A writer checks in on the lives of his characters.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
A writer checks in on the lives of his characters.
My Reading Room

Ageing is inevitable. For writer Simon Tay, not even fictional characters are immune. Twenty-five years after he published the popular collection of Singapore stories Stand Alone, Tay drops in on the lives that he created in Middle & First Stories, to be published this month by Landmark Books. 

According to the 2010 Singapore Literature Prize winner, the book takes the stories from Stand Alone forward. This is especially so in “My Grandfather Tim”, which follows the short story “My Cousin Tim”, about two cousins who choose contrasting paths in life. 

To extrapolate the stories to the future, he dug into his past. Says the 55-year-old author whose works span literary, academic and public spheres: “The book takes off from my university days to consider the Singaporeans who grew up after independence.” 

It is divided into two clusters. “First” relates to the Singapore of the 1990s when an old way of life loses its grip in a fast- changing society. “Middle” surveys what is happening to many Singaporeans born in the late 1960s as they move into the middle of their lives with such riches and also disappointments. Indeed, one of the stories, “The Middle of Something, Everything” sees three friends reminiscing about their past, through the lens of desire, jealousy and competition. An extract of the story is published here. 

If the details are too vivid to be entirely made up, Tay admits that he mines his own experiences. “All stories are personal and many characters must have a grain of the author or those he knows well.” 

“But,” he insists, “This is not a biography.”  

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