Today, I’m thrilled to welcome on this blog Suchen Christine Lim, one of Singapore’s best known authors and also a kind, cheerful personality when it comes to teaching creative writing.
In October this year Suchen’s latest novel, The River’s Song was launched in Singapore (click here to watch Suchen read dramatic excerpts from her novel at the launch and answer audience questions). As part of the ongoing writer’s guest post series in this blog, she talks us today about the beginning of her writing journey (all emphasis below are mine).
Thank you to Damyanti for inviting me onto Daily (W)rite.
I didn’t start writing till I was in my mid 30s. As a child, I’d wanted to be a hawker selling chicken rice porridge or be an astronaut flying to the moon. My writing adventure began one hot afternoon with a mindless doodle. I was a college teacher invigilating a 3-hour literature exam when I found myself doodling. The doodles turned into words and the words into sentences. I wrote one page that afternoon. After that, I continued to write, usually an hour or so stealthily before or after school. I didn’t want anyone to know what I was doing because I didn’t know what or why I was writing.
At first, I thought it was a story for young people, but the story grew and changed as I wrote. Finally I left teaching and returned to the university, not because I wanted another degree, but so that I could have more time to write. This was my secret motive.
Every morning I left home at 6 am with my Olivetti manual typewriter, and took the bus to Adam Road where I could walk past the Chinese cemetery and be alone with my thoughts before I took another bus to the university. By 7.30 am I was writing /typing in the students’ canteen until my first lecture of the day. I did this every day even though I didn’t know where my writing was going.
Looking back, I’d say that the start of my writing journey was like love at first sight. It’s like you’ve never met this stranger called the Muse before, yet you desperately wanted him/her. It’s crazy.
One day, a visiting professor who had observed me typing in the noisy canteen, offered me the use of her room. She was going away for 3 months. I was thrilled. For the first time in my life, I had a room of my own to write in. But my joy didn’t last. One evening the door of ‘my’ room banged open. ‘Clear out!’ the Head of the Sociology Department yelled. I had broken a rule. Students were not allowed to use a professor’s room. ‘Get out and clear out!’ he shouted.
On the bus home, tears streamed down my face. I was 36 years old, the mother of 2 sons and an only daughter. No one, not even my mother, had ever yelled at me like that before. At home, my tears turned to anger. My family urged me to ‘return the anger’ to the uncouth professor. So the next day, accompanied by my friend, the former editor of the Singapore University Press, I banged open the professor’s door! Just like what he did to me, but I didn’t shout. He demanded to know the purpose of my visit. I can’t remember exactly what I said to him. But I remember pacing up and down his office as I delivered my speech. ‘So? You want to complain to the Vice-Chancellor?’ he sneered. ‘Yes,’ I said and marched out of his office.
He rushed after me and came face to face with his former classmate. ‘Ros,’ he smiled at the editor of the Singapore University Press. ‘Your friend. So impulsive.’ he pointed to me. ‘Ros,’ I pointed to him. ‘Your friend. So rude.’ Then I told him that one day, I would write about this incident.
So thank you for giving me the chance to get it off my chest. I detest men who shout abuse at women and children.
I finished writing what turned out to be Rice Bowl, my first novel, in the storeroom of the Singapore University Press. You can say that I wrote my first novel surrounded by all the unsold books of the university’s professors. If that was not passion laced with madness, I don’t know what is.
About The River’s Song: Ping, the daughter of Chinatown’s Pipa Queen, loves Weng, the voice of the people, but family circumstances drive them apart. Ping is forced to leave suddenly for the USA, while Weng is sent to prison for his part in local protests. Many years later, Ping returns to a country transformed by prosperity. Gone are the boatmen and hawkers who once lived along the river. In their place, rise luminous glass and steel towers proclaiming the power of the city state. Can Ping face her former lover and reveal the secret that has separated them for over 30 years? A beautifully written exploration of identity, love and loss, set against the dramatic upheaval unleashed by the rise of Singapore, about which The Sunday Times Singapore wrote: ‘ – unashamedly details Singapore’s past and present in gripping stories – The River’s Song – is among the best prose to come out of Singapore.’
The River’s Song would be published by Aurora Metro Books, UK in spring 2014.
——Author Bio: Born in Malaysia but educated in Singapore, Suchen Christine Lim was awarded the Southeast Asia Write Award 2012. In 1992, her novel, Fistful Of Colours, won the Inaugural Singapore Literature Prize. Critics have described her first novel, Rice Bowl, as “a landmark publication on post-independence Singapore”, and A Bit Of Earth as “a literary masterwork as well as a historical document” that was “un-put-downable – a sure sign of a master storyteller.” A short story in The Lies That Build A Marriage, was made into a film for national television. Awarded a Fulbright grant, she is a Fellow of the International Writers’ Program in the University of Iowa, and its International Writer-in-Residence. In 2005, she was writer-in-residence in Scotland, and has returned to the UK several times as an Arvon Tutor to conduct writing workshops and read at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Her new novel, The River’s Song, will be launched in London and New York next spring.
(This is the first part of her interview. The next, in which Suchen Christine Lim talks about the various genres she’s written in, her take on a writer’s role in history and her views as a creative writing teacher will be published coming Thursday.)
So, to the writers amongst you: do You have interesting stories to share with us about your writing journey? Did You face challenges in your writing journey like Suchen Christine Lim?
I really this sentence: “You can say that I wrote my first novel surrounded by all the unsold books of the university’s professors. If that was not passion laced with madness, I don’t know what is.” Yes. Passion for writing is an enjoyable ‘madness’ that can turn into ‘soundness’.
As a writer myself, I find it fascinating to read about Suchen Christine Lim’s writing journey. Thanks for sharing this!
wow! I felt the strong emotion behind this story.thank you for sharing it to us 🙂
hi? I started writing when i was quite little. I was only 7. I recently blogged about my writing journey in the `journey of an aspiring published writer.’ Feel free to read it. Anyway, i have just finished my manuscript. Actually the first i have gotten round to finishing and i’m excited. I had titled it `when i finally get married’ but my mum suggested a different title so i changed it to `revenge is sweet’. I might change it again when i get a catchy title. Right now, my biggest hurdle in writing is that i don’t have a laptop so i write it down with pen and paper and retype it again. You can aslo read three excerpts of my current manuscript under `books’ category in my blog. Cheers.
Great share, thanks. I think most writers have their own ahha moment when they either realize they have the gift or they just feel compelled to write about something that strikes their fancy. If it is within us, it never really goes away and it becomes up to us alone if we pursue this creativity. Sadly some don’t and many, better late than never. 🙂
Fantastic post! Thanks for writing and sharing.
Thanks for the great blog Damyanti.
I’ve just completed my first draft of my first novel. I hope that it will make to print. I wrote it in a 30-day period with NaNoWriMo. It just came out of me. 74,333 words.
I’ve written all my life, in diaries and journals and essays for school. When I went back to college a few years ago, my creative non-fiction writing professor told me I should try to publish an essay that poured out of me about my childhood. That, and reading “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” by David Foster Wallace made me want to be a writer. So that’s what I’m doing.
Great story! I think, like many other writers, we start writing as a means of escape. Always look forward to your posts, damyanti.
I started writing stories because of an unhappy childhood. I even convinced myself that I was adopted because , surely, he wouldn’t have treated us like that. I used to sit in the cupboard under the stairs and make a wonderful life for myself. I did get it in the end as I was married for 44 years.
This is an amazing challenging story,
Thanks for introducing this wonderful person to us.
I just re-shared it in my g+ page.
Have a blessed weekend.
This is so inspirational! Have admired Christine’s writing for years.
I feel the beauty of a writing room of your own. That makes such a difference. That space. Educators, who should know better, are often the worst.
Such an interesting experience from a writer’s perspective. Thanks for sharing and giving me a chance to read about it.
How wonderful that writing can be such a life-changing event, inspiring, thank you!
Reblogged this on Lisa Snyder-Book Author.
Reblogged this on heatherzhutchinswrites and commented:
Today, I’m thankful for you, Gentle Readers! Here is a wonderful post about starting the writer’s journey. ENJOY!
Thanks for this. I added Suchen’s book in my ‘want to read’ list on Goodreads.
This really lifted my spirits today so thank you. To think that writing because of a hunger to write was how she started out 🙂 I think when i try write for competitions I can sometimes lose some of my hunger or drive.
Suchen Christine Lim sounds like a strong woman blessed with a wonderful gift. Thanks for bringing us her story (and with it the hope that it’s not too late for the rest of us ‘late bloomers’!).
Reading about Mrs.Lim has been really inspiring. If she could start her literary career in her thirties, all of us have hope!
Very inspiring! Love your blog 🙂
I was laid off from my job in November of 2008 because of the economy. In January, 2009, cancer invaded my mother ‘s body. I started writing while I cared for Mom and continued after her death. Writing saved my sanity.