Tan Twan Eng was born in Penang, Malaysia, and worked as an advocate in one of Kuala Lumpur's leading law firms before becoming a full-time writer.

His debut novel The Gift of Rain was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2007 and has been widely translated. The Garden of Evening Mists won the Man Asian Literary Prize 2012 and the 2013 Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2012 and the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Tan divides his time between Kuala Lumpur and Cape Town. The House of Doors is his third novel.  

Tan Twan Eng on writing The House of Doors

I begin with the main characters. I work out what is it that they are seeking. I always know the ending, although getting there is another matter entirely. With this novel, I even knew what the concluding sentence would be; every other word and sentence preceding it was directed, like an arrow fired from a bow, towards that final sentence.     

I type on a laptop because it just looks more official to me, more real, more professional – I convince myself that I’m doing actual work and not just messing about. I rewrite countless times, as the final work has to be as near perfect as possible. I try to maintain a consistently long stretch of writing, because it’s so hard to sink back into the trance of writing again if it gets interrupted for too long.

I write at my desk in my study. I try to keep my workspace organised, but inevitably and very quickly the desk would be overrun by stacks of books, papers, and other research materials. There’ll also be a big cup of tea – I drink incessantly when I’m writing.  

Read the full interview here

Tan Twan Eng

All nominated books

The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng
The Gift of Rain
The Garden of Evening Mists