Got questions for a noted #author and creative #writing teacher ?


Since I live and write out of Singapore, it features in a major way on this blog and in my writing. I’ve been posting writing advice and interviews from creative writing and publishing experts, and today, one of the luminaries of the current Singapore literary scene, Felix Cheong, has agreed to a chat here at Daily (w)rite. I get to ask him a bunch of questions about creative writing, his work, Singapore,  and how all these three mesh together. Feel free to add questions of your own after you’ve read his interview.

1. You write both poetry and prose. Do they feed into each other, and if so, how?

There’s a creative – and necessary – tension at work when I’m writing fiction. The story sometimes rushes ahead, the characters taking the narrative into this situation and that. But the language has to catch up – the attention to detail, the ability to crunch descriptions crisply and precisely. So the poet gets to work, forcing the story to slow down, take a breath, pay attention. But too much of this fiddling with language can stop the manuscript from moving forward. Which is why the poet has to be killed before the story can live.  But it can be a struggle – I’ve abandoned my first novel because after three chapters, the poet refuses to die a quiet death and I keep revising the language!

2. What do you enjoy most about teaching creative writing?

I enjoy the interaction with students, giving them triggers to find their own creativity. I enjoy hearing them read their on-the-spot written pieces, which sometimes surprise me with their spark and spunk. And most of all, I enjoy hanging around creative people!

3. What qualities would you look for in your ideal student?

Well, someone who is observant, who is alive to the world around him, who opens his senses and is open to inspiration in his day-to-day life. Someone who reads, loves reading and will possibly die without reading. Someone who has the imaginative capacity to dream and be able to put down in words that dream. Someone who has something to get off his chest, driven by that human need to tell stories. Someone who is willing to work hard, to see a work through to its eventual form.  

4. Could you tell us something about your favourite authors, and why do you like them?

At different junctures, I have different favourite authors. It’s as though they came at the right time to teach me what I needed to learn to become a writer. For instance, in my undergrad years, as I was struggling to find my poetic voice, it was TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Lee Tzu Pheng. Later, it was Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, John Steinbeck, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Milan Kundera etc. Too numerous to count!

Vanishing Point author Felix Cheong

Vanishing Point: Felix Cheong

5. Which of your works should a reader unfamiliar with your work start with?

For my poetry, start with Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems, which puts together the best-of in a slim volume. They are arranged thematically – from love poems to poems about my struggle with faith – and juxtapose my early poems with some of my later ones. For my fiction, check out Vanishing Point, inspired by real-life cases of missing people, and Singapore Siu Dai: The SG Conversation in a Cup, which satirises life in Singapore – from our obsession with Hello Kitty toys to the national pastime of queuing – in fun, bite-size stories.

6. Tell us something about your works in progress.

I’m currently putting the finishing touches to Singapore Siu Dai 2: The SG Conversation Upsize!, which is due to be launched in November. For some reason, these short satirical pieces have come out in a torrent over the past six months, triggered, no doubt, by Singapore politics. The stories are edgier and bolder than the first book, often taking the mickey out of politicians and their policies. For instance, their peculiar fondness to dress themselves up in a defamation suit.

7. As a literary activist, what is your opinion of the current literary scene in Singapore?

The literary scene is really exciting now and I sometimes feel the pressure to catch up with them! More new writers are being published; they are energetic and they have something to say, though some of them could do with more finesse and internalisation of craftsmanship. What is lacking, though, is the growth of a discerning readership. Not enough people are buying Singaporean writers’ books.

8. For someone new to Singaporean literature, what books — prose or poetry– would you recommend?

You can’t go far wrong with a few “best-of” anthologies. Value for money for a buffet sampling of voices!

i. No Other City: the Ethos Anthology of Urban Poetry (Ethos 2000): A swirling cauldron of emerging and established poets, stirred vigorously around the theme of Singapore’s urban landscape.

ii. Best of Singapore Erotica (Monsoon 2006): Even in squeaky-clean Singapore, there is nothing like the erotic to open the proverbial can of worms. Best read with your loved one already asleep.

iii. Reflecting on the Merlion: An Anthology of Poems (NAC 2009) Love it or photograph it, the Merlion has become iconic of the island state – and a conversation starter between poets about its significance in Singapore history and culture.

iv. Here and Beyond: 12 Stories (Ethos 2014): The latest anthology of made-in-Singapore short stories, edited by award-winning writer Cyril Wong. This will be in the ‘O’ level Literature text come 2016.

—-

Felix Cheong Singaporean poet

Felix Cheong

Felix Cheong is the author of nine books, including four volumes of poetry and a collection of short stories, Vanishing Point, which was long-listed for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Award. His latest book is a collection of satirical flash fiction, Singapore Siu Dai.

Conferred the Young Artist of the Year for Literature in 2000 by the National Arts Council, he was named by Readers Digest as the 29th Most Trusted Singaporean in 2010. Cheong has been invited to read at writer’s festivals all over the world: Edinburgh, West Cork, Austin, Sydney, Brisbane, Christchurch and Hong Kong. He holds a Masters in creative writing from the University of Queensland, and is currently an adjunct lecturer with Murdoch University, University of Newcastle, Temasek Polytechnic and LASALLE College of the Arts.

Have you read literature from Singapore or from Asia ? Are you familiar with Felix’s work? If you have questions for Felix on creative writing, Singapore, or creative writing in Singapore, leave them in the comments below!

Do you have questions for a Literary Agent? #agentchat #amwriting


I’ve been away for a while– traveling and recuperating,  but today I’m back with my  writer’s guest post series in this blog.

It is with great pleasure that I now present Andrea Pasion-Flores from the Jacaranda Literary Agency. She’s a joy to talk to, extremely kind and helpful, yet a thorough professional– a spirit that is reflected in her answers below:

1. You’re both an author and a literary agent. How did this happen, how do you balance the two roles, and how do they affect each other?

For Love and Kisses: Andrea Pasion-Flores

For Love and Kisses: Andrea Pasion-Flores

It’s difficult, but I try to make the time. I’m also a mom and a college teacher. But I find that my many roles feed on each other. My teaching (it helps that I teach literature) and my being a writer certainly help me spot a good story and allow me to help the writers in our list improve their writing.

2. As an agent, what are the sort of books are you looking for?

I’m looking for the distinct voice, fabulous narrative, mastery of language. It’s hard to describe. I guess I want to be blown away.

3. As a reader, who are your favorite authors, and why?

There are so many! At the moment Aravind Adiga, Junot Diaz, Mohsin Hamid, Chimamanda Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, Kerima Polotan, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Salman Rushdie, Jose Y. Dalisay, Sally Gardner, Zadie Smith come to mind… so many!

4. What was the last book you read as a reader, and not an agent?

Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner–fantastic, young adult dystopia. I want to buy all her books!

5. What book, published in recent times, do you think should be more recognized, and one that you think is overrated?

Haha. This is a trick question! I think Asian lit in general should be recognized. It’s sorely underrated and not as widely available. I think most of the independent presses, carried by the indie bookstores, are doing a lot of good stuff. Unfortunately, we’re all used to going to the mainstream bookstores to buy what’s pushed by mainstream media–especially the kind with the movie tie-ins. The answer to the second part of your question is hinted. But, having said that, the “overrated” have their markets–and they do serve an important purpose: they get people into the habit of reading! Besides, who doesn’t enjoy a quick read or two now and then? I certainly do. So I say the overrated books are great. I’d love to pick some out and push them myself.

6. As an author, what is the aspect of writing that interests you the most?

I like discovering where a story will take me, each story being different from the past stories I’ve written although in some sense the same. When I wrote the stories in my book, I didn’t quite realize how easily they fit into each other when I put them together years after they were written.

7. As an agent, what is the one concrete piece of advice you would give to an aspiring fiction writer?

The real writing happens in the revision. One of my creative writing teachers said this to me. The more painful the process, the easier it reads. The first draft shouldn’t be given to anyone, so don’t give them to me. If you let an agent read a first draft, and it’s not great, you’re not likely to be taken on.

8. Tell us something about your latest publication. Where can readers find the book?

Ken Spillman’s blurb reads thus:
“Andrea Pasion-Flores unpacks the black boxes of everyday disasters. Among the casualties are women burned by men and children bruised by the turbulence of relationships around them. Among futile love affairs, irretrievable marriages and unspoken loss, we are brought face to face with hungry ghosts and consuming frailties.”

It’s a collection of stories written over a 10-year period. That span of time yielded many other things for me aside from stories, such as a government job, three kids (two of them twins), etc. So it does feel like a slim volume, given the amount of time it took. However, there was also that feeling that I have to bring out the best of what I’ve written thus far so I do feel those are seven good ones (with varying length and styles to show a range). In Singapore, there are a few copies at the moment with Closet Full of Books.

——–

Andrea Pasion-Flores

Andrea Pasion-Flores

Andrea Pasion-Flores  is the former Executive Director of the National Book Development Board of the Philippines, where she was known for her pioneering work introducing high-impact literary events to the country. Andrea is also a copyright lawyer and teaches English at the University of the Philippines as a member of the faculty of the Department of English and Comparative Literature. She brings her experience in these fields into her role as an agent with the Jacaranda Literary Agency. She is also a Philippine contemporary author in English, and the author of bestselling book Have Baby Will Date, as well as her recently published short story collection: For Love and Kisses.

Dear reader, Have you read any of the authors Andrea mentions? Are you looking for a literary agent? Do you have any questions for Andrea Pasion-Flores? I’ll be randomly choosing one reader from the comments below, to receive a gift copy of Andrea’s book– so fire away!

 

Want to chat with a Literary Agent? #MSWL #amwriting


As part of my ongoing writer’s guest post series in this blog, Melanie Lee spoke to us a week back. Today, it is with great pleasure that I present Jayapriya Vasudevan, one of the best known literary agents in Asia, who founded the Jacaranda Literary Agency. 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.

Hi Jayapriya, and welcome to Daily (w)rite. What was the impetus behind your becoming a literary agent?

I used to run a bookstore/café years ago, and got to know both writers and publishers really well. The agency started when a writer I adored asked me to introduce him to the head of Penguin, India. It seemed to be the perfect way to use all my experience in the publishing world ( I worked in various aspects of publishing before I set up the store with a partner). I was the first agent in India, and I figured out the business as I went along. An editor friend and I put the word out that we were looking for manuscripts. We received more than 40 in a week. Amongst the authors we took on were Anita Nair (her first novel) and Rohini Nilekani. The writer who started me on this journey, the very first author in the Jacaranda list, Shashi Warrier. I still represent his work. The publisher, David Davidar. Now head of Aleph.

What is your typical day as an agent at Jacaranda Literary Agency?

Insanely busy. We are four agents who work out of four countries, with around 80 writers on our list. With varying time zones it’s mad. The first half of the day is about calls and emails. I speak on Skype with either Helen in Singapore or Andrea in Manila at 6.30 am my time. I spend around two hours reading every day: a fiction manuscript and one non fiction manuscript at a time. Takes me around 10 days to finish two manuscripts. And meetings happen as they will, as well as literary events in Nairobi, put together by various organizations like Kwani, (works with emerging African voices) and Storymoja, (does a chapter of the Hay Festival), and then there are the major book fairs and literary festivals we attend through the year.

What do you look for in an author you choose to represent? What sort of submissions are you seeing too much of, and what are the kind of submissions you’d like to see more of?

Good writing is at the core of everything. At least two of us at Jacaranda need to love it. The agency business is also very relationship based. The author-agent relationship is one of trust, and partnership. The ability to talk freely with the author, discuss edits and ideas is as integral to the agency business as the work itself. We get too much debut writing, of a quality that we’re unable to represent ( also saying here that we read at least 50 pages before abandoning a book). Writing to a trend or a market does not necessarily make for good writing, and that’s what seems to be happening now. We’d like to see more narrative non fiction. More beautiful and personal stories. More memoirs. Writing that stems from real experience or very good research as the case may be. We’re looking to grow our brand new Children’s list, and writing from Singapore, India, The Philippines and East Africa.

If you had to choose three of your favorite authors and their best works, which would they be? Why did you choose these in particular?
Anita Nair. Shashi Warrier. Suchen Christine Lim.( FH Batacan.Krishna Udayasankar. Kiran Khalap. Jess De Boer, Tracey Morton.. I could go on really…) These in particular for their incredibly beautiful writing. Vivid. Nuanced. With real stories to tell.

Will you be at any upcoming writer’s events, festivals, conferences where writers can meet and pitch you?
I will be at Storymoja in Nairobi. Helen and Andrea will be at AFCC.

Any words of advice to authors worldwide looking forward to representation from your agency?

Take the trouble to do more than one draft. Be critical of your own work. Edit. Edit. Edit. Stay with a style that you are comfortable with and not try and copy a writer you admire. Proof your work. Send it out in a format that makes for easy reading.

Jaypriya Vasudevan: Jacaranda Literary Agency

Jaypriya Vasudevan: Jacaranda Literary Agency

Tell us about a project you’ve represented that is coming out now/ soon.

Krishna’s next book this fall. David Grossman’s To The End of the World in Tamil. Shashi Warrier and his wife Prita ( adorable to have husband and wife writing), their novels also this fall. A riveting first person account on being bipolar. Zafar Anjum’s book on the poet Iqbal. FH Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles, and Table for Three.

About Jayapriya: I come from a family of writers. My father was one. My brothers are writers. I studied English Literature in College and have been in publishing since then. I adore the Arts, both performing and visual. Love books, naturally. I have lived in many countries and am delighted that this allows me to experience the literature of several countries as a local. Publishing is the only industry I would be a part of. I live in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Dear reader, what are your thoughts on Asian authors? Have you read any of the authors Jayapriya mentions? Are you on the lookout for a literary agent? Do you have any questions for Jayapriya Vasudevan? 

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.

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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.

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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.