Young & published

Stories of teenage romance, mystery-solving and how young people are coping with a changing world are best told by teens, for teens. That belief has spurred Singapore's young turks to put pen to paper, resulting in a range of literary works of their own.

No longer content with reading comics or young adult fiction written by older people, several first-time authors aged 12 to 20 - from the Linkster generation - have published at least five fiction texts in the last six months.

A spike in the number of first-time scribes being published here is discernable, said Mr Kenneth Quek, deputy director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore. under five publishers - including Epigram Books, Bubbly Books, Jemari Seni and Crimson Earth - and written in three languages. That they encompass a wide range of genres, from philosophical musings to fantasy adventures, further underscores the fact that they represent a diverse cross-section of young people.

WHY THEY WRITE

The chief motivator for the spurt of creative output is a lack of engaging content in the market.

The story of Veenavum Tholaintha Pathakkamun - Veena And The Missing Emblem, a mystery novella written in Tamil - for one, addresses the theme of rediscovering history and heritage, a teenage take on a topic that only its author, Arati Arundhati Vijayanand, could have offered.

At 12, the Secondary 1 student of Cedar Girls' Secondary School was not only hard-pressed to find exciting books which were accessible for those her age, she was also frustrated at how "most literary texts use language which is complex and boring".

"If you were told to put the books down, you'd put them down and not continue," she said. "As I was not interested in the texts I was reading, I thought I'd write my own."

So she imagined the tale of Veena, a prefect who forms a team of sleuthhounds to recover a 180-year-old school emblem. The book has had a positive response from students, teachers and public libraries, selling at least 200 copies so far.

If Arati keeps it up, she might just match the success of Ms Munirah Jaafar, 20, who has produced three books in as many years. The Year 2 trainee at the National Institute of Education was concerned about how there were not many young Malay writers writing in their mother tongue here and she wanted to make a difference.

Her third book, also published under her usual nom de plume of Nirosette - a blend of "nir" from her name and "rose", her favourite flower - was published in September last year.

This sense of initiative does not surprise Ms Jamie Nonis, 34, the founder of The Writers' Club, a community of young writers in Singapore. In fact, it is their hallmark. She said:

"One of the characteristics of Generation Z is the need for self-expression, which is very important to them. They are also more inclined to pursue their passions, be it in writing or in other art forms."

That much is true of Lesley-Anne Tan, 16, who has always dreamt of being a writer. The pursuit of this passion translated into "all the hard work; the many rewrites; the many sleepless nights" needed to deliver on her pitch for Danger Dan Confronts The Merlion Mastermind, the first story in a series about the secret life of a boy superhero.

After about four months of having to balance the twin tasks of writing in addition to keeping up her grades, the Year 1 student at Hwa Chong Institution exclaimed it was a relief when she finally submitted her final 100-page draft to her publisher.

Holding up a copy of the book, she said: "It's really something to show for at such a young age."

For 14-year-old Gabby Tan, a Sec 3 student at St Margaret's Secondary School, the process called for a daily discipline of writing 300 words a day in order to complete Run, her first novel which is 200 pages long. This dogged devotion to a task destroys the misconception that post-millenials live for instant gratification. In fact, they are very much forward thinkers.

"It's a good thing to be able to say you're published," said Gabby, who writes under the pen name Gabby Tye (Tye is an acronym for "Tan Yi En", her Chinese name). "When people look at your resume, they'll be, like: 'Oh, you wrote a book when you were 14'."

And as Ms Nonis pointed out, seeing other writers getting published and enjoying a higher profile would inspire other writers, teenage or otherwise, to pursue the craft.

SUPPORTIVE ARTS ENVIRONMENT

Singapore's efforts in providing a conducive arts environment has also helped propel the dreams of young talent. As Mr Edmund Wee, Epigram Book's chief executive officer, emphasised: "The flourishing of the publishing industry has opened the way for many writers to take a stab at writing."

This explains why Epigram, together with other resident publishers such as Ethos Books and Math Paper Press, trotted out 102 new texts last year - up from 72 titles in 2012.

And as local publishers place their faith in Singaporean authors, they reserve a space on the bookshelves for young writers too.

Last year, five new fiction titles were from authors under the age of 20, while three literary works were published by under-20 writers in 2012.

The willingness to gamble on the Tagores and Tolkiens of tomorrow is a huge factor that has resulted in more young writers seeing their books in stores.

Ms Chew Chia Shao Wei, 19, a freshman at Harvard University, was 14 and in Sec 3 at Raffles Girls' School when she wrote a story for the Commonwealth Essay Writing Competition in 2009.

It won the first prize and was published in The Straits Times before it was picked up by Mr Wee.

"He thought it would make a really good book," Ms Chew Chia said. "I'm really glad and grateful he thought so."

Meanwhile, Marshall Cavendish's Budding Writers Project is a platform for adolescents to develop creative writing skills.

In addition, the National Arts Council offers programmes such as Beyond Words, which allows amateur writers to submit proposals for their works to be published across multiple platforms such as e-books and digital apps.

The abundance of avenues bodes well for the future of Singapore literature, but one crucial question remains: Is young writing any good?

Ms Eliza Teoh, the editor of Bubbly Books, certainly thinks so.

"Some young people write better than some adults do," said Ms Teoh, whose publishing house will release Rex And Ryan, a new children's series written by Amon Chua, 11, a Primary 6 pupil at St Hilda's Primary School, in May.

"Young people know their own cultural references best. They are also more unhindered and free, somehow, and it comes across in their writing."

KICK-START YOUR WRITING CAREER

Here are some resources for aspiring, young writers like you to explore:

PUBLISHING

Beyond Words Submit your proposal and have your work published across multiple platforms such as e-books and digital apps. More information at www.nac.gov.sg/art-forms/literary-arts/initiatives/beyond-words.

Golden Point Award Singapore's premier creative writing competition for short stories and poetry in the nation's four official languages since 1993. More information at bookcouncil.sg/awards/detail/golden-point-award.

MENTORSHIP

The Ceriph Mentorship Programme Have one of four mentors in poetry, creative non-fiction, food writing and prose take you under their wings over a period of six months. More information at www.ceriph.net/home.htm.

Marshall Cavendish's Budding Writers Project Started in 1999, this programme encourages young children to develop their creative writing skills with the aim of publishing good writers. More information at www.marshallcavendish.com/buddingwriters.

Creative Arts Programme Organised by the Ministry of Education, this programme has been in existence for 24 years. Find out from your teachers how to apply.

The Writers' Club Join this community of writers at gatherings and workshops where you share your works and receive feedback on how to improve your writing. More information at facebook.com/thewritersclubsg.

IMMERSION

Words Go Round Attend enriching talks and workshops by Singaporean and overseas writers at this programme that stretches from March 3 to 15. More information at www.singaporewritersfestival.com/wgr.

Singapore Writers Festival Taking place from Oct 31 to Nov 9 this year, the festival is an annual literary event that features local and foreign writers speaking on writing and conducting workshops. More information at www.singaporewritersfestival.com.

This article was first published in the “In” supplement by The Straits Times.

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