DiversifYA: Natasha Ngan

NatashaToday, DiversifYA is delighted to welcome Natasha Ngan! Natasha is a social media consultant and fashion blogger by day, YA author by night, and gorgeous person all of the time. She also tweets and blogs!

Natasha’s the author of THE ELITES (Hot Key Books, 2013), a futuristic fantasy set in Neo-Babel, a city full of cultures, racial tensions, and class segregation. Oh, in the form of Silver, it also has a fantastic, brave, flawed girl MC. And a boy with genetically enhanced wings. And a freaking gorgeous cover. (So basically, go read and join me in pining for Natasha’s THE MEMORY KEEPERS, tbr next year.)

1. How do you identify yourself?

Female, straight, mixed race (half English, half Chinese), British, Malaysian, friend, lover, daughter, writer, reader, blogger, explorer, human.

2. What did it feel like growing up mixed race?

It was always something that made me feel special and different. My parents thought it was important I grew up feeling a part of two cultures, to really feel connected to both completely. They did a wonderful job with that. I lived in both England and Malaysia, spending time with my Chinese and British families and learning the different languages. Even little things like my mum cooking Chinese food at home in England, or us visiting the temple in Malaysia to pay respects to my grandparents, made me feel closer to my dual heritage.

3. What are the biggest challenges? Conversely, what are the quirks/perks?

I sometimes got bullied for my Chinese heritage at school, getting called nicknames and boys telling me I was ugly because of my small eyes, things like that. But to be honest, it never really bothered me. Things are much better than they used to be, and for the most part the UK is a very tolerant, open country. Sometimes it has also been difficult to interact with people, because certain behaviours that are accepted in Chinese culture, for example, are unfamiliar to the British, or make me come across in a way I’m not trying to. Occasionally I’ve had problems with friends or at work, when things I’ve said have been taken the wrong way. Another issue, which is very bittersweet, is the feeling of never being fully home or settled, because my heart is divided between two cultures, two countries. It’s difficult being away from my family and lifestyle in Malaysia.

There are far more perks though to having grown up mixed race. My mind is broader for having been brought up within two cultures, learning different sets of morals and etiquette, and being able to speak more than one language does make the world feel more accessible. My cultural background has also had a big impact on my writing. My debut novel THE ELITES is full of influences from my Malaysian/Chinese heritage, as are many of my ideas for future novels. Growing up experiencing both western and eastern cultures has also made me very interested in cultural studies, and it was what I specialised in during my Geography degree at university.

4. What do you wish people knew about being mixed race?

Just how wonderful it is, really! I think if everyone was brought up to learn about different cultures and really immerse themselves in different ones, our societies could be even more tolerant and open-minded. We all have things to learn from and teach each other.

5. What are the biggest cliches/stereotypes you’ve seen?

I’d love to see more diverse characters in YA books in general. Sometimes the biggest stereotype is just their absence. Think how multicultural so many of the world’s societies are today – why isn’t this reflected in our YA literature? It’s also a shame when it feels like characters are simply thrown in just to add a bit of diversity, and there’s little more to their characters than their ethnicity. It’s the same issue we have with sexuality or breaking gender stereotypes. Our world is diverse. Let’s embrace and celebrate that, but not simply as a technique to make a book’s cast more rounded.

BONUS: What is your advice for writers writing diverse characters?

Draw from your experiences. We all have friends from different cultures, or we might be from more than culture ourselves. Use the behaviours and interactions from these experiences to create natural diverse characters and avoid falling into stereotypes. But I think it’s less about writing diverse characters than just writing human characters. Diversity is just one aspect of a person’s life. Follow the same rules for creating any characters – make them real, rounded human beings with their own desires, goals, fears and prejudices.

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