Lee Tran Lam is the host of the Australian music show, Local Fidelity, on FBi94.5FM, and writes the popular food blog, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Hungry. She has written for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Food Guide, is a freelance contributor to magazines such as Inside Out, and has her own popular podcast.
You have what many of us would probably consider to be the ideal job: eating good food and then writing about it. Is it as awesome as it sounds like it would be?
Well, I don’t know if it’s a career- it still feels more like a hobby! I’ve worked full time in magazines for about 10 years now, and I started writing my blog about 5 years ago. I think I started the blog because I really like the idea of exploring your city as a tourist, and going to places you don’t know, and food is such a great reason to do that, to go to suburbs you’ve never been to and so on. Also because that was the first time in my life that I was going out and finally spending a bit of money on a dinner every now and then for celebrations and that sort of thing, and taking photographs of the food and writing about it a bit is a great way to make it last longer than a few hours. And also because I found that, if you just tell your friends, “Oh, I went out and had a great meal last night,” they really just don’t care, but if you have great pictures- and I’m allowed to say they’re great because my boyfriend takes them- then they’re a lot more interested. But, really, I just started it for fun, and I’m still a little bit shocked that I got a career out of it! Because, in a lot of ways, I’m probably a really terrible freelance journalist in that I’m quite shy, and really don’t like going banging on people’s doors. So, for me, having a blog was a great way of pitching myself and my stories without really have to do the classic schmoozing act. Because, personally, I’d really prefer to write instead of spending all my time schmoozing people to get them to publish me.
You’ve obviously fully embraced the modern era and all the technologies that come with it: blogging, digital radio, podcasting and so on. Do you ever long for the days of typewriters and fountain pens, or do you think that technology is a force for good in the literary universe?
Well, I feel like I’ve very much experienced the double-edged nature of technology, in that I’ve worked for a long time in print media, which is now haemorrhaging jobs, with people being made redundant and so on. So that’s definitely the downside of the Internet, in that publishing still hasn’t learnt how to cope with, or to reclaim the revenue it’s lost through digital encroachment on traditional publishing. But, for me, personally, I’ve got so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have got without the Internet, so I’m very thankful. And I also like the fact that I can read so much great writing through the Internet without any difficulty, and that I can meet so many people through the Internet and Twitter so easily. And my podcast just wouldn’t be possible without technology, either. But podcasts are, for me, such a great format for talking to niche interest groups. So if I did a long interview with a chef, for example, there’d be nowhere that would let me spend 5000 words on that interview unless they were Neil Perry or the winner of MasterChef or someone like that. Apodcast is really the only way you can do something like that, and really talk to people who are less famous or mainstream and get their stories out there, which is something that I really want to do!
You’re a connoisseur of writing, of food, of music, of interior design- a jack-of-all-trades, in many ways. What would you say is your one true love?
Well, I think the great thing about writing is that it allows you to be a jack-of-all-trades, and it allows you to try on all these different interests quite easily. As a writer I think you’re encouraged to write about a lot of different things, and no one really tries to box you in or limit the range of things you’re writing about. I think that unless you want to enter some sort of really specialist field like IT or finance, which need quite a lot of technical knowledge, you can really do whatever you want. So writing is an incredibly good passport into all these different fields.
You do a lot of work with both the spoken and written word. How are they different for you, and is there one that you prefer?
Well, I really do love writing, because there’s something about putting together a story with your mind and your pen- putting shape to a story on a page is really fulfilling and an interesting process. But, on the other hand, what I do love about radio is that it’s a format that lets you let someone speak for themselves. When you’re writing a story, you’re obliged to put shape to a story and interfere with it a little bit, but sometimes it’s great just to let someone get their own story and their voice out there.
Lee Tran Lam will mentor in blogging and radio at the Living Library workshop at the Emerging Writers’ Festival. Others mentors are Andre Dao, Pat Grant and Astrid Lorange.