Reading about writing

Karen blurs by

The Singapore Writers Festival is on, plus I need to close some my Firefox tabs, so here's a writing-related linkdump.

1. "When Writers Speak" by Arthur Krystal in the New York Times

... writers don’t have to be brilliant conversationalists; it’s not their job to be smart except, of course, when they write.
This is why I still love blogging and books, of course, while all around me people have moved on to Twitter, podcasts/vodcasts and exciting TV gigs.

2. "Reading Faust in Korean" by Anne Michaels in The Atlantic
(via Qian Xi on Facebook)

Do we belong to the place where we are born, or to the place where we are buried? When one is dispossessed of everything—home, country, landscape—what is left?
Interesting apropos of the debate earlier this week at the announcement of the new MAC Fiction Prize, about whether only Singapore citizens should be eligible for the prize or if Permanent Residents and/or other residents should be considered as well.

On a separate note, my favourite line in Michaels' essay is: "We are marinated in our childhoods ..."

3. "Writers, Visible and Invisible", a speech by Cynthia Ozick as part of the 2008 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony
(via Dave on Facebook)

Writers are what they genuinely are only when they are at work in the silent and instinctual cell of ghostly solitude, and never when they are out industriously chatting on the terrace.
See also my quoting of Anthony Lane last week.

Labels: ,


Qikly does it

The thing about having coffee with Kevin Lim at Highlander Coffee, is that you never know when he'll suddenly ask you, hey, do you mind if I grab a video of this conversation? And what he means is: using Qik, he's going to upload the video live from his cell phone onto the web.

Now you can hear how quickly I speak in real life.

Also good if you wanna hear me maunder about writing, travel writing and being a freelance operative.

Labels: , ,


All it took was a little MacGyvering

My vacuum cleaner, fixed!

Over a month ago, I ran into vacuum cleaner trouble. Here's the summary from my Facebook status update that day:
[Tym] wonders if anyone can troubleshoot a vacuum cleaner – the motor works fine but the machine (with or without the hose) is not sucking up anything.
Friend #1: change the bag?
ME: Took the bag out to empty it and fit it back in. It seems to be in the right slot, but very little "sucking" power is coming out of the machine.
Friend #2: talk to the fellow, tell him, "oi, work la"
Friend #3: Check for leaks.
Friend #4: check the ports for blockage..
Friend #5: cat hairs wreak havoc with filters ...
Friend #6: It has an exhaust also.. check the machine at the opposite end of the hose end.. to see if it's somehow blocked
ME: Thanks for all the suggestions. I don't think it's a leak and the hose is ok too. I've washed the filter and will try again tomorrow when it's dry. Failing which ... it's time to find me a vacuum whisperer.
Tonight, I finally got the vacuum whisperer to make a house call. That is, I got a friend who used to MacGyver things for a living to come over. Within half an hour he had troubleshot (troubleshooted?) the problem and fixed it with some gaffer tape. Not that I'm the sort of person who ordinarily has gaffer tape lying around, but he bought me some on a previous occasion when he fixed another household hiccup for me.

The morals of the story:
  • Gaffer tape binds the universe together.
  • Friends who like to tinker with stuff (and know how to do it without electrocuting themselves) can save you a bundle in either repair bills or a new vacuum cleaner.
Now if only he can get his hands on a multimeter so that he can troubleshoot one of my Ikea lamps ...

Labels: ,


The week whipped by

Look at all that cool stuff behind us
Taken by ampulets

Earlier this week, a friend posted on Facebook a quote by film reviewer Anthony Lane:
Writers should be treated like rubber plants: lightly pruned, occasionally watered, but basically left to do their own thing in a corner, away from direct sunlight.
Every time I had to gear up for a book-related event this week, I thought of that quote. I mean, I wrote the book already --- now I have to go talk about it? Which is mostly the childish trepidation talking, but still. It'd be nice if one could just release one's books into the wild and let them find their own way, but that's not how the business works.

So --- to business it was. I summed up most of the highlights on our book blog earlier today. I'd optimistically planned to post event updates within a day of each event, but completely failed to account for post-event fatigue, which is why even this blog is only being updated right now (and I'm still short of sleep). I can't imagine how authors on proper cross-country book tours keep up the momentum.

In between all that, I was reading New York Times reporter David Rohde's five-part account of his kidnapping and captivity by the Taliban, watching the awesome Intel "Sponsors of Tomorrow" TV ads, reading Suchen Christine Lim's Rice Bowl and playing with Tweetie (despite sangsara's best evangelisation efforts, I'm still not sure if I want to start Twittering again). Oh, and doing some pay copy work too.

Plenty more ideas swirling around in the old noggin, but it'll be a couple more weeks before I can sit down and think about them properly. Meanwhile, two more book events, ho!

Labels: , ,


Reading it right

At a reading at Books Actually tonight, I ran into a friend who'd turned up 'cause she thought it was our reading for Singapore: A Biography. "Actually, that's on Tuesday!" I told her. But it was sweet, knowing that even though I don't know her that well, she had shown up on a Saturday night for what she thought was our event.

Tonight's reading was by Suchen Christine Lim, for a new 25th-anniversary edition of her first novel Rice Bowl. I haven't read Rice Bowl but now I will, because the narrative includes an account of an anti-Vietnam War march in Singapore, based on her memory of the actual event.

Lim read bits of the book aloud tonight--- for the first time in public since it was published! --- and one of the extracts was a fierce, climactic exchange between two characters: a civil servant and an idealist, the former insisting on pragmatism and realism, the latter upholding some greater notion of humanism. Lim observed by the by that it was an argument that still resonates today, where modern-day civil servants fall back on the same rhetoric her character did 25 years ago.

Afterwards, my friend (a civil servant, incidentally) and I adjourned to Chinatown for a late dinner, during which we waxed lyrical about Singapore, aspiration, ideals, hope and other big words that are more often associated with Obama than with the PAP-governed society we live in. A "typical" civil servant overhearing us would have probably rolled his eyes or muttered something about "high falutin ideas". I prefer to think of it as us considering paths not (yet) taken --- some of which we might consider now before Singapore devolves into a more calculating, consumptive society than it already is.

Labels: ,


Hot off the press

Hot off the press

Whee! My very first copy of Singapore: A Biography. Now I have an actual book to show off and paw and fuss over, not just the cover art (which is very eye-catching in its own right).

The book will be in Singapore bookstores from next week. Don't let its heft put you off. It's eminently readable, gorgeously illustrated and does not once refer to Singapore as a "little red dot" (although someone's "little red book" makes an appearance, and I don't mean Mao Zedong).

For those of you who placed pre-orders, the books will be delivered to me next week. I'll get in touch with you then.

Mmmmm ... new book smell ...

Labels: ,


Just another day

Not every day is about writing.. Today was about scratching things off my to-do list, which is scribbled in ballpoint ink on a piece of used paper.

In the approximate order in which they were completed:
  • Called my mom 'cause it's her birthday. Yay, Mom!
  • Confirmed a radio interview for next week for Singapore: A Biography and drafted some talking points for it. (First time in my life I've drafted talking points for my own use --- it doesn't get any easier.)
  • Made loose plans to meet a Lonely Planet writer who'll be in town next week.
  • Made loose plans to meet one of my best friends' boyfriends who'll be in town next week too.
  • Sent out an email reminder to a rather long list of friends and associates about the upcoming book launch events (which kick off on Sunday at the National Library --- are you gonna be there or what?). Fortunately I didn't break my Gmail doing it.
  • Secured a good freelance writing/editing partner for a small job next month that I don't have the time to do on my own (yay for pay copy).
  • Turned down another copywriting job that totally doesn't interest me.
  • Shilled for the book at the National Education mothership of Singapore.
  • Contemplated the niceties of starting a Facebook Fan page for Singapore: A Biography, considering the book is still at the printer's and will only be in bookstores next week (but you can buy it at the National Library event on Sunday).
  • Made loose plans to meet a couple of Singapore writers at the opening of the Singapore Writers Festival.
  • Emailed some contacts for a Vietnam trip next month.
  • Compiled a bunch of information for a government tender and updated a proposal document that one of my collaborators drafted.
  • Attempted to do a friend a favour and play around with the new Raffles Alumni website, but there was only so much I could do when it didn't send me my password.
  • Daydreamed (although we did this after dinner and via IM) with a good friend about the Really Cool Business we're going to set up --- someday.
  • Ignored Ink whining for more food because he's had his full ration for the day.
  • Bought more bandwidth for the Singapore: A Biography website (I suspect there's a not quite optimised-for-web image that's doing us in).
  • Scratched Sisu's head till she stopped whining at me (after lunch and now, as I'm typing this in bed).
  • Avoided finishing that essay I started a few weeks ago.
Pretty damn productive.

Labels: , , , , ,


I need to be working harder, but ...

I've rounded off the week with:
Oh, and then there was the photo shoot today for an alumni magazine. Let us not speak of that again (except to say that it was absolutely not the photographer's nor the magazine's fault fault – I am a horribly self-conscious subject and I do not wish the task of shooting my portrait upon any photographer).

I have to do prep work this week for the upcoming book events, as well as other pay copy work – but in a few days, I should have Singapore: A Biography in my hands. If you haven't read the book previews yet, now is a good time to start. So far we've released 'Farquhar and Raffles fall out' and 'The education of Singapore girls'. Look out on Monday for: 'Captain Mohan Singh's dark night of the soul'.

Labels: ,


Coming soon to a bookstore near you

Singapore: A Biography book cover art
Singapore: A Biography
by Mark Ravinder Frost & Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Ladies and gentlemen, may I humbly present to you the book Mark and I have been working on for the past two years: Singapore: A Biography. After we worked together on the Singapore History Gallery of the National Museum of Singapore in 2006, we proposed turning the material into a book --- a lively, substantive yet eminently readable book that would do justice to the stories and make people, you know, dig Singapore's history a little more. Our narrative kicks off in the Temasek period (13th century) and winds up around the 1970s. Yes, we've got Raffles and Lee Kuan Yew, but a whole lot more as well; just take a look at the people I name-checked in a recent post on the book website.

Anyway, writing this book took, um, a little longer than we bargained, but the book is at the printer's as we speak and our publisher has promised that I will have crisp new copies in my hands in one week's time. Hurrah!

If this sort of thing interests you, please come and hear us talk about history, literature, Singapore and our book at the following events:
For more event details, check out this lovely e-direct mailer (thank you, ampulets!).

If you're in Singapore, you should see the book in stores in about 10 days or so. Outside Singapore, the book is schedule to hit Hong Kong, China and Australia in late October. It'll be distributed in the US and the UK in early 2010. For pre-orders (20% off retail price, i.e. S$40 instead of S$50 for a hardcover 400-page book) or other inquiries, please contact me.

Am I excited? Oh yes. I think I will squee when I first see the book, and possibly a few more times after that. I was just reading several sections aloud to myself today (test-driving them for the upcoming readings) and I'm so pleased with the book turned out.

Please tell your friends and please come to a book event! We promise to pronounce "Farquhar" correctly.

Labels: , ,


Kick-starting the week

Nature reinterpreted

Every Monday morning should start with Monty Python: "On comedy's flying trapeze" (thanks, sarah!).

Every Monday evening should end with drinks at Majestic Bar and making new friends (or even just one).

(I can't believe it's October already. Where did the year go?)

Labels: ,


Southeast Asia's having a bad week

Typhoon Ketsana barrelled through Luzon in the Philippines, then hit Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. I've had word from a Vietnam contact that the small town of Kon Tum, which I visited last November, has been cut off by landslides and river flooding. Excerpt from his email:
Crops have been wiped-out,the rice-crop was about to be harvested.
Animals washed away and drowned.
Water supplies contaminated.
Villages abandoned;VS2 Orphanage also.Many people have now moved to the Seminary,Wooden Church and Convent etc.
Food scarce,much has been damaged by flooding in shops and stores.
Many families buy their food fresh (i.e. daily); they don't carry food stocks as such.Many cannot afford to buy rice in wholesale amounts!
It's now reported that Typhoon Parma is headed for the Philippines (via Mugilan on Facebook).

Sumatra in Indonesia got hit by two earthquakes in less than 24 hours. The town of Padang, which I wrote about almost four years ago, is in very, very bad shape.

Singapore-based relief organisation Mercy Relief is sending aid to the Philippines in the form of:
  • 10,000 packs of rice sticks
  • 3,000 packs of porridge to the very young, sick and elderly
  • medicines (painkillers)
  • blankets
  • water purification tablets
Oxfam is sending a relief team to Kon Tum, Vietnam.

I've donated. Please help!