31 Dec 2018 [Articles]

By Wee Li Shyen

Diploma in Creative Writing for Television & New Media

Singapore Polytechnic

A photo of Sun Yat Sen in his family home was the inspiration for Tjio Kayloe’s first book

(Photo of Tjio Kayloe by Wee Li Shyen)


An aged photo sparked one man’s inspiration and kicked off a five-year journey to tell the story of the founding father of the Republic of China.

Tjio Kayloe’s route to being an author was not a conventional one.

Now 71, Kayloe made his career in investment banking in Hong Kong and New York before settling down in Singapore in 1990 to start a publishing business for financial institutions. After his retirement 10 years ago, he got bored of hitting golf balls and decided to pick up a pen and pursue something that had always been at the back of his mind – writing a book.


Creative inspiration

The inspiration for the subject went back to his childhood. As a boy, he had always wondered about the portrait of a Chinese man hanging prominently beside his grandfather’s in his family home in Indonesia.

“When you’re a kid of four years old, of course you understand who your grandfather is. But what’s this other joker doing there?” Kayloe chuckled.

It was only much later that he realised that that man was Sun Yat-Sen, the first president of the Chinese Republic, and that his grandfather was a loyal supporter. This laid the seeds for Kayloe’s first book: The Unfinished Revolution: Sun Yat-Sen and the Struggle for Modern China.

Interestingly, Kayloe has a different perspective of Dr. Sun, who many consider a visionary hero.

“Here was a man who never succeeded in anything,” said Kayloe, “You could even say he was a total failure in life. His moment of glory lasted just two months, when he became provisional president, and he was in that seat for like a month and a half max. That was his moment of glory. The rest of his life was failure all the way until the day he died. And yet after his death, he became so revered, so well-known.”

Unlike most books on Dr. Sun, which have been written from the Chinese perspective, Kayloe’s take was on the time the revolutionary leader spent in Southeast Asia, which has not been written about much.

The book was shortlisted for the Creative Non-Fiction category of the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize.


Learning from the first attempt

Kayloe is currently working on his second book, which is about the warlords of Republican China. He is still uncertain how much beyond 1929 to include, as most accounts of the period end in 1928. But he’s confident he’ll complete this faster than his first work.

“I think my second book can be done in two years, maybe two and a half. Some might say I’ve learned the tricks of the trade,” he said.

When writing his first book, he encountered “several disasters” when files in his computer became corrupted and he had to redo the work. Fortunately he was able to recover the information through the hard copies he had kept as well as periodic backups he had made. Kayloe has now devised a system to save his files so that even if they are lost, he won’t have to start from scratch again.

Despite becoming savvier about the mechanics of the craft, Kayloe doesn’t believe he is the right person to give tips to young writers.

“I’m not in a position to give advice,” Kayloe wryly commented, “maybe by the time I write my third book.”

However, he shared that there has to be proper planning. He admits that he made the mistake of jumping into big ideas and then having to backtrack, thus taking longer to finish the work. Most importantly, “you must love your idea,” he declared, “because if you don’t enjoy it, it becomes drudgery.”

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31 Dec 2018 [Articles]

By Raine Koh

Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media

Singapore Polytechnic

Poet Theophilus Kwek grew up in a family of doctors but prefers to give back to the community via his writing. (Photo credit: Raine Koh)


Theophilus Kwek has come a long way from when he first discovered his passion for writing. He laughs as he recalls how it all began. “I got home from school and I found my mum using Baygon on an ant trail,” sparking inspiration for a story about a nest of ants that overthrew the owners of the house. His mother was not amused then but she must be proud now of what her son has achieved in a relatively short time.

Just like many others, Theophilus thought being an author seemed like a far-away dream.

“It was when I went for a Creative Arts Programme in Secondary 3 that I realised that there were people who looked like me and sounded like me, who call themselves writers.”

Theophilus was mentored by poets Alvin Pang and Aaron Maniam. They played a huge part in shaping him, not just in his writing, but also in teaching him important values like humility and sensitivity. In fact, when his first collection was published, he was dubbed the “younger Aaron Maniam”.

At just 24, Theophilus has already been shortlisted twice for the prestigious Singapore Literature Prize, most recently for Giving Ground.


Arts in a Family of Doctors

Both of Theophilus’ parents are medical practitioners – his mother is a palliative care doctor and his father is a psychiatrist. Though they are trained in the sciences, Theophilus’ artistic abilities were no doubt inherited from his multi-talented parents. His mother paints, plays the piano, and enjoys baking, while his father does calligraphy and wrote when he was younger.

Growing up in a family of doctors, becoming an author was not part of the initial plan. His parents were hoping for him to pursue a career in medicine too. Although that did not materialise, Theophilus explains that his parents recognise there are different ways that one can give back to the community, and they are happy as long as he is doing something that can help others.

His parents have had much influence on the person that he is today. Although they are doctors, they are both keenly involved in the human stories behind their jobs. For them, it’s never just going in to “cut up that person” or “fix that bone,” says Theophilus. People are always the priority for his parents and that’s his priority now too.


Giving Voice to the Unheard

Grateful for all the opportunities and kindness that have come his way from the arts industry, Theophilus hopes to be able to pay it forward and continue writing for the causes he believes in. He cares deeply for issues concerning human rights, migrant crises and social justice. 

Theophilus counts himself lucky to have had the privilege of being part of the writing community in the UK for the four years he was studying in Oxford University. He served as the editor of two different journals – Oxford Poetry and The Kindling. He seized the opportunity to spotlight the works of the underprivileged and the non-white writers that normally would not get an airing.

“A big part of writing for me is about building community,” he stresses, “supporting voices that wouldn’t usually get heard”.

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31 Dec 2018 [Articles]

By Hidayah Iskandar

Diploma in Creative Writing for TV and New Media

Singapore Polytechnic

Tan Hwee Hwee’s novels have brought her accolades but fiction writing is on hold for now because she says the process make her feel so lonely. (Photo credit: Hidayah Iskandar)


Novelist, journalist, editor, copywriter. As someone who describes herself as a “voice-driven” writer, 44-year-old Tan Hwee Hwee has honed her craft through several genres. But finding her true voice has not been an easy path for Tan. 

She released her first book at the tender age of 22. What started off as a compilation of short stories manifested itself into her debut novel. Foreign Bodies received glowing reviews. Her second book was published four years later to similar success. Mammon Inc won her the prestigious Singapore Literature Prize in 2004. Just a year before that, she’d been a recipient of the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award.

Despite being feted by the local literary scene, Tan’s take on Singapore authors hasn’t always been positive. In 2001, she made a comment about how “pathetic” local writers were. Tan was disappointed how some who had not published anything in ten years still considered themselves writers. Today though Tan’s views have become mellower. 

“Over the past years, there have been a lot of Singaporean writers who have published overseas,” she says.

Tan says she now tries to provide a support system for fellow Singapore authors. She gives the example of connecting Lau Siew Mei, who she describes as one of the best writers she has ever known, with Epigram to publish her second novel.


Finding Her Place

Tan’s own growth as a writer was shaped abroad. From Australia to England to the United States, she took the experiences she gathered travelling and living in one continent to another and told the stories of the places and people she met in her books.

The diverse spread of people and culture in New York, in particular, brought a sense of identity and acceptance for Tan and she finally felt like she fit in. She says she had grown up a misfit in Singapore. She couldn’t conform to the formalities here and she was always judged by her peers for it. Singapore, Tan says, “lacked inspiration” and she knew surviving as a writer here would not have been sustainable at that time. However she did eventually move back to Singapore and began her venture into the publication scene.

Although Tan’s works in fiction have brought her accolades, that genre of writing is on halt for now.

“I was feeling very miserable because I was so lonely all the time,” she says. But there’s still another book lurking within her.

“I still dream of writing a novel,” she says, “But I think I’ll probably do a memoir first, then a novel.”

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