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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Wednesday 12 December 2007

SuChen Christine Lim at the Singapore Writer's Festival

"The thing is today, at this launch, my friends are here but where is my speech? What happened to my speech? And where is my handbag?" - SuChen Christine Lim.

On realising at the mike that her speech was missing these lines were recited to high amusement from the crowd, by SuChen Christine Lim, one of Singapore's best-loved and prominent authors as she launched The Lies That Build A Marriage at the Earshot restaurant, during the recent Singapore Writer's Festival.

Her slim paperback is made up of collected stories that amongst other issues; explores a mother's pain on discovering her son is gay. Published by Monsoon Books Singappore, it was originally meant to be a 20-minute story, requested by traditional church pastors as a Christmas Day read. According to SuChen, they had confidently asked to be surprised beforehand."

They said, no need to show us the content, just surprise us....so I did!"

Let it be said that SuChen may not be as adaptable to a muse. She may conspire with inspiration now and then but likens the art of writing to playing the piano. "It's like practising your scale, something is bound to happen everyday. "Everytime I go to my pages, they're blank...there are simply no words. And yet at the end of the writing session, I've filled page after page, much to my surprise."

At which she'd insist, "if you have to write, follow your heart and scribble something everyday.

For someone small and delicate in appearance if not a little tomboyish, her voice is unsusually loud and enthusiastic and her ebullient manner, peppered with a smile irregardless of any eventual response.

As she read excerpts from her newest book at the launch, I remember feeling that I was seated to a live performance at the theatre and pondered on how excellent the author would have been at delivering one-woman monologues. I was disappointed that she appeared to have finished reading all too quickly.

SuChen, a former teacher said she became a writer by chance, mostly out of boredom and a chaotic life at the time. Her early experience with creative writing began, in an exam hall when she had to conduct an invigilation for three hours. Pacing up and down a hushed room soon bred restlessness. Su-Chen started doodling and the sketches quickly turned into words. This would later form the first page of Rice Bowl, which turned into a national bestseller. It would be published by Times Books International in 1984.

As her life persisted with its chaos, she found to her relief that writing offered a certain amount of control. Rice Bowl which described a scene of university students, passionate with the nation's political discourses in the sixties, was at first meant to be a childrens' tale. As her story slipped into a growing sophistication, she thought that perhaps it would pander to the average teenager. That was hardly the case.

SuChen comes from a family that doesn't value book-writing. Yet in the early days, she stayed determined. My brother said, "A bit of fame but no money."

At that time of an initial excitement and having set out as an aspiring author, SuChen fostered her literary ambitions on a hardy mechanical typewriter with yellow-coloured paper being her favourite sheets. "At first, I was like a woman stumbling in the dark," she remembers. In the end, I produced 4 whole novels. My writing was so intense at the time that I just plodded along. No writing course could have helped me at that point."

During the time of writing Rice Bowl, the novelist experienced a strange thing. "Everytime I closed my eyes, I would see a woman...and I couldn't recognise her...painting furiously. It happened only during the time I was writing Rice Bowl, my first book.

"Finally, I showed the initial pages to a friend who expressed shock because she said the story sounded powerful. I became suddenly scared. Scared of the unknown painter lady and my friend's own sense of shock from what she had assumed to be the power in my story. In the end, I locked my unfinished story away in a drawer and promptly forgot about it."

SuChen would begin her second novel and pick up the first one with lesser apprehension only three years later.

Not the kind of writer who gets her plots meticulously ready beforehand, SuChen describes her writing as masquerading the exact form of weaving. Different scattered events and characterisation, slowly come together like the co-existing harmony of different coloured threads, all at once. After a while like a pattern that emerges, the writer is bound to witness the birth of a complete plot. Practise and persevere, persist and be patient, she smiles.

(This writer claims sole copyright to the reportage from information gathered at the Singapore Writer's Festival 2007).