manuscript roundup + aesthetics

Ask any writer and she’ll probably tell you that she’s working on several projects at the moment, whether they’re still slow-brewing in the recesses of her mind or already splayed out in their messy 56782th-draft glory.

(Note: We’re not talking about the weirdos who devote themselves to one project at a time.)

The question, then, is which one we should work on. The one that keeps us up all night and creeps into our mind when we drift away, of course. But what if ALL those plot bunnies are simultaneously doing the can-can in your head?

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It’s the classic case of too many stories, too little time. I CAN’T WRITE FAST ENOUGH for all you ideas, so if you could just form an orderly queue that would be really helpful thanks.

Will you, dear readers, help me decide? Drop a comment, send a private note or text if you have strong opinions on which WiP I should focus on now, because they’re all calling out to me in my dreams.

 

NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND

Pitch: With the help of her long-lost childhood friend, Gemma has to piece together her fragmented memories of imaginary adventures in Neverland to find out what happened to her missing parents.

Genre: YA contemporary

Status: Complete (Draft 9), but final edits required (damn typos will one day be the death of me, I swear).

 

BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU

Pitch: In a world where memories can be deleted, stored, and exchanged, Isabel and Lucas visit the memory killer to erase their painful memories, only to find themselves starting to forget everything, including each other.

Genre: YA magical realism

Status: Draft 1, page 217 (abandoned in early 2017 and I’m revisiting it now, but Act 3 does not want to reveal itself to me).

 

LAND OF SAND AND SONG

Pitch: After her chieftain father is ousted by rebel clans over a magical spring, 17-year-old Desert Rose seeks revenge by assassinating the person instigating the rebellion: the corrupt Emperor Zhao, who will stop at nothing to possess the elixir of life from the spring.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Draft 1, page 117 (WHAT FUN. MUCH EXCITES).

 

BLOOD PROMISE

Pitch: After her brother is captured for stealing fruits from the mercenary Traders who serve the fairies, April allies with a long-lost fairy prince and sets out on a rescue mission … only to find herself caught in a brewing fairy civil war where humans and changelings alike serve as pawns in the game.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Draft 6 (abandoned for two and a half years – it’s a hot mess, subplots all over the place, characters popping up in the middle of the story, convoluted story line, etc.).

 

 

LOVE POTIONS AND OTHER MYTHS (WORKING TITLE)

Pitch: The town of Blissville has the highest proportion of happy couples in the country. Dragging along her two best friends, “realist, not a cynic” Ravenclaw-girl Ruby Lou goes to investigate … and traces the source of all that romantic bliss down to a bakery owned by Henry Lee, a diehard romantic Hufflepuff-boy, who might just be Cupid in disguise.

Genre: YA contemporary romance

Status: Brewing, bubbling, simmering

 

A WORLD APART

Pitch: Sylvia is born with a condition that turns her insides to glass. To obtain the cure, she needs to find one of her doppelgangers in a parallel universe. Enter Wes, a runaway prince from another dimension, who is trying to save his war-torn kingdom HAHAHA I CLEARLY HAVEN’T THOUGHT THIS ONE THROUGH.

Genre: YA fantasy

Status: Fetus

 

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On meeting Alwyn Hamilton and resisting the siren song of Shiny New Idea

I know. I KNOW it’s been two whole months since I last blogged, and if you actually visit this blog and aren’t in regular contact with me you might have wondered if I died in a ditch somewhere.

No, I just died in my writing cave.

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Because while I wasn’t blogging, I was busy working on that fantasy novel. Once or twice, I did feel guilty for not updating this blog and toyed with the notion of posting something. But I didn’t really have much to say that wouldn’t bore the lights out of everyone anyway. Plus, I feel even MORE guilty for doing anything other than writing that novel. Like, all this time I spend blogging can actually be spent upping my word count! Do I really need to blog?

But now that I’ve hit word count for the day, yes I can and yes I shall. (Need is a very strong word, after all.)

So updates:

  1. Meeting Alwyn Hamilton!!
    The most squeal-worthy one, of course, is that I got to moderate a session with ALWYN HAMILTON, THE ALWYN HAMILTON. Best-selling author of YA fantasy trilogy Rebel of the Sands, which I’ve gushed and swooned over everywhere!!!

 

Yes, so I got to meet her and pick her brain and she was incredibly sweet and candid as she shared about her writing process and journey to publication and I tried not to wet my pants in excitement.

(If you haven’t read her books yet, DO IT.)

 

 

 

It’s always so inspiring to see other writers living the life I’ve always wanted, and to know that they came from the same place before too (in a job they weren’t entirely committed to because they didn’t see it as their actual career). It makes me that much more determined to get to that place too.

So with that event done and dusted, I promptly went back to work.

 

2. Working on LAND OF SAND AND SONG

I’ll admit. I ALMOST caved in to the YA romance that was calling out to me as I ploughed through LAND.

But then I told myself that if I succumbed to this sexy new project – looking all glorious with its cutesy premise and alluring character arcs – I would be letting LAND down (what, you don’t regard your works-in-progress as actual sentient beings??) and making the mistake that many amateur writers make: write, get stuck, abandon, move to new project, get stuck, abandon… You see where I’m going with this.

And – surprise, surprise – that’s not how writing gets done! The only way to finish a draft is to, well, FINISH THE DAMN DRAFT, no matter how shitty it looks right now.

The current WiP may look like me when I first wake up in the morning with my hair all over my face and my skin blotchy and eyes bleary and basically a giant mess; whereas the Shiny New Idea may look all seductive and make eyes at me from across the room. But I’d be an idiot to follow it out the room when it sidles close to me and asks if I want to go get some air.

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Prince Eric may be hot, but he’s also an idiot easily fooled by an octopus woman. Just saying.

Because guess what? That Shiny New Idea will lose its lustre halfway through LIKE ALL FIRST DRAFTS DO. It will gurgle and splutter and flop like a dying fish on land (WHO’S LOOKING SEXY NOW, HUH?) before you decide to take pity on it and toss it back to the sea.

So no, I’m sticking to the “I woke up like this” WiP, blotchy skin and all. Even if I sometimes feel like stabbing it, even when it blinks innocently back at me when I scream at it to work itself out, even when my brain produces word vomit instead of a stream of lyrical prose like I want it to.

And the good news is, writing has a funny reward system. The more you do it, the less stuck you get. The more word vomit you produce, the more momentum you gain, the less shitty the writing gets.

Oh, the word vomit will still happen from time to time. But eventually, that clears up to become prose that is somewhere between not-too-bad and lyrical. And then, finally, hopefully, one day we might look back on all that drivel we wrote and realise that we’ve actually written our dream book.

 

HANDS UP, those of you who are resisting “the siren call” (as Alwyn put it) of Shiny New Ideas at the moment! How are you staying loyal to your WiP? 

still alive and writing

In case you were wondering, I haven’t been slacking all this time I’ve been MIA. Sure, the day job’s got me like

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And some days like

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But I’ve been slowly but surely pulling myself out of that previous funk, and now every spare minute that I have outside of the day job is spent working on NEVERLAND or plotting LAND or WORLD or writing a new short story. When your time is in short supply, your productivity skyrockets.

Speaking of short stories, the Muses and I may have scaled down on the frequency of our posts (because life) but we have more head-space to work on our stories now.

The most recent one, Love in Free Verse, has just been posted, and I had so much fun with it. I’ve been back in my Eminem phase for the past week because of this clip from The Defiant Ones, a docu-series airing on HBO:

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Eminem’s life story is so inspiring. He not only went through the worst shit getting bullied as a kid (had no idea he had been so badly injured), going through the loss of a loved one, he also faced so many obstacles to make it as a rapper. But he stuck to his guns and persisted, sought opportunities everywhere, pushed for his dream, and was so hungry for it. It makes me ashamed of how I’m just sitting on my ass when he had tried that hard to earn his big break.

And he’s a brilliant lyricist; he’s got the whole rhythm and poetry genre nailed. I’ve been a fan of his since I was 14, when I first heard Mockingbird on the radio and proceeded to buy his album, Curtain Call, and I just can’t rave enough about how wildly talented he is. He can pack so many expressions, metaphors, alliterations, imagery, allegories, allusions and other literary devices into his songs he rarely ever repeats his lines (except for choruses).

Fun fact: did you know that he reads the dictionary so that he has all these words at his disposal when he write his rhymes?

This is how intimate he is with his art, how dedicated he is to his craft.

This is why he can rap freestyle off the top of his head and think up rhymes in seconds and set the world record for the most number of words in a song.

This is why Rolling Stone named him one of the Greatest of All Time, why Sir Elton John himself called him “a true poet of his time”, why even horror writer Stephen King and Barack Obama (as well as celebrities from Justin Timberlake to Rihanna to 50 Cent and Drake) are his fans.

Okay, I’ll stop now. But if you want to hear me rave some more, here’s an article I wrote on Eminem.

So tl;dr, inspired by the Rap God, I tried my hand at writing rap lyrics in this month’s short story. Amateur attempt, so please forgive the clumsy rhythm and perhaps cringe-worthy lyrics.

And in case you want more, here are some other stories I’ve written for the blog:

Worlds Apart

Leaving Neverland

We Were Meant to Save the World

Death Died of a Broken Heart

The Story Thieves

If you can, check out what the other Muses have written too! They continually blow me away with how creative and imaginative they are with their stories, and keep challenging me to bring my A game to the table. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I’m lucky to have found all of them.

If you’d like to share your stories on our blog, please feel free to get in touch with any one of us or drop us a note here! We would love to hear from you.

Till then, muse-chasers. I’ll be working on my dreams because Slim Shady inspired me to. ♥

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Quote: Eminem

enjoying the journey

 

“It’s impossible to put all your energy into something really difficult if everything is riding on the result. The people who are the best at reaching big goals have an obsessive drive toward the goal, but also, they are able to break down the process of meeting the goal into tiny, bite-sized pieces and then take pleasure in completing each part.

When someone is unable to relish the small steps, they just stop, because process starts to seem hopeless if you constantly focus on the end. You have to have a proclivity for hard work (which might be as crucial and inheritable as talent) combined with the ability to take joy in the process itself.”

I came across this article recently, and was struck particularly by the quote above.

It is, in essence, what writers and other creative types have heard often enough. But to glean this advice from a story as poignant and sweet as this helps to drive it home.

a little progress every day

I’ve been told often that this writing journey is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to enjoy the journey itself rather than sweat over how soon we reach our destination – partly because there’s always going to be a new ending point, and partly because focusing on the destination instead of the journey means we are losing sight of what really matters. Not whether we publish our next book or make the New York Times bestsellers list, but why we write and what keeps us going. Whether we enjoy writing our stories, whether we love the process of creating something out of nothing (which is basically what art is), of pulling our random ideas together painstakingly to form a coherent and moving story.

I’ve been so caught up in the fact that I haven’t completed a manuscript, haven’t hit the word count, haven’t had anything that I can pitch to agents, etc, that I’ve stopped making it fun for myself. And how fun any endeavour can be is mostly – if not entirely – within your control.

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Before, I agonised over the numbers, the outcome, instead of the process of creation and storytelling. In chasing the outcome, I’ve forgotten to let myself indulge in the joy of imagination, of pursuing ideas, in wonder and play.

But those are the things that will inspire us to write, not having a deadline constantly breathing down your neck and screaming at you to write, dammit, write! Because you can’t write a good story with that kind of negative pressure and guilt-tripping yourself when you fall off the bandwagon. All you’re going to do is make yourself miserable and crush your self-esteem and question your self-worth and identity as a writer. You’ll end up churning out pointless scenes and useless pages for the sake of hitting word count. You will plod along at a lacklustre pace for the banal sake of progress, when in fact you’re going nowhere at all.

So I tried to shut out all of that – all the doubts and anxiety and self-inflicted pressure – go on a partial technology detox, go stare at the sea for a bit, spend a weekend doing absolutely nothing related to writing or the manuscripts, drove around town with the stereo on full blast, belt along to songs like these:

And it’s not only been completely liberating (everyone should try screaming along to 2000’s pop punk hits on a drive if they get the chance to), it has also cleared so much more head space for thought and imagination. I’m watching dramas and TV series again, reading more extensively (instead of focusing on material that’s related to my works in progress), discovering new songs, and dreaming up new scenes instead of rehashing tired old ones.

In fact, I’ve found a way out of the fix that is NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND. Not entirely, mind you. But I’ve circumvented several roadblocks that have kept me scratching the dirt at the same spot for the longest time. All because I decided to take a step back, take a chill pill, and then come back with a new outline! And since then, I’ve been working through Draft 7 bit by bit every day. But every bit counts, and I know I will arrive at a manuscript I am entirely satisfied with no matter how long it takes.

So deep breaths, baby steps, fellow (figurative) pen-wielders. We will get where we need to be in the time we need to get there. Trust in the journey. Relish it. Your writing will thank you for it.

enjoy the writing

(Also in the vein of self-forgiveness, I’m not going to sweat about the frequency of my posts. There are far more important things to concern myself with, like, you know, the quality of my posts.)

Hope you’re having a Zen hump day!

on writer friends and fun new projects

These two weeks have been a whirlwind ever since I got back from Italy. Work events, mainly, but also application for a writing residency and a SHORT STORY BLOG!!

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Ever since I first discovered Maggie Stiefvater in 2009 (after reading her beautiful, lyrical YA fantasy novel SHIVER), I’ve been a HUGE fan. So imagine how rabid I got when I found out that she had a short story blog that she set up with two other writer friends, Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff!

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Since then, I’ve been toying around with the idea of setting up a short story blog with writer friends. But it’s hard because everyone’s schedule and level of commitment is different. Like Maggie said, it takes a while to find your tribe. The tribe of writer friends with whom you just manage to click on pretty much every level – in terms of temperament, life experiences, preferences in books, authors, and more – and who share the same aspirations as you.

The people you surround yourself with are so important, especially those who not just understand, but encourage your dreams. The three ladies – Meredith, Nicole, and Becky – I’ve had the amazing fortune to meet in the vast cybersphere (seriously, what are the odds?) are everything I had always yearned for.

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Growing up as an only child, I mostly only had books for company. It seemed like a natural progression that I’d end up wanting to create stories as much as I enjoy reading them. Not everyone shares this love for books and writing, though, so I mostly just wrote in isolation, shutting myself in my room for hours and typing feverishly, or wandering around lost in the worlds I’ve created, thinking, breathing, living the stories I wanted to write. I’ve heard family, friends, and acquaintances remark on more than one occasion, “She’s always lost in her own world,” and most of the time I’m cool with that.

Sometimes, though, it gets lonely. And that’s where writer friends are a salve, a warm cup of tea on a rainy day, a reminder that I’m not alone in my pursuits, my weirdness. There are people out there who share your dreams and insecurities, your hopes and doubts, and who are willing to listen as much as they share.

This is how I met each of them:

Meredith

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We have Chuck Wendig to thank for this one. He encouraged writers to post the first paragraph of their manuscripts in the comments section, and Meredith’s passage leaped out at me. I left some feedback, not holding back in my gushing (as usual), and she actually emailed me a thank-you note, and asked if I would like to stay in touch. Would I ever! She’s PhD student who’s just completed her dissertation  and writes mostly historical fiction (one of which I’ve had the privilege to read), which means she gets as psyched as I do over art and ancient architecture. I’ve known her the longest out of the three, and I’m so grateful that we’ve still got this going. Her constant encouragement and kind words have had me keeping the faith in this whole writing endeavour.

Nicole

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I can’t remember how I stumbled upon her blog, but after reading a post she wrote about her writing aspiration I was struck by her tenacity, her optimism, her genuine love for writing and trust that it will take her to amazing places. It reminded me a lot of the starry-eyed teenager I was when I first told my teachers I wanted to be a writer, and I just find it so rare and precious that Nicole still has that fire burning so strongly in her. She also blogged about her struggle with her weight and food, something that I battled with when I was 17, and I was in awe of her courage and maturity to share that with the world. So of course I had to reach out to her. She was just as warm and friendly – if not more so – in email, and I knew this was one writer friend I would love to collaborate with in one way or another.

Becky

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She first reached out to me via Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Love Connection, after I posted my synopsis for one of my novels (was it Until Morning or No Room in Neverland?), and her synopsis in turn hooked me. Turned out we were both fans of Leigh Bardugo (if you haven’t read her books, seriously I would’ve thought my earlier posts about her awesomeness would have converted you already) and Holly Black, so of course we hit it off. She writes YA fiction and has a knack for delving deep into her characters and bringing out the nuances in their psyches (she made me see aspects of MY characters I had never considered before!).

So I asked them individually if they would like to be part of a writing group that posts short stories (and plays and poetry and anything else – we don’t discriminate against forms!) weekly like Maggie used to with her Brenna and Tessa, her critique partners. And to my delight, they were just as excited about the proposition as I was!

After introducing them to each other (though Meredith already knew Nicole through the latter’s blog – I told you her posts speak to the heart), we started bouncing ideas off each other while exchanging life updates.

Ever since we all gathered in one email thread titled “SHORT STORY BLOG!!!” (which perfectly conveys the amount of excitement we have about this project, methinks), the four of us have been exchanging emails pretty much daily, and it’s always a joy to wake up every morning (we live in different time-zones) and see their long, sincerely thought-out emails in my Inbox.

This is our final product: it’s called Muse in Pocket, Pen in Hand.

We’ll publish a short story per week, written by each of us based on a shared prompt that will be posted at the start of every month (so you can try your hand at writing a story too!). In between, there will be other fun stuff like music recommendations, guest interviews and stories, polls and more. We hope you’ll check out the site, and hopefully enjoy what we have in store for you! :0)

Travel Review: 20 Things About Beijing (Plus Pic Spam!)

How did the last week fly by so quickly?! Feels like I was just busy packing my luggage yesterday and now I’m back to reality. Beijing already feels like a lovely dream I’ve woken up from all too soon.

I had high hopes for the trip, mostly because I finally get to immerse in all the rich culture of my ancestors, witness something authentic and steeped in tradition, and collect research materials for the new novel I’m planning that is meant to be inspired by ancient China. Oh, and also enjoy some chilly fall weather away from the humidity and heat of Singapore.

And boy, did Beijing live up to those expectations. This is going to be a long post, so if you have the patience and interest to read all the way to the end, I applaud you in advance. Suffice to say, the trip was rewarding in terms of food, accommodation and itinerary, and we went at a comfortable pace.

Here are some of the highlights (because no trip to Beijing is complete without a visit to those tourist hotspots and historical and cultural landmarks):

Day 2: Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and Shichahai (什刹海) 

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Tiananmen Square is a heavily guarded and monitored area

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Entering the Forbidden City

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The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays, which explains the Sunday crowd

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Such ornate furnishing! Such detailed embellishments! *__*

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The court in which the emperor welcomed his visitors is out of bounds to the public, so we could only jostle for a glimpse (and an unobscured shot, if you’re lucky) of his majesty’s seat

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Palace grounds

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Strolling down the streets of the historic, scenic Shichahai

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The food street!

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There was a mini railway track for the city tram to pass through!

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This ice-cream stall saw long queues even in fall, so my dad had to give it a try. It sells green tea and strawberry soft-serves!

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Boat rides around the Houhai (Back Lake) shopping and happy hour district

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We took one of these trishaws around the area – little did we know we were in for the ride of our lives! Seriously, what are those trishaw-pullers’ thighs made of? I call it three-wheeled Formula 1

Day 3: the Great Wall and Ming Tombs

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This Chinese guy made his son take a picture with these three American triplets, who were quite the star of the show as everyone cooed over them as they climbed. Their parents were incredibly gracious and amiable even though they didn’t understand what the locals were saying half the time. They remind me a lot of the Obamas in terms of disposition and mannerisms.

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We came, we climbed, we conquered!

Day 4: the Summer Palace and the Temple of Heaven

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Entrance to the emperor’s summer villa

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And my stone lion obsession continues

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This old guy was dancing to a Chinese pop song and totally played it up for his bemused audience who were filming him. The tourists LOVED him.

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This old street artist is so incredibly talented. Keep scrolling down.

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How can someone be this talented and unrecognised?

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The portrait of an artist

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This guy’s still going strong.

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MIND. BLOWN.
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The qilin (麒麟) is a mythical chimerical creature with oxen hooves and the head of a dragon. It represents prosperity or serenity.dsc_0636

 

 

 

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The Temple of Heaven

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Magpies! I’d never seen one before. They were hopping all over the palace garden.

Day 5: Day Trip to Tianjin

The bullet train down to Tianjin took only half an hour. Tianjin, being a coastal city slightly south of Beijing, was understandably more blustery. But we were too cold to walk about very much and stayed near the riverside to take pictures.

Tianjin is a lot calmer than Beijing, without all the crazy neon lights at night and roads roaring with waves of traffic. It’s got beautiful European-style architecture because it contains several concession territories ceded by the Qing dynasty to European countries, the U.S. and Japan. These self-contained concessions were each complete with schools, prisons, hospitals, and barracks.

The pace of life seems slower there too, and our tour guide told us that Tianjin is like the Canada of China, where its people have a laidback, easygoing vibe and a sense of levity and humour for most things, vastly different from the severe, businesslike Beijing-er.

Day 6: Day Trip to Chengde

Up north, the town of Chengde is a four-hour drive away from Beijing. Temperatures are notably lower, and it sees snowfall weeks earlier than Beijing. When we got there, it was already experiencing single-digit temperatures (Celsius), and the rain didn’t help.

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Our agenda for being in Chengde was to see the replica of the Tibetan Potala Palace. But the place was half-closed for renovations and the local tour guide couldn’t wait to make our money, forcing us to pose for a group photo as soon as we arrived at the foot of the palace and then taking us halfway up before telling us the rest of the place is closed for renovations. I can take the rain, the cold, and the slippery ascend. But we were the only souls there, and the tour guide was kinda pushy. She offered no information or background about the place.

Nonetheless, the structure was majestic and we managed to get some good shots, even though we were freezing our butts off. But really, the cold is lovely once you’ve gotten used to it. And the rain made everything more beautiful. The top of the palace was laced in mist, and tree leaves lay slick and gleaming around our feet.

Mercenary locals, though. This was one blemish in an otherwise perfect trip.

Day 7: Back to Beijing

Shopping day! As mentioned, the standard of living in Beijing has gone up rapidly over the years, so don’t expect to go crazy in the shops. I spent mostly on snacks (girl’s gotta have her fruits) and souvenirs, which I regret not buying more of.

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Real-life scorpions wriggling on sticks before they are fried to a crisp!

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Selfie time!

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Well, hello handsome. How could I resist?!

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I don’t know these children. Why are they staring at my foot?

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My personal loot … looking too pink as usual

Our tour guide, Yoko, is a petite lady who was born and bred in Beijing. She’s been in the tourism line for over a decade – she became a tour guide right out of college – and you can tell how seasoned she is through her efficiency and practised manoeuvring at ticket counters, through crowds, and with the schedule. She is unfailingly polite, professional, and amiable. Plus, she’s well-versed in the history and sociocultural and political landscape of China (although some of her opinions are entirely her own), which makes her a very captivating story-teller and us a very rapt audience.

Here’s some trivia she shared with us along the way:

Ancient China

1. Emperor Qianlong is the longest-ruling emperor in Chinese history. He ruled for 60 years before passing away at 87.

2. The Temple of Heaven is where the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties went to pray each year for good harvest. The Taoist temple is painted an unconventional blue (instead of the typical gold and red) to mimic the sky.

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3. Empress Cixi is a major female ruler of the late Qing dynasty. (The other is Empress Wu Zetian, who ruled China during the Tang Dynasty.) She started out as an imperial concubine who later ousted a group of regents and installed her nephew as emperor before rising to power herself. Despite her ruthless ascent, Cixi was an effective ruler. She was in power for 47 years from 1861 until her death in 1908.

4. Majority of the thirteen Ming dynasty emperors’ tombs are buried in a cluster near Beijing. The place was first set up by Emperor Yongle (the third Ming emperor), who selected his own burial site and created his own mausoleum.

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5. The Summer Palace consists of a man-made lake, Kunming Lake, and hill (the earth dug up for the lake was piled at the back), Longevity Hill. This is because the emperor believed in the fengshui of being fronted by water (to receive prosperity) and backed by mountains (to have support in hard times).

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6. The third Ming dynasty emperor, Zhu Di, reigned from 1402 to 1424, after he rose in rebellion against his predecessor, his nephew Zhu Yunwen. He named himself Emperor Yongle (永乐), which means “eternal happiness”. I don’t think his nephew got to experience eternal happiness.

7. The Forbidden City has over 1,000 rooms that the emperor would select at random to stay each night. This made it hard for assassins to try and kill him in his sleep.

8. The Forbidden City is called Zijin Cheng (紫禁城) in Chinese, which means “Purple Forbidden City.” This refers not to the colour of the city’s walls but to the night sky.

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9. The concubines who have fallen out of the emperor’s favour are banished to the  “cold” palace (冷宫), which is not cold in temperature. Rather, it’s similar to the English expression “to give one the cold shoulder”. The “cold” palace is relegated to the outskirts of the Forbidden City, far away from where the emperor usually roams, so the emperor can go up to months without sparing the shunned concubine a glance.

10. The oldest parts of the 8,851km-long Great Wall date back to as early as the 7th century B.C. That was when Chinese rulers first erected border fortifications to keep the northern armies at bay.

Contemporary China

1. Beijing is the political central of China, so most people there try to keep themselves up-to-date and well-informed about global current events.

2. China classifies its cities according to tiers. Tier 1 (一线城市) includes well-developed cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzen and Guangzhou. Tier 2 (二线城市) includes Tianjin (below), Chengdu, Wuhan, Nanjing, etc. These are the more modernised cities with dependable infrastructure.

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3. The standard of living in Tier 1 cities has shot up rapidly over the past few years thanks to the skyrocketing property prices and an economy that’s growing faster than the people can keep up with.

4. The stereotypical Beijing-er is someone who is straight-talking, no-nonsense, all-business and methodical in his/her work.

The stereotypical Shanghainese (according to our Beijing tour guide) is one who believes herself to be in the centre of the world, and constantly in touch with all the contemporary trends in fashion, art and lifestyle. (They didn’t dub Shanghai the Paris of the East for nothing.)

Shanghainese typically find Beijing-ers old-fashioned, conventional and crass in their manner of speech, while Beijing-ers find Shanghainese proud and loquacious.

5. Beijing is the city with the highest concentration of top-ranking officials.

6. Methods of governance that work on cities like Beijing don’t work on other provinces like Yunnan or Macau. That’s because those places are mostly made up of minority groups that are less likely to abide by the hard-nosed policies set by the Communist Party of China (CPC) and more likely to revolt if they’re being beaten into shape (so to speak). Macau, being a sovereign state of China, even gets special privileges like NO taxes. Yes, the people don’t have to pay taxes to the central government.

7. Beijing speaks the official putonghua (普通话), Mandarin Chinese, that the rest of China speaks, so everyone can understand them. However, they may not understand everyone else because each province has its own dialect and accent.

8. Beijing-ers love their tea. It’s cheaper than water, and they also believe it clears their breathing passage and keeps them hydrated during the cold and dry winters and smoggy summers.

9. Chairman Mao Zedong is a revered figure in China – his painting on the wall of Tiananmen Square is renewed every year on China’s National Day, 1 Oct.

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However, there were dissidents like the artists and intellectuals who were beaten down during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – 1976). One of them, Lao She, was persecuted, denounced, and publicly humiliated. Devastated by his fall from grace, he took his own life by drowning himself in Taiping Lake. But these intellectuals made up a very small percentage of the people; the majority of the populace worshipped Mao. After the Cultural Revolution ended, though, Lao She was posthumously “rehabilitated” – his works were republished and several of his stories were made into films.

10. Beijing is home to major top universities like Beijing University and Qinghua University. Because priority is given to those living in Beijing, many parents moved to Beijing for a higher chances of getting their children accepted to the schools. (So you can imagine what that does to property prices in the area.)

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Congratulations, you made it to the end! You are either incredibly patient or have a deep fascination with Chinese culture. Either way, thanks for reading! I can’t express in words everything I’ve experienced and learned on this trip, but I hope what I managed to share is evocative and insightful enough so you didn’t just waste your time reading this post.

Beijing is a beautiful, vibrant city with a dynamic mix of the old and the new, the traditional and the contemporary. There is so much to take in when you’re there. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of Chinese culture, I absolutely recommend a trip there.

I’d love to hear YOUR stories if you’ve ever been to Beijing! Which other parts of China do you recommend as well? I’m thinking of Hangzhou (the pictures look GORGEOUS, and I’ve heard lots of rave reviews of the place) or Shanghai next. Share your thoughts in the Comments below!

Joyce xx

How to Revive that Dying Manuscript

Last week, I came thisclose to giving up on that memory erasure novel. THISCLOSE.

This would not be the first time I gave up on a manuscript. In fact, it’s always around this part (the middle of Act II) that I contemplate abandoning this piece of shit that has sputtered and stalled towards the end of Act II. Like NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND, I tried dragging it on for a while before admitting to myself that the story isn’t working and that it’s not going to turn out the way I want it to. It’s commonly known as the “dark night of the soul” for writers, where we languish in the pits of inferiority and debilitating self-doubt.

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I came across this article recently, How Writers Mourn Their Dead Novels, which perfectly describes what it’s like to have a dying novel in your hands and it’s up to you to bring it back to life.

You’ve spent years falling in love with an idea, working out its intricacies, populating its contours with characters that become like family. And now, after months building it word by word, you have a thick manuscript, mostly finished, that flops about on the desk like a dying fish. “Save me,” says the fish. “I can’t,” you say.

And then it dies.

I’m standing at that point between the flopping and the dying. And as someone whose manuscripts have survived several near-death moments, here are a few tips I can offer to those who are in the same boat as me right now:

1. Keep Your Eyes on the Finish Line

Some days, it feels like you’re never going to finish the damn story. It feels like it will never be done, and that you’re just crawling your way to the end with a boulder tied to your back.

I know.

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Snoopy knows too.

The only reassurance I have – and am clinging on to – right now is the knowledge that I’ve been through this before. I’ve had to contend with several flopping novels on the brink of death before, and somehow managed to salvage. NO ROOM IN NEVERLAND is something I’m sort of proud of (even though it’s still not perfect), partly because it was a manuscript I had almost abandoned but managed to COMPLETE (at last).

Think about what you first set out to do with this story, think about what you’re trying to say. Think about the magic that first inspired you to write the novel, and forge your way towards realising that magic.

2. Enjoy the Ride

Yes, it’s painful.

The whole process of creating something from scratch is like carving out a piece of your flesh with every word you type.

The first draft is ALWAYS shitty. Because that’s when we’re still figuring out the story as we go along, even though we may have plotted it extensively before diving into it. We can never know for sure EVERYTHING that we want to say until we actually say it. So a lot of what we’re saying the first time round comes out garbled and incoherent.

It’s verbal diarrhea.

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But it’s the process – that journey towards The End – that makes the destination that much more beautiful, after all. Why else would you want to keep doing it, story after story? Knowing how far you’ve come since page one, seeing how different – better – the finished product looks from your first draft, realising that you somehow managed to find your way to the end eventually makes everything worth it – the blood, the sweat, the tears.

3. Work on Something Else

Instead of tearing your hair out and squeezing your brain dry while you agonise over the WIP that is just not working (which NEVER works for me), maybe a distraction might help to get the writing juices flowing again. No, not Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest.

Another WIP.

A Shiny New Idea.

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How those other Shiny New Ideas are calling out to me right now.

I’ve found that it helps for me to work on another story simultaneously, so whenever it’s going terrible for one you can take a break and turn to the other. Sometimes, you just need some distance between you and your WIP to approach it again with fresh eyes. It usually works, at least for me.

The whole idea is to not lose momentum. Keep writing – another WIP, a short story, a poem (if you’re into that – personally, I make a terrible poet) – and you might just find a diamond in the rough.

4. Time for a Change of Scenery

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Benjamin Franklin

Artists are anything but drones. We’re human beings who are constantly seeking new experiences, new scenery to reignite that spark.

Which is why my upcoming Beijing trip is well-timed. Not only is it a change of scenery (all! those! palaces!), it also provides a reprieve from REMEMBER, and I can focus on plotting the Oriental-inspired historical fantasy novel I’ve had brewing in my head ever since I watched Sound of the Desert and read Rebel of the Sands. Shiny New Idea, let me give you some loving!

5. Stay Inspired 

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Image from Hoover’s Corner

How do you write a novel when you’re stuck in your own head? Keep reading new stories, watching new stories, listening to new music, and experiencing new things, and never stop asking what if questions to keep the stories coming!

 

So tl;dr I’m not going to give up on BEFORE I REMEMBER YOU just yet. And if you’re thinking of abandoning your WIP, don’t. Just give it some time and space. It’ll get better. Trust that it will!

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By the way, I’ll be in Beijing for a week, so I won’t have access to conventional social media and texting platforms like Facebook and Whatsapp (*cries*). I can, however, still be found on Skype (joyce.chua259) and Instagram (@thewritesofpassage), where I will spam travel photos!

It’s going to be crazy times, y’all! Stay inspired.

 

Until we meet again,

Joyce xx