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Michael Cunningham and Jeet Thayil at Singapore Writers Festival

The Singapore Literary Festival is here.

I was thrilled to have my books signed today by Michael Cunningham (one of my writing heroes) and Jeet Thayil (this year’s much-touted surprise Booker shortlister, for Narcopolis)!

Felt sorry for Michael when the lady at the queue in front of me asked him, pointing at ‘The Hours‘ which he was signing for her, “So did you write this all at once, or did it take more sittings?”

I burst a nerve or artery somewhere, but Michael smiled, informed her that it varied, really, some pages took more time than others. After which I didn’t have the heart to ask him another question.

He was kind and smiling though, valiantly fighting jet-lag, trying to get my long Indian name right. No wonder I saw him lighting up one cigarette after the other once the book signing was over.

Jeet Thayil lives in New Delhi and hates it, said so right after he signed my book, and that made me like him already. I lived in the city for 10 years, never developed any special affection for it.

 He has one of the most elaborate signatures I’ve seen from any author (and I’ve seen a fair number). I’m wondering what happens at book signings where the queue is somewhat longer than here.

He was on one of the discussion panels, and seemed to have a dry humor and a sort of forthrightness I like in a writer.
Overall, a good day with discussion panels on various topics, and even a book-swapping do.


Why are the writing workshops so few, and of such basic levels? The talk I went to this morning made me sigh. The writer, though very qualified, had obviously not been given an audience profile, and served up a very general hour of writing advice with emphasis on re-writing, carrying an idea journal and so on.


 Why is it impossible to get good writing teachers, give them a specific, strong brief, for proper day-long workshops for a dozen people at a time in a country that obviously needs it and has the resources to pay for it and then some?

Singapore puzzles me at times.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • I was there and attended the panel with Michael Cunningham and Brian Cato on literary prizes. I was disappointed there was virtually nothing of independent publishers or online writers and writers of eBooks. Probably reflects the sponsors were a book store and publishers! I also found the workshops were very basic. Tom Flood, the Australian writer commented to me how these festivals are more for readers than writers and I feel he is right.

  • Bikramjit says:

    Hmmm a Literary festival , I will probably run afar from is , I am not that intelligent and it will go over my head .. I am jsut a normal person ..

    but you had a good experience …


  • Saru Singhal says:

    I have never been to any Literary Festival and little shocked at the kind of questions people ask. Must be a beautiful experience…:)

  • What a lovely experience! Thanks!

  • umashankar says:

    What puzzles me truly is what people like the lady who quizzed Cunningham are doing at such events! Thayil's endorsement is indeed unique, much like his art.

    • Damyanti says:

      Sadly, the writer's festivals of this world are littered with such people. Another favourite question is "Where do you get your ideas from?" It makes me want to creep out of the audience, or hit that person on the head with something heavy, and preferably lethal. Thank God I limit my urges to fiction alone!

  • Amberr says:

    I would love to come to Singapore just to soak up the culture. Glad you had your heroes sign your books!

  • Jo says:

    Never been to a signing or any cons. I so wish I had. Particularly this weekend, there is a World Fantasy con in Toronto and Brandon Sanderson is attending. Didn't know before yesterday and the con is sold out anyway. Sad.

  • D.G. Hudson says:

    At least something good came out of it – you got books signed. It makes a difference who is teaching those classes. I agree.

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