Laineygossip blogger gets personal in 'Squawking Chicken' memoir
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, April 5, 2014 7:18PM EDT
TORONTO -- As the voice behind the hit Canadian blog Laineygossip.com, famed star watcher and TV personality Elaine Lui is revered for salty scrutiny and juicy scoops on all things celebrity.
But with her new memoir -- "Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When a Mother Knows Best, What's a Daughter to Do?" -- the witty writer turns the analysis on herself and her relationship with her strong-willed mom, who parlayed a challenging childhood into a determined attitude that she imparted on her prolific daughter.
The indefatigable co-host of CTV's daytime talk show "The Social" and reporter for entertainment program "eTalk" says she wrote the book when her mother, Judy Yeung, was recovering from a rare syndrome known as POEMS in the hopes it would give her something to look forward to.
It wasn't until she had to read each chapter aloud for the audio book version that she realized the writing process -- which up to that point had been more intensely technical than emotional -- also had a big impact on herself.
"It was surreal because when I was reading it out loud for the audio book, I was almost reading somebody else's book," Lui, 40, said in a recent interview.
"It's a really weird, bizarre experience, and so that's when I started to appreciate my relationship with my mother from a weird angle. It's so trippy. I can't even articulate it properly."
One section in particular really hit her -- the moment when she tells her ailing mother: "Your life has sucked over and over again. Where is the high that can balance out those lows?" to which her mother replies, "What the hell do you think you are? Every Tiger has a roar. You are my roar."
"The words that my mother told me -- and I was actually roaring in front of a microphone, about to deliver my first book, which is about her -- it was so, I don't know the word for it, but it was cosmic, at the risk of sounding like a hippy dippy person," said the ever-humorous Lui.
"So for me, that roar I feel like is this book. ... I feel like what I've learned about myself is that I want to roar for my mother."
On shelves now, the book describes Yeung's difficult upbringing in Yuen Long, a town on the western side of Hong Kong, where she earned the nickname Tsiahng Gai or Squawking Chicken because of her bold and brash personality and voice.
Growing up in poverty with troubled parents who were hardly there for her, the strong-minded and fearless Yeung made friends with local gangsters and overcame several tribulations, eventually dominating mahjong houses and the real estate world.
She moved to Canada after marrying Bernard Lui, and ended up working two jobs to get by.
Yeung wasn't precious about parenting when they had Lui, preferring to prepare her for the difficulties that would await her in life instead of fostering a belief that she would go on to greatness.
She also stressed the importance of education, feng shui, superstitions and filial piety.
"Listen to the Squawking Chicken" is moving, informative and humorous as it details the lessons Lui has learned from Yeung as well as the sad and funny anecdotes the family has experienced (her parents divorced when she was seven but eventually reunited and are still together).
Lui said Random House of Canada first approached her about writing a book about six or seven years ago, but she wasn't ready.
When Yeung was in recovery from POEMS, Lui subconsciously knew the experience was something she needed to preserve, but a book wasn't on her mind.
"We thought maybe it wouldn't be good in the end and so I started telling myself to really focus on each of these moments, the privilege of being able to care for her and feed her," said Lui, who is back in her native Toronto after living in Vancouver for 13 years.
"And in those times when she was well enough to talk, we would just remember things that we've done before, or she would download to me a few of her memories or download to me the things that she needed me to take care of when perhaps one day she wouldn't be around to take care of them herself."
It was around that time that Lui's editor and publisher approached her again about writing a book and suggested it be about her ailing mother.
She took them up on the offer and started mapping it out, sometimes asking her mother about details of her childhood but not running the contents of the book by her until the manuscript was done.
Yeung's English isn't strong, so she hasn't been able to read the book, but Lui said her dad has.
Aside from being mortified about a story she tells about when he pees outside, he felt it was an accurate depiction of Yeung, said Lui.
"My father said, 'You know your mother better than she knows herself."'
Lui said she's now thinking about writing another book and recently "started to consider what" it would look like.
"I think it would be a novel and I am starting to see some ideas, but it'll probably still be a few more months yet before I actually put in real work."
And TV viewers may one day see a show featuring a version of Lui and the Squawking Chicken.
"There's a show in development and I don't know if it's a sitcom yet," said Lui, stressing shows can be in development for 10 years so it may not happen anytime soon.
"There's a show in development based on my blog, based on a girl who starts a gossip blog and her crazy mother and her friends and her relationship with her friends."
As for Laineygossip.com, it will also be the priority, she insisted.
"The business priority, the career priority, is always Laineygossip.com. And I'll do the book and I'll do some television, but the priority is always going to be our website."