I have just returned from steamy, spectacular Singapore, full of gratitude, wonder and chilli tofu. I was the final writer in an exchange between Singapore and Western Australia, featuring folk who contributed to Near and Dear, a collection of short stories edited by Ken Spillman and supported by the Department of Culture and the Arts and writingwa (here) and the National Arts Council (there). So far, 3000 copies of the book have been distributed to keen young readers and writers, a bunch of whom I met on my tour.
Writing and literature have to fight their way into a crowded curriculum, in Singapore as everywhere else, and I was particularly impressed with the determination of the teachers I met to make sure their students get the exposure to creative endeavours, and to practice them. Apart from all the benefits reading for pleasure gives academically (see here), it also helps us understand each other: books give you the singular opportunity to get inside someone else’s head, to walk in their shoes, to inhabit their skin. In a world where the effect of intolerance is everywhere, this is a rare gift.
I was also reminded of the warmth of the children’s literature community everywhere, being reacquainted with the Singapore chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators over a delicious Indian banquet. (Delicious is a redundant description of Singaporean food, because it all is, but nevertheless, indulge me!) Thank you, SCBWI folk!
So, thank you to the people who got me there: Department of Culture and the Arts, the National Arts Council of Singapore (especially Christie Cheng and Felix Cheong), the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund and Literary Lions. And thank you to all the schools who hosted me, my most excellent minder Dhava, David Liew for his characteristically brilliant recording of my session, William Phuan from The Select Centre, and Rosemarie Somaiah. It was enriching in both directions, and I look forward to my next encounter with Peranakan food, among the many other excellent things in Singapore.