The Lounge Chair Interview: 10 Questions with Jon Gresham

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé

Jon Gresham PixLet’s get down to brass tacks. Why do you write?

I find writing quite a painful, difficult experience but then there’s the exhilarating rush when things fall into place and something that never was comes into being.

I enjoy the delusions, and license to tell lies. There is a compulsion and a need to deceive myself in order to find deeper layers of truth. I try to rationalise the accident of being alive and end up questioning every sentence.

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

My debut collection of short stories, We Rose Up Slowly, was published by Math Paper Press in July.

The stories concern issues of escape and belonging in contemporary Singapore, Australia, and Jakarta. As worlds fall apart, each protagonist has to confront the gap between messy reality and romantic idealism. I wanted to explore loneliness, disorientation, the framing of narratives, the mishmash of race and identity, the significance of the past in an uncertain present, and the delusions and distractions that obscure meaning and self-awareness.

Describe your writing aesthetic.

Gustave Flaubert said, “Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”

I have an old kettle that’s not cracked but is very fragile, and can only boil water if you stretch and arrange an elaborate series of rubber bands to hold the switch down. I try to muddle along with layered clarity. Every cup of tea is a fire hazard.

Who are your favorite authors?

JD Salinger. Flannery O’Connor. Alice Munro. Peter Carey. Ian McEwan. Jeanette Winterson. Haruki Murakami. Margaret Atwood. Cyril Wong. John Cheever. William Trevor. Tessa Hadley. Etgar Keret. I could go on and on….

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

The current piece is always the most challenging.

I’m writing a creative nonfiction book about migrant workers in Singapore. I’ve done research by volunteering at HOME (a Singaporean NGO, Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics, that works for the well-being, justice and empowerment of migrant workers and victims of trafficking). I’ve tagged along with case workers and migrant workers to the Ministry of Manpower, HOME Academy, beauty pageants, poetry competitions, the police station, Courts and food courts.

It’s something I’ve never done before and I need to employ fiction techniques to make the text come alive and do justice to the issues and people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

I have created a fictional character called Geoff who loses his job and volunteers with HOME. I’m still not sure whether this works.

What’s your idea of bliss?

Writing a story that seems to write itself, while surprising and exciting me along the way – as I sip a full-bodied South Australian Shiraz, share a packet of Tim Tams with my wife who holds our baby daughter in her arms, with The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady playing in the background.

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

Australia’s continuing mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees: driven by xenophobia, racism, Islamophobia, a lazy, narrow media, a gutless political class, an empathy-and-imagination deficit, and our privilege.

The structural inequalities and abuse of migrant workers in Singapore.

Those of us who live in Omelas, and do nothing.

What books would you take with you on a three-month retreat in the boondocks?

Beauty is a Wound. Franny and Zooey. The Brothers Karamazov.

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

Tough decision. Excluding the people I live with, it would be a choice between:

i) A wooden bust of King Leopold II of Belgium that bears an uncanny resemblance to my father.

ii) A singing cod fish wall plaque that croons ‘I did it my way’.

iii) My camera.

On balance I’d take my camera.

Describe your life philosophy. In a sentence.

I have to quote Morrissey. “There’s a club if you’d like to go, you could meet somebody who really loves you, so you go, and you stand on your own, and you leave on your own, and you go home, and you cry, and you want to die.”

Author Biography

Jon Gresham’s debut collection of short stories, We Rose Up Slowly, was published in 2015 by Math Paper Press. His stories, flash fiction and prose poems have been published in anthologies and journals including A Luxury We Cannot Afford, From The Belly of the Cat, Eastern Heathens, Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore and Coast.

He writes stories, takes photographs and blogs at