Personal tales in print: Page 2 of 4

Personal tales in print
Participants at a memoir-writing session held at The Arts House.

Some memoirs are a harder sell.

Ethos Books just last week published The Sound Of Sch by polytechnic lecturer Danielle Lim, which the publisher hopes will sell at least 1,000 copies.

The author writes of life with her schizophrenic uncle and her mother's struggles to care for him until he died in 1994. There is such social stigma against mental illness that she does not use her mother's real name in the book and worries that her three children might be teased or ostracised at school if other parents hear about the book.

Still, Lim, 40, says: "There's not enough awareness about mental illness and mental health. Maybe if this book can help people, it would make my mother and my uncle's struggles not in vain."

Her publisher, Ethos Books, also brought out the Singapore Literature Prize-shortlisted Kampong Boy, whose author M. Ravi has bipolar disorder.

The company's founder, Mr Fong Hoe Fang, is also behind political memoirs such as Beyond The Blue Gate (2010) by lawyer and political detainee Teo Soh Lung - it has sold 4,500 copies through direct sales.

Ethos Books also published a collection of stories from Singapore exiles, Escape From The Lion's Paw (2012), which inspired film-maker Tan Pin Pin's award-winning work, To Singapore, With Love, which has been prohibited from being publicly screened here.

Mr Fong says he publishes memoirs "because I think the stories are tremendous. There's something for all of us here to learn".

But not every memoir writer seeks to have his or her life story printed for public consumption.

Trainer Thomas Kuan, 66, mentored 13 students at The Arts House last year and is taking another dozen from the ages of 40 to 82 through their paces this year.

While he encourages them to pen their experiences, he would not want to see his own life story in print, though he has penned it for his three daughters to read. "It's more for my children. I want to tell them what daddy has gone through in life," he says.

Similarly, novelist Catherine Lim, 73, says this year's Roll Out The Champagne, Singapore! and the personal meditations in Unhurried Thoughts At My Funeral (2005) are the closest she will get to writing an autobiography.

"I'm not ready to write a memoir yet. There are things that are too difficult to get right," she says.

Instead, she dishes in the new book on her writing process, what inspires her stories and also that headline-grabbing open letter in 1994 to then prime minister Goh Chok Tong, stating that there was a "great affective divide" between the ruling People's Action Party and the people. Published in The Straits Times, the letter sparked a rebuke from Mr Goh, much public debate and earned Lim a reputation as a "political commentator".

Lim says what keeps her from writing a memoir about her life is how full disclosure affects her nearest and dearest.

Already, she is worried about the family reception to the few stories from her childhood in Roll Out The Champagne, Singapore!, including revelations that her father sold her mother's jewellery to fuel his drinking habit.

"There are quandaries I haven't resolved so I think it would be a little difficult to write an autobiography," she says.

But if someone were to offer to do a biography of her? "Go right ahead," she says with a laugh.

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