Elaine Chiew is a writer and a visual arts researcher, editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015) and her short story collection The Heartsick Diaspora is forthcoming from Penguin Random House SEA (Oct 2019) and Myriad Editions UK (Jan 2020). Twice winner of the Bridport Short Story Competition, she has published numerous stories in anthologies in the UK, US and Singapore. Originally from Malaysia, Chiew graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a corporate securities lawyer in New York and Hong Kong before studying for an MA in Asian Art History at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, a degree conferred by Goldsmiths, University of London. Elaine lives in Singapore and blogs about art at www.invisibleflaneuse.blogspot.com. In this interview, she reveals more about her new book and her ideas.
Why do you write?
Very simply, I can’t not write, call it word-constipation or what Danish short story writer Naja Marie Aidt calls ‘an urge that cannot be overlooked’ or a ‘point of desire’. A character or voice arrives out of the blue, takes hold of you as in a waking dream, make me real, it says, and you do.
“When it is dark enough,” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “you can see the stars.” This Saturday, the Omni-Theatre at Science Centre Singapore will dim its lights for Singapore’s literary luminaries. A project initiated by the Singapore Writers Festival and Science Centre Singapore, Poets Among The Stars promises a feature-length show that brings together the wonders of science and art, as contemporary verse lights up the Omni-Theatre’s massive IMAX dome, the only of its kind in the country. The event is free, with limited seating. For registration, please visit: http://swfpop11.peatix.com/?lang=en-sg.
About this unique collaboration, Yeow Kai Chai, director of the Singapore Writers Festival, has this to say: “Poets have always been inspired by astronomy and the solar system, ranging from William Blake to the Metaphysical Poets, and so, we thought, why not work with Science Centre Singapore to get writers to wax lyrical about the galaxy in the awe-inspiring Omni-Theatre? For the longest time, our society tends to compartmentalise people into either of two camps – science-oriented or arts-inclined. Instead, we believe that there’s much we can learn and appreciate as we reach across the aisles. We have been blown away by the unique, eclectic approaches by the writers as they reach inwards, and outwards towards the universe. We are thankful to our friends at Science Centre Singapore who have taken on the project whole-heartedly, and shown everyone, regardless of their discipline, how alike we are as we marry words and astronomy in our pursuit of truth and knowledge.”
Eight accomplished writers in Singapore were commissioned to pen pieces for the show. The writers include Ann Ang, Chairul Fahmy Hussaini, Christine Chia, Deborah Emmanuel, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, Jon Gresham, Loh Guan Liang and Teng Qian Xi. Managed by Caroline Wan and Muhamed Leoaidil from the National Arts Council, the show has been no easy feat to put together, as Yong Jian-Yi from The Science Centre explains:
It’s another double draw in what has been a charmed year for Singapore author Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé, who has just bagged two accolades at this year’s Living Now Book Awards. Desmond’s hybrid collection, Babel Via Negativa, was awarded Bronze under the Metaphysical category, while his novel, Singular Acts of Endearment, clinched Silver under the category of Inspirational Fiction.
Based in Michigan, the Living Now Book Awards remain unique in recognizing the year’s most laudable lifestyle books. The Living Now Book Awards only consider books written in English, and books specifically intended for a North American readership. “We all seek healthier, more fulfilling, and productive lives, and books are an important tool for gaining knowledge about how to achieve these goals for ourselves and our loved ones,” the Awards site states, in defining its vision and parameters. “The purpose of the Living Now Book Awards is to celebrate the innovation and creativity of newly published books that can help us improve the quality of our lives, from cooking and entertaining to fitness and travel…. Lifestyle publishing categories such as home, health and self-improvement are the fastest-growing segments of book publishing today, and the Living Now Book Awards will help demonstrate the importance of these books to readers and their vitality in the marketplace.”
It’s unprecedented. The first Singapore writer to bag this gold, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé is also the first-ever author to place in a winning tie for Poetry at the National Indie Excellence Book Awards (NIEA). That there has never been a tie for the Poetry category in NIEA’s ten years of running makes for an interesting turn, but more compelling is how the tie names as its the citation two of Desmond’s poetry collections: I Didn’t Know Mani Was A Conceptualist (Math Paper Press) and Sanctus Sanctus Dirgha Sanctus (Red Wheelbarrow Books).
Based in Los Angeles, The National Indie Excellence Awards has been a strong advocate for independent publishing, a large sector of the publishing world, with most literary presses falling under its umbrella. The prestigious NIEA is open to all English language books in print. Entries come from small, medium, university, self and independent publishers. The judging panel comprises independent experts from all aspects of the indie book industry, including publishers, writers, editors, book designers and professional copywriters.
Fresh from his double win at this year’s Beverly Hills International Book Awards, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé has been named a silver medalist at The 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY). This win, in the Multicultural Fiction category, is for his novel, Singular Acts of Endearment (Squircle Line Press & Grey Sparrow Press), which was launched at last year’s Singapore Writers Festival. Monona Wali’s My Blue Skin Lover (Blue Jay Ink) takes the gold, while Chantel Acevedo’s A Falling Star (Carolina Wren Press) walks away with the bronze.
Singular Acts of Endearment is an enticing book, full of humour and fascinating trivia as well as profound and thought-provoking ideas. A multi-layered book that will stay with the reader long after the final page, says Mandy Pannett in this review.
‘Life is a series of happenings’ says Jasmine whose journal entries and notes provide the story lines for this novel. She repeats this statement several times until the very end (more on this later) and it provides a perfect basis for the anecdotal style of writing which Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé uses with such apparent ease together with a lightness of touch juxtaposed with moments that are both poignant and profound.
The actual narrative is incidental to a wider range of themes and topics. Jaz, together with some friends and family members, takes it on herself to care for Ah Gong who is dying of cancer and whose only consolation seems to lie in visiting gardens and devising plans for making a small one of his own. Against this backcloth of dying and death the author touches on ideas about friendships, relationships, the passing of adolescence, the significance or otherwise of memory and the past, the whole point of life with its series of happenings and the attempt to make sense of fragments.
In this beautifully produced collection of prose poems and vignettes, Desmond Kon amazes and enchants the reader with his usual dexterity of thought and language. Here, in extraordinary, surreal settings, we find ourselves having a ‘dialogue with the juniper shrub’ while a dugong is ‘mistaken for a mermaid in the fog’ and a straight line on a white wall turns out to be de Chirico ‘hiding in his own silhouette.’ This is a lyrical, bitter-sweet realm as well, slight as ‘a spray of allegory in the dried out tobacco leaves’, a place where ‘even the small teacups have lost their chestnut and clover-tree cities to become one unremitting saffron’.
There is a great deal of subtle humour in these pieces where ‘no one is levitating… although they all want to.’ The reader may be baffled by koans and questions and questions behind questions but so too is the archivist, a persona in the first section, who simply nods and keeps quiet in the face of complexities, knowing that ‘keeping silence to such answers connotes understanding or at least acknowledgement or, quietly, simply lack thereof.’ This is the same bewildered archivist who sucks on a lollipop ‘waiting for the treacle to dissolve into bubblegum he can later stick onto the back of a park bench.’
In a keenly fought contest, Singapore beat Pakistan in an unbelievably amazing match.
Singapore took home the world cup with 1295 votes, against Pakistan’s 1270–a victory margin of 25 votes. Singapore’s poet-delegate Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé had a face off against Pakistan’s Mehvash Amin.
What seemed unlikely has actually happened. Singapore has made it to the Finals of the World Cup. In poetry, that is. It’s the closest thing to this small country ever bagging the real thing.
Singapore has certainly been on the roll. Jacob Silkstone reported that Singapore “recorded the biggest win of round one and received the most votes in round two”, followed by “top form… recording a comfortable win over Trinidad & Tobago to set up a semi-final with Tunisia.” The semi-final match against Tunisia garnered even more votes for Singapore, “the highest-scoring game of the tournament so far”.
That’s until Saturday afternoon when Pakistan knocked out Laos, with close to 400 votes. That sort of figure from the host country will be tough to beat for Singapore, the Little Red Dot that approaches this game with back-slapping fun and laid-back candour.
Of who should win the World Cup, Singapore’s poet-delegate Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé was quoted as saying: “We’re all winners in this game. All of us who participated and joined in the fun. It’s a game of appreciation. Of appreciating one another’s wordsmithery, and each of our poems. These poems are no less than gifts to the reader.”