By Tan Shi Qin
Diploma in Creative Writing for Television and New Media
Award-winning author, Suchen Christine Lim. (Photo Credit: Kelly Hui Wen Ting)
Award-winning author Suchen Christine Lim believes that the key to encouraging Singaporeans to pick up a Singapore novel lies in giving them the opportunity to listen to the author’s reading of her work.
“It is a matter of discovery and listening to the voice reading the work to you,” Suchen declares.
She recounts reading an excerpt from her book, The Lies that Build a Marriage, in a secondary school. To her shock, the students revealed it was the first time someone had read to them. After her session, many students expressed interest in her books and even started buying them.
Though Singapore literature may not be everyone’s cup of tea, Suchen believes that book readings help expose people to different kinds of writing, and grow an authentic readership slowly.
Paving the path
But if you think Singaporeans today don’t read, Suchen recalls it being worse 25 years ago when local authors were less recognised. Then in 1992 the Singapore Literature Prize was created, and
Suchen’s novel, Fistful of Colours, became its inaugural winner.
She describes it as a “wonderful honour,” saying it was the first time a book of fiction was recognised here with a big prize.
“I think it made everybody sit up and really look at Singapore writing.”
She does readings of the novel at festivals and new readers from abroad tell her how relevant it is even today.
At 70, Suchen’s writing journey continues. Although she is more well-known for her novels, she has also written many children’s stories which have been adopted into the primary schools’ reading programme.
She believes there are many roles for writers.
“The act of writing is as important as building a tower of glass and steel along Shenton Way. Towers of glass and steel remain towers of glass and steel until the poet sings of their beauty and the novelist writes their tale of vaulting ambition. The role of the writer is to dig out the emotional truth in human endeavours and encounters.”
She says writers do not start writing by thinking about the message they wish to convey. Instead, “the artist goes to the edge” and creates imaginary worlds for readers to live through vicariously.
She finds love interesting to write about as it is a universal feeling. This is evident in The River’s Song, where she weaves a love story into the history of the Singapore River and the people who were evicted from its banks during the great clean-up of the river.
However, she has also explored other genres. Her first detective story Mei Kwei, I Love You was published in 2014. The story was final-listed in the short fiction category of The Private Eye Writers of America SHAMUS Award 2015 the following year, which recognises the best in the detective fiction genre.
Like all her other stories, it was set in Singapore. Suchen believes more voices are needed to tell even more stories about the country.
“If our writers do not write about ourselves, about where we are and who we are and hold up a mirror to our society, who will do it?”