“Writing is a way to be in control of your own fantasy”
Amanda Lee Koe, 31, Delayed Rays Of A Star
With a diminutive figure that belies her largerthan-life presence, Amanda could never see herself in a nine-to-five deskbound job, saying she is a “feral sort of person who has to be free”. She found that freedom in storytelling and put out her first short story collection, Ministry of Moral Panic, in 2013.
“Writing is a way to be in control of your own fantasy in reality, a weapon that allows you to shape a boring environment or less-than-ideal circumstance around you into an idealised form,” explains the 31-year-old.
“On the page, I am completely free. No one can tell me what to do or what not to do. Being a writer was more of an inevitability, and a risk I had to figure out how to take.”
Amanda's claim to fame these days is her dazzling debut novel, Delayed Rays Of A Star, released in July.
“I can’t control how people will relate to my work – all I can do is to write in the only ways I know how – but it is mindboggling and touching that it actually happens,” says Amanda, when asked about the the impact of her writing.
“Readers have told me that I have helped them come back to creativity after dry spurts, or that I’ve pushed them to live more authentically. They thank me for this, but I feel thankful to them too, for being curious and remaining open-hearted as we wade through the constant current of figuring out what it means to live in this world.”
“The diet of a writer will influence the taste of what a writer likes or dislikes”
Grace Chia, in her 40s, The Wanderlusters
Writing is second nature to Grace who describes herself as a full-time mother and a part-time everything else. While she laments the fact that she didn’t have the opportunity to pick up a musical instrument when she was younger, Grace then turned to the pen as her instrument of choice.
“For as long as I can remember, writing has been my source of comfort when I needed an outlet to release tension or a medium to express myself. No one told me to write or not to write,” explains Grace, who has authored nine books, including her first novel, The Wanderlusters.
“My mother ran a hair salon and my father was an office administrator who worked in the British civil service; both were not inclined to literature so I just kept on writing with absolute freedom until the opportunities to publish came along.”
She says there are too many books to count that influenced her growing up but each – from fictional epics to philosophical musings – brought with it valuable lessons about craft. “The diet of a writer will, I guess, influence the taste of what a writer likes or dislikes,” shares Grace.
“From Sylvia Plath, I learn how to juxtapose mixed metaphors for an effective, disconcerting effect. From Judy Blume, how to write simply and honestly for the most powerful and emotionally relatable prose. From Enid Blyton, how magical realism is necessary in ordinary life to give us hope away from dreariness.
“From Milan Kundera, how to balance the philosophical within storytelling. From Maxine Hong Kingston, how to write about Asian characters in a contemporary setting. And from playwrights like William Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Henrik Ibsen, how to structure plots to create dramatic tension and use absurdist elements effectively to drive home a point.”
“I’m not vain enough to think my writing will change lives”
Yeoh Jo-Ann, 36, Impractical Uses Of Cake
Growing up, Jo-Ann dreamt of becoming a cat or a rock star. Thankfully, she discovered writing instead, and her fiction has been anthologised in We R Family, In Transit, and Best New Singaporean Short Stories. Her first novel, Impractical Uses of Cake, won the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2018.
“I’ve always been a bookworm. My favourite thing to do is read, preferably over a nice cup of coffee. So it felt natural for me to think up my own stories and write them from the age of about nine or 10,” she recalls.
“Honestly, they were quite awful but writing was about creating a little world of my own that I could go into and do whatever I liked with, and that’s still a big reason why I write today.”
Revealing that writers she’s read and loved like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Tash Aw and Alexander McCall Smith have shaped her psyche and the way she writes, Jo-Ann is keen to pursue writing full time one day.
“I haven’t given up my day job as a digital marketer so I’m not a full-time writer – well, not yet! So for now, I can just say that writing is something I do want to do for the rest of my life, and I hope I’ll keep finding ways to do it,” says the 36-year-old.
“I’m not vain enough to think my writing will change lives but I hope my novel entertains anyone who reads it because I am told that it’s funny. I also hope that maybe it will make people pause for a tiny while in their day and think about things they’ve never bothered with before. That will be enough for me.”
*Catch more authors at the Singapore Writers Festival which celebrates works in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. For more details, visit www.singaporewritersfestival.com
PHOTOS: KIRSTEN TAN / EPIGRAM / GRACE CHIA