On Synesthesia

Synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” — Wikipedia.

In my book, Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure, the protagonist, Open, likes to read. He reads “about anything and everything”. (Open: pp 7). He would sometimes consult Wikipedia when he wants to find out things. He also perceives his world differently from the rest of us. For example, he describes his feelings in relation to one of the five senses—taste. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 7, where Open talks about how he feels on learning that Mama may be leaving him to work in New Zealand.

I will not be seeing Mama for a few months when she goes to New Zealand. It will take more than 10 hours to reach Auckland by plane. That’s very far away. I will not be seeing Mama every day.

“When will you go?” Papa asks.

“They’re still deciding…”

“It’s just that Open…”

“Oh Ben,” Mama sighs. “I don’t know, Sky. He’s not getting better and I don’t know what to say to him.”

I am tasteless inside.

Some people, like Open, are synesthetes. They often experience one sense using another part of their sensory organs. For example, listening to music can trigger a vision of bright lights in some people. In another case, known as grapheme-colour synesthesia, letters and numbers are seen as colours or coloured. Open experiences his world in a lexical-gustatory way, where certain tastes are experienced when hearing certain words or when certain people are associated with particular tastes. In chapter 7, Open feels “tasteless inside” when he hears his mother uttering “Oh Ben”. Like many lexical-gustatory synesthetes, Open expresses his feelings, sadness in his case, through tasting it.

A well known synesthete was Wassily Kandinsky. He experienced visions of colours in motion when listening to classical music. The moving colours correspond to the movement in the music. In his paintings, you will often see dashes of colours—sprays of blues, swirls of violets, glares of yellows, circles of reds, lines of black—rendered in watercolour. Take for example, his Composition VII (1913), the canvas is a mess of colours, distracting to look at. But in this piece, Kandinsky is expressing a profound sense of the spiritual. He often associates and ascribes certain emotional qualities to certain shades of colours.

Wassily Kandinsky is a Russian artist (1866-1944). He was also an art theorist, often talking and discussing art with his friends and in lectures. Kandinsky is credited with being the first artist recognised to have painted the first work of pure abstraction.

Kandinsky is very grandiloquent in expressing the processes at work when painting: “Our hearing of colours is so precise … Colour is a means of exerting a direct influence upon the soul. Colour is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano with its many strings. The artist is the hand that purposely sets the soul vibrating by means of this or that key. Thus it is clear that the harmony of colours can only be based upon the principle of purposefully touching the human soul.” (The Guardian, 2006)

Emotions are too abstract to describe in real terms. Associating an emotion to a certain taste or colour, often helps us picture how we feel concretely, in my opinion.

I would be happy to hear what readers have to say about synesthesia. Please leave your comments below. Remember that this blog may be read by children who have read Open and want to discuss the book here. Do remember to be polite and mindful that young minds may be present in this space.

If you haven’t purchased your copy of Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure, you can buy it here. For Singapore readers, the book is sold exclusively at Popular Bookstore until April. To review Open, you can go to Good Reads where the book is listed.

To participate in Instagram, take a picture with the book and hashtag #OpenEveryChildMatters, @evawongnava, to share about your reading journey. I would love to hear from you.

Every Child Matters

Today has been an emotional rollercoaster ride of sorts.

It all started this morning at the memoir writing class I attended with veteran children’s book writer, Emily Lim. She is also a memoirist who wrote about a period in her life when she lost her voice due to a rare neurological disorder called Spasmodic Dysphonia. She struggled for 10 years with this condition and finally has her voice back; it is now gently whispery with a character of its own and she sounds positively divine. Her story is one of heroism against all odds. Heart wrenching. Encouraging. Miraculous. Her book, Finding My Voice, is a page turner. I finished it in one night’s reading and you can too. Her story touched me in so many ways and it will touch your lives too.

Emily also conducts workshops on memoir writing. I’ve always fancied myself writing memoirs of sorts. I started with blogging about my food trails when living in Paris. The blog soon took off with a life of its own. With each food discovery, I also discovered that recipes themselves have stories of their own which led me to researching the myriad ways of cooking and eating the many familiar but taken-for-granted dishes of my childhood; these researches formed the backstory to the memories of savouring particular dishes with friends and family. Hence, the blog became a food memoir which traces my journeys in the City of Light looking for veritable Asian dishes because I was missing home. Now, my life has taken another path and I’m now a freelance writer, with a children’s title to my name. The food blog has had to take a bit of a hiatus, unfortunately. But I’m sure that with my next writing venture in mind–memoir writing, the blog will rise from the ashes iminently.

The next thing that happened was listening to Maggie Lai, another memoirist, tell of her story in writing a memoir about the period in her life when she was an educator to wayward teens in an educational institution where her students saw very little hope in their lives and “where some say “It’s The End” [book blurb]. In her memoir, Raw Diamonds, Maggie traces her experiences of being that educator to those who needed boundaries set, encouragement beyond the call of duty and embracement of a kind that some children have never had.

As an educator in my past life, I understand the challenges Maggie went through in trying to bring the love of learning to students who can’t see the importance of education in their lives because their worlds have been turned upside down from abuse, neglect and poverty. Every child mattered to Maggie who struggled to make a difference in these children’s lives. Her story resonated with me. It triggered memories of being a teacher in an inner-city London comprehensive where more than half the lesson time was spent in setting boundaries for teens who would throw their pens at me, disrupt the lesson at every juncture or talk incessantly amongst themselves. It took me a good part of 7 months to gain respect from my class. It took a personal story of struggles that struck a chord in these teens I was teaching because my story resonated with their own struggles of being a constantly overlooked teenager that society turned a blind eye to because they didn’t fit into the mould. Square pegs round holes, was what my Head of Department called these kids.  Every Child Matters, was what I learnt. “This is what inequality looks like” was another lesson learnt.

The following thing that happened took place after the workshop.

In a rather busy area of town, there is a shopping mall, specialising in books and art supplies, housed in an old, lacklustre monstrosity of a building, a go-to for locals looking to buy second-hand books, past-year exam papers, books and stationery. There, I quickly found my way to the most popular bookstore in Singapore, aptly named… Popular Bookstore. I wanted to see if Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure has been stocked.

Imagine my joy when I saw those blue books sitting on two shelves independently. Blue is Open’s favourite colour, by the way. So, in discussing the design of the book cover, it only made sense to have the background in blue. Many folks have asked me about the illustrator who worked on the cover. I’m so privileged to have worked with an illustrator whom I met because as many children book writers will know, writers and illustrators can sometimes live across oceans and never meet. Liz Lim is young, likeable and super talented.

Emotional rollercoaster ride.

The minute I saw those blue gems shining in their own light under some very bright lights provided by the bookstore, a lump immediately formed in my throat. You mustn’t cry. No, no, I won’t cry. Keep a straight face, get over yourself. And I did. I composed myself, made the hubby take some photos and even managed to sell a copy of the book to a lovely bespectacled boy who was looking for suitable reading material. I asked him if he’s heard of a condition called autism and he said no. I went into overdrive and persuaded him, rather his mother, to buy Open so that he can learn about the world of a little boy who lives with autism. The mummy kindly bought the book and I obliged with an autograph dedicated to Wayne. If you’re reading this, you get a mention, Wayne, for being a risk-taker and choosing this story over another one that you could’ve asked mummy to buy. Well done, you!

For those of you who don’t know where Popular Bookstore is, they have a website with a store locator. That’s for those who are visiting Singapore and want a copy of Open. Treat the book as one of the many souvenirs you’ll be buying. There’s more packed in there than raising awareness of autism.

Every Child Matters.

When you purchase your copy, please take a selfie with the book and hashtag, #Openeverychildmatters. Spread the love of reading books, be that risk-taker like Wayne, who chose a book with text over a graphic novel. [disclaimer: nothing wrong with graphic novels, I read them too.]

#Openeverychildmatters

 

Quote of the Day

“Papa tells me that my eyes shine with light too and that I must remember to look people in the eye so that they can see my light.” — Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure —

 

It’s not often that I get quoted.

And if I do, I’d like to be quoted for the right things and for saying something meaningful. Who wants to end up with a [hashtag] #dumbthingssaid, right? Certainly, not me.

I went into the publishers – Ethos Books – yesterday to sign some copies of my book. I wanted my first 50 readers to have a special signed copy. They deserve it for being so supportive.

For those following me here, you may already know that my tagline is –to a more open and inclusive world– which is found right under my humungous logo photo. It’s not that I wanted to make that picture of myself so big when viewing on desktop. It’s just that the theme I’ve chosen for the author website just makes my image come up this big. If you’re spooked, I suggest a friendlier sized picture of me on your mobile or tablet.

Back to quotes.

Of course, being at a publisher’s office means being surrounded by books, not just my own, of course. My eyes were attracted to the many wonderful book covers on display, the books which were still wrapped on the shelves, and new titles ready to hit the shops. So, what does a writer and lover of books do? She buys books, of course.

I was chuffed to be buying Charmaine Chan’s The Magic Circle and This is What Inequality Looks Like, essays by Teo You Yenn. I’ll be blogging about both books in this space later.

A shopper must carry her purchases in a bag.

The team at Ethos handed me my books in a canvas bag with lots of words on it. I didn’t take much notice of the words precisely except to note mentally that it’s really a very suitable shopping bag for two reasons: they’re a publisher so words are their raison d’être and canvas bags are environmentally friendly which always gets a thumbs up from me.

Then, Suning, my editor said, “Look, there’s a quote from your book.”

That got me excited and I squinted hard to find the line from Open amongst the sea of words. And there it was: “Papa tells me that my eyes shine with light too and that I must remember to look people in the eye so that they can see my light.”

My eyes lit up too. My vision blurry from the tears welling up. I was so touched to see that line on the canvas bag. This does something good for the ego which must get positive feedback to thrive. I now belong to the many people out there who are being quoted.

You can quote me on this.

 

 

 

The Birth of A New Generation

D-day.

It’s the day every pregnant woman anticipates with anxiety, bated breath and excitement – the birth of her baby.

Look, folks, here is mine – Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure.

It’s hard to explain this emotion I’m feeling right now. Having a book published is not the same as birthing a baby, I know. I know because I’ve had two of my own. Trust me, giving birth without the influence of drugs is not something I’d recommend to anyone. I did it. Twice. Survived to tell the tale. But… Aw… I’d do it again because I survived to tell the tale and I can tell you that it’s fine. The best feeling in the world is the feeling you get when baby is placed on your stomach right after and then in your arms when swaddled. It’s beyond exhilarating. Indescribable.

Book.

What’s that gotta do with a baby, you ask. Well, a very famous writer once said that writing is easy, you just sit at the typewriter and bleed. [A free book to anyone who can tell me who this writer is (only one book to give away), so be quick.] Of course it’s not as bad as it sounds although this writer did mean by bleed, the sheer handwork behind and energy involved in the creation and birthing of a book. His books are his babies too.

And bleed I have but with enormous triumph and pride. Here’s my  baby, readers of the world. Please listen to the story he has to tell because all children love to be listened to, not just heard.

Buy your copy here.

 

Let’s Talk About Open

In my book, Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure, the protagonist is named Benjamin. He has ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is also a non-verbal autistic. It is good to note that some autistic individuals may speak without stopping while many are non-verbal or partially verbal.

This movie still is courtesy of Brainchild Picture, the studio that produced The Wayang Kids, a movie about a bunch of primary school kids who must perform in a Chinese opera performance. Leading the team is a mildly autistic boy who doesn’t speak. He has to convince his friends and ultimately himself that he is good enough to play the role of Monkey King.

The book is an adaptation of the movie where Open has a voice.

It has been a very interesting and fulfilling writing journey for me working with Raymond Tan of Brainchild in producing this book. The collaboration has been one of friendship, camaraderie, the meeting of creative minds and most of all, growth.

As writers, we all know that putting ourselves into the shoes of the characters we write about can be a challenging endeavour. How can we represent these characters who are individuals in themselves, yet be that writer who forgoes ego remaining authentic to the character?

Raymond and I will be discussing this during the official book launch of Open. Come see us and join in the conversation about how Singapore literature can foster an environment of inclusivity in our communities and societies.

BOOK LAUNCH — OPEN: A BOY’S WAYANG ADVENTURE

is taking place 10 March 2–3 pm at the Living Room, The Arts House, under the banner of the BuySinglit Campaign which runs from 9 – 11 March, 2018. 

The launch programme will look at how Singapore literature can play a part in encouraging inclusivity. Singapore based British author Eva Wong Nava and film director Raymond Tan—the creative minds behind Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure—will be holding a dialogue about representation, acceptance, and preserving our cultural histories.

pexels-photo-295826.jpeg

 

Eva Wong Nava

Welcome to the official website of Eva Wong Nava, author of Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure.

Eva Wong Nava lives between two worlds. She reads copiously and writes voraciously. She holds a degree in English Literature and Language from the University of Hull where Philip Larkin was once the University Librarian; a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) from University College London where the Institute of Education resides, and a certificate in Art Writing from Sotheby’s Art Institute which she undertook to better understand what the craft entails. She holds a M.A. in Art History and has taught children and adults how they can use writing for communication and play. She is the founder of CarpeArte Journal, an online space, which publishes works of flash fiction.  Eva’s flash fiction has appeared in various places and her writing on art have been published in international art journals.

Eva is the author of Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure. Her book is about a 10-year-old boy on the autism spectrum who must overcome his obstacles to perform on stage. Along the way, he befriends a girl who loves him and accepts him for who he is.

This children’s fiction has been slated for publication by Ethos Books, Singapore who believes in representing emergent voices from diverse backgrounds. Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure has been commended for being “[…] a gift calling to the largeness of our hearts.”

Open: A Boy’s Wayang Adventure took home the bronze medal at the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award, 2018.

“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”
― Anaïs Nin