Singapore Writers Festival 2015 (Part 4)

For part 3, click here.

Bright Lights, Dark Cities. Most of the panelists write about dark and gory plots. Life is like an arcade. Is life meaningless without a plan? There is indeed a dark side to Tokyo. There are spates of crime and the problem of income inequality. That is what makes cities intriguing. There are commonalties between Tagalog and Malay. However, the Filipino movies appear to have better plots than the Malay ones. Is Singapore really a restrictive place? Things appear to have changed somehow. Troy Chin is a comic artist who likes to ask the question ‘Why we are what we are?’ He is curious about mankind and Singaporeans in particular. He writes in order to bring out the ‘rawness’ in human beings. Some of his books have such a theme. The problems with cities is that it is possible to feel lonely even though there are millions of people in the city. Human companionship is about connection and not the number of people around you. Some of the books have the theme of ‘searching for their own place in the city’. It might not so appealing to live in a city after all. Most foreigners are intrigued by life in Japan. There are two ways to express yourself in Japan. You can either be polite and respectful or brutally honest. Singapore is a large melting pot of cultures and establishing a true identity might take a little more time. Do books need to have a resolution? Or is a book just supposed to describe a stream of consciousness? Some authors feel that characters are an alter-ego. Prostitution and stealing things were humans’ first jobs on Earth. Hence, it is interesting to write about them. Can you escape your fate? Are people in KL all aggressive? Sometimes, ordinary people can be driven to do extraordinary bad things. There was a story of cannibals eating loan sharks. Technology is causing us to lose that human-to-human interaction and this could be a problem in future. Would people become even lonelier?

Tweet for Change. Egyptians used social media during the uprising of their current president. It was certainly powerful and moving. Does social media influence the narrative and what people think? How does social media and traditional media compete for people’s attention? The aim of social media might not to go viral, but it could be just to raise genuine attention for a cause. It is important to be engaged with your audience. There are so many platforms of social media that one can use nowadays. It is important to choose the right one. One of the authors used WordPress to write about mental illnesses. If you are a blogger, it is important to blog consistently and ensure that your posts have a good following. Timing of release of posts are also important. Can social media create real change? The amount of time that should be spent on the ground should not be neglected. Do not forget to do the real work as well. Even if you use social media, nothing beats face-to-face connections and developing genuine offline relationships. For the authors, creating a blog and then writing a book was an organic process. There is this argument that a # is not a movement and that it takes real action to create change. Should social media be measured based on whether it can be translated into action? Sometimes, even if direct action may not be created, it is still important to create awareness among the public. Some people criticize young people for being keyboard ‘activists’. Sustained social media interaction is necessary to create impact. Nowadays, it is possible to raise money via crowd-funding projects. The benefits of blogs is that it can reach out to more people in a swift manner. Also, the posts are more time sensitive and you can elicit feedback via the comments section instantly. There are actually some trolls that are paid to talk nonsense and flame bloggers. Such comments might actually have the effect of forcing the blogger to adjust their writing style etc. Different social media platforms should be used for different purposes. The whole idea of using social media is that it is more horizontal and decentralized in nature. Therefore, it is possible to reach out to more diverse groups of people as compared to traditional media. However, social media can become dangerous when what is popular becomes the new narrative. Also, the problem of cyber bullying and hiding using anonymity might become more prevalent. One should not spend too much time on social media or treat social media as their form of obtaining news. The modern generation of people have a short attention span and usually can’t read beyond 1000 words per article. As an author, you are only as good as your last article. Twitter is not popular at all in Hong Kong. Social media in good in the sense that it can offer alternative viewpoints that traditional media can’t

International Criminal Minds. Often, murderers try to be perfect, but they are not. Is it possible to plan a perfect murder and get away with it? It might be. However, humans are not infallible and people might accidentally reveal their plan to others, thus foiling it. The easiest way to get away with it is when you have no connection at all to the victim and leave no clues at the murder scene. Nowadays, in modern cities, CCTV and smartphones are prevalent. It is difficult to get away with crimes. One of the speakers was Japanese writer, Fuminori Nakamura. Murderers often act against the victims whom they already know. Some suffer from irreparable damage from people that they know or claim to know. There is always this debate about what is good, what is bad etc. At times, the divide can be very fine indeed. It is common for drunk people to act in more violent ways than usual. It is usually quite difficult to catch lone wolves. Crime novelists are usually interested to find out what people’s motivations are and what causes them to commit crimes. Sometimes, the trigger might not even be a very big or significant event. Should novels end off with a sense of hope? Crime fiction is all about trying to solve mysteries and puzzles. In this way, it parallels life as there are always problems to be solved. Often, we find those around us mysterious and want to get down to the root of the problem etc. Essentially, we are trying to solve the puzzles of other people. Crime is becoming a more popular genre in fiction. Crime could be also seen as a mirror to society. Some books try to ‘glorify’ or celebrate violence in order to get readers hooked onto the plot. There are many aspects to crime and murder is just one of them. ‘Gone Girl’ has sold really well and it is a psychological thriller. Not all crimes are of the stereotypical type where a young female victim gets raped. Japanese Manga tends to feature more violence, for instance, the ‘Dragonball’ series. However, the writers do that because they intend to bring the dead back to life. University murders are often a plot used by British crime fiction authors. The problem is that when people disagree, things start to happen. Countryside crimes are very common. For beginning authors, it is important to write what you already know and with what you are familiar with. Learn to emulate the best authors at the start of your writing career. To draw readers, hook them with the impossible. Learn to find the right person if you are trying to conduct research. If you observe others, you will realize that people like to talk about their own experiences and expertise. People like talking about themselves.

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The panelist examined celebrities. What was fame like in the 19th century? Alfred Wallace was a biologist who competed with Charles Darwin. Apparently, they had similar research but only Darwin was renowned with the theory of evolution as he published first. Avi Sirlin wrote about Alfred Wallace in his book and how under-rated he was. During their time, if you revealed ground-breaking research which wasn’t accepted by religion, there would be an uproar. Therefore, scientists need to play their cards carefully. There was always this debate of Science vs Religion. Is life in the Science community about trying to become famous and claim credit/discredit your competitors? Some of the famous starts in the 1950s included Jim Morrison, David Bowie, Elvis Presley etc. They, unlike the scientific community, are good looking people. Looks matter greatly in the entertainment industry. The pop culture emerged because teenagers were empowered and there was this globalization of the entertainment industry. Therefore, popularity in the scientific vs music industry is completely different. Luck matters as well. The advent of the Internet and modern technology has certainly helped entertainers to flourish. However, does it also present too much competition? If anyone can sing and record themselves on YouTube, would there be too low barriers to entry? Do successful musicians still require a producer, director etc? Even politicians like Tony Blair and David Cameron were appealing in terms of their looks. Do looks matter in politics? The new Canadian PM certainly fits that category too. Modern society is becoming more visual and reliant on looks. Given the power of the press, it is essential to be on good terms with the media as any negative coverage might just kill off your career. There is an increasing shift of traditional Western dominance of pop culture to the East. People are becoming more exposed to music in Japan, China etc. China is a dominant market which cannot be overlooked at all. Will we see media personalities entering politics in future, given their good looks and popularity to begin with?

It’s Nature’s Way of Telling You. Rob Cowen wrote a book titled ‘The Common Ground’. It was about his experience living in a house in the hedge land in a countryside in England. Since young, he has been fascinated with nature and its relation with humans. Nature always brings new perspectives. One has to be observant and watch the details. There was a point in his life where he was repulsed by the human world, economic recessions and all. He felt that humans were living in their fake and virtual world which was surrounded by concrete structures. In the hedge land he was in, there was untapped natural beauty, with many bird and animal history. There is certainly a rich tapestry on disused land. Throughout his stay in the house, he took down field-notes, which eventually became material for his book. Being in touch with nature allows you to be in touch with the past and the future. It might even allow you to find answers for why are you placed on this Earth. One can find a profound sense of identity by living with nature. Humans did not have to evolve and grow to like nature. It is sad that some people in modern society have lost touch with nature and are simply too busy to even care. It is important for the human soul to be attached to a place/location which they can always return to. Hunting for your own food can be a therapeutic and out-of-body experience. While technology is useful, do not be over-reliant on it. In Japan, taking a bath in the forest can be a way to heal mental illnesses. One should learn to be mindful of their surroundings. Green spaces like ‘The Green Corridor’ offer much for people to admire. However, Singaporeans need to lobby and campaign for such places to be preserved. Man-made and curated beauty cannot compare with pure natural beauty. Nature is indifferent to humans and it can rear its ugly head too. Humans and nature are inter-wined into one common entity. We are inseparable.



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