A Social Worker? Why Do you Write?

I was asked the question quite frequently. Some people are genuinly curious while some others mockingly asked ‘You studied Social Work. But why did you become a writer?

My initial response was ‘Well, maybe I want to contribute to a social issue I’ve observed?’ Consequently, the repeated questions make me think further. Why do I write?

Readings as a child​​ might be a big influence on becoming a writer. When I was able to read, my mum was a book vendor. She was really good with her business. She bought many serial of novels. During the 80s, most novels were written by hands and then copied by hands and sold to various provinces. My mum rent those novels to her villagers. I remembered one corner of our house was to stock piles those books. I also remember that mum was not keen for me to read those romance novels. Well, like many traditional parents, she was raised to believe that readings bring more bad than good to girls. I could not understand why but I did manage to read the novels anyway. I read many books when she was not around.

A hand written novel. Photo by Novelist Tim Many. This hand written book probably is nearly 40 years old.

Many people were heavy readers. My mum’s book rental business went so well was due to the fact that many people read. Villagers came and rent the novels. When finished they returned the books and rent another series. This went on and on. Occasionnally, she needed to buy new novels as villagers were asking for new books to read. One night, mum’s hair caught fire from a lamp while she spent almost the whole night reading her favorite novel. This evidence tells that people do read if books are conveinent, affordable and accessible to them.

A front cover of a hand written book. Photo from Tim Many, a senior writer/novelist

While mum had plenty of novels at home, dad always bought books from Phnom Penh and brought them home. I remembered I was so happy to hold those shining books. I read all of those. He himself is also a heavy reader and has a talent in editing Khmer literature. If you give a draft to him, he would fine every minor spellings and able to suggest for changes/revisions of the draft.

I kept writing throughout my life. During my university life, I wrote many poetry. Once, when I was seversely sick and needed to stay home. I needed to skip class for a few weeks. I missed my classmates so much. So I wrote a long poems to describe everyone of them. Later, I also write but not frequent propably due to work and lack of future aspiration. Though my writing was on and off I did write on diary and a blog I created.

World Poetry Day. Photo by Chheangly

Social Work education helps me with voice finding in my writing. After graduation from Australia with a Master Degree in Social Work, I started to write again and this time I made it go far. Soon upon returned, I noticed some challenges within Cambodia societry especially people’s mindsets on how women should behave. Co-founded with my friend Hout Socheata, Kampu Mera Editions was established in 2013, two years after I came back from Australia. After its establishement in 2015, we have published 5 titles, three of which are short story collections, one is a historical novel (Bophana, the Flower that Never Wilts), and another one is a translation from French. With social work background, it helps me balance my literary value veruse economic driven value.

After these reflections, I think even thought I had not published until 2015, I have been reading and writing since a very young age. So becoming an author now should not be a doubt for others. I strongly believe that reading as a child helps, attending creative writing workshops, and social work background do buulding me as a writer now.

A poetry reading event. Photo by: Chheangly

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