Notes from the SWF 2012

The Singapore Writers Festival is one of those things that I’ve wanted to go to for years but always managed to find a convenient excuse not to. I’ve got no company. It’s too ‘arty’. It’s too expensive. I don’t know half the writers, I have things to mark, etc.

This year, however, I had a mission — to support local teacher-writers. So I bought the Festival Pass at Sistic for $15, marked out the events featuring teacher-writers in the programme booklet, and picked out a few more that jumped out at me. Here are some notes of the sessions I attended this year, in case anyone wants to know what goes on in the SWF. (The photos are up on the ELIS Facebook page, at

3 Nov (Sat) 2.30 -3.30

Panel: The City as a Character

Featuring: Dave Chua, Eric Tinsay Valles, Jeet Thayil

Venue: The Salon, National Museum of Singapore (Capacity: 100)

Moderator: Aaron Lee

As this was my first SWF session ever, what struck me was how packed the Salon at the National Museum was, as well as the age groups that were represented. As the hour went on, the panel discussed metaphors of the city as a place of grime and suffering, as a place that was designed to crush the human spirit, but yet as a place of inspiration and stories. In my mind, I thought of Will Eisner’s ‘Big City Notebook’ and Dickens’s ‘Great Expectations’ . On the panel were Dave Chua, author of ‘Gone Case’, Jeet Thayil, author of the Booker Prize longlisted book ‘Nacropolis’ and teacher-writer Eric Tinsay Valles, whose poetry book, ‘A City in Transit’, I bought the next day.

03 Nov (Sat) 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Sing a Song for Singapore: Writing National Day Songs

Featuring: Haresh Sharma, Jimmy Ye, Shabir Tabare Alam

Venue: Exhibition Gallery 2, Basement, National Museum of Singapore (Capacity: 100)

Moderator: Paul Tan

The next session I went for was on Singapore’s annual National Day songs. The panel consisted of songwriters of past National Day songs and I was curious to hear what they would say. As a primary school teacher, I can safely say I know all the National Day songs over the last decade or so, mainly because I had to teach them to my students, which meant that I had to learn them from Youtube or from the television as soon as they were released and deconstruct the lyrics for seven to twelve year olds thereafter. The panel talked about the process through which a National Day song is written and selected and also about the correlation between the songs and the videos. I wondered if they would be surprised to hear how primary school teachers did close readings of their lyrics. ( Analysing the lyrics for the 2009 Electrico song ‘What do you see?’ with 10 year olds was fun).

03 Nov (Sat) 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm

Diaspora and Dislocation

Featuring: Krys Lee, Mohezin Tejani, Monique Truong

Venue: Exhibition Gallery 2, Basement, National Museum of Singapore (Capacity: 100)

Moderator: Sim Wai Chew

I wanted to go for the next session largely because the moderator was my ex-NIE Literature tutor, and also because I enjoy reading diaspora- and displacement-themed novels. The panel was an interesting mix of a Korean-American who now lives in Korea, a Vietnamese-American who grew up in the American South, and a self-proclaimed ‘global refugee’ who was born in Uganda but who now resides in Thailand. The idea of being boxed in by one’s race/culture/gender’ was one that was discussed, along with issues of identity that come with looking like you should belong in one culture, but feeling like you belong in another.

04 Nov 2012 (Sun) 2:30 pm – 3:30 pm

The Price to Pay

Featuring: Ching Cheong, Tan Tarn How

Venue: Exhibition Gallery 2, Basement, National Museum of Singapore (Capacity: 100)

Moderator: Eleanor Wong

It was moving that all the Singaporean panelists who had sessions in Exhibition Gallery 2 made respectful references to Kuo Pao Kun, as there was an exhibition on his life and work in the same room. This session, in particular, was especially poignant, being on sacrifices that a writer sometimes needs to make. For Ching Cheong, references were made to the time he spent in prison from 2005 to 2008 as a result of articles he had written.

After that session, it was pouring so I sought refuge in the SWF pavillion, browsing books by local authors and listening to book readings with other people in similar stranded circumstances. I ended up buying Ann’s book ‘Bang my Car’ and Eric’s book ‘A World in Transit’.

05 Nov 2012 (Mon) 8:30 pm – 9:30 pm

Bang My Car by Ann Ang | Spectre: Stories from Dark to Light by Verena Tay

Venue: Festival Pavillion, Campus Green, Singapore Management University

On Monday, I went for my first ever book launch, half-expecting to see ribbon-cutting and champagne toasting, and maybe a grand speech ending with ‘I hereby delare this book…LAUNCHED!’ But it turned out to be a dignified, cosy affair, consisting of readings by both authors and a Q & A segment. It was a classy way to start the week.

10 Nov 2012 (Sat) 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm

Class Acts – Creative Voices from our Teachers

Venue: Switch (NTUC Trade Union House)

Despite wanting to go for other SWF events, the teacher-writer event at Switch turned out to be the last SWF event I went for this year. I’m still constantly amazed by the number of teachers who write, even though I probably shouldn’t be. It turned out to be a lovely Saturday evening listening to readings and just enjoying the beauty of the spoken word.

My first SWF experience turned out to be like a prolonged Lit class (yay!). I made new friends, got acquainted with new authors as well as rediscovered old ones. (Sidenote: I was thrilled to see Adrian Tan’s ‘The Teenage Textbook’ and Catherine Lim’s ‘Little Ironies of Singapore’ on the shelves! Memories! Also Troy Chin’s ‘The Resident Tourist’ series!)

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