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News > Alumnae Interviews > 10 Questions with... OR Yang-May Ooi

10 Questions with... OR Yang-May Ooi

May's monthly alumnae interview is with Yang-May Ooi (No. 3, 1975-80) an award-winning theatre maker, TEDx speaker, writer and podcaster.

Yang-May is an acclaimed writer who has had novels published internationally. Her books include novels The Flame Tree and Mindgame, as well as an award-nominated business book International Communications Strategy. Yang-May has also written and performed in the sold out solo theatre play 'Bound Feet Blues' in London's West End. She is also the host of the 'Creative Conversations' podcast and the official podcaster for Beyond Conflict, the mental health charity for conflict zones. Yang-May also speaks at events such as the Oxford Literay Festival. Her impressive creative work follows a successful career as a property soilictor specialising in social housing.

Yang-May shares her memories of writing for the school magazine Kaleidoscope, directing House Plays and how the familiar smell of gorse will always remind her of sunny days on the playing fields. 

What is your favourite memory of Roedean?

I loved the wide open vista that the playing fields and grounds offered, especially in the summer. I was hopeless at sport so the best moments were when I was knocked out at rounders and could sit among the buttercups on the bank with my friends and chat! And the smell of gorse - whenever I smell it now, I am transported to hot summer days at school. That, and the sound of a solo bi-plane in an otherwise empty summer sky.

What was the best piece of advice you were given whilst at School?

I don't remember any specific piece of advice as such. But I remember lessons on Wordsworth and Coleridge with Claire Coghlin who came in one day a week in my sixth form years. The way she talked about poetry, its form and structure as well as how the Romantic poets used the landscape as metaphor - suddenly, I got it, I understood what poetry was all about and how to write it as well as how to read it. It was what I learnt in those lessons that has infused all my writing throughout my creative life - from my legal thrillers The Flame Tree and Mindgame to my stage play Bound Feet Blues and related book memoir of the same name.

When you were at Roedean, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up’?

A writer. I wrote for and edited Kaleidoscope - is that magazine still going? I wrote and directed the House Play - working alongside Claire Hopkins (producer) and Lulu Deslongrais (star) and other talented girls from different forms to put together A Christmas Carol. I won various writing prizes. All those opportunities gave me confidence and drive to keep working to achieve my childhood dream. 

What are you now you've grown up?

A writer! I was able to work part-time as a lawyer, specialising in social housing, in the City, which allowed me the time and headspace to write and develop other creative projects. I published my two legal thrillers with Hodder & Stoughton - I was chuffed that The Flame Tree became a bestseller in Malaysia. 

As one of the early adopters of blogging, Twitter and Facebook, I had a small side hustle as a social media consultant. This led me to co-author the social media chapters of International Communications Strategy (Kogan Page) which was nominated for the FT Goldman Sachs Business Book Award 2009. 

More recently, I wrote and performed a solo stage play Bound Feet Blues for a three week run in a small theatre in London's West End. I have no acting experience and was taught to act during rehearsals by my director, the remarkable Jessica Higgs. The show was produced by Eldarin Yong and supported by The Arts Council, The Housing Finance Corporation and Maclay Murray Spens. I published a family memoir of the same name with Urbane Publications alongside the show.

What does your job involve?

For part of the time, I was doing creative projects as above. The rest of the time I was a solicitor at Trowers and Hamlins working on social housing development projects. I then moved across to The Housing Finance Corporation (THFC), a profit for purpose lender, where I was their Security Asset Manager, responsible for over £5billion worth of property assets. I worked with lawyers and valuers to ensure that the portfolios of properties that THFC took as mortgage security were sufficient to secure the loans they gave to housing associations. 

What have you done that you are most proud of?

My solo theatre show Bound Feet Blues - it was the coming together of everything I wanted to express creatively. It was scary and exhilarating to hold the stage in a professional theatrical run with no acting training or experience and to pull it off! I was also fortunate and gratified to work with a wonderful creative team and have the support of our generous sponsors. I was touched that so many ORs came to the special OR Night performance.

I feel that through this show (and the related book memoir) I have said everything I want to say as a writer. My focus now is to give back to others, especially young people, and to my local community through mentoring and volunteering. 

What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?

Being on a desert island would feel too much like lockdown these days so thank you for the invitation but I'm not going!

What books have had a significant influence on you and why?

At school, I loved the novels of Thomas Hardy and his depiction of the landscape of Wessex. They inspired me to look at the landscape of Malaysia (where I grew up) with the eyes of a would-be novelist. In my novels, The Flame Tree and Mindgame, the jungle and wilderness of the tropics as well as the changing face of its cityscapes were characters in the story, shaping the destinies of the people in the books, in the way that Hardy's Wessex defined the lives of his characters. 

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers prompted me to live my life in the way that I wanted rather than following conventional paths. 

What is on your bucket list?

I don't care to have one. 

If you had one year and unlimited funds, what would you do?

Nothing different from what I am doing now - I love my life as it is.

You an read more about Yang-May's work on her website Tiger Spirit and watch her TEDX talk here.

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