The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jollin Tan

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Let’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

Jollin Tan PixWith my first book, I wrote to share things with people. I felt that I couldn’t be the only one who felt things too intensely and thought about certain things the way I did, and I wanted to share that – to sort of reach out, in a way, and say hey, look, you’re not alone, someone else feels this too. And I suppose to me writing is always a sort of bravery – when I write I always feel braver coming out of the situation, because putting something down in words always feels like confronting it. Mostly now it’s because I have things that need to be said, not because I think the world needs to hear them but because after I say them I feel more at peace? If that makes sense. This is all sounding very hippie-chick hahaha but I really do think that some things will haunt you until you write them/render them in some sort of form important to you, and then there are other things that will stay with you after, but everything is quieter after I write. So a very nice sum-up, I suppose, would be that I write for peace.

Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?

Ah – lately I’ve been into short stories and prose. I’ve always said that I can’t write prose but I really wanted to try it and over the past half-year, it just seemed to come more easily to me than poetry has. I’m trying to write about various sorts of disappearances, and this came out of me writing a short story about a disappearing uncle for Balik Kampung. I got interested in the notion of narrative and how there are so many different ways to structure it, like you don’t always have to follow the path of rising action then climax then resolution… there’s a lot more to a short story. You tell people about things, and sometimes you leave them unresolved, and I suppose for me, I’m finding ways to disguise my stories as fiction as well. It’s a good way to get distance and see things for what they might be if you aren’t you, because when you get into a character’s head and hold different things close to your chest the world suddenly looks a lot different, even the world inside of you – maybe especially that!

Describe your writing aesthetic.

With regard to poetry there’s just a lot of imagery? Oftentimes I take a situation I’m in and I just vomit it onto page however it sounds right in my head, this sounds very vague and even a little clichéd but that’s honestly how I write poetry, then the editing process is just trimming the work down to what it’s saying and needs to say, and the excess can go somewhere else or become a different poem, it’s all quite waffly hahaha. With short stories, I’m tempted to say I take quite a post-modern approach but that sounds so pretentious and also it doesn’t quite fit with what I’m trying to do. All I’m saying is that I write the way things sound in my head, and with short stories sometimes it doesn’t all come out linear and in sequence. More often than not, one memory triggers a thought or another memory that is unrelated, and the only thing on page connecting the two is the way in which I write them down. Afterwards maybe I edit to make the prose flow better or less hard to read, but really in writing short stories what I do is pour out the story the way it is important to me, the way it makes most sense to me. I say I disguise my own stories in fiction, well, when I write them I write them in the order that I feel best represents how I feel about it in that moment.

Who are your favorite authors?

Poets – Anne Sexton, Richard Siken, Jeanann Verlee is fast becoming one of my favourites, and there are so many astoundingly talented poets on tumblr it drives me a little crazy because they’re so human but their words are so not? In a sense? Like I constantly puzzle over how they churn things out. But also locally, Tania De Rozario, Pooja Nansi, Cyril Wong, Alvin Pang, Samuel Lee (yet to be published but amazing)

Authors – Margaret Atwood, definitely, Jeanette Winterson and actually, I’m beginning to like Anne Bronte quite a bit! Mainly because her stories are so dramatic and I can get quite caught up in drama. Also Neil Gaiman – his short stories are the best kind!!!

What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.

This short story I’m writing right now about someone who means a lot to me, because it’s so hard to displace myself in that. I can’t disguise that I’m really writing about me, but also because of that the story keeps writing itself and jumping to different points. Not to say this is a bad thing, but I really can’t get any order to go on in it, and it’s all very messy but I’m trying to structure it. I guess the problem is that it lacks direction and I’m not quite sure at the moment how to give it direction, how to focus it and trim off the excess – because short stories need that too and you can’t just let them run wild or they get quite whiny.

What’s your idea of bliss?

Beach vacation. Just an endless beach scene. As little people as possible. Free flow cocktails.

What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?

This is such a fun question! Entitled proplr, or people feeling entitled to commenting on things – really just any sort of oblivious entitlement. I get so angry when people are blind to the fact that they don’t in fact have a right to comment on something, and they just go on and on and don’t know when to stop. There’s something about that that just makes me angry enough to want to scream. And I’m quiet when I’m angry, so wanting to scream is a lot for me (heh).

What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

Three months?! Ok well I guess I could use one of those, but Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things. It’s pretty short but I’ve read and reread every story in there countless times and haven’t gotten sick of it, there’s just so much in there and I love that book.

Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo… my phone, I think. I need to stay connected to what’s happening. Probably snapchat my house burning down.

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

Be honest about what you do, why you’re doing it, and what you want out of it, and even if not to someone else, be honest to yourself.

Author Biography:

Singapore-based Jollin is a writer who does not yet dare to call herself a poet (even after two books with Math Paper Press: Bursting Seams and Derivative Faith). She always feels weird being called Jollin instead of Jo. She loves cats and singing, and always tries to be honest with herself. Very occasionally, she feels fabulous enough to attempt being a rock star.