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Looking at the Writers Festival

The Singapore Writers Festival is on & I attended 3 events today–

1)launch of Suchen Christine Lim’s The Lies That Build A Marriage. She read the story aloud, then there was a short film based on it–Kheng in the lead. For me, the film version worked best, not sure why. Kheng’s acting? The voice/speech layering? The editing that went into the film version? I liked it when I read it, but got distracted during the reading–too many people around perhaps.

2) Dreaming Singapore–Goh Poh Seng, Philip Jeyeratnam & Daren Shiau on a panel answering questions about writing in Singapore/out of Singapore/in changing times in Singapore. I wanted to see Goh Poh Seng because I missed his earlier talk but I really don’t know what this session was supposed to be getting at. After sitting through it I came out even more confused. It was like the organisers just figured, ‘let’s throw a lot of money into getting some big names into the festival & something is sure to spark–never mind coming up with any kind of theme, direction, goal or focus… as long as we get the big names the rest will fall into place–‘But maybe this is how writers festivals are supposed to be? Just people being flown in so we can gawk at them before they fly out again? All right, so I went to ‘gawk’ at SuChen Lim & Goh Poh Seng & I was tempted to go gawk at Madhur Jaffrey, Jung Chang, Meira Chand and Su Tong… but figured I would gain much more by reading their books.

3) I also sat in on a talk on publishing–thought it might nudge me in the right direction… Tan Twan Eng whose The Gift of Rain (haven’t read it yet but will go look) got longlisted for the ManBooker 2007 talked about getting published in the UK. He said go straight for international publication, because even if you publish locally first, that’s what you want ultimately, isn’t it? (Yes) And if you want any reputable UK/US publisher to look at your work, you have to submit it via a literary agent. How to get a literary agent? The Writer’s Handbook, an annual publication which lists UK & US publishers & agents. One woman in the room (with ruler straight bangs) got quite aggressive with the speaker, first demanding why people in Singapore only talked about publishing fiction & poetry when there’s so much other non-fiction writing to be published (she doesn’t seem to know how much easier it is to get cook books published here!) then getting irritated with him for giving us sources of current lists of agents instead of handing her a name & a contract… she left the room after another member of the audience told her that if she was serious about writing she would do the ‘work’ of writing to different agents herself.I found this the most interesting session actually.

What I got from him: finish the book FIRST. Then get an agent. Then your agent gets a publisher. Your manuscript is going to be worked over first by your agent’s inhouse editors then by your publisher’s inhouse editors so don’t worry about making it perfect before you send it in. What should be as perfect as possible is spelling, grammar etc to show you take care & make the effort.

Other nice things about turning up today:I met & had lunch with Stella Kon–she bought me lunch actually, at The Coffee Club. Haven’t seen her for a long time & she’s set up/is setting up a musical theatre company and going to Australia for a big family reunion at the Great Barrier Reef and then Christmas in Sydney.

Saw Prof Koh and asked her does she still want my very very very late story? She said ‘yes of course’ so–by end of next week, I will finish it!

Saw Kalyani! Sat on her actually… I listened to most of SuChen’s reading from behind a pillar, then Alina came to tell me they were all sitting on the other side of the room… but we couldn’t see from there either when they started showing the film so I moved forward and since Kalyani was right in front (like a good girl she must have been there early!) she let me squeeze in. But the filmlet was really good–well worth it. Poor K though, had my weight on her for the duration!

Saw Aik Wee & Leon. Most of the time I only run into them before/after shows & readings or really late at night after a long day’s work when I then put them through the wringer about what they’ve been writing… poor Leon especially… but today they both looked well & relaxed, no shows hanging over their heads…

Saw Tristan–for a moment was really taken aback because didn’t know he was in Singapore! But yes, he’s here. He lost his phone & said his mails to me kept bouncing (my new spam barrier must be overprotecting again). He got me to type my number into his new phone & we’re in touch again.

Saw Rev & Mrs Yap, Susan, Shaun… yes, a whole lot of people from FCC which I had not gone to this morning in case I didn’t make it to the Arts House in time… no more excuses from me. But Mrs Yap was so sweet. She said “Don’t feel bad for not going one week… I haven’t gone for TWO weeks!” with a big naughty smile.

Saw Siok Tian too, but only in passing–got to tell her how I loved her shot in the Writers Directory. But I’ll be seeing her at the Arthur Yap thing on Tuesday night.

Cyril was being talked to by Rev Yap… he was saying “Actually I’m Roman Catholic–” but of course to dear Rev Yap that matters not at all. Just as all our other little differences & discrepancies matter not at all. C got a great write up in TIME magazine.Anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, go look–Cyril Wong in TIME mag again, 28 Nov.

I guess if you rate/evaluate it in terms of catching up with people then it was a great morning/afternoon. But a great writers festival? I don’t know. I looked through the programme after getting it today, planning to mark out some more events to attend, and it’s all very impressive in the write-up but when I get down to analysing ‘What’s this about?’ I can’t tell. ‘What do I want to turn up for?’ And I don’t find anything.

Tuesday evening. I’ll be there for Arthur Yap. But I think the rest of the time I’ll conserve my energy for the human rights day events and for reading and writing.

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