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Interview: Sharlene Teo talks about Ponti


Told from the perspectives of three women, Ponti is about friendship and memory, about the things we do when we're on the cusp of adulthood that haunt us years later. Beautifully written by debut author Sharlene Teo, and enormously atmospheric, Ponti marks the launch of an exciting new literary voice in the vein of Zadie Smith. Sharlene talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell us a little about Ponti.

Ponti is a novel that centres on a failed horror movie actress named Amisa Tan who makes a B-horror movie trilogy called Ponti! in the late seventies/early eighties, her misfit teenaged daughter Szu, and Szu's frenemy, Circe. It's about friendships, failure, monstrosity, and the things we do on the cusp of adulthood that haunt us years later.


What inspired you to write this book?

Southeast Asian mythology, specifically the Pontianak myth, a cannibalistic female ghoul whom I always considered a fascinating source of female monstrosity; both alluring and repulsive, schlocky and genuinely scary, as well as Giallo movies and horror movies.


What research was involved?

I watched clips from old B.N Rao and P Ramlee horror movies and read about spirit mediums.


What was your routine or process when writing this book?

Blind panic and perseverance.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

"Mimpi Sedih" covered by Teresa Teng; "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac (it plays a pretty pivotal part in the narrative); "No Hope" by The Vaselines.


If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?

There's a Singaporean actress I've always loved named Jacelyn Tay whom I'd love to play Amisa; she's icily beautiful and arresting looking.


What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

Getting into the flow of it and allowing it to take shape toward the end of the writing process, that elusive state of play and flow- all the hard graft is in getting there!


What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?

I went out for Korean fried chicken and prosecco with one of my best friends.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

"A Rather Haunted Life", Ruth Wilson's biography of Shirley Jackson. Both entertaining, illuminating, and a beautifully written insight into the fun and troubled existence of one of my favourite writers.


What’s next on the agenda for you?

It's all about my next book.

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