Singapore Writers Festival – for the dreamers and the story-tellers

Singapore Writers Festival 2015 – Island of Dreams! It was a pleasant surprise to be invited to this year’s SWF. I’d only ever published one book, so the honour is all mine.

But for an INFJ, the idea of public speaking was enough to send me spiralling into a neurotic worry-fest. What if the audience gets bored, or finds me obnoxious and self-indulgent? What if I fall over my foot (happens quite often) or trip over my words (ditto) or blush so hard I start sweating (you have no idea).

But then I wrote a script, and I rehearsed it in front of a mirror countless times, and I prepared answers to anticipated questions. And then I rehearsed again. I know, I know. A panel is supposed to be spontaneous and fun, and shouldn’t involve scripts or rehearsed speeches. But consider it a crutch. It made me feel better, knowing that I had answers prepared so I wouldn’t flounder for one when the time came.

And instead of obsessing over how I would be perceived, I focused on what I can bring to the panel and share with the audience. Really, if ever there was a tip that might help with giving a speech, this would be it. Focus on your audience and what you can give them. People may not necessarily remember everything you say, but they won’t forget how you make them feel.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

On the day of the panel itself, the two other panellists/writers, Joyce 2 (I’m Joyce 1) and Rachel Hartman, the panel moderator, Denise, and I arranged to have lunch together to get to know each other before the panel.

But since I got there way too early for our meeting (as usual), I got some pictures out of the way.

Programme booklet and my festival pass!
Because it’s not a festival without some music, an outdoor stage was set up just outside The Arts House.

Plus, I bought postcards from the little booths around The Arts House, one of the venues of SWF!

Since, you know, the theme of this year’s festival is “the island of dreams”.

Anyway, Rachel got a little lost and went to the wrong Privé Café, and the three of us assumed she wasn’t turning up because she once mentioned that too much social interaction gave her a sensory overload (introvert problems – we all completely understood).

But she found us in the end, and it was lovely to sit down for lunch with her (she was surprisingly good with curry chicken)! Rachel Hartman, if you’re still unacquainted with her, is the author of the award-winning fantasy novel Seraphina. The book was ranked number 8 on the New York Times bestseller list in its first week of publication AND awarded the 2013 William C. Morris Award for the best young adult work by a debut author. HELLO. NYT bestseller upon debut? WOW. And what are the rest of us doing with our lives.

But she was so sweet and friendly and chatty, and so were Joyce Chng (who also writes about dragons and is a huge sci-fi fan) and Denise that I felt loads calmer.

As 4.30pm inched closer, however, my jitters came back.

The stage is set

Then people started filling in and getting comfortable. The mood was relaxed and the setting cosy

The audience got beanbags to laze in!

Ah yes, the fanfic. Joyce’s 12-year-old daughter, Jaslyn, kind of freaked out when she realised I was the author of Lambs for Dinner. And she started gushing about how her friend loved the book so much she wrote “cringe-worthy fanfic” about it. SQUEEEEE! Cringe-worthy or not (I’m sure Jaslyn has high standards, seeing as her mom is an author – side note: I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like having an author for a parent), imagine having fanfic spawned from something you wrote! How cool is that!

And my primary school classmates and English teacher came!

(Sorry I didn’t manage to get a shot with everyone there! Still, HUUUGE thank you for attending! You don’t know how comforting it was to see familiar faces in the crowd.)

Pre-panel jitters aside, it was a really good experience. Not just public speaking bit, but also meeting young aspiring writers and fans of the books. I met those wide-eyed with hope and passion, those who had scribbled down a list of questions they didn’t get to ask during the panel, those who recounted their attempts at writing a novel before they realised how hard it was or decided they were terrible at it (to which Rachel, Joyce and I say, DO NOT give in to that notion. Everyone starts somewhere. Every writer goes through terrible first drafts before they get somewhere good, or at least somewhere they want to end up. That’s what the rewriting and editing processes are for), and those who were too afraid to pursue their passion in writing and needed a nudge in the right direction.

I really, REALLY enjoyed talking to them. Partly because I see so much of myself in them – they remind me of myself back when I was a 16-year-old aspiring writer too – but also because their passion and enthusiasm are so genuine and yet unsullied by reality and conventional societal expectations.

I can’t stress this enough:

The world needs more artists and dreamers and story-tellers, and it is all the richer with our voices in it. Don’t give up because you think you’re no good at it, or because someone told you it’s a waste of time, or because it doesn’t reap tangible rewards. Write because you love it. Write because there is a story – maybe more – living inside you. Write because you need to be heard. Write because you want to entertain. Write because you want to inspire. Whatever the reason, you write. And you keep writing. And keep reading. You will get better, and someday you will be heard.

Strangely, this whole experience just made me all the more determined to get my next book published.

See you at the next SWF! :0)