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About Me

 
 
I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.
— Joan Didion
 
 

 
 

Writer
Journalist
Photographer

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I’m usually based out of Kuala Lumpur, sometimes out of London, and travel occasionally. Want to work together? Email emydeewrites@gmail.com or fill this in.

I write because it gets me out of the house and into the world. (Well, besides the actually writing part.) I like nothing better than to roam outside my own experience, talk to strangers, learn something interesting, and write all about it. In this way, I see every story I write as something of a travel story, even when I don’t “travel” for it.

My writing and photographs have been published, or is forthcoming, in a mix of local, regional, and international news, travel, and literary media—such as Virginia Quarterly Review, CNN, Washington Post, Slate, Roads and Kingdoms, Vice Asia, South China Morning Post, Mekong Review, New Naratif, Esquire Malaysia, and The Malaysian Insider.

Broadly, I’m curious about how people live differently in different places, and how where we are makes us who we are. This has led me to varied stories about travel, migration, urbanism, (sub)culture, human rights, environmental conflict, cultural survival, and the legacies of war—often animated by the politics of identity. On a more intimate level, I’m drawn to the human struggle for visibility, autonomy, redemption, and survival.

I write across varied forms, but my favourite is the immersive travelogue-reportage hybrid—ala William Finnegan, especially. Wherever possible, I like to take on longform stories that allow for deep research, intimate storytelling, and a longer view on events, where I can poke at the origins of things, evoke a vivid sense of place and, hopefully, offer a glimpse into people’s inner lives.

English is my first language. I also speak Malay, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese—though I may require an interpreter in more formal situations.

I’ve always been writing, in some form or another, but I read Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science and at the City Law School. I try to compensate for not lawyering up by writing the occasional criminal justice story.

 
 
 
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Editing

I also provide freelance editing services, bringing my experience from Esquire Malaysia as Associate Editor and the practical know-how of a writer in wrestling with words.

I can go beyond sentence-level architecture, and help you organise complex ideas and structure your writing, whatever the project may be—though I specialise in feature and longform nonfiction.


Research

Writing aside, I just like finding things out and learning something new. In the past few years, I worked as a researcher and fact-checker on a series of TV documentaries for History Asia and National Geographic Asia. If you’re looking for a researcher for a documentary, feature film, oral history project, or even something obscure but interesting, let’s talk.


Non-editorial work

I’m also looking to work with NGOs and commercial clients who align with my interests, and who are looking for a more creative approach in their public communications.


Other projects

All in the storytelling DNA: In September 2018, I founded Sweatheart, a live true storytelling night in Kuala Lumpur, with funnyman Kuah Jenhan and spoken word poet Tshiung Han See.


At play

When I’m not out reporting and collecting ideas, or cooped up inside eyeballing my laptop, I’m exploring parts of the city yet unfamiliar to me, reading and scribbling in cafes, working on some essays and short fiction, swing dancing, or at the movies.

When I’m on the road and visiting other cities, I tend to do some semblance of the same too, besides visiting the attractions unique to them. When I’m looking for adventure, I go hiking, horseback riding, or take long, very long, bus/train/boat rides.

 
 
 

 
 
 

“works with a keen eye and a full heart” #

Don Belt
Former National Geographic writer and editor

 

"As Freya Stark famously said, 'It is not badness, it is the absence of goodness, which in Art as in Life, is so depressing.' The same could be said of talented, passionate and committed journalists—specifically longform literary nonfiction writers; and Asia, especially, suffers from the lack of true practitioners who take up the cause, the education, and the trade.
Emily, counter to all this, is the presence of the good. I had the great pleasure to work with her and be her editor, her support so she could pen articles of consequence and value in the magazines I helmed: Esquire Malaysia and Esquire Singapore. Emily crafted well-thought, balanced and insightful pieces on issues of the day that other media—print or online—rarely addressed. Her on-the-ground environmental piece that tackled the endangered pygmy elephants of Borneo underscored the plight of all human-animal conflicts; her piece on the Rohingya refugee crisis of 2015 saw her travelling and interviewing dozens of informants to reveal its true horror; and her story about the death penalty in Malaysia was prescient on the global debate about capital punishment. Emily inspired me and made a true difference to the readers who read her analysis and beautiful prose.”

Sam Coleman
Former Editor-in-Chief, Esquire Malaysia

 
 
 

 
 

Previous Experience

 

Editing & Writing

I've had about eight years of professional experience writing news and features for various publications.

I started out interning at The Star, a Malaysian national daily, The Melbourne Weekly, and The Guardian. Early experiments also include a time at Ogilvy Malaysia as a copywriter and at Litro, a London-based literary magazine for emerging writers, as Online Editor.

Later, I spent a stint at The Malaysian Insider (a now-defunct news website; the team went on to found The Malaysian Insight) covering the 2013 Malaysian general elections. 

Just before I started freelancing full-time, I was the Associate Editor, Feature Writer, and Books Columnist at Esquire Malaysia.

I’ve also written travel blogs and guides for the likes of Tripadvisor and Expedia, and provided copywriting and translation services to other publications and organisations.

Research

From 2015-2018, I worked as a researcher and fact-checker on a series of documentaries covering Malaysia's political history, produced by Rack Focus Films in Kuala Lumpur and broadcast on History Asia and National Geographic Asia.

In 2016, I did research for a Malaysian feature film set during the Japanese invasion of Malaya in WWII, focusing on the Malayan Volunteer Air Force and the British and Japanese military forces.

In 2010-11, I helped in researching a background paper outlining the UK’s approach to anti-terror legislation for the Malaysian Bar Council Human Rights Committee, to provide a comparative analysis for the Malaysian government. 

That same year, I also wrote a thesis on the practice of sharia law in the UK as part of my Masters of Laws (LLM) at the City Law School.

 
 
 

 
 

Where I'm Coming From

 
 
 
 

I grew up in a little city called Ipoh, in the northern Malaysian state of Perak, before my family moved to Kuala Lumpur when I was twelve. You could say that travel started early for me: I was weaned on routine interstate family road trips around Malaysia and across the causeway, via my grandparents’ home in the state of Johor, to Singapore, where half my relatives live.

Later, I went to university in London, and living there must have set in motion a desire to see more of the world, unmediated by friends and family. But it was when I went backpacking on my own in Central America after I graduated that I realised I could travel alone without feeling lonely, live on five dollars a day if I had to, speak Spanish without butchering it, and do the salsa without inflicting bodily harm. It’s hard to overstate how those months changed the idea of travel for me. It was no longer about escapism, if it ever was, but a closer communion with the world—which, for me, always goes hand-in-hand with writing.

But I'm not a perpetual traveller. Because of work commitments and often inexplicable ties that still bind, I’m usually based in Malaysia. Once, I lived for some months in Peru to better explore it and write about it; and I revisit London sometimes. But still, Malaysia is my emotional home, even when I resist it. What's that line from that movie, Gone Baby Gone? Something about how it's the things you don't choose that make you who you are? I have the traveller's eternal problem of here versus there, no matter where I am.

But before I ever travelled physical distances, I wandered, even further, between the pages of books: The Call of the Wild, The Last of The Mohicans, Moby Dick, The Jungle Book, The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Great Expectations, Little Women, The Lord of the Flies, The Hound of the Baskervilles… Did any child ever read these books and not grow up wanting to be out in the world?

 
 
 

 
 
I want to live other lives. I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.
— Anne Tyler