Category Archives: Writing Life

At Toji Cultural Centre

I got so caught up in writing and para-writing activities that I completely forgot I had a WordPress blog here–just remembered thanks to Jonathan Sung who’s starting his own blog…

Reading the last post I put in here I realise so much has happened since that hopeful beginning of the year–two trips to Hong Kong, one trip to Shanghai, The Mudskipper launched pre-AFCC –which I missed this year  — but I missed it because I’m here at the Toji Cultural Centre in Wonju, South Korea which is fantastic!

I’ve followed the example of my writing hero Louise Penny by opening my Facebook posts to ‘public’ so that the writing journey can be followed there. Over here I can just meander on and grouch a little.

(bathroom ceiling is leaking again… Well I can be glad because this isn’t my apartment and I can sit back and wait for someone else to get it fixed!)

I’ve finished the draft of the history mystery–now tentatively titled ‘The Blackmore Girls’–I was working on at the beginning of the year…  then decided to do a time shift from 1926 back to 1912 or exactly a hundred years ago. I’m hoping that if I ever write a sequel to it I can set it a hundred years back from whenever I do write it. So after that wrote one more draft changing dates… finished that during my first month here though I estimated it would take three months (it’s really so incredibly easy and wonderful writing here where nobody speaks much English, meals are provided and there’s no television!) so I figured I could rework some of the characters and connections… got into a bit more of a mess than I expected, so I’m in the middle of a big reworking/ rewriting–this is draft 6. But I’ve got the consolation of knowing that if it doesn’t work out I can always submit draft 5. I’m not totally happy with that but it’s 60% there…

And I’ve started a new book–thanks to Camp NaNoWriMo. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.   Have to figure out again how to reset the wordscores!

Visiting the grave of Park Kyong-Ni at Tongyeong on the anniversary of her death on May 8th. She was the writer of the great Korean novel ‘Toji’ and founder of the Toji Cultural Centre, Image

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Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Uncategorized, Writing Life


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Great Start to 2012!

It’s been a great first week of the year.

ACF Writing: Read previous draft of The Lizard’s Tail and decided I want to pull apart the structure, change the main focus character, change the tone and introduce a side plot romance (yes, I’ve started a new project file and am shifting cards again, thank you Scrivener!),

Lifelong Learning: went for two beginner French classes at the Alliance (and I’m loving it!)

Misc Writing: wrote 2 scripts (under 200 words so why not) for childrens’ picture books, going to post them later today–fingers crossed!

Exercise & Health: More or less kept up with 15 min of yoga a day and at least 12,000 steps on the pedo (yesterday reached 14,500+!). Eating (organic & expenseive!) apples, pomelo, mangosteens, mango. Experimenting with vegetarian bean curry recipes to get something I like & can do fast to eat with brown rice & frozen veggies. So far like 1) lentils 2) chickpeas best but I think I’d like at least 5 variations

Social: Met up with old friends from MGS / ACJC. Amazing how little we’ve all changed, how widely our paths have diverged, how MUCH we’ve done in such very different areas (literally!)

Yes it’s a very good start to the year!

Oh and I got my travel grant (to speak at the Shanghai Literary Festival in March) approved–Thank you NAC, Shanghai here I come!!!


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Homemade Marmalade Reward for deleting CastleVille?

Feel like I’m finally recovering from the last three months of high intensity writing–took over two weeks of ‘writing break’ this time this time but I’m finally starting to feel human again.

Going on the Silent Retreat was a very interesting experience but I think I prefer the familiarity of the pranayama / ashtanga retreats.

Good news: I’ve got a travel grant (thank you NAC!!!) for the Shanghai Lit Fest and my Orchid Chan novella should be published by then… the craziness of trying to complete that in addition to a 60,000 word first draft paid off after all!

(I know, don’t count your chickens till they crap on your fingers but at least I got the writing done and submitted)

And I’m starting to feel like going back to writing/ editing again.

It’s been a great December so far. I’ve been playing CastleVille and reading vegan recipes (cheese is my big sticking point with yoghurt a close runner up) and eating, eating, eating.

But soon it’s going to be time to delete CastleVille. I’m going to miss it. Last break I played Smurfs and the break before that Pet Society. I think of all these things I miss Pet Society the most because my poor little blue CousCous was all alone while the Smurf and Castle kingdoms are pretty well populated.

Maybe I should just grit my teeth and do it now?

After all right now thanks to the LOVELY LOVING Kate James  in London (and thanks also to Kalyani who carried all the bottles back and Eck Kheng and Anita who hosted the distribution last night) I have homemade, hand cut, Seville Orange marmalade to comfort myself with, all I need is an excuse–

I’ll just stick a spoon in the (prettiest little bottle) for comfort and get down to making those deletions…  if someone could go through the patient care of cutting and stirring and sterilising and sugaring and who knows what other magic goes into the creation of preserving ambrosia I can start prepping my computer for next year right?


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Final Day (of Fall Trimester)

Today is officially the last day of my fall trimester (September October November) and tomorrow signals the star of s my one month break!

Just a quick look back. Over the last three months I:

1. Finished and printed out first draft (approx 65,000 words) of The Lizard’s Tail, A Sophia Blackmore Mystery. I’m still not happy with it. In fact as soon as I printed it out I started thinking of things to add/ change/ delete/ research and felt rotten about what I put on paper. But… it’s a first rough draft and it’s down and that’s enough to make me happy for now.

2. Finished and mailed out first rough (approx 20,000 words) of the novella, Orchid Chan: The Chinese New Year Murders. We’ll see what happens with this… it was more an experiment than anything else.

3. Signed The Mudskipper contract with Scholastic Asia

4. Accepted invitation to Shanghai Literary Festival (Yay!!! And keeping fingers crossed for NAC travel grant now… but if I don’t get it I’ll find the money and go somehow, it will be my first time visiting Shanghai! My mother was Shanghainese,  she always said Shanghai was ‘Paris of the East’.

5. Applied for a residency (won’t talk about it now, so as not to jinx it but keeping fingers and toes crossed)

6. Took part in a Singapore Writer’s Festival panel “Where Do Ideas Come From?” (with Fredrik Haren and Chris Mooney-Singh, chaired by Goh Eck Kheng–it was great fun!)

7. Spoke to Dr KK Seet’s  Theatre Studies students (with Eleanor Wong–who IS great fun!)

8. Judged the Golden Point Short Story Competition (along with Dave Chua and Meira Chand. I learned so much from them as well as from the writing that came in!)


9. Epigram published 8 Plays! Thank you Epigram!! The first collection of my plays! Which–

10. Was sold out at the SWF. I know they were because Dr Leong Liew Geok (bless her sweet soul!) asked for more copies and they didn’t have any! 🙂 🙂 🙂 I don’t know how many copies they sent to the festival but it’s the first time I’ve been sold out anywhere and I’m going to enjoy it!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂

11. And took part in a reading at Books Actually, officially my favourite book shop, with Tarn How and Tze Chien who are the other playwrights featured in this Epigram series (with 4 Plays and 6 Plays). I guess if they continue the series the next book is going to be 10 Plays… or 2 Plays?

I know written out here it doesn’t look like much but living through it was exhausting. I thought I was going to run out of time for a while and cut down from weekends off to Sundays off, daily dog walks got cut from 90 minutes to an hour, no more Daily Mile swims / jogs… not much I know but the bits of time add up.

And then I actually finished a few days early!

And once I had the printouts bound (superstitiously I have to have a hard copy of each draft) I didn’t want to do anything except play Anthill Strategy and CastleVille. It’s like my brain shut down. I didn’t even want to exercise, just vegetate.  And my regular meditation / yoga routine that kept me going over the last three months just fell apart.

But the good thing is my month long break starts tomorrow!

I’m going off on a Plum Village Asia retreat from tomorrow to Sunday. The timing was so perfect for me I knew I had to go though I’ve never been on a ‘Smiling and Breathing’ retreat before! The monkey mind in me is already worrying whether I can get up at 5am (official start of the day) when at home the alarm doesn’t go off till 6am and what are the toilets going to be like.


I just want to get away from words for a bit so the silent side of things is appealing too.


And now tonight I’m going to sleep early and see what tomorrow brings.



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Stage One Done!!!

Draft ONE and Great relief here–I’ve finished dumping the whole lot down and so far it’s an enormous chaotic mess but I can see there’s stuff inside it here to work with.

If you’ve seen (and survived) me going through the early stages of a piece before you’ll know this is the stage which I think of as choosing my stone and twisting my scaffolding and collecting seashells and picking mosaic dyes… I’m far far from finished, I’ve barely started the whole process but still I’ve ploughed through from start to finish once and I still want to work this thing… after a bit of a break to rest my eyes!

Past experience tells me that the ‘start’ and ‘finish’ probably aren’t going to stay where they are. The actual ‘start’ will probably be around the current chapter 3 and I’m probably going to throw out huge chunks of material (that I needed to write because I was figuring it out for myself)

But still, it’s done. On paper.

And NAC says they’re agreeable to shifting my timeline a little.

Originally the next step, scheduled for 30 Nov 2012 was for me to:

1) Submit first draft of script

2) Arrange for a professional editor

But they’ve said I can shift timing around.

My current plan is to NOT LOOK at this manuscript for two weeks… I’ve signed on for a meditation retreat 1 to 4 December so I’ll put this aside till I come back.

Then sit down and tear it apart and write the second draft by April 30 2012… and have a professional editor look at it then when it’s in better shape than it is in now, but which will gives me almost a year to restructure and rewrite to make the final deadline which is March 31 2013.

At this stage I hope to show it a some long suffering friends too–just to get more feedback (would you read it? at which point did you give up? all right what do you hate Most about it?)

And again, while the editor and friends are looking at it, I won’t. I realise that shutting myself away from it completely helps me get started on rewriting because otherwise I see what I Meant to write rather than what I actually put on the page.

SO… I survived the first stage of this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Posted by on November 18, 2011 in Writing Life


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Day 66: Books Actually Chat

Robin Loon talked to Tze Chien, Tarn How and me about our plays (and our three books–thank you Epigram!!!) at Books Actually last night.


Robin Loon with Tze Chien and me


In the background you can see stacks of our books lined up. Was really impressed by how Robin handled the evening (he knows more about my plays than I do!) and I learned at lot from listening to Tze Chien!

And it felt so good to catch up with Tarn How again.

Last night I think we all realised how much we owe Theatreworks so much–so many of our early plays for all three of us began in the Theatreworks Writers Laboratory!


And what made it really special is how many people from way back then are still in theatre now! Realised both Nora (above) and Jeff (below) were there right from the early days. Dear Verena was there too but I couldn’t find a pic.


But the most dramatic presence last night was of course the cat critic:

The evening was great fun and I met and re-met new and old friends from as far away as Chicago, Italy and–thank you for turning up!–students from next week’s Theatre Studies talk which saved me a lot of grief because I had thought it was next month till they set me right!

Bit of a disappointment followed though–got home to learn the stay at The Cité Internationale des Arts isn’t happening. But I hope it is only a temporary roadblock and so I will say ‘not happening yet’ rather than ‘not happening at all’.

I was hoping to write the sequel to The Mudskipper there. Since Lizhi is part French North African and part Singaporean and The Mudskipper relates how she gets to know her estranged family in Singapore I was hoping to set a second book in Paris, where she introduces her Chinese grandfather to the city where she grew up. I hoped to show that a city is a living character that reacts differently to an old person than to the young; but also that, as with any other character, it is a relationship that can be cultivated.

I’ll still write the book of course–perhaps just not in the immediate future!

(Good news though, first draft of the contract for The Mudskipper has come through!)

I’m hoping to finish the Orchid Chan novella over the next two weeks while I let the first rough of The Lizard’s Tail rest and ferment a little. I know what I want to happen, I just need to round out the characters a little more. Doing sketches of their childhoods/favourite foods/nightmares to try to see them in 3-D.


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Posted by on November 5, 2011 in Life Happens, Writing Life


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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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