For Karina IC La’O, writing her novella excerpt under the mentorship of Gary Liu, former CEO of South China Morning Post, is just the beginning.
In 2016, Karina IC La’O won Junior First Place at the Hong Kong Top Story Competition for her short story Six Minutes. In 2021, she joined the Soho House Hong Kong x OWN Academy Mentorship Program and mentored under Gary Liu, former CEO of South China Morning Post. At the end of the program, she debuted an excerpt of her novella Mila and Eden. In 2023, she’s working on finishing Mila and Eden, self-publishing the poetry collection A Body of Words, and taking her Masters in Creative Writing – Prose Fiction on a partial scholarship.
It may seem like Karina’s got it all figured out, but it took a lot of inner work and sheer tenacity to get to where she is now. Here, she talks about her creative beginnings, the challenges she overcame, and the future she’s laser-focused on bringing to life.
How did the OWN Academy x Soho House Mentorship Program make an impact on you?
The biggest takeaway for me was that my dreams are closer than I imagined. Instead of being unattainable, it became something within my reach as long as I put in the work and learned from those I look up to. There’s a new sense of inspiration, optimism, and determination when I navigate the world now.
What’s the purpose that drives you?
Writing is all about offering a mirror that readers can see themselves in, and through this mirror, they can come to understand themselves a little more. Life is every individual’s own reality—if you understand your own and how it came about, you’ll be equipped to face whatever lies ahead.
Take us through your creative journey.
As embarrassing as it is, I started out writing fanfiction about the series Maximum Ride when I was in fifth grade. My best friend and I would pass this notebook back and forth, write like the wind while our teacher went on about maths or history (sorry Mrs. Hunter!), and read each other’s inserts with gusto. It was pure writing without having to worry about its merit and I think I’ve been chasing that feeling ever since.
What I love most about writing is that it can transform a reader just as much as it can transform the writer. It can express, suppress, ground a soul, set it free, and so much more. If storytelling is magic, then writing is kind of like the wand that brings it forth. Even films don’t start with images—they begin with words on a simple piece of paper.
Tell us about one major challenge that you overcame.
For every writer, the biggest challenge is the fear of being void of meaning and talent. I stopped writing for a year or two because I felt that everything I regurgitated was vile and disgusting; not worth the attention or effort. But after tons of reading, I came to the conclusion that all an author can do is give their best to portray the story they have in them. It’s mostly up to the reader to attribute meaning or talent to it. With so many people out there, nobody can guarantee you praise nor prizes. You just have to do it and let the world do what they will with it.
What are your goals?
My biggest goal right now is to finish and publish my novella Mila and Eden. In the meantime, I’m working on self-publishing a poetry collection called A Body of Words. The collection tries to capture an adolescent’s growing aches and pains within the confines of depression, trauma, religion, and love. These poems were written between 2017 and 2022, and are accompanied by amazing illustrations by my friend Michaela Ruth Gallardo.
Tell us about your other creative pursuits like acting, singing, and modeling.
The string that ties them all together is storytelling. Every song is a story. A character alone is a story that impacts the narrative of the film. Modeling is acting in a way—you’re trying to tell the story that the brand or photographer wants to portray. All these pursuits help me feel and understand a wider variety of stories, and the more an author knows, the more they can write as well.
How is this year unfolding for you?
I’ve been accepted at the University of East Anglia to pursue my MA in Creative Writing – Prose Fiction on a partial scholarship! I’m super excited as this program is the oldest MA for the subject in the UK and it is one of the most prestigious. To help support myself through my studies, I’m working part-time at Baker & Bloom Education Center.
I’ve always pursued writing as a “side thing,” terrified that I wouldn’t be able to support myself if it was my main job. But I realized that I’ve just been wasting time. I know what I want and what makes me feel passionate—it’s useless to live life doing other things.
How would you advise young writers?
I cannot stress this enough: READ! Read whatever keeps you turning the page. If you start a book and feel utter dread reading on, ditch it! I used to feel so disheartened and would give up on reading altogether if I couldn’t finish a book, but I learned that if you just leave it be and pick up a different book, that’s your journey to finding what rings true to you. From the writing styles to the stories that resonate in your soul, reading leads you to becoming the author you want to be.
Want to work on your passion project with the guidance of a mentor too? Sign up for the Soho House Mentorship Program! The free, self-paced, 12-week program is open to everyone aged 18 to 30 years old and based in Hong Kong or Mumbai. You need to be of legal drinking age in these cities at the time of application.