Chung Ling-ling smiles gently when asked about her career. Like many women of her age, she leads the life of a full-time housewife, and yet at the same time, she is a source of inspiration outside her immediate family. The 48-year-old veteran writer and columnist is so publicity-shy that while many must have heard about or read her writings, few know her background even though she has been on the scene for more than two decades. But there is no doubt about her standing. A form of recognition came her way recently when the Arts Development Council approved a grant of $169,700 for publication of her latest work, The Rosary, consisting of essays and short stories that are reflections on Hong Kong at the present and back in the 1950s and 60s, when she was growing up. Released in March, the three-part book took her 1.5 years to complete. With a string of other titles under her belt, Chung is a subject of envy too because of her humble background. Educated in a boarding school in Rennie's Mill, the former factory worker never expected to be able to make a living through her writing. Even today, she feels inadequate due to her poor English and unflattering academic qualifications. 'I had no particular skills, all I had was opportunity,' says Chung, sipping her coffee. In the early 70s, after a stint at several jobs, she was offered the post of assistant editor with Ming Pao Weekly, after founder Louis Cha decided to hire her on the strength of her poetry. Still a popular family magazine featuring gossipy articles on showbiz figures, and more serious articles and columns, Chung joked that 'the same post would require a university graduate these days'. Loads of offers came her way after she took the job. The 70s also saw the publication of her first novel, which took years to complete. At the height of her career, Chung worked full-time, wrote the novel which was serialised in another Chinese newspaper as it progressed, did four regular columns and not, least of all, raised two children. She had showed a strong passion for writing while still in school. As a student, she contributed to school and other youth publications, even churning out printed copies in the narrow corridor at her home using a tiny, old-fashioned printing machine borrowed from a relative. But little did she expect to become a writer. 'I did not really care what job I went into,' she recalled. 'I could have gone into university or picked up other studies, but I was preoccupied with making friends and other things.' Before joining Ming Pao, she also taught at a school built on the roof of a private building. The editorial work was like a godsend, paving the way for a career that allowed her to express herself. She could have written better, though, she thinks, had she had the chance to read foreign classics like those by Irish writer James Joyce earlier on. 'But I was not able to since the translated versions only became available over the last decade,' she said, with regret. By 1989, the once prolific author decided to be a full-time housewife. Throughout the years, she has also gradually cut down her contributions to newspapers. Her only engagement now is a weekly column for the Ming Pao magazine. 'I think I don't really like working at all. I am afraid of living in the real society out there. I worked partly because I had to support my parents financially.' Another reason was she was feeling tired and needed to recharge herself. 'I felt I had to stop instead of churning out conventional material,' she said. To the woman who describes herself as an individualist, to stay creative is important. 'The subject you write about is not as important as the way you express it,' she said. As a means of updating her ideas, she reads a broad range of books, from geography to literary classics, and magazines. 'They help stimulate my creativity,' she said. 'I also watch films that my children enjoy.' And she would definitely have travelled more widely too if it was not for her limited English. Age has also had an impact on her. 'I have improved as a writer in the sense that I am better able to look at myself and things more in depth, in broader perspectives, as I grow older.' As a writer, she believes, the most important thing is 'what lies inside yourself, whether you are sensitive and have strong feelings for things'. 'In my case, I think all along I have been a passionate person,' she said. 'University graduates do not necessarily make good writers.' Looking at people around her, the thoughtful mother agrees many women are deprived of opportunities to develop themselves. She is grateful for the support obtained from her loved ones, like her husband, a secondary school principal, who shares the same passion for writing. But even with her children now able to fend for themslves - one has just finished university and the other is still in school - she still spends most of her time at home, tending to the needs of her loved ones. 'As elsewhere, there is only a very small market for literary works in Hong Kong,' she says. 'I think it is a contribution to society to be a dutiful housewife.'