Ju, or Dr Tin Tin Win, has been a best-selling author for almost three decades. She writes novels as well as articles about environmental conservation, peace and human rights.
I was born in 1958 in Yae-Nan-Gyaung, Magway division, the third of five children. My parents owned some oil fields and were quite rich. But after General Ne Win seized power oil came under public ownership, and my parents lost everything.
I didn’t understand it at the time because I was very young, but I remember my parents being very silent over dinner. Life became very difficult for us. My father had not been to school. He had been a monk growing up but gave up the monkhood to look after his mother. My mother, being a girl, had been expected to look after the family shop. She only completed primary education even though she had passed with credit and wanted to continue. Perhaps because my parents hadn’t finished their basic education they prioritized ours.
My parents first introduced me to books. My father encouraged us to read religious books when we were young and my mother introduced us to literary books. She gave me Marlar by Du Won, which was the first novel I ever read. It took me about seven days to finish it, and it ignited my desire to be a writer.
I read a lot when I was young. The novelists I liked most were Takatho Bone Naing and Khin Swe Oo. Mostly, their characters are poor, but hardworking, honest and intelligent. They value dignity and ethics. Takatho Bone Naing’s female characters were the kind of person I wanted to be. Most are university teachers. So I grew up wanting to be not only an author but also a university teacher.
My plan was to apply for a science scholarship and then teach at the university. But that ambition was thwarted when my elder brother had to drop out of the University of Medicine. That news made my mother sad and desperate, and then seriously sick. She pushed me to attend in his place.
I really didn’t want to be a doctor because I was frightened of blood, but I didn’t want to see my mother so unwell. I relented and chose life as a medical student.
I never forgot my dream to be an author. I wrote a short story and submitted it to the university magazine. Not only was it selected for publication but it was awarded first prize. I decided I needed a pen name, and chose “Ju” because it is easy to say, easily remembered and non-gender specific.
In June 1980, while at the university, I sent a short story to a respected magazine called Shu Ma Wa. I had to wait a year to see it appear. I began to think it had been rejected but, unexpectedly, Thet Nge Chit was published in June 1981. I began to send more short stories to Shu Ma Wa and another magazine, Pay Hpoo Hlwar.
After graduation I opened a clinic in my home town, while continuing to write. In 1987 my first novel A Hmat Ta Ya (“Not to Forget”) was published. I was 29. It became a best-seller. But it also provoked outrage among some who thought my characters were having pre-marital sex. They weren’t – the girl just visited the boy’s hostel occasionally – but I was shocked by the criticism. A well-known writer told me not to respond to it so I didn’t. He and others told me to keep writing.
My mother died in 1985, and six years later my father and I moved to Yangon. I continued to write novels, but found out they were being published without my knowledge. I decided to publish them myself. The first novel I released was Mane Ma Ta Youk Ye Phwint Ha Win Khan Chet (“Open Confession to a Man from a Woman”), which also became a best-seller. It enabled me to buy a flat.
My main characters have nearly always been female. They are independent and value knowledge, love, dignity, honesty and ethics. Most of my audience is also female, and I want my audience to be like my characters.
I have never felt that studying medicine was a waste. It’s difficult to make a living as a writer, especially at the start. Having my own clinic meant I could look after my parents. It also enabled me to express myself more creatively: without this income I would have just written to earn money. It helped me appreciate the value of knowledge and, what’s more, studying medicine helped me learn English.
Between 1995 and 2000 I was a member of the British Council library. I borrowed books, watched films and attended workshops given by international speakers. I also used to enjoy going to bookshops. But these days many of the old shops have closed down, and novels are available on the internet. Young people are becoming distracted from reading the printed word.
In recent years the purpose of literature has changed. Writers have tended to focus on topics such as environmental conservation, human rights and criticising the former regime.
I don’t think the change in government will have a direct impact on Myanmar literature. But I hope that with more peace, less corruption and less censorship authors will be able to focus on being creative.