Been to the Twilight Tales in #Singapore ? #reading


I’ve been a hermit lately, but today I want to talk about an event I was recently invited to, one which featured one of my favorite Singaporean authors, Suchen Christine Lim.

You’ve heard from her on this blog before (here and here). I’ve learned much from her workshops, her novels, and the wisdom she has shared with me during the occasional encounters in the past few years.

This was a new literary arts initiative organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS), called Twilight Tales.

Even with an audience of about forty, it felt like an intimate affair, because the venue was someone’s home, one of Singapore’s ‘elite’ as Mr. R Ramachandran, the affable Executive Director of NBDCS, jokingly put it.

Suchne Christine Lim reading from The River's Song

Reading by Suchen Christine Lim

Suchen took over, and despite having admired her for years now, I felt in her thrall as if for the first time when she began to read from her latest novel: The River’s Song.

She’s pixyish in build and demeanor– vibrant, kind, wise. But when she reads, she transforms into an oracle, who demands your entire attention and wouldn’t settle for less. She seems to grow taller, her voice alternately rings with conviction and rage, and then caresses with softness and laughter. I enjoyed this part of Twilight Tales very much indeed– and would have loved it if she kept reading the entire evening. The audience chorused with her, and clapped their hands off.

She answered questions from the floor, and the moderator, Jane Wong Yeang Chui. The questions from the audience ranged from the usual queries like how many of her stories are true to life, where does she find inspiration from, how does she get inside the head of a character. Though Suchen must have fielded these kind of questions ad nauseam, she answered with grace and playful humor, and even responded to someone who asked her if she felt ‘lonely’ as a writer!

Jane Wong asked interesting questions, for instance, the role of a writer in creating (alternative) history (I long for the times when history was still written by crazy professors and not by committee, was Suchen’s candid response) and whether the author felt the need for self-censorship (I make sure I get my facts right, Suchen said).

Suchen Christine Lim and R Ramachandran

Suchen Christine Lim and R Ramachandran

From his earlier experiences heading the National Library of Singapore, Mr. R Ramachandran spoke briefly about the initiatives by Lee Kuan Yew, the recently deceased and much-revered first prime minister of Singapore.

“Without LKY’s support and vision, libraries in Singapore would’nt have developed this far – to be one of the best in the world. LKY opened the first Branch Library in Singapore, the Queenstown Library in 1969.  He believed in the significance of libraries at a time when no head of state of a developing country gave it any importance. I’m proud to say that I’ve served our PM a couple of times when he came to the library to borrow books. Today, if he’d walked into this room he would’ve been very proud to see so many of you here to listen to an author. In those days it was difficult to have even a couple of people attend a literary evening.”

The evening continued. Author copies were signed, snacks were eaten and wine was drunk– authors, aspiring writers, book lovers and Book Council officials exchanged cards and smiles.

All in all, a lovely literary evening. I left, quite eager to attend the next edition, which I’m told would be held in July. The only question: how do they plan to top Suchen Christine Lim’s act?

Have you been to a literary event recently? Ever listened to a beloved author read? Does the author have the same voice as the book when you read it yourself? Does the Literary or Book Council in your country support literary events like this one?

If you live in Singapore, have you been to Twilight Tales? What sort of literary event do you like the most?

Ever take Cues from Your Subconscious?


Hakone Open Air Museum

The Subconscious and You

My best writing comes to me when I’m not planning it.

The other times, I’m working at the craft, practicing my scales so that when the music happens I’m there to witness and record it as best as I can. Sometimes I don’t do well at the first attempt and my subconscious keeps throwing it at me till I get it right. A lot of my writing is built around similar themes– don’t quite know what they are yet, only that when the raw inner voice comes out and plays, my stories seem preoccupied with similar things.

It is as if I’m the chimpanzee being taught a puzzle in a lab. The humans at the other end are trying to stretch my capabilities, and measuring them, while at it.

This is easy to make peace with when I’m writing flash fiction. I’m reasonably confident these days of churning out five to six a week. Two or three of those might even be good.

Trouble appears when I write a longer piece– it is as if I’m a novice singer, running out of breath when belting out an aria. Some of them begin well, then falter, and take a dozen drafts to catch the high notes I want to hit, or rumble into those base notes I don’t want to lose.

Between passes at that story, days or weeks or months might pass, and there I am again, and the story might just hold together without crashing — like a house of multicolored cards held up in air just so. You see the masters doing it all the time, juggling so many cards in air and making such brilliant villas, mansions, palaces. It’s magic. I’m happy when I can hold together the bare bones of a hut, just so long as it stays in air, without bleeding color or losing balance.

The novel. The novel is a different beast– with it I feel like a dog in front of a mirror. I don’t know what I see, only that I see it. And I’m yet to see a dog juggle.

So many mixed metaphors in this post– but it reflects exactly how I feel these days trying to enter into my novel to begin on the third draft. This palace might crumble before it stands up– but at least I’m learning the art of juggling the bricks to keep the damn building floating in air. And it looks like I’m not alone– other writers compare writing to juggling as well:

“I always imagine it like a whole load of plates spinning, and you’ve got the plan, the research and the plot, and you’ve got to kind of keep them spinning and constantly moving between one and the other.”

The complete article about writing and the subconscious, here.

Who knows, maybe I’m meant only to write at shorter lengths. Not that that is easier to do (well).

I have to discover whether I’m meant for longer stories. The real bitch of it? The only road to discovery lies in writing at greater length.

What about you? What role does the subconscious play in your life, as a writer, reader, artist, gardener, mason, engineer, or whatever it is that you do? Do you ever take cues from your subconscious?

 

Do you walk in Beauty?


Do you walk in Beauty?

Blooming in Beauty

Life is fleeting. Before I know it a day, a week, a month, a year: whoosh, gone.

In theory, I understand that if I’m mindful, let each moment live itself, and my self live that moment, time would expand. Because what is time after all– it’s a concept, it’s a function of motion, it’s the ticking clock in our bodies.

When I read Byron in school, can’t say I liked him much– I found his writing pansy, unreal, and puked in my mouth a little at passages like these from She walks in Beauty:

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

What crap, I used to think, idealizing and infantalizing a woman, making of her something less than flesh-and-blood. A part of me still agrees. But as days slip through my finger like the finest sand, I wonder if some of it isn’t what I want to be: soft, calm, spend my days in goodness (as much as possible- the cynic in me says!) with a mind at peace, and a heart filled with innocent love.

Softness, calmness, peace, innocence, love (compassion) all come with mindful practice, with awareness of each moment, with forgiving oneself for each moment of violence and cynicism (in thought, and in action.) Man, woman, child– the most important thing is that tranquil space inside the mind, the silence and slow-soft rhythm of breath, a rhythm that flows and beats through all of us, human, animal, plant, rock, river, planet.

For the past year or so, been trying (unsuccessfully) to remain aware of that rhythm at all times. The body is most in harmony with it when writing fiction, when in sympathy, empathy and identification with someone ‘other’, a being of my imagination, so the ‘I’ floats away, and becomes a gentle drumbeat.

That’s what has drawn my body and soul into writing fiction, this practice that feels almost like meditation. Compared to this, the ‘thrill’ of acceptance or publication is short-lived, mundane. On some days, reading a good line by another author makes everything else seem trivial.

What about you? Does fiction take you outside of you? Does it bring you harmony and rhythm? Do you walk in Beauty?

Do You Believe in What ifs?


Its been a month since I posted here. Like I said on Amlokiblogs some time back, I’m in a different world these days, which is spinning parallel to yours.  Fiction takes up most of my mind-space, so I have very little left over for life, online and off. But I do revert to my blog every once in a while, because I miss you guys, or as in this case, because I want to send a shout-out to a dear friend.

Today’s shoutout goes to Alex J. Cavanaugh, the Amazon bestselling Ninja Cap’n, who’s busy with the A to Z Challenge these days.

He’s here today to talk about What if’s, and his new book: Dragon of the Stars. Take it away, Alex!

Dragon of the Stars by Alex J Cavanaugh

Dragon of the Stars by Alex J Cavanaugh

As writers, we’re always on the lookout for our next story idea. We become master observers of people and situations. We’ll jot down notes and start storylines that may or may not go anywhere.

Sometimes we have a spark, but it just doesn’t seem to take. Or maybe it doesn’t go in a direction that’s exciting. We’re bummed and tempted to shelve the idea.

Maybe what we need is to explore that idea from a new angle. Flip it around and turn it into something different. That might be just thing to ignite interest again.

What are some ways we can shift the pieces of the puzzle around?

  • Reverse the roles. Take the main characters are reverse their position in the storyline.
  • Change the time period.  Shift the story forward or backward.
  • Change the setting. Urban instead of rural, small city instead of big, desert instead of mountains, etc.
  • Try a different country.  Would it be more exciting set in a different culture?
  • How about a different or additional genre? A mystery in space? A historical paranormal?
  • Go for the worst case scenario. Part of the story isn’t very exciting? Ramp it up – what is the worst thing that could happen?
  • Brainstorm with other writers. Sometimes sharing the idea with those we trust will lead to a revelation.
  • Brainstorm on our own. Throw everything out there, including the kitchen sink. No rules, no restrictions–just go nuts!

Any of those changes can make all the difference in the world. My latest book, Dragon of the Stars, came from a song and a little ‘What If?’ Ayreon’s Dragon on the Sea was about Queen Elizabeth I sending Sir Francis Drake to fight the Spanish Armada. The dragon in the song refers to Drake, but I wondered–what if the dragon was the ship? What if it was a spaceship instead? What if the Queen sent a Nobleman to find that ship? From that point, the story unfolded quickly, with the ending coming from a rather twisted ‘What if?’.

So, if a story needs a little something, try ‘What if?’

—-

Alex J. Cavanaugh works in web design, graphics, and technical editing. He is also the guitarist in a Christian band. A fan of all things science fiction, his interests range from books and movies to music and games. Online he is the Ninja Captain and founder of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. He’s the author of Amazon Best-Sellers CassaStar, CassaFire, and CassaStorm. His latest book, Dragon of the Stars, came out April 7, 2015. Purchase it on AmazonBarnes and NobleKoboChaptersAmazon UKGoodreadsiTunesAmazon PrintOverdrive.  Find Alex here, and on Twitter.

Who else has had a story unfold with a little help from ‘What if?’ What have you been doing this March and April? Taking part in the A to Z Challenge? Have you bought Dragon of the Stars yet?

#Writers , have questions for a Literary Agent? #askagent


Continuing the  guest post series in this blog, it is with great pleasure that I present Helen Mangham, a partner-agent at one of the best-known literary agencies in Asia: 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.

1. How and why did you become a Literary Agent?
Graduating with a degree in history it seemed the only jobs I was specifically qualified for were history teacher or working in a Museum – but neither appealed to me. Publishing attracted me, back then I wasn’t quite sure what a Literary Agent did, but it sounded interesting. I saw a job advertised at Curtis Brown, London and applied. I didn’t know then that it was one of the oldest and most famous literary agencies in London. Luckily I got the job!

2. What book, published in recent times, do you think should be more recognized, and one that you think is overrated?
For over-rated, I’d have to say ‘Freedom’ by Jonathan Franzen.  Franzen is undoubtedly a brilliant author and this book is a tour de force and technically impressive, but personally it left me cold as I couldn’t empathise with any of the characters.  I also think it is too long!   A book that I stumbled across a few years ago and loved was ‘The Glass Room’ by Simon Mawer, a complex historical novel set in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s and spanning six decades, it is a tragic, multi-layered and at times profound novel. Whilst not exactly under-rated – it was short listed for the 2009 Booker Prize – I think it deserves to be more widely read.

3. When it comes to non-fiction, a lot of agents are looking for ‘experts’ in their fields. What defines a person capable of writing on a certain subject?
I don’t think you necessarily have to be an expert to write on a subject. But you do have to be passionate about that subject and write about it from an original perspective. For example, you could be the world’s leading expert on a given subject, but still make it sound dull, or alternatively you could be enthusiastic enough to make it come alive. Look for something new to say.

4. Tell us about some notable books you’ve sold recently (publisher, title, author).

  • ‘Beijing Comrades’ by Bei Tong translated by Scott E Myers to Feminist Press, New York.
  • A debut memoir by Kenyan author Jess de Boer ‘The Elephant and the Bees’ to Jacaranda Books, UK (no relation to us!)
  • Krishna Udayasankar’s fourth book ‘The Immortal’, to Hachette India.  Also, another new book by Krishna Udayasankar:  ‘3:  The Legend of Singapore’ to Ethos Books, Singapore (for Singapore and Malaysia)  and also to Hachette, India (for India).
  • ‘Holistic Health Guide for Women’ by Dr I. Mathai to Via Nova, Germany
  • ‘Start-Up Capitals, Discovering Global Hotspots of Innovation’ by Zafar Anjum to Random House India
  • ‘Miss Draupadi Kuru’ by Trisha Das to Harper Collins, India.
  • Also, an as yet untitled book on Asian Parenting by Maya Thiagarajan to Tuttle.

5. What’s your advice to an aspiring author submitting to Jacaranda? What do you pray for when tackling the slush pile?
Tantalise me, but don’t overwhelm me with information. Send me a short synopsis of your book, and a couple of sample chapters. Was your story inspired by real life or just a genre you love? If non-fiction tell me why you think it is different to other books out there and who it will appeal to? Please don’t expect me to be able to get back to you within ten days – I have to prioritise work for existing clients over potential ones!
I pray to open a manuscript and find myself reading for pleasure and not critically. If I’m engrossed and my literary agent hat falls off that’s a good start!

6. What’s one thing you are sick of seeing in queries?
Getting published, especially in these risk averse times, is incredibly difficult. With this in mind, a prospective author should ideally revisit, rework and edit their manuscript several times, as well as show their work to other people and get opinions on it before sending it to an agent.

7. What do you hope to see when you google a prospective client?
The right answer is an impressive ‘online presence’. An author web-page, a blog with lots of followers, an active twitter account and a facebook page for their book. I’m thrilled if I do find that, but I’m not depressed if I don’t. We can help authors to create their own websites and build online presence.

8. What sets Jacaranda apart from other literary agencies?
Obviously being based in South East Asia sets us apart – there are still not so many agents in this part of the world. Having an agent in the Philippines definitely sets us apart! We’re small and work across continents, with authors from as far afield as Australia, America and the US as well as our bedrock of S.E Asian writers.

9.  Tell us about your experience at the last Frankfurt Fair.

We had a packed schedule with only two or three free slots over the entire three days – hardly time to grab lunch, which we ate on the go! But that’s a good thing – we made lots of valuable new contacts, among both publishers and foreign agents. The most memorable moment for me was being on the Hachette India stand when it was announced that Malala Yousafzai had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize – the youngest recipient ever! There was whooping and cheering and lots of high fives!

———-

helen Mangham Literary Agent

Helen Mangham, Jacaranda Literary Agency

Helen has been a Partner Agent at Singapore-based Literary Agency Jacaranda since 2012. Here she is helping to build a dedicated list of Singapore Writers alongside an eclectic international list. As part of her role with Jacaranda, Helen attends the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs and meets with international publishers from across Southeast Asia, Australia, the UK and US. Helen came to Jacaranda with over eight years of publishing experience. She started her career in London, at Curtis Brown Literary Agency. She has worked with the publicity departments of a number of the UK’s leading publishing companies, helping with publicity campaigns for a number of high profile books including Michael Chabon’s ‘The Mysteries of Pittsburgh’, Andrew Morton’s controversial biography of Princess Diana, Whitley Streiber’s ‘Communion’ and the autobiography of Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin. Other authors she has worked with include Deborah Moggach, John Julius Norwich and Chinua Achebe.

Are you writing a book? Looking for an agent? Have questions for Helen? Fire away in the comments! And if you don’t have a question, comments are great, too.

Been to Yangon, yet?


Blogging needs to be regular, if anything. Experts harp on this, often. But last month I took off on a break, to write my WIP. I haven’t visited many blogs, not commented much, and not posted at all. I got the draft finished though (finally!!), and went on a short break to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma). I’m officially out of hibernation, too.

Ever since the country opened up its gates to tourists in the past 4 years, friends on social media have been posting pictures of their Myanmar ‘adventure.’ Mine was far from one, let me tell you in advance, and if you can’t stand descriptions of lazy tourism, I suggest you stop reading right now. Having slept three hours a night or so for the last two months, I needed to catch up on some sleep– and since we had booked this holiday long in advance, I did my catching up right there in Myanmar.

Lyungi, Yangon, Myanmar

Lungyis in Yangon

At first sight (and second, and third), Yangon seemed to me the land of the Lungyis, these sarongs worn with a knot on the front by the men, and gracefully, with side-ties and invisible zips, by the women. I love it when the people of a country don their traditional clothing in their daily lives, instead of the drab Western gear most of us in Asia seem to have adopted. Students and office goers all wear Lungyis in Yangon– a garment that makes such elegant sense in the heat and dust. That’s not to say that jeans hasn’t made inroads here: loved the men wearing Lungyis holding hands with women in tight-fitted jeans.

A lot of women also apply Thanaka paste on their faces when they go out (notice the face of the woman in yellow at the far right of the above set of pics). Quite puzzled by these daubs  of sandalwood-looking paste on women’s cheek, I asked a waitress, and she said these have cooling, sunscreen, as well as cosmetic properties, and that Thanaka is a tree, just like Sandalwood.

Pavement snaps from Colorful Yangon

Yangon snapshots

The Burmese reminded me of the Thai, with their soft smiles and friendly faces. Weaving your way while across its gridlocked traffic can be a challenging, chaotic affair, but right beside you in the mornings you would find Lungyi-clad students, colorful hawker women balancing on their heads their entire ware of fried snacks in a basket, the maroon-clad monks with their shiny begging bowls, young women in wet hair and colorful clothes heading to the pagodas, bunches of roses in hand, and mega-phone-weilding-military-uniform-clad traffic police, walking casually as they yell instructions to shiny new Toyotas, the tiny Tata Nanos, old trucks and jeeps.

We did take quite a few walks on the pavements of Yangon dotted with hawkers and tea-stalls, and snack-stalls selling everything from grilled/ steamed pig parts, chicken legs, eggs, peanuts, coconuts, guavas, corn, sea-food. In the evenings, the pavements flowered with small colorful tables, and kid-sized plastic stools– young and old Burmese sat at these tiny feasts, lit by dim lamps and chatted and laughed. We had fun shopping really old second hand books from the pavements– think thrillers and romance published in 1960s, and pirated copies of  English books published in the early 1980s in Burma.

Yangon Myanmar Lyungyi and walking streets

Street food in Yangon, Myanmar

Of course, we had to sample the Myanmarese cuisine, a curious mix of the Chinese, Indian and Thai influences. Each meal was served with a green leafy consomme, and an array of steamed vegetables with a fish paste. The Burmese eat noodles and dumplings like the Chinese, with some Thai influence; their salads include noodles and meat, like the Thai, and most of their curries (chicken, mutton, pork) and snacks looked and tasted Indian. Curries are invariably greasy– because according to certain local beliefs, the greasier the food you can afford, the better off you are! The Burmese milk tea is the same as you would find on Indian footpaths, the chai so favored and distorted by cafes into latte and whatnot, but the Burmese love their green tea, too, like most Chinese I know.

Pagodas in Yangon, Myanmar

In and around the Sule and Shwedagon Pagodas, Yangon

If all you see are descriptions and photos of food and walks on Yangon pavements, that’s because that’s what we did most of the time. We did also visit Pagodas and museums (very briefly). The Pagodas seemed similar to what I’ve seen in Bangkok, all the gold-plated glorification of the Buddha, who mostly (as far as I know), spoke of the inner spirit, and started the Bhikkhu, or ‘begging alms’ way of life for monks. What impressed me most at the museum was the Burmese fascination with the humble betel-leaf– enormous gold-plated spittoons and containers displayed on an entire floor: remnants of which we see on the betel or paan stall (seen on the upper right corner of pics below) on Yangon streets.

Yangon tourism pavements paan

Tourism on the pavements of Yangon

We should have explored more, taken a day-trip out or something, but I was too busy catching up on sleep, and eating myself silly. So the snapshots of food and clothing are all I carried back with me.

Not really, though. The people, the Burmese people with their smiles and their day-to-day lives, remain with me, and the changing face of a country so recently ravaged by violence, beginning to breathe free.

What was your latest trip out of town like? Have you been to Yangon? Been on a trip where you ‘ought’ to have explored but lazed instead?

#IWSG: What if you need to hibernate?


Blogging tips

Blogging during Hibernation

This new year’s eve, I fell asleep before midnight.

Of course, I’m aging. But more than aging, I’m hibernating.

Since Christmas, I’m doing a complete rewrite of my MS, and I aim to get it done by the 31st January. So I’m not really responding to messages, making  (or receiving) calls. Not blogging (much) either: I click Likes still, when I sometimes read posts during writing breaks, but not many comments.

It’s like I need to stay in the world of my MS to bang out about 2 to 2.5 k words a day: and it’s like meditation, if you’ve ever watched a hen incubate an egg with those faraway, lost look in her eyes, you’ll know what I look like these days. Pretty darn unattractive. You’ll find me on Twitter: @damyantig : I’m a sucker for  #wordsprint ever since I started this binge, and #1k1hr .

But this morning my calendar told me today is the 7th Birthday of this Blog. If I ignore that too, I’d be a bit of an asshat.

So I’m peeping up to say HI to everyone, to wish everyone a good new year ahead. And I’d be an even bigger asshat if I didn’t say THANKYOU to all the readers and commenters of my blog. And didn’t say SORRY for disappearing (pretty much) from the blogiverse for the last few weeks.

So Thankyou for being my friends, and Sorry about disappearing.

I also re-added myself to the Insecure Writers Support Group, cos let’s face it, right about now, in this temporary break from my fictive dream, I do feel a little Insecure. What if everyone forgets I exist? What if this blog becomes a forest of *crickets*?

From within the world of my novel, these seem like pretty trivial concerns. (That’s because they are, Damyanti– the world has gone through tragedies too many and too diverse to name in 2014– and you’re worried about your blog? #firstworldproblems #sigh)

But as ever, I need your advice: What do you do when you need to hibernate? Is it terrible that I want to take this month off to finish my MS? I know I can’t, I’ve made commitments, but what if I could? Have you ever taken a hiatus from your blog? Taken a hiatus in January? Thoughts on Hibernation? Hit me with them!