Trying my hand at horror

So, about three weeks ago I facilitated a creative writing workshop focusing on settings—dealing with what, why and how. And because it was a small group, I had the opportunity to participate in the writing exercises and prompts I had set.

First hurdle, though, was myself.

I’m a good teacher (if I may say so myself), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m good at everything. In fact, I think my greater gift lies in helping other writers, and less in writing certain genres… like horror.

I’ve always loved the horror genre. Absolutely nothing terrifies me, or holds my attention, the way horror can. But I know my limits—writing horror doesn’t come naturally to me.

(By now I think it’s pretty clear that my greatest hurdle is myself.)

So when one of my writing prompts calls for writing the setting for a horror story, I decided to challenge myself. And the result, it turned out, wasn’t too bad—even got an encouraging gasp from some of the participants, which is pretty rad, really.

So… here it is, raw, unedited writing. Critique it if you’d like—always open to ways to improve!

Everything was silent and absolutely, deathly still—inside the house, that is. Outside was a different story. The weather forecast warned of high winds at a peak of 150 kilometres per hour. What the forecast failed to mention, however, was the crackling of tree branches, thrown about by the merciless wind. Merciless, with an anger that grabbed trees and plucked them out of the ground like they were mere saplings. And what the forecast also failed to mention were the brilliant flashes of lightning, followed by deafening, echoing claps that seemed to come from inside you. The sky outside was blood red, streaked with flashes of white, cocooned by thunder—the silhouettes of the swaying trees were tinged, stained in red, like the sky had bled onto it. The wind howled through the tightly shut windows, echoing throughout the dark, empty house. There came a sharp crack overhead—a loud rustling of papery leaves, and then—a loud smack against the window, shattering glass, intruding into the house. Then all became still. Emily stayed as still as she could under the covers. The wind had stopped, and the night air was silent. Emily exhaled.

And then the floorboards creaked.

What goes into writing, really?

Okay, so heads up—this is going to be a somewhat personal (read: not professional-professional) post… Run now while you can!

What goes into writing? What goes into writing a book?

TV shows, movies etc make it seem so easy, making the writing process seem like an easy, smooth stream of click-clackity typing elegantly churning out line after line of polished prose.

Of course we all know that doesn’t happen in real life.

What happens in real life can mostly, I think, be encapsulated in three scenarios.

1.The Thousand Yard Stare Scenario

You’re in your favourite writing spot, Word (or Pages) document open, with that clean, blank, white page staring at you. You stare back. Intensely. And then somewhat dreamily. And… nothing happens. You’ve got the idea/plot/outline in your head, but the blinking typing cursor (yup, that’s what it’s called—legit) seems to have sapped you of your writing prowess.

2. The Type and Walk Away… And Return, and Walk Away… Scenario

Okay, so this one’s the one where you actually get some words written/typed, but everything else in the world seems more interesting. Like the cat grooming itself. Or that biscuit you left on the kitchen counter for tea time (which certainly isn’t supposed to happen now). Or the laundry that you suddenly remember needs doing. So you end up walking away—for hours, sometimes—come back to your work, and realise you’ve kinda forgotten what you were writing. And then it comes back to you, you write a couple more sentences, and then you wonder what’s happening on Facebook, and then…

3. The Type/Write-Delete-Repeat Scenario

You’ve got it figured out in your head, you start writing/typing, and then realise it’s reads like absolutely garbage, you aggressively hit the ‘delete’ button (or angrily crush up the piece of paper you’ve been writing on), and then you try again.

Chances are the writing’s not as bad as you think it is. And sometimes we just need to get words down on paper, and then work on revising it after that.

Don’t be disheartened (I know, it’s easy for me to say, even though I know how soul-crushing the writing process can be)—just keep pressing away at it, and remember that Real Writers Revise. Get an editor to look over your writing. Or take a few weeks’ break from your work, then come back and read it with fresh eyes.

The writing process isn’t as romantic as it’s portrayed in the media (and social media), but art is born out of hard places.

 

Doldrum Saturdays

tired writer
The weekend has rolled around, yet again. And your writing to-do list just keeps getting longer and longer. You have a million and one other things you have to do before you feel like you can ‘indulge’ in your writing—things like laundry, dishes, feeding yourself, working a ‘real’ job that pays the monthly bills, resting because you’re sick and absolutely knackered from working that said real job… you get the picture.
Sound familiar?
If it does, good news is that you’re not alone. It’s a fact of life that there will be a hundred things happening at the same time, all equally important and vying for your attention.
But that doesn’t mean that your writing has to take a backseat. We shouldn’t have to feel guilty that we take time out of our crazy schedules just to sit down (or go on walks) to think and feel (and write). Even if we don’t actually get much writing done, the thinking is an absolutely important part of the writing process. So don’t feel guilty!
What are the things we can do to help ourselves do the things that need to be done (including writing) and not kill ourselves in the process?
1. Prioritise, plan, and stick to the g*ddamn plan.
This is fairly simple. First, prioritise what needs to be done. Do you need clean clothes and underwear and your wardrobe is empty and you still have to show up to work in a somewhat presentable manner? Then prioritise your laundry. Plan what you’re going to do in your week or day. While your clothes and stinky undies are in the wash, perhaps you could make yourself an easy meal. Something good for you, but easy to make. Like grilled fish and steamed veggies. Yum. And then sit down in your favoured thinking/feeling/writing spot and start working. And stick to the damn plan! Who cares if your favourite TV show is now on?
2. Be kind. To yourself.
If you’re exhausted, you need to rest. You need to be mentally recharged and refreshed and rested before you’re of any use to anyone, including yourself! Resting is not something to feel guilty about. If you’re tired, you think you’re gonna be doing any quality writing?
3. Schedule set times/days for loved ones.
Spend time with the people you love and who love you. Listen to them. Listen to their stories. Ask them about their day. Be present. And when that’s done, you’ll have had a quality connected time with them, and to add to that, you’ll have more understanding of other people, which can only fuel your writing and add to the quality of your writing. A hermit does not make a good writer. We write to be read. We write about life (whatever the subject matter, it all eventually comes back to the human condition). If you don’t spend time with other people, learning from them and looking at things from their perspectives, you’re gonna have a narrow worldview.
4. Do the work.
We all get lazy sometimes. Art is work. It’s hard work. It tires you out. Because you have to give yourself to it. Because it’s a craft. It’s a skill. It’s something you practise. Not something that just appears out of nowhere. Sit your ass down and give yourself a goal—500 words, 1,000 words, 10,000 words, whatever, just do it. Even 10 words is better than none at all.

Let’s Prose

So I’ve just spent my whole Saturday slaving over finishing up the web copy for the upcoming Let’s Prose—Creative Writing Workshop. The workshop is an initiative of The Eloquent Orifice and is going to be led by dear old me!

It’s all really exciting, and I’m really looking forward to getting back into holding writing workshops. I’ve really missed doing that!

So anyhoo, here’s the ad I designed (very hastily), and the details. More info at www.eloquentorifice.wix.com/publications/events.

Yay!

Let's Prose ad.jpeg

Latest issue of The Eloquent Orifice!

So, the latest issue of my blood, sweat and tears is now published (psst, check out Volume 5 Issue 2 here), and I’m so happy/relieved/tired I could cry. I literally slaved over this issue. Reviewing, editing, graphic design, admin work. You name any step in the publication/production process, I’ve done it.

Cover and TOC previews:

Brb, going to die from exhaustion+love.

What’s better than writing? Winning (a writing prize)!

SingLit Hawker Prize

Exciting news!

So, the literary journal that’s my blood, sweat and tears, The Eloquent Orifice, has been invited to participate in Sing Lit Station’s inaugural Hawker Prize for Southeast Asian Poetry!

The Prize seeks to reward the best poems published by a Southeast Asian literary journal/publication in 2017.

The winning works will be awarded $1500, $700 and $300 for 1st, 2nd and 3rd Place respectively. Honourable Mentions, if any, will not be awarded a cash prize. The results of the Hawker Prize will be announced in March 2018.

As Editor-in-Chief, I will be considering EO-published poems for submission to the Prize. Judges for the Prize are Bernice Chauly (Malaysia), Olin Monteiro (Indonesia) and Ng Yi-Sheng (Singapore).

(I’m very excited! Now to get to work reviewing all EO-published poetry!)

“The H Word”

thedefenders

I just finished binge-watching the Marvel/Netflix mini-series, The Defenders. I sat in bed the whole day, cuddled up with a hot water bottle (Facebook did that whole virtual celebration of spring thingy, but they are sooooo wrong), and watched all eight episodes at a go.

Now, I’ve never paid much mind to what other people think about the Marvel Cinematic Universe—some people think it’s all too vanilla and predictable—but I think it’s fantastic!

It’s wonderful writing, not because I like predictable plots yadah yadah (I really don’t care what people say about it)—the writing is wonderful because it captures my imagination.

And I’m pretty sure I’m not the anomaly, cause every single one of Marvel’s films and TV series in the last 10 years have had such huge success, both commercially and critically.

The reason why The Defenders managed to capture my attention for eight hours straight is because they took their time with plot and character development. There isn’t that Martha sh*t going on (as you can tell, I was severely underwhelmed by DC’s Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice); The Defenders was superbly well thought out in their pacing and plot, connecting dots, bulldozing predictability (as far as a superhero comic can go), and weaving a horrifically dirty, dangerous but real reality around it.

In short, it’s believable. The Defenders has the ability to capture its audience’s attention and imagination, because we can believe in it.

We can believe the personal horrors, trauma, crushed hopes and dreams that each of the characters faces. Everyday characters, but with not-so-everyday abilities. But we can see ourselves, and our friends and neighbours and strangers on the street, in these characters.

We may not all have Claire’s ability to save lives (but our nurses and doctors and paramedics do!), or Daredevil’s otherworldy senses, or Luke Cage’s unbreakable skin (etcetera etcetera, you know where I’m going)—but we can see ourselves in them. Ordinary people, turned extraordinary by circumstance, but still ordinary people with crazy issues. Jessica Jones and her inability to sustain human connection; Misty Knight’s dedication to her passion/job that sees her lose herself (I don’t wanna give away too much); Colleen Wing’s fear of abandonment—these are all real characters, believable characters in a believably violent world (I mean… let’s just take a moment to look around us and try to say our world isn’t violent). The Defenders‘s ability to enthral is its dedication to the writing and plotting—its dedication to its characters by taking the time to flesh them out in earlier character series, and by, really, simply good writing.

Peace out. I need some food.

 

My book is published!

I’m very excited to share that the book I’ve written is now being sold in Singapore!
 
It was a painstaking writing process, and even more so during the editing process (I did *not* edit my own book—I could hardly look at it after I was done writing. But I wish I had, because…… but that’s a story for another day).
 
The book contains 75 (yes, SEVENTY-FIVE) original stories and articles. It’s the perfect tool to encourage reading, as well as refine your understanding of grammar. Each line in each story/article tests your understanding of grammar, and your ability to spot mistakes and edit them.
 
If nothing, I think it’s a highly entertaining read with funny takes on different popular stories (if I may say so myself…).
Please spread the word, share this post, get a copy of my book!
 
Teacher friends, if you’re interested in having this book adopted for your school (read: up to 20% discount off of retail price!), please contact me, and I’ll put you through to someone who will be able to help! ❤
 
I’m grateful to all at Marshall Cavendish.
 
Also very grateful to my funny husband, JamesBook cover, who supplied me with inspiration and lots of laughter, and who kept pushing me to write even when I didn’t feel like writing.

Katsushika Hokusai

I’ve never been a particularly big fan of early Japanese art. It’s not that I didn’t like it—it just didn’t move me the way classical European paintings do with their deeply intense, emotive imagery and light and shadows, such as Anguish by August Friedrich Schenck.

August Friedrich Schenck_Anguish
Anguish (c. 1880), August Friedrich Schenck. Oil on canvas.  This piece is currently at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia.

When I first saw this painting—housed in a large room with more than forty other works—I couldn’t tear my eyes away from it. I started crying (to my then-fiancé’s worried shock). There was just so much feeling in the painting. Schenck’s juxtaposition of the whites and creams against the dark shadows and blacks of the crows is simply sublime.

So whenever I look at early Japanese paintings, with all the hype about the Japonais, I just couldn’t seem to bring any sort of strong emotion to the fore. It’s not that early Japanese art isn’t one of the most exquisite, most refined paintings in the history of art, and it’s not that I was insensible of their beauty—they were beautiful, but they felt distant and cold, to me.

Perhaps it’s just my own individual sensibilities—emotive works appeal to me more.

But when I walked through the doors into NGV’s exhibition on Katsushika Hokusai’s works, my feelings about early Japanese art took a 180-turn.

Hokusai’s intricately detailed paintings (and sketches in his manga), capturing pastoral life in microcosm, not to mention breathtaking views of nature, and the delicately balanced use of light and shadows in his work draws the viewer in, into the painting, leaving the viewer no choice but to partake in the scene before them.

Hokusai’s works drew me into them, and left me but one word to describe what I felt when faced with his breathtaking works: sublime.

Breathtaking works like The Great Wave Off KanagawaThe Waterfall Where Yoshitsune Washed His Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province, and for some reason, especially Viewing the Sunset over Ryogoku Bridge from the Onmaya Embankment.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Hokusai (c. 1830). Colour woodblock.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa (c. 1830), Hokusai. Colour woodblock.
Sunset across the Ryogoku bridge
Viewing the Sunset over Ryogoku Bridge from the Onmaya Embankment (1830–34), Hokusai. Colour woodblock.
The Waterfall where Yoshitsune washed his horse
The Waterfall Where Yoshitsune Washed His Horse at Yoshino in Yamato Province (c. 1832), Hokusai. Colour woodblock.

The way Hokusai captured motion in stillness, his expertly balanced darkness and lightness, the mindblowing depth created, the juxtaposition between tones, between vibrancy and melancholy—when combined had the overall effect of making you a part of the story.

If you haven’t caught the Hokusai exhibition yet, you’re missing out!