Singapore Writers Festival’s ‘Words Go Round’

I have attended not one, but many panel discussions and lectures about creative writing, theatre, YouTubing and film-making.

From India to Singapore, Bollywood to Korean Drama – I have met experts and heard them talk on various issues. Because of that, I barely have high hopes for such events anymore.

Of course, you get to learn about new perspectives of different artists, but no one talks about the real challenges of making it in the industry. Yet this time, it was different – I realized I learnt more in a day than in my 6 years of college.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a session organized by the Singapore Writers Festival. This was under their series called “Words Go Round” – an outreach programme for students, teachers and the community.

‘The Double Bill: Tell a Story of Korea and Singapore’ had two sessions:

  • Shine or Go Crazy: K-Drama Narratives with Helen Oyeyemi
  • So You Want to Be a Writer featuring Hirzi Zulkiflie, Kirsten Tan, Gwee Li Sui and Corrie Tan

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Session One

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Author of 5 bestsellers and evidently a hardcore Korean drama fan (well, who isn’t?), Helen Oyeyemi told us about how these narratives were much more than terminal illnesses and evil stepmothers.

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She also drew parallels between novels and k-dramas, and in the end, spoke about the elements that have led to the resurgence of Korean dramas.

Helen fondly shared how Korean dramas had affected her way of storytelling – how absurdly beautiful the idea of “strangeness” seemed to her now. She added that two key parts of these story formats are imagining beyond the ordinary and exaggerating emotions.

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After the lecture, I got a chance to interact with Helen directly. I asked her about the basic difference between writing a book and a screenplay, to which she said:

“While writing a book you have to be quite detailed and present at the moment. You do not have the leverage of flashbacks or flash-forwards like the visual medium. Whereas, while writing a narrative for the screen, you have to be experimental and vivid.”

The icing on the cake was that I got a signed copy of Helen’s “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours”!

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Session 2

After the lecture, which was a sumptuous appetizer, began the panel discussion that turned out to be a delectable main course!

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The panel’s most experienced member was Mr. Gwee Li Sui – a writer, graphic artist, poet and literature critic who was among the first pioneers to put Singlish on the map.

Mr. Gwee gave us insights about what writing actually was – something that demands a lot of time, sacrifices and dedication.

He emphasized on the fact that anybody who wants to be a writer must be aware that it is not going to be easy. Money, family and a lot of luxuries will not be around for larger parts of life.

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He also warned millennials to not consider ourselves “poets” the minute we write one poem on social media. On being asked about content, Mr. Gwee had an amazing advice. He said:

“Find out a balance between what people want to hear and what you want to write. Somewhere between these two lines, you will strike the right chord.”

The next panellist was Hirzi Zulkiflie – a popular YouTuber whose videos we all have loved for past ten years. Comedian Hirzi recently parted ways with his partner Munah Bagharib to focus more on writing.

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Hirzi shared with us how talking about relevant issues and current topics were crucial to make yourself relevant online. On being asked if it hurt when he got a bad comment on a video, his reply amazed me.

“Feeling hurt is personality driven. I don’t feel hurt, I feel challenged and I work harder and let my work speak for itself.

For me, Kirsten Tan was the showstopper of the evening. Her debut feature film “Pop Aye” was picked for Singapore’s Foreign Language Film submission to the 90th Academy Awards this year.

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Kirsten’s raw honesty and sheer transparency took the discussion to an altogether different level. She spoke about things that no one tells us.

One of the discussions by her that intrigued my mind the most was that art was probably not much of a democratic element rather it was more of one person’s vision.

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She also explained that there are no fixed formulas for a perfect film – it is your art and craft that matter. She very honestly spoke her mind about how screenwriting schools were not of much use. She added

 “Production labs or incubators are much better where you could make something and then learn out of the process.”

Another important thing that she discussed was how finances were a key in film-making and being able to procure grants was not an easy process.

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Through these sessions, I gained practical knowledge and a sneak peek into what the challenges of the creative world actually are.

From sustaining yourself to honing the art and making it big to deal with criticism – they shared it all.

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