I love long-haul flights and train rides and rarely suffer from jetlag. I take it as a chance to reset and to be awake at a time when my body and mind are usually unconscious. Being “away” – be it physically or mentally – is something I have always felt is in my blood, perhaps because I was conceived by people in constant motion. My father is a commercial pilot and my mother was a flight stewardess, both for Singapore Airlines. As a kid, I loved looking at my father’s roster and making a mental note of all the airport codes: CDG was Paris, PEK was Beijing, LAX was Los Angeles.
This filters into the way I process the world and work. I do not like monolithic interpretations and constantly search for a multitude of voices and ways of being. Being in motion is a state of constant curiosity, openness, wonder and horror. It does not necessarily mean you are always travelling but is more about how you perceive and move through the world.
1992: Year the Singapore Literature Prize began. Amanda Lee Koe won it in 2014.
I understand why the connection between “travel”, “inspiration” and “creativity” is often made, but I think that these perceived linkages can be a little superficial and escapist. Creativity must be able to present itself anywhere and anytime if you are serious about your craft. Plus, the best sort of inspiration is not the kind you seek. It sneaks up upon you when you are not expecting it.
Most of Delayed Rays of a Star was written in New York, a mercurial place that shows different sides depending on how you engage with it. But parts of it were also written in Berlin, a key city in which the novel is set, and also in Bangkok, where my partner was making a feature film. Being in a space that is an aesthetic fit for what you’re working on, such as Berlin, is as engaging as it is to be in one that has nothing to do with your subject matter, like Bangkok.
Writing a novel is so absorbing that you should be able to work anywhere. The process is also a way to travel without travelling – with the right emotional and historical homework, you can reach a good cruising altitude with your characters as you try to navigate plot.
If I were forced to describe myself as a writer, or even just as a human, I would say that I was born and raised in Singapore, and now I live and work in New York.
“Being in motion is a state of constant curiosity, openness, wonder and horror”
With Delayed Rays of a Star, I wanted to write something completely truthful and deeply personal to me, and it was clear that it should not be limited to elements related to Singapore or even Asia.
As a porous polyglot city girl, the concept of being “away” is ironically the part of my Singaporean identity I identify with the most. Home is a mental concept I locate in people, objects and ideas, rather than any one place or time.
Illustrations by Stuart Patience
SEE ALSO: 4 Singaporean authors making a name for themselves overseas
This article was originally published in the October 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine