Posts filed under ‘Singapore Lit’

A Conversation with Dave Chua and Koh Hong Teng

Written by Kean Patrick Murphy (2O412)
Photographs by Lu Wen Hao (2I314)

Gone Case Graphic NovelOn Monday, 19 April, for the first 2011 Library Week and World Book Day afternoon event, writer Dave Chua and artist Koh Hong Teng participated in a Book Talk about adapting Chua’s prize-winning novel Gone Case into graphic novel format, with Mr Jason Erik Lundberg as moderator.

I learned many valuable lessons from the talk. For instance, Mr Chua mentioned that a writer gets many inspirations, especially from other authors. He or she mainly uses past experiences as a reference in writing stories, while adding scenes from the imagination along the way. A good example would be the very book they were talking about, Gone Case. Mr Chua described the setting of the book as coming out of his life experiences and the HDB block that he lived in as a boy. He used the issues that he encountered in his home as a focal point for his story. This interests me as when I write narratives in school, I often do the same thing. Which means that this way of writing is constant not only from published authors, but anyone who writes. A writer also has to read widely to gain inspiration. Thus, if you don’t read many books, you can’t become a good writer.

Mr Chua brought up the fact that there is a difference between comics and books in terms of people buying them for the first time. Books are harder to assess at first glance, while comics are easier as people are able to judge them immediately by the quality of artwork. The artwork needs to be striking enough to attract the reader’s attention, while the first chapter of a book needs to be engaging enough to motivate the reader to continue on. Mr Lundberg added that sales are also affected by the stigma of self-publishing, with books suffering from it more than comics. I think this is so because many people have the mindset that a book is only self-published if established publishers have rejected it, and so it must be rubbish. I disagree, as some self-published books that I have read are very good, and certainly worthy of a publisher, but for a variety of reasons the author has chosen not to go the traditional route.

A good tip that I picked up was that no matter how unrealistic the story is, you must always remember to keep the story believable. If the story stretches your imagination, people enjoy it, but if it is ridiculous, they won’t like it. On a related point, you must make sure the scene fits the setting. For example, many student writers describe gun fights in Singapore, but guns are banned in Singapore, so the situation seems out of place; writers must be careful to avoid falling into this trap. Another tip is a good way to kickstart your drawings: Mr Koh takes reference photos of a scene he might want to draw, then goes back to the drawing board, takes the best photo angle for the scene or panel, draws it in his own style and adds in more personal details. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Mr Chua encouraged us to write what we enjoy! If you are writing about something that you have no interest in, the story will turn out bland and won’t be interesting. Once you write about something that captivates you, you can spend a long time on it and your passion for it will come through in the writing.

The issue of memorable characters was also brought up here. Some characters will stick in the reader’s memory long after the story has been read. Sometimes, they may not even be the main character, and may have a short “page life.” Mr Lundberg described the Malay barber in a scene from Gone Case being one of the most memorable characters for him in the graphic novel, despite the barber’s appearance lasting only a mere three pages; I can recall a few characters just like that from other books.

The graphic novel adaptation as a form has always puzzled me, as conversion from a prose work always seems to twist the story into something else, shortening the scenes and taking out some of its true meaning. Now I know that this technique is actually purposefully intended by comics creators. Mr Chua gave Mr Koh free reign over the story, letting him plan it like a director doing storyboards for a film, and then collaborating on the dialogue and other details.

In conclusion, this talk was very informative for me, and a valuable experience. I can’t wait for the next time authors come to HCI to give a talk. I am especially interested in two Singaporean authors, Jeffrey Lim and Wena Poon, whose writing I enjoyed after reading an anthology which included short stories by them. I used to think that Singaporean literature was a waste of time and of poor quality, but talks like these have broadened my vision and changed my views.


April 19, 2011 at 12:01 pm 9 comments

Words Go Round 2011: TellTale and Fiction in Singapore

Written by Yau Chun Shin (4H131)
Photographs by Mr Jason Erik Lundberg

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” —William Wordsworth

As part of the Words Go Round program organized by the Singapore Writers Festival, editor Dr Gwee Li Sui and contributors Dave Chua and Jeffrey Lim recently discussed the anthology TellTale: Eleven Stories and the state of fiction writing in Singapore with the students of Hwa Chong Institution. The event was hosted at Kong Chian Library on 11 March 2011.

The session was a lively and fascinating one, with the guest speakers providing insights on the nature of writing as well as their personal motivations for putting pen to paper. Mr Chua, for one, quoted as his inspiration a desire for showing how people simultaneously tried to fit in and stand out in society. Dr Gwee also spoke at length about the current state of Singaporean literature, commenting on how the local literary scene was dominated by well-known, established writers like Catherine Lim, leaving fewer opportunities for other budding writers to gain recognition. In ruminating upon this, the guest speakers also provided the captive audience with a brief list of other Singaporean writers, such as Alfian bin Sa’at, encouraging our students to check out these writers’ works.

Yet the speakers were not the only ones providing material for discussion. Our students proved themselves more than equal to the task of contributing to the engaging and evocative exchange. Proof of this could be found in the incisive questions that they posed, such as: “Does the interpretation of your works ever go beyond what you imagined in the first place?” and “How do language and its inherent concepts affect literature at a fundamental level?” This made for a dynamic and compelling session, with both the speakers and the audience playing an active role.

Of course, all this would not have been possible without the help of Mrs Laura Ng, Mr Lucas Ho, Mr Woon Wei Seng and Ms Crystal Ang. Without the astute choice of these guests, and without Mr Ho’s energetic facilitation of the discussion, the event might not have come to pass, and would certainly not have been of the same standard as it was on that day.

The session was certainly of great benefit to our students, by both introducing them to Singaporean literature and the mechanics of writing, as well as encouraging them to air their views and thus improve their understanding of writing. Given the quality and caliber of the opinions shared, from both the speakers and the audience, such a session in the future would most definitely be welcome, as it would allow us to expand our horizons and develop a love for the arts.

April 1, 2011 at 4:41 pm 1 comment

Literary Singapore: New Releases

In the past few weeks, there have been a flurry of releases of new literary material from our little red dot:

Ceriph issue no. 2: Technically the third issue (they started with number zero), this new litmag run by Winnie Goh, Wei Fen Lee, and Hans Wong-Jensen continues to get better and better, in terms of both content and design. Published and distributed by Math Paper Press, the issue boasts over 30 contributions of short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and photo essays. Shameless Plug #1: My story “Air is Water is Air” is located on page 114.

Quarterly Literary Review Singapore: Singapore’s national literary journal has published their first issue of 2011 (Vol. 10 No. 1 Jan 2011), with the usual mix of poetry, fiction, essays, and criticism. Contributors include Desmond Kon, Alfian, Sa’at, Wei Fen Lee, Amos Toh, and me. Shameless Plug #2: My story “Taxi Ride” can be read here.

Asymptote: This brand new international journal is “dedicated to literary translation and bringing together in one place the best in contemporary writing.” Founded by Singaporean Lee Yew Leong, with a staff of editors from the US, Palestine, India, France, and Japan, this first issue features writing from or about such notable writers as Du Fu, Mary Gaitskill, Alain de Botton, Aimé Césaire, Ludwik Sztyrmer, Gozo Yoshimasu, as well as many others. Shameless Plug #3: There is no Shameless Plug #3.

February 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm Leave a comment

Singapore Book Club: A Different Sky

The Singapore Book Club, organized by the National Book Development Council of Singapore, will be hosting its final session of 2010 in a discussion of Meira Chand‘s recent novel A Different Sky.

A Different SkyFrom the publicity copy:

Singapore: a trading post where different lives jostle and mix. It is 1927 and three young people are starting to question whether this inbetween island can ever truly be their home.

Mei Lan comes from a famous Chinese dynasty but yearns to free herself from its stifling traditions; Howard seethes at the indignities heaped on his fellow Eurasians by the colonial British; and Raj, fresh off the boat from India, wants only to work hard and become a successful businessman.

As the years pass, Singapore falls to the Japanese. While suffering the agonies of occupation, the three are thrown together in unexpected ways, and tested to the breaking point.

A page-turner, A Different Sky succeeds in giving a panoramic view of pre-independence Singapore and getting readers to connect with the principal characters who fought their own wars to get through the tumultuous years. Join us as author Meira Chand shares about her experiences in researching and writing A Different Sky.

Other guests include Prof Koh Tai Ann and Deepika Shetty.

The session will take place on Friday, 3 December at 7:00 p.m. in the Earshot Cafe at The Arts House.

November 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm Leave a comment

Approaches to Teaching Singapore Anglophone Literature

On August 4, 2010, Dr Catherine Carey (Teaching Consultant in HCI’s English department) attended an all-day workshop conducted by Professor Shirley Geok-lin Lim called “Approaches to Teaching Singapore Anglophone Literature.” The workshop was sponsored by the National Book Development Council and held at the National Library. Following is Dr Carey’s report on the event:

Shirley Geok-lin Lim

From reading her memoir Among the White Moon Faces, I knew that Lim grew up among her father’s people in Malacca but periodically travelled across the Straits to visit her mother, who had deserted the five children when the father’s Bata shoe store failed. I was interested in the tensions she described so vividly: how in the eyes of her father’s family she and her brothers were “not Chinese enough,” yet the father’s clan by her wealthy Peranakan aunt’s standards was crudely “Chinese.” Lim, a scrappy kid, eked out an education, discovering a talent for writing, which led her to marriage in America and a college teaching career.

Lim is a well-recognized scholar in Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies. Her poetry, memoir, and fiction has introduced many readers in the West to Southeast Asia, and she is that disappearing breed of academic who is both scholar and creative writer. She has found a congenial academic home at the University of California, Santa Barbara, but Lim was well into her forties before she overcame her marginalized status as woman, mother, and Asian. She is the recipient of many prestigious prizes for her writing and scholarly work.

Writing SingaporeA primary purpose of the workshop was to launch a new anthology, Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature, edited by Lim and local writers Angelia Poon and Philip Holden. The collection includes primary records of colonial Singapore that present opportunities to predict and compare. For instance, Lim highlighted several pre-independence writings as invitations to discuss “Does history repeat itself?” or “How has Singapore changed and not changed?”

She categorized writers of the “nation-building” period as “inventors” and gave a number of suggestions for interdisciplinary work on the primary materials in the anthology. She singled out later writers that she termed “interveners,” or “critics’ and illustrated their struggle to envision citizenship in the newly forming state. Noting the range of contemporary voices and texts in the anthology, questions surface, Lim believes, not only of who is writing but who is reading. “Depending on the interpretive community, we may not all be reading the same book.” Students might enjoy the task of sorting through the identity progressions raised by the range of literature assembled for the first time especially for the purpose of teaching.

In addition, several Singapore authors “dropped in” to be interviewed by Lim and to read from their works-in-progress. They encouraged the attendees to “write” Singapore also. “Just write the strangers in your head,” advised novelist Suchen Christine Lim. An invitation was also issued to join in the “writing the city” effort sponsored by the British Council and continuing in September.

September 3, 2010 at 4:55 pm Leave a comment

2010 Literature Symposium

2010 Literature SymposiumOn 30 July, I attended the 2010 Literature Symposium hosted at Nanyang Girls’ High School and organized by the Ministry of Education and the National Arts Council. The theme for this year’s symposium was “Exploring Connections: The Text in the Classroom” and was illustrated through the Guest-of-Honor address, keynote speeches, panel discussion, and concurrent workshops on offer during the day.

The symposium was kicked off by the Guest of Honor address from MP Irene Ng, who has in her capacity as parliamentarian championed the teaching of literature and campaigned for its importance in the education of all Singaporean students. (Fun fact: she is the only MP in Singapore’s history  to read poetry on the floor of Parliament (PDF); the poem was “1959 and Fifty” by Edwin Thumboo.) Speaking of the value of literature in the 21st Century, Ms Ng said:

[Literature] is especially critical today when our children are bombarded with all sorts of ideas and influences from all over the world through the Internet. In our interconnected world, there is a kaleidoscope of sensibilities and views on morality, politics, race, religion, terrorism and so on.

We need to equip young people with the reasoning skills and values to be able to sort through the contending arguments and evidence, and come to their own conclusions.

The study of Literature supports this process by training the mind to interpret texts critically and creatively, identify key concepts, connect ideas, ask probing questions and formulate responses.

Whether it takes the form of the hard copy book, iPad or Kindle, reading a good story can be a way of journeying beyond oneself to other worlds; of discovering new thoughts and feelings.


Literature is the bedrock of our ability to communicate, to understand and interpret the world around us. And to also help shape it.

In the study of Literature, students are constantly given the opportunity to take an imaginative leap and become aware of new ways of perceiving the world around them.

The Literature curriculum at the Secondary Level is designed to expose students to works from different parts of the world, and with texts that range from the realistic to the fantastic.

This develops socio-cultural sensitivity and awareness in students, and also a sense of wonder, firing their imagination of possible worlds in the future. This ability to be open to the unknown or the unfamiliar is crucial in the 21st century world that is marked by rapid change.

The keynote addresses were delivered by Cherian George (author of Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation and Associate Professor of Journalism at NTU) and Rajeev Patke (Professor of English Language and Literature at NUS). George’s speech on “Journalism, Literature and the Worth of Words” was an intriguing look at the connection between journalism and literature, and how an understanding of both disciplines is necessary to develop our students into critical thinkers. Patke’s speech on “Eight Ways of Dealing with Literary Texts in the Classroom” was an entertaining and fascinating (and humorous) examination of the entry points to any given literary text, and how we can use those entry points to form the context for understanding.

Two anthologies from Ethos Books were launched during the morning activities: Telltale: 11 Stories, a prose collection edited by Dr Gwee Li Sui, containing works written by authors born after Singapore’s independence; and & Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond, a poetry anthology edited by Edwin Thumboo, containing a wealth of Singaporean and international poetry. Both books are valuable resources in the discussion of Singaporean literature.

A couple of performances livened up the morning: a poetry slam from Tara Dara (Paya Lebar Methodist Girls’ School), the winners of the 2010 National Schools Literature Festival; and an extract from Jean Tay’s award-winning drama BOOM, performed by the Catholic High School English Drama Society.

The afternoon was occupied by a multitude of concurrent workshops (15 in all!) that ranged from analyzing poetry using ICT to using Readers’ Theatre to breathe life into literary texts. I attended a workshop on the use of film (both original and adaptations) to facilitate critical thinking; the use of visual cues for students used to such cues is an important entry point into a written text, and we were shown how the examination of such cues, as well as thematically linked warm-up activities, can open students up to literature in ways that cold readings cannot accomplish.

Minor points of contention: it felt as if the organizers were trying to squeeze in two days worth of events into one day, which didn’t allow much leeway if speeches ran long, or attendees didn’t return from morning tea quickly enough. I was also disappointed by the fact that I would only be able to attend one of the concurrent workshops, when there were many that held my interest. But these gripes aside, in all, the symposium was fascinating and well-organized, and I both learned a lot about teaching techniques and renewed my passion for the teaching of literature through the various programming events.

August 5, 2010 at 11:47 am 3 comments

World Book Day 2010

Hwa Chong Institution will be celebrating World Book Day this week with writing contests (microfiction and poetry), wrap-the-door-with-a-book-cover contests, costume contests, and a visit from the National Library Board’s mobile library bus (MOLLY).

We will also be hosting a panel discussion with three published Singaporean authors, on the topics of books, reading, and writing. The discussion will take place on Thursday, April 22 at 2:30 p.m. in the high school’s Drama Centre, and the panel will consist of:

  • Alvin Pang is a poet, writer, editor and cultural activist. Named NAC Young Artist of the Year for 2005, he has also received the National Youth Award (Arts and Culture) and the JCCI Foundation Education Award. A Fellow of the Iowa International Writing Program, his writing has been featured in major publications, productions and festivals around the world. His publications include two volumes of poetry (Testing the Silence and City of Rain) and several anthologies, including the urban collection No Other City, Tumasik: Contemporary Writing from Singapore; and the bilateral initiatives Love Gathers All (with The Philippines), Over There (with Australia) and Doubleskin (with Italy). A former teacher, civil servant, journalist and new media developer, he edits a public policy journal, Ethos. He also advises institutions in Singapore and abroad on literary and other issues. He is a founding director of WORDFEAST – Singapore’s first international poetry festival, and CATALYST — a non-profit initiative promoting interdisciplinary capacity, multilingual communication, and positive social change.
  • Yong Shu Hoong has published three books of poetry: Isaac (1997), do-while (2002) and Frottage (2005), which won the 2006 Singapore Literature Prize. His poems have been included in literary journals like Asia Literary Review (Hong Kong) and Ars Interpres (Sweden), as well as anthologies like Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia, and Beyond (W. W. Norton, 2008). As a freelance journalist, his writings have appeared in The Straits Times, My Paper, South China Morning Post and Men’s Folio.
  • Felix Cheong, named by Readers’ Digest as the 29th Most Trusted Singaporean of 2010, is the author of seven books, including four collections of poetry, two teen detective novels and a non-fiction anthology of interviews. He has also written two plays and edited a volume of essays. His latest anthology of verse is Sudden in Youth: New and Selected Poems. Felix has been invited to read at writers’ festivals all over the world: Edinburgh, West Cork, Austin, Sydney, Brisbane, Christchurch, Hong Kong, Chengdu, Kuala Lumpur, Ubud, Bangalore and Singapore. In 2004, he was nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize and in 2000, he received the National Arts Council’s Young Artist of the Year for Literature Award. He completed his Master of Philosophy in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland in 2002 and is currently an adjunct lecturer and freelance reporter.
  • Jason Erik Lundberg (moderator), author of The Time Traveler’s SonFour Seasons in One Day (with Janet Chui), and over 80 short stories, articles, and book reviews. His short fiction has been honorably mentioned (twice) in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, nominated for the SLF Fountain Award, and shortlisted for the Brenda L. Smart Award for Short Fiction. A graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop and the Creative Writing Master’s program at North Carolina State University, he now teaches English language, literature and creative writing at Hwa Chong Institution. (And maintains this blog.)

Click to embiggen

April 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm 1 comment

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Library Club Leadership

Teachers In-Charge:
Mrs Rosalind Lee (SC)
Mdm Chan May Lun
Mdm Shieh Le-shiang
Mrs Kris Koo (Senior AO)
Mrs Wang Meng Juan (AO)

2011-12 ExCo:
Foo Yang Yi (Chairman)
Kervin Tay (Vice-Chairman)
Ian Wong (Training & Recruitment)
Zach Wang (Public Relations)
Joel Lee (Welfare)

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