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Monthly Archives: August 2011

Signed First Jacaranda Contract!

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Thank you Jay and Priya!

This was a sweet end (for me at least) to the adda at Jay’s apartment.

Ketna Patel was fascinating–not only for her entertaining presentation (riots/ box rooms/ colonial child’s eye view/ Gujarati extended families/ life philosophy/ art/ people/ colours/ social observations/ politics/ artists/ marketing… I’m still processing!)

It was the best sort of experience because it was fun and striking while we were there but also seeded so many thoughts and reflections. I love her energy and drive and attitude as well as her artwork. It feels like her life and her art are crafted out of the same continuum.

It made me realise that writing for me is very much creating collages out of experiences, impressions and words. Sometimes there are pieces of people and places and food and encounters I cut and trim and paste in. Sometimes it’s repeating patterns, found objects and all these get bits painted in or sanded out or outlined differently… and sometimes they fit together so that while each retaining their individual natures when you stand back there is a mosaic of something quite different that they are yet a part of.

Because I’m realising more and more that I don’t get writing out of thin air. I’m sure everyone works differently but I need input to get output and strangely enough the ‘input’ works best when it doesn’t come in the pages of a book!

So–I’m starting on another 3 month scriptmunk ‘intensive’ on Thursday and hope to have a 60,000 word first draft at the end of it. Yesterday cleared the office… the sewing machine is gone 😦  and the desktop and cupboards have been cleared and sorted. Today & tomorrow I’ll be clearing out bookshelves both real & virtual.

I hope to log in my word count here every day (accountability accountability accountability) targeting an average of 1000 words each week day and using Saturdays & Sundays to revise and edit. It doesn’t sound like much does it? It isn’t, not as a sprint like during NaNoWriMo. The challenge to myself if whether I can keep it up in the long run!

And there’s my daily 750 Words too, which helps me stay balanced, and my weekly blog posts here.

Right now it feels a bit like I’m waiting to start a new school term!

 

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Playing Without Words

Spent this morning doing major pruning on the patio (next round during my next break in December so this has to keep till then) and the afternoon making a ‘mandala’.

I wanted something to remind me what I’m aiming for and make me laugh when the slog gets to mucky and the slough too despond so I made this!

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Writing Life

 

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Cubicles in Chinatown Heritage Centre

Went to the Chinatown Heritage Centre with a vague intention to start my research into the 1920’s but got totally caught up in the place.

Most striking were the evocations of how people lived then. Compared to now Singapore/ the world was a lot less crowded. But old pictures and show how people were crammed into boats for the voyage here–‘some of the children got sick and died. The bodies were thrown overboard’ sums up such hope and despair.

Before 1893 ‘migration was punishable by beheading’ but still people kept coming. And of course after 1911 with civil war and famine in China even more came from there. It’s easy to think immigration from China is a new thing but it’s been happening for a long, long time.

It was also interesting to learn that for three years–1819 to 1823–when Farquhar was running things here the revenue came mainly from opium, alcohol and gambling but Raffles tried to eradicate these when he returned from Bencoolen in 1823. The gaming houses were abolished by the Common Gaming Houses Ordinance in 1888 because gambling was considered too damaging a revenue source. Interesting how this has been completely reversed (because gambling is just too profitable?) but our 377A originating in the ‘gross indecency’ clause of the Labouchere bill of 1885 is treated as an unshakeable artifact though homosexuality was decriminalised over 50 years ago in the UK where this law originated.

Sorry, got sidetracked… but it’s really fascinating how big an influence chance or what seems almost like the whims and prejudices of those in power can have. How different would things be here if Raffles had supported gambling over trade in Singapore in the 19th century?

The shophouses were 4m to 6m wide, 12m to 18m deep and 2 to 3 storeys high. Much smaller than today’s shoebox apartments! The recreated shophouse cubicles brought home how small and cramped these spaces were. Most of them didn’t have light because the cubicles at either end with windows cost more. The people living there shared a tap, toilet and bathroom and there were occasional fights over water.

I was brought up by a black and white amah jie who used to go back to her ‘ku lei fong’–which I now know was a coolie room–in Chinatown. I always thought that was her own place but just learned two or three black and white amahs used to share a cubicle–taking different off days twice a month to use the single narrow bed there.

My first nanny, Ah Gan Jie, was Cantonese so that’s what I grew up with and could not talk to my parents–at least not my father! He said he had to learn Cantonese to talk to me. I’m told I didn’t start talking till I was three years old. Maybe the language confusion had something to do with that… at that time we were still in England and everyone else spoke English but back in Singapore my grandmother (from Szechuan who taught Chinese at ACS) tried to teach me Mandarin and my grandfather (from Shanghai who had a whole herd of dogs) didn’t talk to me at all!

I’m very interested in how the languages we understand influence how we speak and even how we think. But going deeper into that will have to wait. Though of course I’ll go on squirrelling away nuggets of info as I find them.

The Chinatown Heritage Centre is at Pagoda Street. I will probably go back, to spend more time looking at the cubicle re-creations. No photos allowed inside which is a pity. I would love someone to make short films within the cubicles of what everyday life must have been like in there–sort of fake/reality tv!

An unexpected bonus–found the TInTin Shop also at Pagoda Street. I think I vaguely knew it was there but had forgotten. Got a couple of postcards that I’m going to use for writing character notes on. I’ll probably keep these in a pocket photo album so I can flip through them easily. Most of my physical notes are on plain cards but the occasional postcard is a treat! I had all the TinTin books growing up but no idea what became of them since.

Also visited the Sri Mariamman Temple. Was very moved by the simple devotions of a few men, dressed like workers who had taken some time of in the middle of their work day, who came to do their devotions in the midst of tourists photographing statues. The statues were fascinating though. I want to find out more about who/what they symbolised. The only ones I recognised were Mariamman herself and Draupadi (because of firewalking) and of course Ganesha.

It was wonderful (though very hot!) just walking around. And I realise in a way we have hardly changed. We are still a crowd of people from other places glad to be in a land of peace even when work is hard because there is food and shelter within range.

But I’m glad I did the walkabout and that I enjoyed it. Last week I spent about the same amount of time walking around inside an air-conditioned shopping centre with a friend. While it was nice catching up I found all the presentations and packaging designed to lure people into purchasing unnecessary products almost disgusting. I think this is the good/ bad influence of too much Leo Babauta!

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2011 in Life Happens, Research, Writing Life

 

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Happy Singapore Curry day!

Happy Singapore Curry Day everybody!

Went out to buy ginger and tomatoes for tonight’s veggie curry and found some ‘drumstick beans’ I’ve never seen before. The stallkeeper told me “Use for curry–just peel like carrot and chop” which I took as a sign I was on the right track! Then I got home and looked them up–they are ‘Moringa oleifera‘ and there are some very interesting facts here. Definitely going to find out more about them… but not right now.

I’m starting the cooking now–then it’s all going into the crockpot on Low till after the Cedaw Debrief this afternoon.  Been following all the reports from the UN (thank you Aware & Sayoni!) but there’s nothing like getting the whole story live and finding out what’s happening next!

So–the curry pot… it’s going to be sort of a green curry (because the basil and limau purut are growing so well) with onions, garlic, ginger, potatoes, tomatoes, chick peas (already cooking), carrots, pattypan squash, brinjal, baby corn, long beans and of course the drumstick beans once I’ve figure out how to process them! It’s probably obvious there’s way too much stuff but don’t worry. Minute samples of each are going into the curry, culled from next week’s rations!

On the writing side I’ve got my ‘outline’ down. Two pages worth and so far it all seems to work–but then potholes in the road don’t always show up in the distance.

Have also started files for character sketches–just very rough notes on how they look, where they live, how they talk, what they like to eat… stuff that helps me know them and how they interact better.

This part of writing is great fun actually. I feel like I’m playing a game, creating a virtual world.

I found and borrowed a lovely book Chinese Label Art by Andrew S. Cahan from the Central Library. Fascinating photos of labels of joss sticks, tea tins, firecrackers, lichees, headache cures… and write ups on the designs and products. Like how the deer was featured on firecracker labels because it is thought to be the only animal able to find the ling chih, the fungus (not a typo–at least not my typo) of immortality!

Many of these products were probably common in Singapore in the 1920’s–another attempt to get a feel of the times.

On one hand I’m dying to start but on the other I don’t want to start writing yet because I know once I do I’m going to plunge in and everything else is going to get tossed by the wayside and I do want very much to finish:

1.) My sewing project before I return the sewing machine and

2) My painting/ collage project. I got an idea for a poster I want to have on the wall in front of my computer monitor (when it reclaims its primary spot from the sewing machine) and I would really like to do it myself.

I found a lovely potato word counter at Writertopia (see top of right panel). Since NaNoWriMo isn’t on right now I’m hoping it won’t crash on me… now I’m still at zero word count so the ‘1’ there is just for testing!

So now–sewing and cooking and going out to be impressed by what some of our women are doing for us out in the world. And I’ve just got the latest Donna Leon Drawing Conclusions and recklessly jumped into reading it even though I still haven’t finished Hilary Mantel’s Fludd (started on Thursday but it’s been a busy week)… so yes, a lot of stuff going on.

Life is full and wonderful right now. But still–I want to start writing want to start want to start…

But no. I will start in September. Before then I want to sort all the para-writing details out. I want to connect the external monitor currently sitting in the cupboard. I want to get back into an eating, exercise and sleep routine that keeps me functioning at prime. I want to finish my character sketches and location maps and draw out floor plans for the places where the main action takes place–just to make sure I don’t trip myself up!

And now–a very basic curried cabbage and tofu and brown rice for lunch, just to stay within the theme of the day.

 

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NLB has Facebook research guide!

I just found out & I’m thrilled!
I discovered it yesterday when I was playing around with the NLB myLibrary function… how many days left on my books etc.
I thought using it to start research for The Book would be a good excuse for playing on Facebook instead of ploughing through news archives so I asked,

Could you recommend some books touching on the social and cultural side of Singapore in the 1920’s and 1930’s?

And this morning got this list!

Thank you for using Reference Point.

Please refer to the following books which are available at Level 11 of the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.

Keyword(s)

social and cultural history of Singapore in the 1920’s and 1930’s

1.   Book
Title: An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore : from the foundation of the settlement … on February 6th, 1819 to the transfer to the Colonial Office … on April 1st, 1867 / by Charles Burton Buckley ; with an introduction by C.M. Turnbull.
Author: Buckley, Charles Burton, 1844-1912
Publisher: Singapore : Oxford University Press, 1984.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 BUC -[HIS]
Description: First ed. published: Singapore : Fraser & Neave, 1902. 2 v. Cover title: An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819-1867. Cover title: An anecdotal history of old times in Singapore 1819-1867.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
2.   Book
Title: Singapore weddings : evolution of a Singapore culture through common roots in traditional values : St. Theresa’s Convent 50th anniversary, 1933-1983.
Publisher: Singapore : The Convent, 1983.
Call No.: RSING English 301.42095957 SIN
Description: Compiled by the principal, teachers and pupils of St. Theresa’s Convent. Compiled by the principal, teachers and pupils of St. Theresa’s Convent.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
3.   Book
Title: Chinese society in nineteenth and early twentieth century Singapore : a socioeconomic analysis / by Lee Poh Ping.
Author: Lee, Poh-Ping, 1942-
Publisher: [Ithaca, N.Y.] : Cornell University, 1974.
Issue Information: year 1974
Call No.: RCLOS English 301.45195105957 LEE year 1974
Description: Thesis (Ph.D.) – Cornell University, 1974. Photocopy. Ann Arbor, Mich. : Xerox University Microfilms, 1975. Photocopy. Ann Arbor, Mich. : Xerox University Microfilms, 1975.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Closed Access
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
Librarian’s notes: Available upon request at the L11 Information Counter
4.   Book
Title: Old Singapore / Maya Jayapal.
Author: Jayapal, Maya, 1941-
Publisher: Singapore : Oxford University Press, 1992.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 JAY -[HIS]
Description: Maps on lining papers. Includes index. Includes index.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
5.   Book
Title: A journey through Singapore : travellers’ impressions of a by-gone time selected and arranged in a complete narrative / by Reena Singh.
Author: Reena Singh
Publisher: Singapore : Landmark Books, c1995.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 REE -[HIS]
Description: “Travellers‘ impressions of time gone by”–Jacket. “Travellers‘ impressions of time gone by”–Jacket.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
6.   Book
Title: Singapore : a pictorial history 1819-2000 / Gretchen Liu.
Author: Liu, Gretchen
Publisher: Singapore : Archipelago Press in association with the National Heritage Board, c1999.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 LIU -[HIS]
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
7.   Book
Title: The history of Singapore / Jean E. Abshire.
Author: Abshire, Jean E
Publisher: Santa Barbara, Calif. : Greenwood, c2011.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 ABS -[HIS]
Description: Timeline — A globalized state — Pre-colonial Singapore : Temasek, Dragon’s Tooth Gate, and Singapura, 100-1819 — The establishment of colonial Singapore : 1819-1867 — A crown colony : 1867-1942 — Fortress Singapore to Syonan-to : World War II — The rough road to independence, 1945-1963 — From Third World to First World, since 1965 — Notable people in the history of Singapore — Glossary.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
8.   Book
Title: The first 150 years of Singapore / [by] Donald and Joanna Moore.
Author: Moore, Donald
Publisher: [Singapore] : Donald Moore Press; [distributed by Cellar Book Shop, Detroit, Mich., 1969].
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 MOO -[HIS]
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
9.   Book
Title: Singapore, a 700-year history : from early emporium to world city / Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng, Tan Tai Yong.
Author: Kwa, Chong Guan
Publisher: Singapore : National Archives of Singapore, 2009.
Call No.: RSING English 959.5703 KWA -[HIS]
Description: Includes index. Includes index.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
10.   Book
Title: Ray Tyers’ Singapore : then & now / [Ray Tyers] ; revised and updated by Siow Jin Hua.
Author: Tyers, R. K. (Ray K.), 1919-
Publisher: Singapore : Landmark Books, c1993.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 TYE -[HIS]
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
11.   Book
Title: Past times : a social history of Singapore / Chan Kwok Bun and Tong Chee Kiong (eds.).
Publisher: Singapore : Times Editions, c2003.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 PAS -[HIS]
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
12.   Book
Title: A history of modern Singapore, 1819-2005 / C.M. Turnbull.
Author: Turnbull, C. M. (Constance Mary)
Publisher: Singapore : NUS Press, c2009.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 TUR -[HIS]
Description: Includes index. Includes index.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
13.   Book
Title: One hundred years of Singapore / general editors, Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke, Roland St. J. Braddell ; with an introduction by C.M. Turnbull.
Publisher: Singapore : Oxford University Press, 1991.
Issue Information: v. 1
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 ONE -[HIS] v. 1
Description: Reprint. Originally published: London : J. Murray, 1921. Includes index. Includes index.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
14.   Book
Title: One hundred years of Singapore / general editors, Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E. Brooke, Roland St. J. Braddell ; with an introduction by C.M. Turnbull.
Publisher: Singapore : Oxford University Press, 1991.
Issue Information: v. 2
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 ONE -[HIS] v. 2
Description: Reprint. Originally published: London : J. Murray, 1921. Includes index. Includes index.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
15.   Book
Title: Crossroads : a popular history of Malaysia and Singapore / Jim Baker.
Author: Baker, Jim, M. Ed
Publisher: Singapore : Marshall Cavendish Editions, c2008.
Call No.: RSING English 959.5 BAK
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
16.   Book
Title: Singapore retrospect through postcards, 1900-1930.
Publisher: Singapore : Sin Chew Jit Poh [and] Archives and Oral History Dept., 1982.
Call No.: RSING English 769.4995957 SIN
Description: English and Chinese text. English and Chinese text.
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
17.   Book
Title: A history of Singapore / edited by Ernest C.T. Chew and Edwin Lee.
Publisher: Singapore : Oxford University Press, 1991.
Call No.: RSING English 959.57 HIS -[HIS]
Description: “Issued under the auspices of the Southeast Asian Studies Program, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore”. “Issued under the auspices of the Southeast Asian Studies Program, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore”. QREF
Availability: Lee Kong Chian Reference Library-Reference Singapore
Last accessed date: 16 Aug 2011
Impressive no? Well anyway I was impressed. I’m going to print this out and go down to the National Library.
Current plan?
Writing:
  1. Put down the story outline very roughly.
  2. Split it into sections (thanks, Scrivener!)
  3. Write, expanding it section by section. Try to average 1000 words/ day or 7000 words a week. If I hit the 7000 before Sunday I get to take Sundays off!
Research:
  1. Get myself out of the apartment and into the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. It’s not a place I’m familiar with. You can’t bring notebooks in, only blank paper I believe, which makes it difficult for me since I Need my notebook lists to know what I’m looking for. But then it’s been a long time since I was there and I can already feel these books calling to me!
  2. Note down any colourful details that spark off new directions for me.
  3. I hope to write and read simultaneously during the writing of this first draft. There will be gaps and adjustments of course but I’ll just *LIVECOW* them and sort them out in the rewrite (Why Livecow? Because I don’t like Deadbeef…)
What usually stops me at this stage is trying to get everything ‘right’ before I start. But that’s like saying I want to get fit before I start exercising. What works for me is just to warm up first and plunge in. If it doesn’t work first time then I’ll have found one route that doesn’t work and I’ll go on from there!
 
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Posted by on August 17, 2011 in Research, Writing Life

 

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A Big Thank You to NAC’s Arts Creation Fund!!!

Just got confirmation that my contract’s okay and it’s all right to write about the process here in this blog!

A big Thank You to NAC‘s Arts Creation Fund for being my life support system for the next fifteen months while I’m writing this next book!!

And suddenly I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing… but that should be reassuringly familiar since most of the time that’s how I feel when I start on a new project. So–

I’ve got my lead character, Miss Sophia Blackmore (there will be some who recognise the name… those of you who do and who may be able to point me towards more documents/ photos/ info/ facts please, please let me know!) the American lady who set up a mission school for girls in Singapore.

My book will be exploring a little known side of her and some of her students–how the skills, discipline and spirit of service she embodied and tried to instill in them made it possible for them to solve heinous murders in 1920’s Singapore.

No disrespect intended–this is fiction built around a historical character whose presence in Singapore left a legacy still present today. After all First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt has been depicted solving murders in the White House. I enjoyed those books and loved the idea behind them.

I think what I liked most was knowing that while the murders were pure fiction (at least I hope so!) the social and historical information was accurate enough to give me an idea of what it was like not just in the White House but in America in that era.

I’m tentatively setting my book in Singapore in 1926. This was an exciting time in the world and in Singapore–jazz age, flappers, the bit of breathing space between two world wars, rubber was the big industry and palm oil was a big deal too… I’ve already been reading up on the time and looking up old photographs to see what houses looked like, what people wore, what they ate, cooked with (and what they might have used to murder each other with)

Yes, I’m looking forward to writing this book.

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2011 in Writing Life

 

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Just fell in love with Flavia de Luce!

I just fell in love with Flavia de Luce!

This is simultaneously not as exciting (no one new in my life) and way more thrilling (a whole new ongoing series to follow!!) than it sounds.

Flavia de Luce is a ten year old who solves murder mysteries in 1950’s Britain in books by Alan Bradley.

I was thinking about writing the next book and getting frankly scared because so many things seem to be happening. There are ‘unofficial’ or rather ‘not yet official’ things hanging over me which kind of makes me feel like I’m on probation. And there’s a mountain of reading to do that I’m enjoying quite a bit but that’s also supposed to be confidential–I’ll write more about everything later once (keeping fingers and toes crossed) the unofficial gets inked onto contracts!

And I was reading blog archives and following links and thanks to Louise Penny’s piece I discovered The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Frankly I wasn’t expecting too much but Louise Penny, my currently favourite writer (she scores top on my list because her blog on her writing life makes waiting for the next book easier) liked the book and it was available on Kindle so…

Well I finished reading The Sweetness. I’ve also downloaded and finished The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag and I’m halfway through A Red Herring Without Mustard and so far I’m still fascinated.

I’m also very sleepy.

One of the drawbacks of using the Kindle, it works too well. In the old days I would have had to wait for morning, for bookshops to open and I would probably have got a lot more sleep. The only reason I stopped reading was having to do my morning pages at 750 Words, water plants, feed fish & turtles, walk dogs etc… basic life support.

Reasons why I find Alan Bradley as fascinating as Flavia: he grew up in Canada and never set foot in England till he won his CWA Debut Dagger for The Sweetness.

Plus he was 70 years old when he wrote it!

There’s hope for me yet–there’s still hope for all of us wannabe writers on this side of 70 who grew up in Singapore on Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie (not to mention Edith Nesbit and Noel Streatfeild)!

Now I’m going to do some ‘duty’ reading before I allow myself to get back to A Red Herring…

 
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Posted by on August 13, 2011 in Writing Life

 

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