I must concede I did not take to the cover at first, and argued with the publisher - whose winning argument was that I was too old to know what would sell to the average young Singaporean.
Now I think the cover is really good and I don't know what I was complaining about.
I think I was too attached to the First Edition cover. Sigh.
Let me know what you think.
"He remembered when he was a child, maybe about nine years old, massaging his mother’s feet. Pressing his little thumbs into her rough, calloused flesh as hard as he could. Feeling the warmth and softness beneath the dry, crackled skin and trying to smooth out all her tension and worry. When did the quiet comfort in each other’s company disappear? He loved his mother. Very much. It was just that she loved his brother more."
Excerpt from Rashid at The Sail, a story in my book, We Rose Up Slowly
In this story a young man, kicked out of home by his mother, retreats to his brother’s luxury condominium at The Sail to work out what to do with his life.
The story was written in 2014 and 2015 and was inspired by:
- my personal trainer, Rizam. The basic plot and characters were developed with Rizam while i worked out in the gym. Rizam was my first ‘non-work’ friend in Singapore back in 2002.
- a Tessa Hadley story in The New Yorker, Experience
Rashid at the Sail:
- is set at The Sail in the heart of the modern corporate core of SGP, Marina Bay, where you can literally walk 70 steps to work. When I worked at One Raffles Quay I used to eat pasta once a week from Da Paola at the foot of The Sail
- is about family, loneliness giving birth to exploration, breach and consequence, with an unethical act leading to a new place, and ultimately reconciliation
- Other themes include yearning for something more, taking responsibility, looking to escape ordinariness, trying to find purpose, how to live - not just go through the motions, being envious of a brother & wanting to break out to be your own person
- “He didn’t even glance at the Merlion.”
In some ways this is an anti-Merlion story. The Merlion (that consumer staple of Sing Lit) means nothing to our protagonist whose inspiration is gained from another SingLit icon: a kite, representing the independence and agency of individuals rather than a contrived, 'marketing driven solution'. See Dave Chua's, The Beating & Other Stories, for a story with a Kite in it.
- “He fell hard for this vision of himself, built on the shifting sands of selective nostalgia.”
Rashid finds purpose in idealising a relationship from the past. This gives him a new role for the future: to mean something to his brother's son.
There are also references in this story to:
- TV studios at Caldecott Hill. I went there several times during the first season of Singapore Idol in 2004 to watch Jeassea, Rizam’s ex wife sing
- The Biggest Loser - Asia. I’ve never seen it, never wanted to see it. Pass me another beer please.
- Hibiscus Royal Slings, are a cocktail at Lantern, the chill out bar on the top of the Fullerton Bay Hotel. This is where an FX Trader lost his life jumping from the roof after a few too many drinks.
- Expat Life is a typo - it should be Expat Living
- A plastic diorama of the Petronas Towers - representing a connection with Malaysia
- Those infamous on line sites: The Online Citizen, The Real Singapore & SammyBoy
- A magician in Bradford - famous for Cleo the girl in a goldfish bowl - and a wrestler from Atlanta, Georgia who share the same name as your favourite author
- Another lunch time eating place, Lau pa sat
- Bromsgrove. My mother taught there. We lived nearby until I was 11 when we emigrated to Australia. Bromsgrove houses the National Telephone Kiosk Collection and is close to the Lickey Hills.
- tapas at Duxton Hill Road, KopiO at Everton Park, Milo Godzillas beside the infinity pool at Ku De Ta, poetry readings at BooksActually, live music at Haji Lane.
- the presents, designer underwear and a fountain pen, are a reference to gifts from a student to her law lecturer
NTU’s Creative Writing Faculty held a reading on 7 April at Artistry featuring several writers in residence: Tash Aw (Taiwan/Malaysia/UK), Divya Victor (Singapore/India/US) and Boey Kim Cheng (Australia/Singapore).
Tash read from his new nonfiction book, Strangers on a Pier, and entertained with tales of bourgeois gangsters and ‘bodice ripper’ reading teachers.
I like the emphasis in his essay on ‘routes’, rather than some fundamental ’root’ at the core of identity. See Stuart Hall.
I will write more about Strangers on a Pier and it’s themes of nostalgia, the frame of narrative and story technique in migrant tales, mixed identities and imposter syndrome in a later post. These thoughts will be written from the perspective of a reluctant ex Yuppie, Eurasian with an adopted and adopting, hybrid identity.
Divya read a selection of her poetry, prose poems and essays including pieces from her forthcoming book, KITH and a prose poem about the Tamil child suicide bomber who assassinated Rajiv Gandhi.
Boey Kim Cheng read The Golden Temple and a stamp poem (after forgetting where he’d put it).
The common theme reflected in the readings and their readers seemed to be the entanglement of national and cultural identities - or perhaps I was reading this into things.
Meanwhile, despite it being obvious to the point of banality that any one individual can have many identities, influences and stories, lately, political and privileged classes have ramped up discourses of bigotry and racism so anything reflecting the complexity of lived experience (we are many not one) should be celebrated.
Examples of discourses of ‘othering’ include:
- in Singapore, Denise Phua MP's comments on migrant workers in Little India,
- in Australia, the treatment of Gold Logie nominees Waleed Aly and Lee Lin Chin, and
- in the US. Trump and the other Republican candidates.
Where is this racism, xenophobia and prejudice coming from? Punching down and a distraction from anxieties felt by the mainstream over the decline in opportunity and privilege? Another topic to be discussed in a later post.
Anyway back to the wonderful evening which may be summarised as follows:
the sandwiches were decent, and the satays and readings were better.
Really quite chuffed to have a short story published in Esquire Singapore.
Everyone please buy the April 2016 edition as I have purposefully rendered the text in the photo above illegible.
I note I am not inside the robot in the pic although it does bear a striking resemblance to my body shape.
Thanks Amanda, Wayne & Zul for this splendid opportunity.
And thanks again to Amanda for editing me - the second time she has done so after my story, A Girl and a Guy in a Kijang in Kemang in the Eastern Heathens anthology (2013, Ethos Books).
What a week. I was on a prose panel at NTU for their English & Drama Society, Epiphany. One of my favourite writers, Nicholson Baker, was on the panel too together with the talented Agnes Chew and Diana Rahim. I have vivid memories of borrowing Vox & Fermata in the mid '90s and finding I loved the very different Room Temperature. Nicholson Baker was warm and generous. We talked about photography and he mentioned how his father once had a Rolleiflex.
Just a heads up on my To Do List for the next few months.
I need to finish:
- my story, Brothel in the Jungle: a dark tale of lust from Spottiswoode Park
- a draft of a story/essay on The Eurasian in History (Tales from the Uncanny Valley)
- a draft of my creative non fiction book on foreign workers in Singapore
Images to be published in 2016:
- images supporting Verena Tay’s words in a new photo book Left-Right curated by Geraldine Kang & Kenneth Tay
- a photo story with a construction worker who broke his leg in This is Not A Safety Barrier (Ethos Books) to be published in 2016
Stories to be published in 2016:
- a story in In Transit edited by Yu-Mei Balasingamchow & Ruihe (Math Paper press) to be published mid 2016
- a story in Esquire Singapore in April 2016
- A Long Bicycle Ride into the Sea will be published in Singapore Love Stories (Monsoon Books) sometime in 2016
- Two stories will be published in the US edited by Jee Leong Koh
- a prose piece for SWF’s Poetry Among Stars
- SOTA writer in residence in October 2016
I have to go back to work to feed the family soon - before then I will try to write as much as possible
To what extent is We Rose Up Slowly autobiographical?
- Hmmm. Is this a question about narrative theory or whether I have cycled into the sea or chopped off anyone’s finger with a miniature guillotine?
- These stories are not autobiographical. This is fiction. Writer’s lie. It’s a mistake to privilege the author or idealise their role and intentions too much. The text is all. The reader is everything.
- Stories do not reflect reality - they create their own reality from:
- everything the author has collected from their life (including false memories and outright lies) & selected to be transformed by language for presentation in a story
- everything the reader has collected from their life (including core assumptions and prejudices) used to find meaning in the text
- There are, however, aspects of the writer’s personality and experience built, baked or bleeding into their narrator and characters.
- The play and leakage between the persona of the author, the narrator and characters is fascinating.
- Influences, the tone and emotion of experiences and incidents from the author’s life do permeate We Rose Up Slowly but it would be a mistake to conflate the author and any narrator or character in We Rose Up Slowly too closely.
- Events and episodes plucked from my life include:
- The experience of unrequited love (We Rose Up Slowly, A Long Bicycle Ride into the Sea, Other People's Cats).
Loving someone more than they love you. On reflection and in time you realise it was for the best you never ended up together.
- Not knowing WTF I’m doing with my life (Rashid at the Sail).
On reflection and in time you realise that’s part of the the anxiety and exhilaration of being alive.
- Adoption issues (Death of a Clown, A Girl and a Guy in a Kijang in Kemang)
Imagined accounts of finally meeting your natural father or mother - [Spoiler Alert *****] resulting in thoughts of violent murder and an accidental tryst in the back of a Kijang.
- Privilege (The Finger)
- Casual racism (Idiot and Dog).
On reflection and in time hopefully you realise, and reflect on your cognitive dissonance, prejudice and privilege.
- The experience of unrequited love (We Rose Up Slowly, A Long Bicycle Ride into the Sea, Other People's Cats).
- The important question about these stories is not are they autobiographical - because this privileges the author too much.
Isn’t it more important to ask: who is the reader?
And what does this text mean to them?
And how does this book change the answer to the question the reader always asks, when he/she puts down any book:
what am I going to do next?
The National Gallery Singapore is impressive. Well worth a visit - and not just for the building and the paintings and other art works - but for the people too.
The City Hall Chamber, where the Japanese formally signed the surrender documents at the end of WW2 before Lord Mountbatten, holds particular significance for me because it's there I presented a workshop on Accounting for Lawyers over 10 years ago.
In other news I wrote a brief Postcard from Singapore on #SGlit for the SA Writers Centre:
'Located at the hub of so many social, historical, economic and political cross currents, Singapore literature reflects a mix of themes and narratives. There is a tension and play between the past (paved over and reconstructed) and the future, security and adventure, individual identity and authority, self expression, authenticity and national imperatives.'
'In many ways my own hybrid identity and origins – a Eurasian, born in England, growing up in Adelaide, living in Asia for over 15 years – mirror these themes. The stories in my book, We Rose Up Slowly set in Singapore, Australia and Jakarta are a mash up of these influences too.'
'Singapore literature is so much more than the bling saturated materialism of Kevin Kwan and the reductive simplifications I’ve set out here. It’s challenging to do justice to the depth of Singapore literature in English without even mentioning drama, let alone the literature of the other Singaporean national languages (Malay, Tamil and Mandarin). Nevertheless, I would encourage readers and writers who ordinarily look to New York or London for inspiration to look closer to home, to Singapore, and the surprising amount of quality literature in English produced in Asia.'
The same can now be said about Southeast Asian art. The National Gallery Singapore is a significant cultural achievement. Art lovers here now have a world class museum to explore and find inspiration.
I thought it might be useful to set out the 'ideal' writing process I sought to apply in writing the stories in We Rose Up Slowly. Setting it out this way suggests I took a highly disciplined and organised approach. This is in fact a lie and does not do justice to my messy, chaotic and doubt ridden reality. I don't write in a linear fashion - I have ideas and sentences flying all over the place at various stages of development and quality - so I need an 'ideal' process to aspire to. Even if I never achieve the 'ideal', a little process and structure to my writing process helps.
What's your approach? I'd love to share notes.
My Writing Process
A1. In Notebook by hand:
1) Capture ideas, thoughts, scenes, events, conflicts, characters, observations, outline of stories. Dreams. Snippets. Passing conversations. Lines from movies. Bus trips. Get everything down. Don't judge or self censor.
A2. Digital capture:
2) Dictate thoughts & make notes on iPhone Notepad
3) Have an Ideas text file on iPhone to dump links, news articles, quotes, ideas etc - I tried to use Evernote but it was just to slow in syncing
A3. Filter Captured Notes into a workable form
4) Transcribe/dictate into Scrivener or iPhone notepad the handwritten notes & ideas I want to work on further. Highlight sentences, characters, quotes that stand out from the dross. Think about links, connections, common themes, interesting juxtapositions, contrasts, light and shade. Order & reorder.
B. Build the story
I use Scrivener a lot during this stage to work out what I want to say in a story & how to say it.
B1. First Draft
1) Using the outcome of A: write a quick first draft focussing on mood & tone. Do not worry about plot holes, logical contradictions, spelling, grammar or if sentences are correct. Use placeholders where you know there are gaps. Don't edit, judge or self censor.
DO NOT WORRY IF IT IS HORRIBLE - MOST OF IT WILL BE CRAP AT THIS STAGE (& PROBABLY, FOR A LOT LONGER)
2) Summarise what happens in each scene in the story in one or two lines.
3) Read & research key factual aspects of the story e.g. profession, setting, events, type of person, history etc
4) Put links, quotes, articles etc in Scrivener Research section
B3: Discover the Story
5) Does the plot make sense? What's the key conflict & how is this addressed & resolved in the story? Is another scene, event or character missing? Who wants/yearns for what? How are they challenged? What happens in the end? Look for connections & common concerns & themes. Don't worry if you don't have complete answers to these 'story' questions: Use placeholders where questions remain open.
6) Rearrange, build & develop scenes to make a story, conflicts & character in Scrivener
7) Rewrite, revise, edit - like waves over sand & onto rock - keep going, read, revise and reread the text again
8) Use Plaintext with Scrivener to facilitate writing, revising & editing on mobile & iPad
B4. Discover the Characters
9) Imagine what its like to be each of your main characters. Write their POV.
10) Ask what are their desires/wants/yearning? How do they change & why do they change over the course of the story? Is their narrative momentum? Does the writing make you want to find out what happens next?
11) Keep asking questions about the characters, yearnings & challenges, the conflict, the structure, the dialogue, what works, whats irrelevant, who grows & why, epiphany etc etc
12) Is POV consistent?
13) Do physically logistics make sense within the rules of the story?
14) Is there too much or too little of any of the characters?
B5. Beginning & Ending
15) Does the story start with a compelling scene which cuts to the core of the story?
16) How are key conflicts resolved at the end? Where do the characters end up? Have they changed? What questions are left open at the ending?
17) What questions does the text raise? How are these answered, or not answered, in the text?
18) Is their unity of theme, effect & purpose in the writing?
C. Let the story sit for a week or more
D. Further Revisions
D1. Initial Revisions
1) Are there extra words, sentences that are clunky or don't make sense?
2) Cut out 10-20% of words to distil the essence of the story to a concentrated unity. Does every scene, sentence, description, observation help progress the story? If not, delete.
3) Is story and character clear? Are any ambiguous parts of the story distracting? Which parts need more clarity & focus - which parts are best left ambiguous & blurred?
4) Dictate the latest draft of the story onto your iPhone & listen to what it sounds like. Check rhythm, pace, dialogue etc - revise further
5) Run spell check & grammar check. Look for nearby duplicate words, bad grammar & typos. Delete "-ly" words & remove unnecessary adverbs.
6) Cut and paste from Scrivener into word.
7) Print it out & review the physical printed word on the page
8) Finish a draft - this is a reasonable working draft but still may require major surgery
D2. Later Revisions
9) Send to a few friends who read my stuff. Ask them which bits they like & which bits they don't, where they lost interest, what is unclear, doesn't make sense. Get their feedback in writing, don't get defensive, incorporate their written input into the draft after thinking it through objectively.
Yu-Mei Balasinghamchow close read a draft of We Rose Up Slowly which was invaluable.
10) Put the story in a drawer for at least 2 months - then reread as though it were someone elses work & revise again either in Word, or cut & past back into Scrivener if deeper work is needed.
11) Don't be afraid to go back to B3. and rework your story and characters again.
D3. Use a Professional Editor
12) Get the input of a professional editor for story advice more than grammar - Stephanie Ye was a wonderful editor on We Rose Up Slowly : Full of wisdom, common sense & experience. I highly recommend her as an editor.
13) Revise, polish & finish
“Who will teach me to write? a reader wanted to know."
"The page, the page, that eternal blankness, the blankness of eternity which you cover slowly, affirming time’s scrawl as a right and your daring as necessity; the page, which you cover woodenly, ruining it, but asserting your freedom and power to act, acknowledging that you ruin everything you touch but touching it nevertheless, because acting is better than being here in mere opacity; the page, which you cover slowly with the crabbed thread of your gut; the page in the purity of its possibilities; the page of your death, against which you pit such flawed excellences as you can muster with all your life’s strength: that page will teach you to write."
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
"She told you, your father walked onto the veranda and saw a chook floating ten feet above the ground. The chook didn’t flap a feather and just sat there brooding, swaying in the breeze.
She said, your father stepped from the veranda to recover the recalcitrant chook, only to find the soles of his feet missing the ground, landing on thin air, and the chook drifting higher.
He couldn’t let the chook go, but with each step he found the chook rose higher. And of course he had to follow. She told you it was like watching him walk a stairway to heaven. Your mother said, he did not appear to be flying, more like floating, like someone rising from the bottom of the ocean to the surface of the sea.
Your mother watched from below until your father and the chook became flecks in the sky. She rushed inside and grabbed the brass navy telescope. She saw him and the chook slowly ascending. She saw him wheeze and hold his chest. She could just see his head turning from one side to the other in wonder, marvelling at the view. He appeared to turn towards her. He was white and he coughed violently. But he did manage to stiffly turn around and, ever so slowly, raise his arm in a wave. And she believed she saw the chook, rising up slowly beside him, its neck outstretched and its scrawny beak open in a silent chicken scream. She squinted through the telescope and thought she saw the frost fur crystallising about his eyebrows and his false teeth chattering so hard the blood ran from his gums to warm his mouth. His arm stopped moving and she knew he was hard as a block of ice."
Excerpt from the title story in my book, We Rose Up Slowly
Between 1998 and 2010 I did not write a single story. I was to busy pursuing my career and trying to fall in love. My enthusiasm for writing was rekindled in 2010 when I walked into Books Actually, then at Club Street, and saw a copy of Ceriph Issue Zero. I decided to submit a story written in Sydney in 1997 called We Rose Up Slowly. Much to my surprise, the story was accepted for Ceriph Issue One (Math Paper Press, 2010). This story leads my debut collection, We Rose Up Slowly.
In this story:
- As gravity leaks away, a young couple need to decide whether or not to follow her parents and rise up slowly
- The mood is sombre and elegaic
- The protagonist tries to remain grounded as the world falls apart around him.
- Everything is in a state of flux. This is the end of an era - perceptions, assumptions, core beliefs, the consensus are all up for grabs.
- Time spent with each other is precious, memories are slipping away.
- Secrets remain unspoken. What is in the silver locket? What does the silver locket represent? Note: I was thinking of the hidden secret self in Lady with the Lapdog but from a female perspective
- Do the characters change? Is there an epiphany? In the end there is only the relationships you have with the one you love - even if they don't love you as much as you love them
- There are passing references to Spam, Two Fat Ladies, goitres, a Jona Lewie song, another 80's pop song, the Roy Lichtenstein painting.