Suchen Christine Lim Talks about #amwriting in #Singapore


As part of my ongoing writer’s guest post series in this blog,  Suchen Christine Lim, one of Singapore’s best known authors, spoke to us about her writing journey last Thursday. Today, she answers questions on various topics of writerly interest. Feel free to leave your questions for her in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to get answers for them.

In October this year Suchen’s latest novel, The River’s Song was launched in Singapore (click here for video) and below she answers questions about her writing in general and her new novel in particular.

1. You’ve written novels, short stories, children’s stories and plays. What sort of writing do you find the most challenging, and why?

Writing a novel is the most challenging. Not just because of its length, but also because of the necessary chaos that one has to go through before one can see the beauty of the form and substance woven and integrated into an organic whole. And that journey through chaos may take a year or two or three or four. The novel’s demands are many, and each novel has its own unique set of requirements. Having written a novel doesn’t mean that the next novel will be easier to write. The novelist is forever a beginning writer.

2. Your work shows a fascination with history. What role, in your opinion, does an author play in the recording of a country’s history?

There’s a common saying that history is written by the victor.  Official history textbooks present the official point of view.  Individuals with political, economic, and religious power and influence are identified, named, and honoured. The powerless are always referred to as ‘the masses’.  Faceless and anonymous.
Literature, however, is the great leveller. To the novelist and playwright, the beggar or the king, the rich entrepreneur or the poor labourer, the powerful dictator or the powerless citizen, all are worthy subjects for one’s art. The novel often offers multiple points of view, and historical novels often interrogate the official view of the past.  In fiction, the defeated could rewrite the victor’s version of history. 

3. As an established creative writing guru, what do you look for in your students? What do you think makes a successful writer?

I beg your pardon. I’m not an established writing guru.  I run the occasional writing workshop when universities or organisations such as the Arvon Foundation, the British Council or the National Arts Council invite me.  What I look for in aspiring writers is passion and commitment.  Many young writers are highly talented, but few have the discipline to sit down and wrestle with their writing till the complete draft of a novel emerges.

4. There are various opinions on whether creative writing can be taught. As someone who has long taught creative writing, what are your thoughts on this?

No one can make us creative. But a creative writing course can teach us to hone our writing and storytelling skills.

The River's Song by Suchen Christine Lim

The River’s Song: Suchen Christine Lim

5. What part of your writing life do you enjoy the most, and why?

What part of my writing life?  The first part when I am alone and writing, or alone and walking with a story about to come to birth.

6. Could you tell us something about your latest novel, The River’s Song?

The image of a wiry, bare-chested, sun-browned man crouched among his pots of wilting chilli plants, his lost and vacant eyes gazing through the railings of a 12-storey apartment block, had haunted me for a long time. This memory of a squatter farmer evicted from the Singapore River in the 1970s led me to write ‘The River’s Song’. The novel is both a moving love story between a music professor in UC Berkeley and the master flautist in the Singapore Chinese Orchestra, as well as a fictionalised account of the eviction of boatmen and squatters from the Singapore River.  Today the river is a tourist attraction and a prime residential area of expensive condominiums.
__________

Suchen Christine Lim

Suchen Christine Lim

Author Bio: Born in Malaysia but educated in Singapore, Suchen Christine Lim was awarded the Southeast Asia Write Award 2012. In 1992, her novel, Fistful Of Colours, won the Inaugural Singapore Literature Prize. Critics have described her first novel, Rice Bowl, as “a landmark publication on post-independence Singapore”, and A Bit Of Earth as “a literary masterwork as well as a historical document” that was “un-put-downable – a sure sign of a master storyteller.” A short story in The Lies That Build A Marriage, was made into a film for national television.

Awarded a Fulbright grant, she is a Fellow of the International Writers’ Program in the University of Iowa, and its International Writer-in-Residence. In 2005, she was writer-in-residence in Scotland, and has returned to the UK several times as an Arvon Tutor to conduct writing workshops and read at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Her new novel, The River’s Song, will be launched in London and New York next spring.

—-What are your thoughts on Asian authors? Do you have any questions for Suchen Christine Lim? Leave them in the comments.

Dear Writer, How did You start your writing journey?


 Today, I’m thrilled to welcome on this blog  Suchen Christine Lim, one of Singapore’s best known authors and also a kind, cheerful personality when it comes to teaching creative writing.

In October this year Suchen’s latest novel, The River’s Song was launched in Singapore (click here to watch Suchen read dramatic excerpts from her novel at the launch and answer audience questions). As part of the ongoing writer’s guest post series in this blog, she talks us today about the beginning of her writing journey (all emphasis below are mine).

——

Thank you to Damyanti for inviting me onto Daily (W)rite.

I didn’t start writing till I was in my mid 30s.  As a child, I’d wanted to be a hawker selling chicken rice porridge or be an astronaut flying to the moon.  My writing adventure began one hot afternoon with a mindless doodle. I was a college teacher invigilating a 3-hour literature exam when I found myself doodling. The doodles turned into words and the words into sentences. I wrote one page that afternoon. After that, I continued to write, usually an hour or so stealthily before or after school.  I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing because I didn’t know what or why I was writing.  

At first, I thought it was a story for young people, but the story grew and changed as I wrote. Finally I left teaching and returned to the university, not because I wanted another degree, but so that I could have more time to write. This was my secret motive.

Every morning I left home at 6 am with my Olivetti manual typewriter, and took the bus to Adam Road where I could walk past the Chinese cemetery and be alone with my thoughts before I took another bus to the university. By 7.30 am I was writing /typing in the students’ canteen until my first lecture of the day. I did this every day even though I didn’t know where my writing was going.

Looking back, I’d say that the start of my writing journey was like love at first sight. It’s like you’ve never met this stranger called the Muse before, yet you desperately wanted him/her.  It’s crazy.

One day, a visiting professor who had observed me typing in the noisy canteen, offered me the use of her room. She was going away for 3 months.  I was thrilled. For the first time in my life, I had a room of my own to write in. But my joy didn’t last. One evening the door of ‘my’ room banged open. ‘Clear out!’ the Head of the Sociology Department yelled. I had broken a rule. Students were not allowed to use a professor’s room. ‘Get out and clear out!’ he shouted.

On the bus home, tears streamed down my face. I was 36 years old, the mother of 2 sons and an only daughter. No one, not even my mother, had ever yelled at me like that before. At home, my tears turned to anger. My family urged me to ‘return the anger’ to the uncouth professor. So the next day, accompanied by my friend, the former editor of the Singapore University Press, I banged open the professor’s door! Just like what he did to me, but I didn’t shout. He demanded to know the purpose of my visit. I can’t remember exactly what I said to him. But I remember pacing up and down his office as I delivered my speech. ‘So? You want to complain to the Vice-Chancellor?’ he sneered. ‘Yes,’ I said and marched out of his office.

He rushed after me and came face to face with his former classmate. ‘Ros,’ he smiled at the editor of the Singapore University Press. ‘Your friend. So impulsive.’ he pointed to me. ‘Ros,’ I pointed to him. ‘Your friend. So rude.’ Then I told him that one day, I would write about this incident.

So thank you for giving me the chance to get it off my chest. I detest men who shout abuse at women and children.

I finished writing what turned out to be Rice Bowl, my first novel, in the storeroom of the Singapore University Press.  You can say that I wrote my first novel surrounded by all the unsold books of the university’s professors. If that was not passion laced with madness, I don’t know what is.

——-

The River's Song by Suchen Christine Lim

The River’s Song by Suchen Christine Lim

About The River’s Song: Ping, the daughter of Chinatown’s Pipa Queen, loves Weng, the voice of the people, but family circumstances drive them apart. Ping is forced to leave suddenly for the USA, while Weng is sent to prison for his part in local protests. Many years later, Ping returns to a country transformed by prosperity. Gone are the boatmen and hawkers who once lived along the river. In their place, rise luminous glass and steel towers proclaiming the power of the city state. Can Ping face her former lover and reveal the secret that has separated them for over 30 years? A beautifully written exploration of identity, love and loss, set against the dramatic upheaval unleashed by the rise of Singapore, about which The Sunday Times Singapore wrote: ‘ – unashamedly details Singapore’s past and present in gripping stories – The River’s Song – is among the best prose to come out of Singapore.’

The River’s Song would be published by Aurora Metro Books, UK in spring 2014.

——

Suchen Christine Lim

Suchen Christine Lim

Author Bio: Born in Malaysia but educated in Singapore, Suchen Christine Lim was awarded the Southeast Asia Write Award 2012. In 1992, her novel, Fistful Of Colours, won the Inaugural Singapore Literature Prize. Critics have described her first novel, Rice Bowl, as “a landmark publication on post-independence Singapore”, and A Bit Of Earth as “a literary masterwork as well as a historical document” that was “un-put-downable – a sure sign of a master storyteller.” A short story in The Lies That Build A Marriage, was made into a film for national television.
Awarded a Fulbright grant, she is a Fellow of the International Writers’ Program in the University of Iowa, and its International Writer-in-Residence. In 2005, she was writer-in-residence in Scotland, and has returned to the UK several times as an Arvon Tutor to conduct writing workshops and read at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Her new novel, The River’s Song, will be launched in London and New York next spring.

(This is the first part of her interview. The next, in which Suchen Christine Lim talks about the various genres she’s written in, her take on a writer’s role in history and her views as a creative writing teacher will be published coming Thursday.)

So, to the writers amongst you: do You have interesting stories to share with us about your writing journey? Did You face challenges in your writing journey like Suchen Christine Lim?

 

Haze in #Singapore , #sgHaze in My Mind


Haze in Singapore PSI

Singapore Haze

For the last week or so, Singapore has been enveloped in a haze. The PSI readings have at times reached 370, where anything above 100 is considered ‘unhealthy’, anything above 200 is ‘very unhealthy’ and above 300 is ‘hazardous’.

This is due to fires set to palm plantations and forests in Indonesia, to clear land for more palm plantations. The plantations are privately owned by Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian companies, who are slashing and burning, resulting in unprecedented smog in Singapore. There are also the Indonesian farmers, who need to keep setting fire to their land to retain claim on it. None of them looks interested enough in finding a solution, because the problem goes back decades. Singapore says Indonesia is responsible, Indonesia says Singapore is behaving like a kid.

Singapore Haze : View from my Balcony

Singapore Haze : View from my Balcony

The health advisory says:

“Based on the 24-hour PSI readings, the Ministry of Health (MOH) advises that Singaporeans limit prolonged or heavy outdoor activities. In particular, children, the elderly, and those with heart or lung diseases, should avoid outdoor activities and seek medical treatment early if they feel unwell.”

Meanwhile, my help walked in, red-eyed and sore-throated, without a mask. She couldn’t find one in any of the shops, because the stocks have run out. She’s now wearing a mask indoors, as am I, as I write, and her son will have a mask when she goes back home. But I had only two extra masks, and from my window I can see cleaners and guards doing their jobs without any. The PSI outside is 367. My mind feels similarly smogged out, my throat itches, and my brains hurt. This despite the air purifier, which we bought at a mind-boggling price. They have run out of those in the shops, too.

So, if you like reading or writing dystopian fiction, you can come visit Singapore, because out here in the Singaporean Haze, we’re breathing it. Literally.

Daisy Irani tells us about We Are Like This Only!


We're Like This Only!

We’re Like This Only!

We Are Like This Only!  is HuM Theatreʼs new play on why Singaporean Indians canʼt figure each other out. It is a forum theatre treatment of the integration issues rattling the Indian diaspora. The divide between the “local” Indians and the “Indian” Indians seems to be widening on the back of seemingly justified perceptions of each other, depending on whose point of view you take. Daisy Irani, the director of the play answers some of the questions related to this interesting performance.

We're Like This Only! posing with passports

We’re Like This Only! cast posing with passports

Why did  We Are Like This Only! interest you as a director?

Pretty simple. The issue of integration is important to all Singaporeans. Indians here are particularly sensitive to the incoming stream of new Indian immigrants coming in to the country. There are truths and misconceptions, in equal measure, flying around in the blogosphere and in the social circuits which require airing in the theatre space. There is drama in conflict, there is humour in controversy and there is always the possibility of progress in honest debate.

For those that are unfamiliar with this play, could you tell us about the show?

This is a variation of forum theatre. The play is a set of sketches portraying the wild perceptions Indians have of each other, the stereotyping of the characters and  sometimes the ridiculousness of the dis-enchantments they have with each other. It’s all treated with a sense of comedy without sacrificing the seriousness of the matter. Four actors play out a varied set of roles including a security guard, a business man, a Tamil teacher, a banker’s wife, a doctor, a FTI and more– all Indians, all opinionated, all a bit crazy. Because we are like this only! The entertainment does not end with the performance of the actors. It’s then that the audience gets into the act and offers counsel to the characters, questions them, relates their own experiences/ anecdotes and debates the issues. It’s fun but also healing.

  Could you tell us more about HuM Theatre?

HuM Theatre has had a run of three very well received productions — Rafta Rafta, Prisoner of Mumbai Mansion and The Kanjoos – which accounted for four nominations for the Life Theatre Awards and one win. The plays were all devised to be of relevance to Singapore  with multi-racial casts and with hugely entertaining content. Our philosophy is to tell a story but tell it in a way that appeals to everybody who buys a ticket.

Who is your target audience for this play, and what would you wish the audience to take away with them?

Given the topicality of it, a play dealing with integration should be an automatic invitation to anyone who resides in Singapore or plans to do so. Because the issues are very directly pointed at the Indian diaspora we would expect every Indian in the country to be there – seriously! Because the new Indians are here and they are not going away and the legacy Indians will always be around so we better start sorting out our differences or at least agreeing to accept them. We are a small section of the Singaporean population and it makes no sense for us to be at odds with each other. ‘We Are Like This Only” offers a a fun way to kick off the process.

The cast of We're Like This Only!

The cast of We Are Like This Only!

Could you comment on the cast of We’re Like This Only! ?

Very appropriately we have a very diverse cast — a Parsi, a Sindhi, a Tamil and a Punjabi. Three of them are second generation Singaporeans. They have the depth of experience and maturity to tackle the subject matter and interact with the audience.
Is this there something you are especially excited about, in this show coming together?

Forum Theatre is in itself exciting because we don’t know what to expect from the audience. That’s the fun part. The socio-cultural-political issues of integration are complex but we can treat them with a touch of comedy and hope like hell that the audience pick up the baton and run with it.

———

Click here to watch the trailer for this play, and follow Hum Theatre on Facebook. I wish HuM Theatre all the best with this production and hope We Are Like This Only! would be a roaring success.

——–

Daisy Irani as Mrs. Bhalla

Daisy Irani as Mrs. Bhalla

About Daisy Irani: A professional media person with 25 years of experience across theatre, television and film; Daisy Irani had an extensive career in India before she came to Singapore where she became best known for originating the role of “Daisy” in “Under One Roof”, Singapore’s first local sitcom.
It was not long before she found her place behind the camera and went on to become the Executive Producer for a number of highly-rated TV series for MediaCorp including but not limited to “Maggi and Me”, “Incredible Tales” and “Point of Entry”; as well as helmed several Asian Television Award-winning TV comedies such as “Phua Chu Kang”, “Living with Lydia” and “Daddy’s Girls”.
Theatre has always been close to Daisy’s heart and she was delighted to have won the Best Actress award in the 12th Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards held in March 2012, for her role as the beleaguered wife in the Prisoner of Mumbai Mansions by HuM Theatre.

When Your Shoes Want to Take a Walk


Singapore Skyline

Singapore Skyline

I live in a country I could walk across, end to end, in less than a day. All twenty-two kilometers of it. If I were fitter, I’d probably do the other way across: 44 kilometers.

Living in a tiny young country like Singapore makes me want to step out every so often, take a flight to a place where the beaches are not man-made, where the history is longer than 200 years, where culture is not a mishmash, where the food is cooked with more emphasis on the quality ingredients than the procedure of cooking.

Travel is irreplaceable when you’re looking for a certain buzz of the body and mind, when you want to be relaxed and enriched at the same time.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

How often does the travel bug bite you? Do you go on yearly breaks, or take a vacation whenever the mood takes you?

After it rains in Singapore


I’ve lived most of life with four seasons, so the first stay in the tropics was a revelation. In the tropics, there is the rain, and the sun—two seasons, in alternative fashion, through the day.

As I write, outside it pours, with the peal of thunders, lightning flashes. It is dark. The sky means business, you’d think. It will rain though the day and in to the night, and maybe the next morning.

Wrong. In a few minutes, the sun will laugh it all away, people would dip into swimming pools and play basketball below my apartment, the trees would gleam, and the only trace that it had ever rained would show for a while on the wet roads. And then that would be gone too.

So when it rains in my heart, no matter what country I’m in, I wait. I know that for now, raindrops pelt the glass and weep their down– the overcast skies pour down their anger, but it Will pass.

In the minutes it has taken for me to write this, the sun is out, bright and shiny, because that is what happens right after it rains in Singapore.

 

 

Writing about other writers, and my first printed story



I recently wrote for a Blogfest by Cruising Altitude, and it was fun to do the rounds of some of the other blogs that took part.

In doing so, it hit me once again just how many aspiring writers there are out there. It can be frightening for some, because there are those many more people you now know you’re competing with.

For me, it is a heartening thing. There are those many crazy people like me, working away and dreaming the impossible despite often painful odds.

Good news is not that easy to come by. One piece of good news I received recently was that my first ever story in actual printed book form is ready in its final, physical avatar. The Love and Lust in Singapore anthology by Monsoon Press is now out, and ready to be read !
Am quite eager to see my copy, which should be on its way to me soon.

Writing about Love and Lust In Singapore


Imagine opening a book and finding your name under one of the stories published in it! I have imagined it the last two years, not with any conviction of it coming true, possibly somewhat like my fantasies of space travel during childhood.

But now, for the second time in a month, I have seen the cover for a book in which one of my stories would find a home. The first time was the cover on this page. Here’s the second one:

Love and Lust in SIngapore, by Monsoon Press

Love and Lust in SIngapore, by Monsoon Press

Love and Lust in Singapore is a collection of stories from some of the best known Singaporean writers, as is evident from all their interviews on the Love and Lust in Singapore blog, and their long CVs :)

I feel quite honoured, because I am such a beginner in comparison to some of the much published authors and poets in the anthology.

My story, though not explicit as indicated by the anthology title, is definitely my favorite of what I have written so far. It has been published before here on QLRS.

The proceeds from the book will all go towards charity, and so this book won’t bring me any money, but definitely a lot of happiness.

Am not really very obsessed with publication, the process of writing is its own reward. But it is always nice to be validated, and there is that sort of childish joy in seeing your name in print….:D

Writing about Singapore, then and now


Well, I’m hardly going to write. Instead I’m going to post two YouTubes, one of Singapore in 1938, and one of the city in the present day. How times change, and how fast a city can change with the times!

Singapore in 1938:

Singapore in the 21st century:

Writing about writing with a view


I have written before about the view from a writer’s window, but that was when I was in Singapore, and the view included the Singapore Harbor Bay, and the tree-filled East Coast Park. The only kind of homes I could see in the distance were tall apartment blocks.

But now, back in Kuala Lumpur, the view has changed. I can see rows of 2-storied town houses, a few 5-storey bungalows with two swimming pools each, roads snaking about far and near, and cars racing along them, like so many shiny beetles when the sun falls on them.

I can see apartment blocks in the distance,but what I most like seeing are the clumps of greenery, in gardens, on the streets, and pieces of tropical jungle that haven’t yet been meddled with, and hopefully never will be

As I sit and write, I have to look up and think, work out some odd crinkle in my head, and I see an old lady doing Tai chi in her garden, a young boy going for a run, and I’m grateful for the morning around me, and grateful for the song of the starlings whose voices reach me so many floors above the ground. And I’m grateful for the breeze that wafts in, teases my hair, wanting to play.

At lunchtime when the sun beats down most days, I hang on to a glass of orange juice, and spoon through a little leftover casserole that melts in the mouth, and try to tell myself I must finish this piece or that one, and send it off.

Afternoons, the sun beats down into my wall-sized glass windows, and I hide, drawing the curtains close.

I like the shadow of play and light on a rainy day, when it might be raining up the hill, but perfectly dry and sunny in my neighborhood. I draw away the curtains and watch.

I love the vibrant orange sunsets, with colors thrown around in happy abandon, as if toddlers had been splashing around in colored water, orange, pink, dusky red, and smearing them on the blue face of the sky. And amid all the color, the sun itself, looking tame and benevolent after the exertions of the day, like a naughty but exhausted little boy.

If a good view from the writing desk made for better writing, I would’ve been a writing goddess by now. But it sure doesn’t hurt, and I write every day in the hope that someday I would finally do justice to this writing desk with a view.

Words written January 6= 800 (misc.)