Interview: Wena Poon & the proper care of Singaporean writers

Woots! moon is in da house and she has managed to interview Ms Wena Poon! It’s really quite exciting because she is not only a Singaporean, she is also one of the better-known ones whose work has earned quite a few nominations locally and overseas. Quite an inspiration to us here in Singapore.

Of course, this interview serves more than just to showcase another successful writer. You see, thanks to Sarahcoldheart, I found out that even Wena has problems getting her books carried by major bookstore chains locally. Her books are available online of course but Wena needs all the love she can get from readers, hence this interview.

In fact, I was spurred to interview her because of this comment she made on Facebook,

Do you guys know, The Proper Care of Foxes (shortlisted for Singapore Lit Prize this year) is not even in most Singapore bookstores? It was written for people to take on airplanes. I talked to the Changi Airport bookstore managers re: stocking my book, they looked at me like I was insane. All they had were Da Vinci Code. I strongly believe that travellers in Singapore should have the chance to buy Singapore books. They don’t want to buy the same books they can buy at home.

I agree. So guys, don’t get stuck in the mindset that once you are signed on by a publisher (especially a small one), you have it made for life. Even as a published author, you still have to go about making sure people know about you. =3

The work never stops!

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Photo Credit: Shanti Mantulewski

First of all, congrats on being nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize for “The Proper Care of Foxes”. How does it feel to be picked out from so many writers? =)

It’s my second time! First time was 2008 (the prize is only once every 2 years). It is a big honor, it’s a national prize for a country of 5 million. I hope it means more people will read the book, it’s written for you all, all you young and lovely people out there. Read it and tell me what you think! It’s easy to read. Complex but not boring. Simple but not corny. Excellent bathroom reading. And good for plane rides.

Alex y Robert is a book on an American girl who aspires to be a matador. Who or what gave you this idea for the book?

A friend said, “Do a book. On Spain and bullfighting.” I was like, God no. I don’t know anything about either subject. Then I went to Spain. And I fell in love. And I was hooked. You have to read it to believe it. If you read Alex y Robert, you will want to go to Spain right away. And it will not be my fault.

Why the “y” between the two names in your book title? Does it signify anything?

“Y” means “and” in Spanish. In Spanish-speaking countries, very hip restaurants and cafes are called a boy’s name “y” a girl’s name. I thought it was kinda cool. Alex is Alejandra, Robert is Roberto, and since the book is a transatlantic love story about two young people in America and Spain, and the girl’s a bit of a tomboy, it’s Alex y Robert. I made it as a movie. I Tweeted Michelle Rodriguez (the Hollywood actress) and said, I wrote this book and you should star as Alex, she’s just like you (asskicking Hispanic female lead role). She actually Tweeted me back and said she was pleased to hear I had written a strong female role. But no promise to star. Sigh.

Photo Credit: Salt Publishing London

You mentioned Singapore bookstore chains do not carry small literary presses and I’m rather surprised because you had been nominated many times before for your work. Why do you think books written by local writers are not as well received here in Singapore?

Same old reasons lah, hiyah, no need to say already. So depressing. Perception issue mah. To be entirely serious, I don’t think Alex y Robert is particularly Singaporean. It doesn’t even have an Asian character in it. But it is a very Singaporean book. Read it and guess why. I’m being mysterious. For The Proper Care of Foxes and Alex y Robert, I’m interested in showing the true range of the Singaporean vision. We have always been a cosmopolitan society. These books show our range.

Share an instance or two when you ran into a brick wall when it comes to ensuring your books reach as many local and foreign readers as possible.

Hiyah, so depressing, dowan to say already. If you are a small press woman author, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. Perception issue. Bookstores everywhere, in every country, feature the same few books published by the same few mainstream presses. Bookstores are going bankrupt; readers now buy online and seek out what they want directly, they hear of cool stuff via word of mouth. It’s the Internet Age. Please, please help me be a cult classic, like Donnie Darko. It’s the most I can hope to be!

What do you think can be done to ease this stranglehold on local writers?

I think the Gahmen can help by setting up a bookstore in Changi Airport to just feature local books – fiction, art, poetry, photography, cooking – alongside all the Bengawan Solo and Merlion keychains. I travel a lot to different countries – usually souvenir shops have local books, tourists want a sense of the country through its literature. We have good writers. We need to sell their products.

Your work has been described as having “mastered the art of writing with the cautious economy of Singaporean writers without the baggage of being/seeming local”. Do you think that local writers in Singapore have this problem of seeming too Singaporean, thus unable to gain recognition?

I think it’s their choice – they can write in a very Singaporean style, or they can decide not to. It’s a question of range. Every writer needs to think about his or her target audience. Why do you write? Who do you want to talk to? I write because I want to reach out to people in different countries; my books are my love letters to people, to celebrate the diversity of contemporary life and the technology age. If nobody reads, I mati. I want to bring cultures together, so I write for a diverse audience. I think Singaporean readers are very sophisticated; they want a lot of things. They hold local writers to international standards. The Business Times said how come I am still not as good as Kazuo Ishiguro. See? I have to catch up.

Did you approach BBC Radio 4 to adapt Alex y Robert into a 10-episode series or was it an initiative on their part?

It was their initiative.  A young American woman matador in Spain? It’s an irresistible premise!

Since you tweeted Michelle Rodriguez the Hollywood actress about the possibility of her starring as Alex, any plans to actually make this book into a movie?

I wrote this book as a movie.  I’d like to co-direct it with a Spanish film director, someone cutting-edge and my generation, like Alejandro Amenabar (The Others, The Sea Inside).  Magic happens when you let the creator co-direct, like Frank Miller and Roberto Rodriguez’s Sin City. It’s only when you cut out the creator that you get crap movies, like League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  We have enough of those already; I don’t want to add to the pile. (moon: Wah! Can I have a cameo? =x )

For more information on Wena and her books, head on over to her website at WenaPoon.Com. You can also check out the GORGEOUS photos she took while in Spain plus download the “unofficial iTunes movie soundtrack” for Alex y Robert or buy the book and enjoy free shipping to Singapore!

moon

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2 thoughts on “Interview: Wena Poon & the proper care of Singaporean writers

  1. Pingback: The Aspiring Mangaka and Writers Club

  2. Pingback: Wena they going to recognize local authors? « La belle au bois dormant.

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