The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Rosemarie Somaiah
By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé
I started writing because someone was willing to pay me to do so. Otherwise I doubt I would’ve had the courage. Most of my first published works were commissioned and some of it ended up in performance. I still get paid, or invited, to write, and I use every such opportunity to say what I really need to say; to share a little of what’s banging and knocking around inside of me – all these questions that won’t go away. It’s still very, very scary, every single time.
Tell us about your most recent book or writing project. What were you trying to say or achieve with it?
I usually have a few things going on at a time, because letting it sit at the back of my head is part of my writing process. Right now there are three active projects: I am working on ‘The Never Mind Girl 2’ because there are still many questions that I need to ask there. Then, there is a children’s picture book that is somewhat dark but important, because it is very real. I’m hoping that the right illustrator will turn up. I am also very excited to be working with several people, including a very talented young musician, on a performance piece of poetry. It astonishes and delights me when I retell other people’s stories on their behalf and they seem happy with it and feel it represents them accurately. Especially as I reshape and tell it from my perspective.
Describe your writing aesthetic.
Quiet. As simple as possible, but layered.
Who are your favorite authors?
As a child in India I read for the pure joy of reading, anything I could lay my hands on, seduced by the story and rarely noticing the authors, so I’m probably missing several names. But over the years those I remember include P G Wodehouse, Guy de Maupassant, O Henry, Dickens, Hardy, Shakespeare, R K Narayan, Roald Dahl, J D Salinger, Hemingway and Steinbeck. Those who came later were Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry, Amitav Ghosh, Arundathi Roy, Neil Gaiman, Alice Munro, Marina Lewycka, Ann Patchett, John Grisham and more. Each of them gave me something special.
Over the years, trying to come to grips with Singapore, I have looked to Catherine Lim, Sylvia Toh Paik Choo, Gopal Bharatham, Philip Jeyaretnam, Robert Yeo and more recently, Suchen Christine Lim, Alfian Sa’at, Ng Yi-Sheng, Jeffrey Lim, Jeremy Tiang, Felix Cheong, O Thiam Chin, Dave Chua, Stephanie Ye, Amanda Lee, Meira Chand, Tan Twan Eng, Ovidia Yu, Verena Tay, Kanagalatha. I could go on… If I were to list dramatists, poets and children’s authors, the list would never end…
I don’t find fault with authors, I read them to find some clues, some answers, to the same questions that I have, that will not be still. Each of them is another traveller on the journey. Each of them provides one more shade of meaning, another perspective to help me along and so I am grateful to them.
What’s the most challenging piece of writing you’ve attempted? Tell us why.
Writing for SingPoWriMo 2015. It was exciting to be connected, particularly as I usually write on my own, but it was very challenging, due to the pressures of daily life. Definitions morph, so it was great fun learning about the different forms and trying to make sense of some of the contributions. But it was tough keeping up and churning it out. I gave up trying to write because I preferred to read…
What’s your idea of bliss?
Quiet time with my family… to read, think, do, be.
What makes you angry, and I mean all-out-smash-the-china raving mad?
Unbridled arrogance and picking on the defenceless.
What book/s would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?
An armful of award-winning and popular children’s authors, a bunch of popular fiction for adults, new Singaporean works, some old classics, stuff that I haven’t read from some of my favourite authors and a laptop. There is an explosion of new writing online…
Your house is burning down. What’s the most important thing you’d want to take with you?
Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.
Be kind. Remember to be happy.
Rosemarie Somaiah runs Asian Storytelling Network, working with story in all its forms. She has led The Storytellers’ Circle of The Society for Reading and Literacy (SRL) for more than ten years, is a member of the Singapore Drama Educators Association (SDEA) and a founding member of the Storytelling Association (Singapore). She has been a National Arts Council (NAC) Writer-in-Residence at a childcare centre and a secondary school.