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.
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.
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.