“It’s like having a girlfriend,” Suchen Christine Lim explained. “You want to spend all your time with her. If writing is your girlfriend, you don’t go shopping – you spend time with her.”
Suchen is one of Singapore’s most distinguished writers. Having read literature at the National University of Singapore, she has gone on to write five novels and 11 children’s books. Over the years, she clinched the inaugural Singapore Literature Prize in 1992 for her third novel, Fistful Of Colours (1992), and was nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2004 for her fourth novel, A Bit Of Earth (2000).
Having won the Southeast Asia (SEA) Write Award recently, Suchen is known for her sustained passion and commitment to writing. Her writings are recognised in the region and even adopted as study material in universities (on Kindles!) in Thailand, Canada and the United States.
“You can’t have a love affair with a Kindle!”
An avid reader herself, Suchen cannot deny her love for books. She likes the touch and smell of books, and even the dust. A book is to her “a work of art – holding a book and the beautiful cover.”
Needless to say, Suchen prefers physical copies: “I would value a book, even when the book is tattered and torn, because it contains the history of reading – my love affair with the book.”
“It is an individual solitary pursuit most of the time, and after that you meet with other like-minded people, you talk about it because you love it.”
As the literary scene grows in Singapore, reading is catching on as more of a casual hobby amongst Singaporeans. Compared to when public readings took place only in university settings, the literary scene is now becoming more “vibrant”. People are having readings in community centres, libraries and in little groups.
Suchen recounts a time where she was invited by a private women reading group for dinner: “They are women doing business, but they want to read, and they've heard of me. They invited me for dinner, it's in someone's house. I read to them, we talk about books and literature and reading. Isn’t it wonderful? Nobody knows about such things - that there are all these private little groups.”
“Singapore literature is a young, sassy woman who is being ignored by the ignorant Singapore male.”
At the same time, Suchen is disappointed that Singaporeans may not appreciate our own literature as much as other countries do.
“When I go overseas, I realise that people are quietly reading our works. Maybe we haven't reached the mass market like being published by big publishing companies in the west, but in terms of writing circles and universities, we are being studied. Our literature is being studied. It has spurred interest not only in Southeast Asian region, but also in other parts of the world,” Suchen explained.
“If you stand far away, you can see more clearly the mountains in the distance. If you are too close to the mountain, you only see the trees and not the whole mountain.”
Suchen’s been abroad a lot.. Born in Malaysia, moving to Singapore and thereafter working in the US, Australia, the UK and the Philippines, her rich life experiences having been in different environments have surely impacted the way she writes and what she writes about..
“If I'm writing overseas, I can see Singapore far more clearly than when I'm writing in Singapore,” Suchen admitted. “When you're in the country, you have a love-hate relationship with the country. When you're away in a foreign country, you think about your homeland in a slightly different light. And it is good to have various perspectives. We look at our own home from different angles with different coloured spectacles and we see different things, and I think all writers – all artists – have, what I call, a multi-focal view.”
Suchen’s very own multi-focal view will definitely be the lens that guides her writing. As she said: “The most important thing (as a writer) is to sit down and write and finish the story.” It won’t be an easy journey, but at least we know she won’t be shopping!
By Cai Deshun