Monthly Archives: October 2011

Day 54: Taking Time Off for SWF!!!

I thought today would be a good writing day after the incredibly exciting weekend at SWF events… but it was hard getting anything on paper. No, I mean it was hard even sitting down at the computer when I’m still buzzing and there are more talks coming up and so many things I want to see!

So–I’ve got Orchid Chan up to 16, 355 words and I’m going to take some time off from the history mystery. I’ll catch up over November, so far there’s nothing scheduled then except one book launch, discussion at Books Actually with Tarn How and Tze Chien, feedback session for the Golden Point short story shortlist and writing a skit for the FCC Christmas show.

To survive, I’m cutting down on writing time for now. I can catch up with everything in November and at the very worst, over December (which means no yoga retreat 😦 but is much better than cracking now!)

SWF Highlights for me so far, just noting down so I don’t forget:

1. Sir Andrew Motion on writing poetry, on responsibility as a writer, as writing as a person. Fifteen minutes into the conversation he said, “so what is it really like for gay and lesbian people in Singapore?” (informal conversation after the opening ceremony. If I didn’t worship him before I would now), the way he read Serenade at the ‘In Conversation’ with Professor Thumboo, I thought I knew the piece but in his voice it was at once much simpler and more poignant, and I learned there are recordings of him reading his work online. I want to go look them up instead of writing!!!!!

Trivia: his wife’s passport had only 4 months left so she couldn’t come with him, he writes in the morning and is usually done by 9am,

2. Yang Lian. He is even more calmly, deliberately, beautifully sensuous, intelligent and provocative in person than on the page. It struck me ‘this is a Writer’ not just someone who writes. What he said about all the writer’s responsibilities seemed to say we can have only individual responsibility because there are different views about everything. But it is also a writer’s duty almost to be aware of and alert to all that is happening in the world around him as well as in history. And that tied in to what the China historian said about the blank years during the Cultural Revolution and goes back to ‘those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it’.

Much much much more of course. All still buzzing in my head. I want to write so many different things and so much more of each of the many different things.

Oh 3) Meeting all the people I haven’t run into for so long until now. The old friends, the old teachers, the new teachers, new friends, before the opening ceremony I was already awed and honoured to be sitting with Lee Tzu Pheng when OMG Steven Levitt came and joined us *still in shock*

It was a ‘gods walk among us’ moment. I feel like I’ve suddenly been shocked back to life.

Now I want to read so many things–enormous gaps in my reading I’m only aware of now. But when? When? Even with an hour of reading a day I’m barely scratching the surface. I think I have to up reading time to 2 hours a day for a start and see how that goes.

I’ve been thinking about the stuff that came out in the panels I attended, am wondering about the ones I couldn’t make it to. There were so very many exciting things all on at the same time.

It’s going to be more of the same over Deepavali on Wednesday when my panel is. I’ve chatted with Chris Mooney-Singh but I’m not telling (here) what we’re going to be talking about 🙂 Then on Thursday and Friday I’ve signed up to attend the Publishing Fair, two full days. Then on Saturday and Sunday more SWF events, it’s wonderful! 🙂 🙂 🙂

Though also tearing me in different directions, why didn’t I go on writing poetry? Why isn’t Yang Lian a Nobel Laureate? Can I write honestly and truly and make valid points in the forms I’ve chosen?

In the short story forum they (F Sionil Jose, Dave Chua, Jeffery Lim, chaired by Koh Tai Ann) talked about writing short stories like solving math equations (or something like that) and I realised with a shock that that is what writing murder mysteries is for me. Like a math puzzle or a mandala I have the fixed form to anchor me and within that limiting structure I can be more free (as a limited consciousness) than if offered complete freedom!

But I think that of all the events I attended what moved me most was the Migrant Voices event. Simple, straightforward, heartfelt pieces were read first in the original languages I am too limited to understand then in English. Of all of them I liked this one best. I took a copy with me and I hope the writer forgives me for including it without his permission.


Singapore’s Cat by Yin Jian Jun

I came to Singapore to work for a year and a half, got injured and lived at Geylang. One night I woke up to pee. Because the room was especially hot, I walked to the veranda to cool off and saw a few cats playing. I also saw a rat not very far from where the cats were, looking very calm. It ran over here for a while and it ran over there. The few cats looked at the rat, indifferent, sedentary. The cats must have eaten; they were not hungry. They can only be Singapore’s cats,

I don’t know how the intention comes across in the original Mandarin but in English there is something very chilling about the complacent well fed vermin catchers being noticed only by foreign eyes. And knowing those cats themselves are in danger of being culled on orders by others even more well fed and complacent.




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Day 41: SWF Opening Tonight!

SWF Opens tonight!

And thankfully my word count is right on target for the week so I’m taking the weekend off writing to go watch/listen writers writers writers!

Very ‘light’ festival for me–one panel (Ideas), one set of post competition comments (Golden Point) and one presentation (Books Actually) and the rest of the time I’m free to enjoy all that’s happening.

Frustrating that so many things I’d like to sit in on are happening simultaneously!


Meanwhile Orchid Chan is on target at 15, 092 words–will have to start tidying and streamlining next week–and the History Mystery has passed the 35,000 word mark, which means I can stop to breathe a little, at least over the weekend!

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Posted by on October 21, 2011 in Uncategorized


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Day 47: Small Steps & SWF next week!

My Orchid Chan novella is at 14,000 words and I’m just thinking of making Orchid’s mum-in-law a pantang queen (like she distrusts neighbour who has curly hair on forehead and I’m trying to decide whether she’s right to… is he the murderer? Or biased and wrong or use this as a step towards discussing whether suspecting the right person for the wrong reason counts…)

It’s been a long long day and I’m tired. But I’ve passed the 50% mark on the first draft of the ACF novel and happy to say Richard Lord has agreed to be my editor. Still have to do the paperwork and apply formally but knowing who my ‘first reader’ (apart from Jay and Priya of course) will be helps!

Small details to be taken care of on the other books–

I just realised I left out an acknowledgement page in 8 Plays and I should at least thank the theatre companies which staged these plays originally. I owe them much more than thanks and a copy of the book but I’ll try to deliver at least that now. Or soon, anyway.

Great news from a dear friend Lee Gwo Yinn. In his words,

Rainbow Arts Project (RAP) has been selected to exhibit at SUPERMARKET 2012 next February.

Since RAP is a not-for-profit initiative and SUPERMARKET does not sponsor us in anyway, we would need your help to make this happen. I will update on the cost as more information becomes available.

1. You may like to donate directly to the fund.
2. You may want to buy one of my works. 100% of the proceeds from now till end January 2012 will go towards the fund.

Write to for more details.

The SWF is next week and I may be getting to see Andrew Motion and Amy Tan in the flesh and hear them speak!!!!

If I weren’t so tired I would be more thrilled. But for now I’m just quietly happy.

My INR levels are stabilizing, my eyes are almost back to normal, I’m having lunch with some lovely people tomorrow–life is good 🙂


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Day 43: Focus On The Writing

Very glad I’m excited about the writing I’m doing now… have decided what’s over is over or rather what’s been published is out of my hands. It’s all a learning process right? At least the writing part is still fun and I can’t think of anything else I could love to do as much.

Though I must say the book looks good!

Especially in the hands of the doyen of Local Theatre…

Singapore's most glamorous academic, Dr KK Seet


Though it seems to have shocked Step-Brother and friends…


Casey Lim and Chien-Seen Chiu


Nothing throws my sweet Robin--sorry, the respected Dr Robin Loon--off balance!


Getting over a bit of a health blip but all’s stabilising now. Have sketched in the ending for the Orchid Chan novella and during practice this morning was thinking of all kinds of little things to add in but will wait and see. It’s supposed to be a Short novella and I’m already at 12,500 words without developing my motives and red herrings!

I should be able to take The Lizard’s Tail to 30,000 words by this weekend. Just received some information about the French nuns who were working in Singapore and Malaya at the time–wonderfully relevant. Actually Singapore during the period between the wars was a fascinating place. I have to keep reminding myself I’m not writing a history though now I’m thinking of classifying the ACF book as a mystery-documentary!


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Day 41: Good and Bad…

The Good: Richard Lord has agreed to be my editor/first reader for the ACF manuscript. I’m very very happy because I like him, he’s both good with words and able to understand my sttuutter when I get excited talking about what I’m writing PLUS he’s very experienced at the editing side of things as well as working on NAC projects!!!

The Bad: Blood test today not so great… I took some cold medication that didn’t agree with me, my INR was shot and just to prove it I’ve got a big bleeder in my right eye that makes writing a bit tough… but it’s really more self pity than anything else.

Bright side to that is, Prof K says nothing wrong with me flying to Shanghai or spending six months in Paris (fingers crossed, fingers crossed, fingers crossed) and I have a list of English speaking doctors so I’m hoping, hoping, hoping…!

And my Orchid Chan novella is going well–I know it’s not just about word count but I’ve reached 11,385 words and I think there’s enough bone and muscle under there to survive the fast edits I’m going to have to do to push/pull/cut it into shape. Probably will have to write about 40,000 words in order to cut down to the target 20,000…

But now I’m going to bed with an ice pack, two dogs and lots of self pity…


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Day 40: Looking Forward to Singapore Writers Festival!

And of course Shanghai though I’m trying not to let myself think about that yet, it’s too big and exciting and upsets all the other little things that have to be lived through (and written through) as well as I can before then. Amy Tan will be there!!! Plus a whole bunch of other people who I have to get started re-reading before next March…

But on the home front I’m still plugging away…

I’ve got the skeleton of the novella down and reached 10,286 words on that. That one’s a bit stressful because I don’t know how much time I will have for revising and revision time is usually the time when I get to adjust the ‘real’ feeling and direction.

Still if the worst happens and I don’t get this one published in time for Shanghai I’ll still have a pretty decent structure to work on…

And I will still have the history mystery of course. Which surprisingly or not is going pretty well right now. I’m keeping my fingers crossed this keeps up over the next few weeks with the writers festival going on. I have just one panel discussion (26 Oct) and one discussion cum launch of 8 Plays (4th November, 7.30pm at Books Actually) so aside from those days I’m free to attend as many of the talks and discussions as I can get myself too!

Wish it would rain some more. I think I write better (more anyway) when it rains… now I keep wanting to go outside.

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Posted by on October 10, 2011 in Writing Life


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Day 34: Writing & Publishing


8 Plays is published, I have copies here so I know that… but I’m not sure what happens next. Do I take it round to bookshops myself? Do I organise a book launch myself? I’ll do what needs to be done except I don’t know what that is! I wanted to give copies to the libraries I’ve been reading/writing/working in as a ‘thank you’ but the publishers said not to. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

The publishing/distributing/business side of things is definitely much much harder than the writing. Fortunately the writing is still fun… I need something to take my mind off the rest of the business!

I’m still on word count target with The Lizard’s Tail and I’ve started my first Orchid Chan novella! This is the beginning of Orchid Chan and the Chinese New Year Murder!


1 The Eve of Chinese New Year

Orchid Chan had been warned not to expect too much of Chinese New Year in Singapore. But she would never forget her first Chinese New Year in the island city. Her first murder investigation  started on the eve of her first Chinese New Year and changed her life forever. It all began when a man was murdered in the house next door…

Mrs Orchid Chan was sitting on one of the stone benches in the small square park in front of the Chan house along Jalan Mas Puteh. It was a very private area and cars could enter only through Jalan Mas Puteh, a feeder road that led to the park and ran around it. There were rows of terraced houses on all four sides of the park. Like most of the other houses there the Chan house was a two storey house with large long rooms but a narrow front and a driveway only big enough for one car. Because the Chan house was at the end of that row terraced houses they had a slightly larger garden and on the other side was the power station that served the housing estate. The Chan house shared a common wall with the Pang house, where all the terrible things happened but you will hear about all that later. For now let Orchid explain an important detail about the geography of the place. Behind their row of houses was a narrow granite ledge and then a drain. Even though all the houses had gates in their back fences or doors in their back walls these were seldom used because there wasn’t anywhere to go. Across the drain there was a steep grassy slope and at the top of that was the hedged fence that surrounded the Clementi Stadium. Husband Chan did not like the stadium because before it was built the hill had been full of trees and when he was a boy he used to go exploring there with Arnie Pang from next door. Orchid liked the stadium. She liked walking around it with BaoBao (when she got a chance to walk with her own son!) and it was not the fault of the Clementi Stadium that Arnold Pang was no longer friends with Husband Chan. Arnold Pang did not even visit his own father next door. Orchid knew this but she did not find out why until later.

To get to the stadium from their houses you had to walk to the end of the row. There was a gap there between them and the row of houses that stood perpendicular to theirs and a narrow flight of stone steps cut into the slope and led up to the carpark of the Clementi Stadium.

All the houses faced the small park. Two rows of houses were back to back with the houses that opened onto West Coast Walk and West Coast Road and behind the final row of houses (at right angles to the Chan House) was a row of shophouses. There was a playground in the park, a square patch of sand with a swing standing in it. Normally Orchid Chan liked this park. She liked playing with BaoBao there, either sitting on the swing with him in her lap or playing football with his big foam ball. But today BaoBao was with Mum Chan (Husband Chan’s Mother) in the house and Orchid was feeling homesick. She had been married to Husband Chan for over three years now, BaoBao was almost two years old. They had all moved to Singapore when Husband Chan’s Shanghai posting was over. Of course Orchid Chan had known when she married a Singapore man that she would one day be moving to Singapore. She had even liked the idea—Orchid was always up to trying something new—but now after almost a year in Singapore, Orchid Chan was sitting alone outside the house and wondering whether she had made a mistake.

Orchid Chan had lived in Shanghai all her life. Her mother had also been born in Shanghai. Her father came to Shanghai to study, met and married her mother and as a consequence never left. Shanghai had that effect on some people. But then Orchid’s parents were of the romantic generation.

Orchid Chan was of the 80’s generation. But though a Balinghou, thanks to her romantic, artistic (and therefore not very wealthy) parents she was not a fuerdai that grew up with rich parents and a silver spoon in her mouth. From the time she was in her teens she had been far more practical than her parents. And by the time she was thirty years old Orchid Health Blooms which she had started with support from her parents was a successful business in Shanghai. It is not easy to make a success of a start up business. That was something she was very proud of doing. She was proud not only of the financial success but the hard work she put in and the discovery that she could succeed at something she had no way to prepare for—except to stand firmly on each step as she achieved it, look around and decide where she should start to carve out the next step. Then why did she throw it all away? Orchid Health Blooms was the first shop in Super Brand Mall, perhaps even in Pudong and possibly even in Shanghai to offer a combination of Traditional and Western herbal cures and teas incorporated into artistic floral arrangements. These were works of art you could take apart to use. It had been Orchid’s bright idea—she had always had bright ideas, perhaps too many, which made it difficult for her to focus on studying the right answers to school exams. But in this case Orchid Health Blooms had paid off and had enough regularly subscribers to go on turning a growing profit. When Orchid Chan (who at that time was still Orchid Wu) had sold the business she had made enough profit to pay her parents back double what they had loaned her.

Orchid had been very pleased with herself when she gave the cheque to her parents. She had not been so happy when her mother told her, “We have enough to keep going so we will keep the money for you, in case you ever need it,” and her father said, “Remember you can always come back to Shanghai.”

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Posted by on October 4, 2011 in Writing Life


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