We hope that you and your loved ones have been keeping well in body and mind.
As we settle into Phase 2 of the circuit breaker and figure out the path forward, we would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support during the past few months. If you have been attending our online programmes, or keeping in touch with us through social media, we sincerely thank you for reaching out and enriching the literary community along the way.
This has been an enormously challenging year, when our work and daily lives have been upended by the pandemic. Yet it was also a time when the power of books and literature shone through, and the literary community around the world rallied together to support one another.
A message by SBC Chairperson, Ms Claire Chiang.
A group of 45 children’s authors and illustrators in Singapore, for instance, came together to work on A Book of Hugs: Stories to Keep You Company, which will raise money for two children’s charities in Singapore. Furthermore, local bookstores and publishers, as well as the National Library, have boosted their online offering of book titles so that readers can still easily order or download books to read in the comfort of their homes. We were also treated to 30 Days of Art in The Straits Times, a series of 30 works by local writers and artists who served to inspire and uplift readers during this pandemic.
Commitment to the community
It is times like these that we are reminded of the human spirit and resilience, and how important it is to come together as a community. We at the Singapore Book Council have also reflected deeply on our mission, and how as an independent charity we can remain grounded and stay true to our purpose. For over 50 years, we have not wavered from our mission of developing Singapore literature that is diverse and multicultural.
Amid all the disruption, isolation and anxiety, we believe that the written word is more essential than ever. When sharing our ideas, stories, and poetry, not only do the different literary voices nourish us, they also challenge us to think critically, inspire us to take a flight of imagination and connect us through a thread of empathy.
Over the past few months, we have quickly adapted and continued many of our programmes to support the literary community by hosting them online. These include the free webinar Digital Storytelling Tools, where teachers and parents learnt about various web-based tools to help students tell stories in creative ways. In addition, more than 100 children took part in a series of online workshops, where they picked up the craft of illustration, drawing their own comic characters and writing poetry. To support local bookstores and publishers, we also launched the Gift SingLit campaign in May to encourage the public to buy SingLit titles with a special promo code. Nearly 600 books were bought during the campaign.
Even though our programmes, donations and funding have been adversely impacted by the pandemic, we remain resolute in our mission to support the community. We decided to forge ahead with our key programme the Singapore Literature Prize (SLP) this year, as we feel it is vital to recognise and celebrate the voices of our writers, as well as their contributions and achievements.
However, in the face of the ongoing pandemic and tough economic climate, we had to make two significant changes in order for SLP to go ahead. First, we are moving the awards ceremony online, making it our first virtual ceremony. It will be streamed on our Facebook and YouTube pages on 27 August 2020, Thursday at 8pm. The greater adjustment is to the awards themselves, which affects all 12 categories. The prize money for SLP 2020 will be reduced from $10,000 to $3,000 for the top prize winner in all the categories. It was a difficult decision to make, but we felt that reducing the size of the awards was a necessary step to take instead of cancelling the event this year.
Despite these changes, the value and standing of the Singapore Literature Prize is in no way diminished. We continue to be dedicated to showcasing and elevating the works of Singapore’s writers, who have gifted us with their talents and words, and deserve our recognition on a national level.
The SLP 2020 shortlist will be announced this coming week, and we invite you this August to join us at the SLP Awards Ceremony to celebrate the best of Singapore literature.
Times of crisis define who we are. We can choose to retreat in defeat, or to persevere and emerge from it stronger. My team and I at SBC are determined to use this period as an inflection point to chart a new path forward and empower the literary community for now and the future. We invite you to join us on this journey and support our efforts. I would also love to hear from you on how SBC can better support the community.
We wish you good health and happy reading, and we look forward to seeing you virtually at the SLP 2020 Awards Ceremony in August.
Diploma in Creative Writing for Television & New Media
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.
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.”
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”.