The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Joshua Ip

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

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

For the money. And the screaming crowds packing stadiums. And the free canapes. And the virgin sacrifices. But mainly it’s the money.

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

My latest writing project (and late is appropriate, given that it’s been treading water for nearly two years now) is a graphic novel titled Ten Stories Below. It’s about a post-apocalyptic Singapore, after a giant flood drowns 99% of the population and submerges everything below the ten-storey mark underneath the waves. Ordinary people in extraordinary situations – that’s what most drama is about, isn’t it? So I guess I’m just trying to examine the Singaporean condition through a different lens. A big, drippy, sloshy, water-logged lens.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

I like things that make me laugh. Laughter in tears and laughter to the point of tears are two extremely tough acts to pull off. I like both of ‘em. I also love a good bit of satire. Laughter at funny things, sure, most people can do that. Laughter at serious things takes a critical eye and a hefty pair of balls.

Who are your favorite authors?

Cope, Larkin, Li Bai, for the poets. Orwell, Bacigalupi, Stephenson, Palahniuk in prose. Recently revisiting the entire oeuvre of Pratchett in memoriam.

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

I guess it has to be something that I haven’t finished, wouldn’t it? If I’ve finished it, it couldn’t have been all that challenging. The graphic novel comes to mind— but I’m going to go with the novel I’ve started and tossed and plotted out and balled up a dozen times – a satirical/allegorical take on meritocracy, set in an island nation where physical beauty is the test mechanism for deciding success in life. A beautocracy, as it were.

Prose is just really, really hard to write, when you write it at the speed of poetry. I find it very hard to let go of my control of the language and just bash out sentences – I always find myself lingering over the choice of a single word for minutes on end. I don’t think you can really apply the same amount of attention to detail that you would have in poetry to long-form prose, and remain sane, and/or employed.

Satire is also difficult to sustain for long-form pieces. If you keep your tongue in your cheek too long you end up biting it off at some point.

What’s your idea of bliss?

Simultaneous foot massage + sashimi buffet + movie marathon. Perhaps with a whiskey drip.

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

We Are Against Pinkdot in Singapore? No, that just makes me amused. Most things that would conceivably make me angry by virtue of being contradictory to my values or plain stupid end up just making me laugh after a bit.

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

The Bible’s probably a bit of a copout, as is the Complete Shakespeare. You’d have to go with length, wouldn’t you? I guess I could spring for the Baroque Trilogy by Neal Stephenson? It’s like a university education in a few thousand pages.

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

Our cat, Calibri. (We aspire to adopt another black kitten, and name her Arial).

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

To God Be The Glory And The Best Is Yet To Be

(^contractually obliged)