Confessions of a local author
Local author Meira Chand's life experiences in four countries form the backdrop for her literary work
Author Meira Chand has lived in four countries, and one of her prominent themes is that of being an outsider.
She is of Indian and Swiss descent, and was usually the only non-Caucasian in school when she grew up in London in the 1940s. The city was then a lot less cosmopolitan than it is now.
When she was 19, she moved to Japan with her husband and lived there on and off for 35 years, but always felt like a foreigner.
In between, she spent six years in India, where she was regarded as more British than Indian. She has never had deep roots there despite being half-Indian.
She channels her unique life experiences into her works. "It is why I write about things like identity, belonging and being marginalised," she said.
Ms Chand, 76, is the author of eight critically acclaimed titles, including A Different Sky (2010) published by Random House UK.
Set in Singapore, the book focuses on three families in the time before Singapore achieved full independence.
Ms Chand will join local authors Catherine Lim and Suchen Christine Lim on a panel this weekend at Textures - A Weekend with Words, a festival celebrating Singapore's literary landscape, taking place from March 9 to 11.
It is co-commissioned by The Arts House and #BuySinglit, and supported by the National Arts Council. The authors will discuss the challenges and triumphs of their long literary careers.
Ms Chand, who has lived in Singapore since 1997 and is now a citizen here, still feels like an outsider in many ways but has never been more content.
She said: "I am happy here. Singapore is a very accepting and inclusive place to live in. I've never met so many people (elsewhere) who are as ethnically mixed-up as me."
She draws inspiration by observing life around her. When she was living in Mumbai, India, a dowry death happened in her apartment block.
The in-laws had set a young bride on fire as the dowry her family paid was not deemed enough. Horrified, she chronicled her memories of the incident in House of the Sun (1989).
"I knew all those people. There were a lot of dowry deaths at that time, and it still happens now," she said.
Moving around frequently had set the backdrop for her work, but it was not easy for her. "The most difficult period in my life was my early days in Japan. In those first few years, I lived in the middle of rice fields. There was no one I could speak to, or feel connected to.
"The people around me had never seen a non-Japanese before. Often, instead of coming forward they retreated. Life was very hard until I learnt the language and culture."
Her first novel, The Gossamer Fly (1976), which had won praise from The Guardian, was inspired by her life in Japan. She still visits Japan frequently, especially the prefecture of Nagano.
Ms Chand does not have any fast way to overcome writers' block. Her antidote is to simply persevere and keep writing.
This advice also applies to young writers aspiring to be successful. "For writers, it is a tough, cutthroat world out there on the global stage. All you get might be rejections. But that toughens you up."
For more information on Textures - A Weekend with Words, go to theartshouse.sg
Tricks of the trade
- When you get writer's block, just sit with it. It doesn't matter if you write only two sentences, sit with it and eventually it will clear.
- Read widely. Treat reading other writers' works as meeting friends.
- Don't be afraid of criticism and rejection. It's a part of being a writer.