and your long term memory being the antagonist. I’m not quite sure.
Touring the UK with the spoken word would also be pretty fantastic, although that’s a dream that’ll take a while for me to realise, I think.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Prioritise quantity over quality. It’s much better to write a terrible page in a day than a single perfect sentence. The reason for this is that it gives you more to work with; after you’ve gotten all of it down, then you can work on trimming it like the fine metaphorical barber you are. Also write every. Single. Day. And never give up, no matter who says what, even when that person is you.
Make up your own question to ask yourself. I am that lazy.
Where can we go to find out more about your work?
With prose, you can find some works about at my WordPress, Thatdeanguy.
For poetry, you can find updates on my Facebook page
You’ve met the Tsang, now taste his tang.
Wow, that was terrible, but yeah, check out Dean’s damn fine work on the next page…