Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

Writing Tough—Staying Honest:
Challenges for a Writer in Singapore

Kirpal Singh

Writing is never easy. I mean real, good, honest writing. Writing that lives. Writing that gives a new dimension to the way we breathe, look, see, view the world. And ourselves. Through the ages men and women have written about their agonies in wanting to write the great poem, story, book, play, and all of these provide valuable lessons for the new seeker of these elusive glories. What follows is a personal narrative, a narrative that many of my fellow Singaporeans will not tend to agree with, but a narrative worth recording, if only because it illuminates, I think, one fundamental dimension of the Singaporean literary experience.

Singapore is a tiny island nation, so tiny that on most world maps it tends not to be too visible. Once, in an angry response, a former president of Indonesia (a republic of over 7,000 islands with more than 360 million people!) referred to Singapore as “that irritating red dot!” So, what does living in a dotlike environment portend for writers? Well, I am not sure what it portends for other writers (and there are at least four major recognized languages in which Singaporean writers write!—English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil), but for me—lots.

Living in a small place, I am told, often breeds small minds. This is where even gossip kills. A small place invites us to be petty, suspicious, narrowminded, closed, arrogant, and smug. Most of these apply to us, I think. Of course we would be the first to protest if these epithets were publicly stated, as we did when the Malaysian—our northern neighbor's—ambassador to Singapore criticized us for being an arrogant people … perhaps his diplomatic

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