The Sea, the Sea, Let’s All Go to the Sea.

Claude Monet, Sea Study, 1881, oil on canvas Claude Monet, Waves Breaking, 1881, oil on canvas Claude Monet, Rough Sea, 1881, oil on canvas

I started early, took my dog

And visited the sea

The mermaids in the basement

Came out to look at me

By the Sea by Emily Dickenson is one of my favourite poems about the sea. This is the first stanza. Dickenson has written many poems, almost 100, to do with the sea. It’s rather unique, I would say, as Dickenson has lived inland all her life in Amherst, Massachusetts, which is far from the sea. The sea has a mesmerising effect on many people. One could even say, a magnetic attraction. Could it be that Earth is more than 70% water? We have oceans and seas, rivers and lakes, pools and ponds, lochs and lagoons. All these different words that mean the same thing — a body of water. Bodies of water that attract physical bodies to them. 

It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere. This is the time of the year when Europeans travel to the seaside in droves. La famiglia and I have just returned from Italia, where we visited Sardegna. In English, it is Sardinia. Sardinia, sea and sun — what lovely sibilant sounds this sentence makes. As a children’s book author, I love playing with words and sounds. Alliteration — when each word in the sentence begins with the same letter like in Sardinia, sea and sun — is a fun way to fine tune children’s ears to the sounds that different letters in the English alphabet make. 

The sea in Sardinia is a sheet of turquoise with the water closer to shore a shade of aquamarine. The sea reflects the sky and the sky mirrors the sea. On a clear and cloudless day, when you know it will be a very hot day, black-tipped wings dot the horizon. These are seagulls swooping in and out flying free. 

I am an island girl, as I’d said before. In this post, I’m going to stick to the Italian spelling of this island in the Meditterannean Sea — Sardegna. I just prefer it when a name is in its original form. I love island-hopping and island life. I am one of the many people who is drawn to the sea like magnets to metal. Could it be because I was born on a tropical island? I love dipping my feet in the sea water. Could it be because this was my first memory of a childhood swimming lesson? I love oysters because they taste of the sea. I wonder if this could be because my first experience of eating raw fish was slurping an oyster on a date in a city hotel far from the sea? The flavour was so intense that I was instantly brought to the sea. 

The Sea at Pourville
1882 60x100cm oil/canvas
Columbus Museum of Art

Sardegna, the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sicily, inspired three picturebooks stories this summer. One of these stories has to do with the sea, of course. In fact, a seaside holiday with a bird’s eye view. It is an Italian tradition to go to the sea or il mare. Despite the COVID, there are families — the old, young and middle-aged — at the seaside in Sardegna. No virus can break a centuries-old tradition of taking a dip in the sea, which in Italian is called fare il bagno — to make a bath, literally. The salt water is good for the skin, the sea air is curative, and it has been scientifically proven that water is therapeutic. Artists from Claude Monet to Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida have all had love affairs with the sea. Even John Constable, the English landscape painter, had a thing for the sea. For him, it was Brighton, though it was his wife’s ill-health that made him move the family there in 1824. 

[photo credit: Raffaella Nava]: The sea reflects the sky and the sky mirrors the sea

My second story involves an Italian celebration and regional food. Folks know how I just cannot get away from writing about food. Sardegna, one of Italy’s twenty regions, produces seafood or i frutti di mare — fruits of the sea, various grains, wines, and cheeses, amongst many other regional products. It is a very self-sustainable and self-contained island in this sense. There’s a bread there that I love to munch on — il pane carasau. This bread is so thin, so flat, and so crunchy and ever so moreish. It looks like a simple bread to make, but I’ve been told that the dough for pane carasau needs tender loving kneading and it is always hand-made and takes a lot of effort. And, I suspect like many dishes or food in Italy, made by women. We bought half a kilo of pecorino which is a type of hard cheese made of sheep’s milk. This one I can safely say was made by a Sardo sheep farmer. To profit from the tourists (many of whom were locals), this paunchy sheep farmer and formaggiaio or cheese-maker, walked the length of the beach selling his produce. Pecorino e pane — delish. I also drank a lot of white wine made from the Vermentino grape. It’s light, fresh and fruity. 

Incidentally, profitare in Italian is not the English equivalent of making a profit, though in this Sardo’s case, it was. Profitare, the infinitive noun, means to benefit from. And there’s no better way to benefit from a busy touristy time of the year than announcing your products on the beach with your refrigerated cheese van parked nearby. Winter in Sardegna, although still warm, is not a peak tourist attraction like it is in the summer. 

The sea, the sea, let’s all go to the sea. If you can’t make it in person, let some art work transport you there. I love this oil on canvas by Claude Monet. ‘The Sea at Pourville’, painted in 1882 captures the impression of a seascape and reminds me of the sea I saw in Sardegna. It’s a seascape of tranquility, a zen image great for early morning meditation and yoga. 

But it is Monet’s ‘Sea Study’ that he had painted a year before which really captures the Sardinian sea accurately for me. Here’s Raffaella’s photo to compare. Monet’s version has frothier waves, which he created by dabbing white paint on a blue background. As you can see, the fluffy white clouds mirror the foaming waves. This is a picture perfect place to be, methinks. I can just imagine myself floating face to the sky in this blue sea, allowing the waves to carry me far far away. 

Travelling in the New-normal

To get to Sardegna, we had to jump through many hoops. First there was the PCR test (at £99 a person) that we had to do at a pharmacy in London before we were allowed to travel to Italy. Italia, the country of my husband’s birth is my second home. This is where the other half of the exteneded family lives. My kids haven’t seen i nonni, the grandparents, i zii, the aunts and uncles, and i cugini, the cousins, for almost 2 years. It has been too long. 

With a negative test, we flew to Bergamo in a positive mood. Ryanair requires everyone to mask up while in the plane — ma, e normale! This is the new-normal, so it’s normal to mask up. Flying from London to Bergamo is a toddle — in less than 2 hours, we were home. Disembarking is now allowed one row at a time. The flight attendant announced specifically with instructions on what each passenger has to do: “Remain seated until the row in front of you is empty. Once the passengers in front of you have all disembarked, then only can you get up from your seat to remove your baggage from the overhead locker. Disembark in an orderly fashion. Thank you for your cooperation.” 

I love the new disembarkation procedures because it requires organisation and order. I am rigid like that. Unlike the old days when everyone would be scrambling from their seats before the seat belt sign can be swtiched off to rush to get their bags from above them, this new-normal way is quieter, more efficient, and keeps people from jostling one another. I love the 2 metre rule…because, please don’t touch me, stranger! Why we needed a virus to make this happen, I don’t know. 

Well, the virus is here to stay, despite some country’s intolerance of its endemic nature. We must learn to live with it. 

We were required to observe a five-day quarantine, which we did happily. This simply allowed us to spend some precious time with la mamma e il papà, namely, my in-laws. Their combined ages make them approximately 180 years old — that’s ancient to many people. The Mediterranean diet has ensured that they’re healthy and glowing at their ages. The only thing is that the FIL is unable to walk unaided — he is after all 91. The MIL still cycles and is as agile as many 25 year olds for being someone in her mid-80s.  

On the sixth day, we were allowed out, but were obliged to do another rapid PCR test (€30 per person) at the nearest available pharmacy. This we did. After 20 minutes, we were given the all clear — “tutto posto” — and a thumbs up, with a set of papers as confirmation. This test was also required in order for us to fly to Cagliari, Sardegna’s capital, where we had to go to get to Villasimius, our summer holiday destination. No test, no flying is the rule in the new-normal. Italy is very strict with COVID regulations as ALL nations should be. There is a sense of freedom but rules are rules, and they must be observed. The 2-metre rule still stands, so beach goers made sure that we were some distance apart. This is a seaside holiday in the new-normal. We arrived at Cagliari pale and pallid. After a few days of sea air and sun bathing, I am bronze and glowing. In Italy, someone with a tan is described as bronzato (for men) and bronzata (for females). Isn’t language just so fun? 

We rented a little cottage by the sea in the village of Villasimius, in the south of Sardegna. Our friend’s cottage was next door, which had a swimming pool. They kindly let us use their pool. They were on holiday too. However, we were within 15 mins walking distance to the nearest beach. The swimming pool came in handy some afternoons before we set out for the next beach. We were spoilt for choice in regard to beaches, frankly. My favourite beach has to be Spaggia Piscina Rei in Costa Rei. The sea was a natural swimming pool (piscina). Speaking of natural, in front of our little cottage by the sea was a natural lagoon, a wild flamingo reserve. I swear that I’ve not seen so many flamingoes gathering in one spot before. They were there to feed on the algae and tiny sea life in the lagoon. This pair is ever so lovely and loving, don’t you think?

[photo credit: Armando Nava]: A pair of love birds. Behind them, the sea. The lagoon and sea separated by a powder-soft sandy beach.

Two days before our holiday came to an end, we hired a boat to take us beach hopping. It was such fun! The skipper, a professional deep sea diver, named Marco, regaled us with stories of his island — lucky Sardo he is. He knew every nook and cranny and hidden beaches where we could dive in and swim, sometimes with the fishes. Sardinia, sea and sun. Lunch was at iki beach, where the sea was sublime and the food first-class. Taste their frittura mista — literary ‘mixed fried things’, in reality fried seafood. Yumalicious! Wash that all down with an Aperol Spritz — make it an Italian Seaside Holiday to remember. 

[photo credit: Marion Ceccoli]: View from Iki Beach Restaurant

Our seaside holiday came to an end all too soon. As they say, when you’re having fun…. 

Before flying back to London via Rome, we had to do another set of rapid PCR tests (€50 per person). This is the mandatory 48-hour test before flying — the fit to fly test. I have never had a doctor stick a flexible wand-like instrument so deeply in my nose before. That is how strict the medical staff and authorities are in regard to COVID in Italy. All very good, I feel. Though it really didn’t feel good. It hurt some but only for a couple of seconds. Before I could say ouch, it was all done. I blinked the tears away and smiled through my mask. It’s the bravest face I could put on in the moment. I discovered that a PCR test is also a great way to find out if you’ve got a septum deviation. Apparently, the ballerina-princess has a deviated septum. Hmmm. Nothing serious, I was told, and easily remedied through a septoplasty. But right now it is not the time to worry about this type of deviation. Our flight had to deviate to Rome because our original flight with British Airways, which would have flown us directly back to London from Cagliari, was cancelled. All ahead of time, of course. With our plans deviated, we flew with Alitalia instead. Viva la Italia! 

Now, we’re back in London. Three self-testing kits arrived at our home the next day. We were obliged to order this from the NHS at £20 per test. So, it’s a do-it-yourself test that comes with full instructions on how to do it. Then we sent the results back to the NHS where they will lab-test the swabs and give us the all clear if negative. As UK changed its quarantine rules on July 19th, we didn’t have to self-isolate. But we had to test negative first before the all clear can be given. However, we chose to do a self-imposed quarantine before our test results are returned, which should be tomorrow. Quarantining is good for writing, in my experience. So here I am, writing this. 

And here we are — travelling in the new-normal. And it wasn’t all that bad, to be honest, albeit more expensive. In fact, I think the plane was really the safest (enclosed) place to be because everyone — the crew and passenger — was COVID negative. 

Testing and then flying, this is the responsible thing to do. If one is safe, we’re all safe. As it has been famously said before, “All for one and one for all.” 

So, test yourself, mask up, and let’s learn to live in this new-normal in an organised and orderly fashion. 

But don’t get me started on UK’s new stance on liberty. As for my family, we’re keeping our masks on outside and staying as far away from folks as much as possible. Back to Italia, my adopted home — ci vediamo presto


Synergy of Humanity and the Multiplicity of Conflict

I am mesmerised by this image of a red cliff face and a row of women, backs bent, ferrying baskets trudging up a fenced mountain path. I see steam billowing from below joining the plumes of clouds at the mountain top. The women are all dressed alike—forming a line of uniformed white and brown dots—and there seems to be a leader, a lone woman sans basket at the top; she stands apart from the line. The incription describing the photo says, “Teamwork, coordination, and cooperation are essential for efficiency otherwise it will be chaos. An impression of once upon a time in Yunnan.”

Once upon a time, I used to live on a tropical island. I grew up thinking that its people have always lived harmoniously. I am too young to know about the racial tension and riots that took place there in the mid-1960s. When I was growing up, nobody talked about these riots. When I was growing up, my friends were Malays, Indians, Eurasians. When I was growing up, we recited a pledge that goes like this: 

“We, the citizens of Singapore,

pledge ourselves as one united people,

regardless of race, language or religion,

to build a democratic society

based on justice and equality

so as to achieve happiness, prosperity

and progress for our nation.”

I was proud to recite this, proud that a little island-nation made up of a hotchpotch of diverse people are living together harmoniously. I was proud to be who I am, I’m still proud, and so were my multi-ethnic friends, who are still proud of their identities too. I was, above all, proud that my little nation home was peaceful. 

But a recent spate of events that occurred on this little island in the tropics have led to much conflict in this multi-ethnic nation-state. These events put this pledge, the National Pledge, into question. These events filled me with consternation and rage, forcing me to re-examine (once more) my sentiments towards my identity and its links to Singapore.

The events led to me feeling conflicted about my position as a former citizen: Chinese-Singaporean, privileged, educated and upper middle-class. I was conflicted because I heard a Chinese man on video telling an Indian-Filipino man that he is ‘disturbing’ the race because he is “preying on a Chinese girl”, the Chinese girl being the Indian man’s date. The video spanned over 5 minutes of air time and was watched over 3,000 times since it was uploaded on Sunday (June 6). Such in-your-face racism is the first I’ve witnessed coming out of Singapore, I’ll be honest. If you’ll bear with me: the last time I lived again in Singapore was between 2013 to 2020. And as a privileged, somewhat wealthy and educated woman, who speaks English well, I was not subject to such vitriol. It’s not to say that racism doesn’t exist in Singapore. Racism always has. Casual racism has always existed; it  is very prevalent there. Motherhood statements like ‘Malays are lazy’, ‘Indians are smelly’ and ‘Ang Mohs are dirty’ are very much part of the national narrative. I have heard all these growing up in Singapore. My husband is ‘Ang Moh’, a European or ‘red hair’, even though he is from one of the Med countries. And you know what? ‘Chinese are greedy’, ‘Chinese always talk about money’ are real statements too. Then, there are other casual statements such as ‘Mix-raced girls are pretty’, ‘Eurasian kids are good looking’, and by Eurasian, the average Singaporean almost always means half-Asian, half-European because the racial category of ‘Eurasian’ means something else—Anglo-Indian. These statements were usually kept within individual communities because there was an unspoken agreement amongst its multi-ethnic citizenry that if these statements were vocalised, they would foment the already existing racial divide in the country and highlight the racial hierarchy within the society. 

Why the conflict and the rage? I am shocked that this man can so blatantly disturb a young man and his date in public by calling the young man, Mr Dave Parkash, aged 23, a ‘racist’ because he and his half-Chinese/half-Thai girlfriend are from ‘different races’. 

It is absolutely gobsmacking that this Chinese expounder of such Nazi race relations theories could be a lecturer at one of Singapore’s higher education institutions. And that he could have been passing down his limited and yes, supremacist ideas of race to his students. And doing so for many years, before he exposed himself publicly by calling himself a racist too and saying these “quite unacceptable” and “very worrying” things. [quoting Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.]

I am mad because this man is not all that much older than me. And that his generation of ethnic Chinese, someone of the diaspora, where China hasn’t been the ‘Motherland’ for centuries, could behave this way. I am outraged because as a Peranakan-Chinese, I was always made to identify Chinese, and in a convoluted but unassociated way, made to choose Chinese (like this racist man) over being anything else, and especially over simply being Singaporean. 

And, what I’m most angry about is that most Chinese Singaporeans would cry out ‘racism’ ASAP when they leave Singapore and are suddenly not the dominant race anymore, but would hesitate to recognise that they can be racist too…in their own country.

Race, as we know, is a social construct, next to gender. The taxonomy of race is a colonial construct. And, unfortunately, post-colonial nations bear this legacy, which has served its independent governments equally well—maintain the status quo, uphold the dominant race. The Chinese race is dominant in Singapore. The indigenous Malay race is dominant in Malaysia and Indonesia. And racial tensions have co-existed next to racial harmony in these nations and the region since time immemorial. 

In the UK, where I live and have lived since 1992, anyone other than White is ‘Other’. White supremacists are real here and more vocal because they often spout Nazi-like theories and expound racist comments on social media. One just has to google a man named Laurence Fox for some vitriolic entertainment. But entertainment NOT. Fox’s white supremacist ideology and comments are far from entertaining. They are hurtful, damaging, and absolutely abhorrent. 

Here in the UK, I am not privileged. And I am proud not to be. Since the Pandemic, hatred for and towards East Asians and Southeast Asians has increased. I have lived with this everyday since returning to England in 2020. But I don’t live in fear. I live to challenge this. 

My children are Eurasians: half-Asian/half-European. They identify strongly with their dual heritage. They are examples of the rapidly increasing diversity in this world. And their children will be more multi hyphenated than them. The UK 2001/2011 census shows that “the number of dual heritage children up to four years old rose from 116,000 in 2001, to 220,000 in 2011.” [Source] And these statistics are old. In London, over 45% of the demographics is mixed-race.

My husband is European. Today, he would be very unwelcome in Singapore, judging from what some White expat friends living there are saying regarding the treatment of expats (somehow mainly targeted at the white expat community). Apparently, expats are stealing jobs and getting preferential treatment, and they’re racist too. Likewise, he is also very much unwelcome in the UK because…Brexit. And seen through the same lens by Brexit-voting English — here to steal their jobs.

The topic of racism is an uncomfortable subject to raise and discuss. But we need to sit with that discomfort and talk about it to our children. Being an ostrich about it doesn’t help to change the status quo. Singaporeans need to tell their children that casual and blanket statements like ‘Indians are smelly’ or ‘Malays are lazy’, even ‘Chinese are greedy’ and ‘Ang Mohs are dirty’ must be questioned and critically discussed. Schools have to take up the challenge to do this too because what good is there if students only pass exams and pass them well, but live in denial that they could be racist because their elders – grandparents, parents, and teachers – continue to be casually racist without being confronted and challenged. 

Here’s a true story:

My husband was having lunch one day. He was just biting into his roti paratha dunked in mutton curry when a Singaporean-Chinese male colleague said, “You like Indian food?” [surprised that a Med European could]. After my husband had answered in the affirmative, the Chinese man continued, “I’ll let you finish first and then tell you why I don’t eat Indian food.” [like he was being considerate]. All eager to share why he doesn’t eat Indian food, the man watched as the hubs gulped down his last bite of roti and then proceeded immediately to tell him a story about how ‘dirty’ Indians are, how ‘they are not clean and wipe their hands on their sarongs’ and ‘how they use the same hands to [fill in the blanks here] and then serve food.’ According to the male Chinese colleague, when he was a young lad, his uncle had told him this and showed him the dirty hand prints made of curry, pointing out to him that this is why ‘Indian people are dirty’. 

The hubs was not only upset, he was aghast that this Chinese man is a colleague, someone who works in and for a multi-national corporation that is all about diversity and inclusion, and yes, a degree holder. 

And most of all, what disturbed the hubs was that this Chinese colleague felt he could disclose such blatantly racist remarks to him because being of the privileged race, he saw himself as “equal” to a White man and therefore conversely, the White man would agree with his sentiments and, you’ve got it—pat his back in approval. 

This, my friend, is racism at its most real and most high. Racism at its most dangerous–internalised and verbalised.

So, when Singaporeans say that racism doesn’t exist or that they are a multi-ethnic and a harmonious society and SO racism cannot exist, please think again. 

But most of all, let’s consider this: ”Love is love. Love has no race, love has no religion. You and I should be able to love whoever we wanna love. Let’s not become like this man in the video.” – Mr Dave Parkash.

And mull over this: “To this man who may end up watching this, I hope you learn to stop being a racist and let us all live in harmony.” – Mr Dave Parkash

Mr Parkash’s words echo photographer Eng Chung Tong’s: “Teamwork, coordination, and cooperation are essential for efficiency otherwise it will be chaos.” 

If there is anything important to learn from this spate of events, it is that the nation must come together to talk about this and to never let this happen again. Otherwise, chaos would follow suit. Lest the island-nation forgets, the 1964 and 1969 race riots weren’t all that far away behind us. 

‘Synergy of Humanity’ by Eng Chung Tong, Malaysia, Shortlist, Open, Culture (Open competition), 2019 Sony World Photography Awards, “A humanity view of one of the minorities tribes in Yunnan going about their daily working life. Teamwork, coordination, and cooperation are essential for efficiency otherwise it will be chaos. An impression of once upon a time in yunnan.”


The Storyteller’s Tool Kit

Where do I get my ideas from? 

Here, There and Everywhere. 

Random image of tentacles taken at Pompeii

Welcome story geniuses. I thought I’d write a post about the storyteller’s tool kit. Like most toolkits, you’ll see that my toolbox is filled with the usual tools. You know, the common ones like inspiration, structure, research, tech. I add a couple of personal ones in there too like music, movies, and people. 

#Tool 1 Inspiration

As you know, all stories come from an idea. Yes, just the one. This one idea can fragment into many. Think of a lightbulb with dozens of light rays spreading out across a dark room. Imagine a mosiac art work, the whole made up of  splintered ceramic or stone pieces, and if you isolate one section, there is another story there. What about a kaleidoscope and as you turn the dial, the fratal changes into another pattern. 

But as a writer, you mustn’t forget your central idea for that story you’re writing at the moment. 

So, I am working on a YA novel, my first. I was inspired by a central idea of the master and servant relationship. I wanted to explore this through the lens of an indentured servant. 

#Tool 2 Research

It all started with my curiosity about how societies treated their help. From that broad question, I narrowed it down to a culture and heritage I know well: I wanted to explore an oppressive system that originated in China, where poor girls were sold to wealthy families as servants. 

Indentured servitude is not uncommon as there are many forms of slavery as well as different notions of perceived freedom. Indentured servants have existed in Southeast Asia for the longest time in various forms and guises. In particular, I wanted to find out more about mui tsai or young girls working in the homes of wealthy Straits Chinese or Peranakan-Chinese. Then, this got me thinking about migrant workers and their plight, which led me down the rabbit hole of finding out as much as I could about the migrant worker situation around the world. 

My mind was going full speed everywhere but to nowhere. So, I reigned myself in. What is my central idea?—the master and servant relationship. What was my focus?—indentured servitude. 

#Tool 3 Setting 

Since all stories have to take place somewhere—real or imagined—I picked British Malaya because I know this landmass far better than Hong Kong or China. I am a Peranakan-Chinese because my ancestors braved monsoon winds and sailed across the South China Sea to Malaya, so what better place to start from than examining the cultural history and lives of the Straits Chinese, my ancestors? 

But Malaya was connected to the Empire, with its headquarters located on an island situated between the the  North Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. 

My mind was going places again. But hang on, I need to focus. So I returned again to Malaya, in particular Singapore, country of my birth. 

#Tool 4 Structure

All stories have a structure. This Aristotelian idea is an ideal and as storytellers we must let structure guide us. There’s a beginning, middle and an end to every story—always. 

My novel starts media res—in the middle. Funny how the middle became my beginning, hey? I only came to this decision after redrafting the initial structure and I can tell you, it wasn’t funny because I had to rewrite almost 10,000 words of the original manuscript. This consisted of my making a developmental change and then rewriting the parts to fit in with the change. Mind you, developmental editing is what editors do for authors all the time. So I switched a couple of parts around, rewrote some bits, and the story took another shape of its own. 

Think of structure as a squiggly line that moves up to a point of climax and drops again and ends at the point of resolution which leads us to what is known as the denouement. That’s French for the final outcome and it’s a literary term used by industry wigs to show off their prowess. Literary theory and criticism aside, we need to remember that all journeys must come to an end and it’s no different for stories. But where is the end? Most would consider the end as the part whre the hero of the journey finds what they were looking for or found the answer to their quest/search. Now, solving the problem (resolution) in the story is not the same as the outcome, denouement, of the story. The denouement can end in a catastrophe (think Wuthering Heights) or it can end happily ever after (think Cinderalla). 

To get structure in order, I needed to think of a sequence of events that will move my story forward. I had to know that this happaned first, then this happened next, then that happened after, so on and so forth, until I come to the end of my tale. 

The best way to see your sequence of events is to write them out. Illustrators do a storyboard. There’s nothing stopping those who can’t draw from doing the same. You can use stick figures, if you want. 

But all story structures or shapes are based on the central idea: the Main Character’s journey in the book. 

#Tool 5 Tech and the Muse

Technology is a great tool for any writer. I use a MacBook and organise my writing into files. Some people swear by Scrivener. I haven’t dabbled there yet because it requires that I learn how to use the tool. But I’ve been told that once you’ve learnt to, it’s no sweat. 

But the best tool of all is YOU. As a writer you’ve just got to turn up. Here is a previous post on what my day looks like. As I write for a living and not always fun stuff, I am forced to turn up. My favourite author said this, ‘turn up, turn up, turn up and the muse will turn up too.” She is none other than Isabel Allende. 

For extra help on inspiration, structure, setting and research, I turn to Netflix fo plot, characterisation and the 3-Act Structure. I just watched Pieces of A Woman. It’s not for everyone, I will say. But it was superb acting and I was thoroughly convinced that the main character was really giving birth. I wanted to see how the script writer had used the 3-Act Structure to plot her story. And, I tell you what, it’s there—the beginning, middle, end, with everything in a writer’s took kit thrown in—inciting incident, sub-plots, small crises, big crises, the crisis—resolution, and outcome. 

Music makes its way into my daily routine too when I’m feeling the blues and get stuck on a plot point. My latest is listening to covers by Carly Rose (Sonenclar)

And last but not least: People. My favourite people is my family. So I turn to them for sustenance. 


What the World Needs Now is…

Today, I recieved a text from my GP informing me to make an appointment for my vaccination. Just this morning, a concerned friend living in Portsmouth had texted to ask when I was getting mine. Another friend who lives in Paris texted to say that she and her husband have had theirs. And my elderly neighbours emailed to say that they’ve been vaccinated and can’t wait to be free. 

Frankly, I have been rather non-chalant about the vaccinations, wasn’t in a hurry to get one because my turn will come with it comes. I am not at risk, don’t work in essential services, and am a WFH writer and editor. All safety boxes checked with a thick green tick. So why did I feel elated that I will be getting my first shot on Thurday morning? I am suddenly seeing a glimmer of light at the end of a long tunnel. 

This is my fourth lockdown. I think. The family and I were locked down in Singapore from April 7th to May 4th. While we were still being locked down, the lockdown, named circuit breaker, was further extended until June 1st by the Singapore government. So we had some freedom before the girls and I left for London in July. We met up with some friends, said goodbye to family, and flew out of Changi early July, jubilant that a new chapter of our lives would begin again. This is one of the many perks of being a family constantly expatriating. Or is it? 

Moving countries during a pandemic is harrowing. Stuff you can tell your grandkids about later because pandemics are life changing and hit you when you least expect them. After a claustrophobic 14-hour flight in a not that empty cabin, we arrived to a London that had no checks despite the Home Office asking all passengers to fill in a COVID location form. We breezed through customs. 

The city in July of 2020 was beginning to open up. Singapore, too, had by then come out of their circuit breakers and phasing out of their lockdown one strong step by one strong step at a time.  The air was crisp with hope in London as the UK prepared for the summer. The mood was buoyant like it is now. We were buoyant too because optimism is infectious. But we still wore our masks outside the house and in the shops just because old habits die hard; mask-wearing was still not mandatory in the shops then. I received some accusatory glances and many Londoners generously made room for me on the pavement and supermarket aisles. One lady told me to step away from her and I didn’t think anything of it other than that it was her freedom to demand for social distancing. The supermarket was a rather small one and I am a good citizen, so I stepped aside and let her get on with it. We were allowed to go out for essentials while we quarantined. The girls and I took our 14-day quarantine seriously because it is serious stuff. We were staying at an Airbnb then and I left the apartment every other day to do our grocery shopping at the Marks & Spencers across the street. Once, I got tutted at for moving a man’s trolley out of the way to get a punnet of tomatoes. I had asked him to excuse me but he was hard of hearing so I gestured an excuse me and moved his trolley to make room for other people and myself. It was only tomatoes, no big deal, I know. So, I said thank you from behind my mask to a pair of raised eyebrows. 

Summer is always glorious in a country with more than four wet and damp seasons. Bodies were out in the parks tanning and picnicking, children were running free with the wind in their hair and the sun behind them, and people were generally having a great time despite a pandemic looming over them. I knew that if the English and Brits didn’t start to listen or if the gov didn’t do something quickly, the virus would spread like wild fire. And this freedom would slowly ebb away like the outgoing tide. But what does one listen to when the messages that the gov was sending were mixed and oh so confusing.

Summer raged on and school started in September as per the old normal. Europe was too far away to be affected by a Chinese virus, but the international schools were careful and followed the rules as people were still travelling back to London from everywhere. Then the curve got steeper and by the end of September going into October, Boris Johnson announced the necessity for a circuit breaker. I wonder where they got that idea from. But flight corridors were still allowed and many went on holidays over the Christmas break. Then the numbers went up more and that circuit breaker got extended again after Christmas because a variant from South Africa or was it Brazil had found their way into England. It is only just last week that schools have opened up again. We are in March 2021. It has been a year since the whole world was brought to its knees. 

I am not begging for a vaccine. But I am eager for one because it protects me and my family. Right now, my concerns are only extended to the people I love. And I hope that this is mirrored by the many people who are anti-vaccers, who are suspicious of what medicine can do and have done and continue to do, and those who don’t trust the government. Do it for the people you love. And, if we want borders to open up and for us to travel freely like in the old-normal, then we must do what we need to do in this new-normal. Don’t get me wrong, I am on the side of subversive always. But this time, I am being good. 

Okay, all said and done, human beings are the only beings that can help humanity. And remember, God helps those who help themselves. This is one rule in Christianity that I abide by by every stretch of my imagination. Give me that shot! 

*The author has since received her first shot.


A Day In the Life of a Writer

Well, it’s been a full day’s work again today. Like for most people with regular jobs. Writing is a lonely day job, but it nonetheless takes up a whole day, if you’re a professional writer like me. Writing is my regular job. 

What Does A Typical Day Look Like for Me?

6 am – I am up.

6:30 am – I read and answer my emails with a cup of coffee. 

7:30 am – I start work. My current WIP is a YA novel that I’m in the middle of writing. I decided to change the POV this morning. So, I had to rewrite over 10,000 words of the current MS, changing from 3rd to 1st. 

10:00 am – I jump on a zoom call with my business partner, Debasmita Dasgupta. We discuss a new project—writing a graphic novel together. 

11:00 am – comfort break. I make my second cup of coffee. Have a light snack.

11:15 am – I work on a current project: researching and writing blog posts for an in-house e-zine.

13:15 – lunch break. Today, I reheated some hot and sour soup from the day before. Sometimes, I get an Uber Eats or Deliveroo. 

13:45 – I do some research on another project about therapeutic jurisprudence in family law. This is a ghost-writing project for a legal practice outside the UK.

15:45 – I check into moodle at the Roehampton University and listen to my lectures on the MA Children’s Literature. This week we are learning about Historical Fiction in Children’s Literature. This is my favourite genre. 

17:30 – comfort break

17:45 – reply to emails that have come in during the time I haven’t been checking emails. Make a note of who to reply to ASAP and who to KIV for tomorrow.

18:45 – stop work to cook dinner. Tonight we are having pasta ragù from Nonna Tonda, a pasta and sauce delivery company. My life is made easier because all I do is boil the fresh pasta and reheat the sauce. 

20:00 – if I have the energy, I write for another 1 to 1.5 hours. This is always my own work.

22:00 – reading time – YAY!! I am reading YA novel: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan. I am pulled into her fantasy world. 

23:00 or earlier if I start to nod – sleep. 

As my day is filled with words and sentences, I go to sleep dreaming of the different stories and books that occupy my psyche. It’s a great feeling, I’ll be honest. As I am working on world building and characterisation right now, I wake to a character voice in my head. I let that character speak to me in the liminal space between slumber and wakefulness. This morning, it was the Lee household cook, one of the characters in my YA. Her voice is distinct, I feel her presence, I take refuge in her wisdom but I am suspicious of her. She speaks to me in the “I” and nudges me to change my viewpoint of her story from the 3rd. 

Because I work on several projects concurrently, I have to really prioritise where I want to dedicate my writing energy. I keep a notebook of with a to-do list of all my projects and tick them off as I go through the items daily. Today, I worked mostly on the blogging and YA WIP. 

As it’s all in a day’s work, I always reward myself with a glass of something luscious like a good Prosecco on Fridays. Maybe one day, I can have champagne instead. But hey-ho, it’s one day in the life of a professional writer.