An Interview With O Thiam Chin, Author Of Signs Of Life


Hi Thiam Chin! What are you currently reading?

I’m immersing myself in Cynthia Carr’s fascinating biography, Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz, an American artist whose life and works have inspired me and made me consider the extent I’d go to make my own art (of writing) a living and lasting thing. Also, Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, a book that makes me cry at every other page, the heart-wrenching stories of resilience, courage and self-determination.


You mentioned in an interview with the Straits Times three years back that you became a writer because you "felt this desperate need to tell stories. [...] Something had to come out." How would you describe the kinds of stories you're so deeply compelled to tell?

Stories are strange unwieldy things, and every story I wrote has its own identity and way of being, a unique signature, and I’m never ever sure what I would get at the end of a particular story, even when I have set out at the start, with good and clear intention, to explore or tackle a subject, a theme, an emotion, a setting, a moment. Most of the time, if a story goes well, it becomes something larger and more complex, a creature that grabs at more than one thing, be it truth or knowledge or awareness or authenticity or anything that sheds a particular light on life and its many fragments.


In your work, you're concerned with questions about human relationships. In both your short fiction and your novel Now That It's Over, your characters are nearly always portrayed in the thick of complex, intimate relationships — with romantic partners, friends and family. What's your ethos in exploring relationships in your fiction?

People are social creatures, and people are hell. Put people in any kind of relationship into the mix of storytelling, and they will come out flaring with all sorts of eccentricity and nuances. People struggling in relationships, people failing, people coming apart, people being tormented, destroyed—these things never get old, do they?


You've spoken publicly about your path to becoming an acclaimed writer: first studying mechatronics and working in PR, before turning to fiction writing. I expect others may be in similar situations: people who can't seem to shake a love for writing, but may be facing setbacks or who don't think they can do it because they haven't followed what is thought of as a 'conventional' path for writers. For anyone in this position: Is there anything you wish someone older had told you when you were younger, and an aspiring writer?

None, I hate to listen to advice that I didn’t solicit for, and I have never been patient enough to bear any sort of bullshit. Just make up your damn mind and get going! Write and fail, write and fail, you get the drill. But then again, you don’t have to listen to me or anyone else, for bloody sake.


Finally, what are your hopes for Singaporean literature in the near future? And what can we expect from you next?

Works that will move me and make me cry buckets. As for what’s next for me, a huge mega epic on sex or something that looks like it; that or The Next Great Gay Novel, which may, err, be the same thing!


Photo credit: Chien Shang-Chi

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