My Writing Journey
Updated: Aug 5, 2019
A lifelong dream
Writing has always been a part of my life, both personally and professionally. I grew up in a household that loved storytelling. My mother, an avid storyteller, beguiled friends and family with her hilarious portrayals of our home life – sometimes at the expense of my father (he was always her rather foolish sidekick). My father, not to be outdone, would spend hours recounting his misadventures at work – he was an agriculturalist and so his stories tended to include an animal or two. As such, I’ve come over the years to view the world as a stage, one with complex human characters to study; one with a multitude of life experiences to transcript and record.
I was three years old when I first fell in love with the written word; seven, when I began writing my own stories; ten, when I finished my first novel – about a little girl who escapes into books to change her life. In my teens, my love affair with literature grew as I became acquainted with T.S. Eliot, Hemingway, and Austen – learning about insecurity and conflict from Prufrock; sacrifice and revenge from Gatsby; ego and humility from Lizzie Bennett. These were the years I spent sequestered in my bedroom – writing stories in longhand – dreaming of becoming a famous writer.
And so I’ve had a very tumultuous relationship with the one true love in my life: writing. It’s a relationship that has span decades, one that has given my life purpose, but also one that has been wrought with challenges. Writing is part of who I am. To me, it is necessary and life sustaining. I love breathing life into characters, world building, and yes, even the dreaded editing process. Writing is what I do, no matter the challenges I’ve had to face over the years. And it has been tough, juggling between my career as an investment banker (then a consultant) and a growing family. It was a balancing act that required daily commitment, discipline and sacrifice, penning words between meetings with CEOs, breastfeeding and household chores.
By the time I was in my late thirties, I had written dozens of short stories and four novels (in various forms of completion - first drafts, third, polished). To develop my craft, I attended numerous writing conferences and festivals, beta read for other budding novelists, and took up short writing courses on an ad–hoc basis. I read countless books on writing, engaged a writing mentor (a Booker prize nominee) to help with my prose, and met with a few publishers and agents (during one–to–ones) who requested for my complete manuscript on several occasions. I was thrilled when a publisher from HarperCollins called my writing ‘sophisticated’ and ‘riveting’, telling me she felt “safe as a reader in my hands”.
I had also written on a semi–professional basis by then, working as a columnist – writing a recurring series of articles for a popular Lifestyle Magazine – and as a freelance journalist for different magazines, covering everything from education to healthcare. I compiled, translated, and converted indigenous oral folklore (from an indigenous tribe in South East Asia) into a set of short stories and have also researched and written about the Second World War in Singapore as well as the Communist insurgency in Malaya for a series of articles.
Yet, at that point, it still felt like I was miles away from becoming a published author. After receiving dozens of rejections for my fourth and fifth book, I realised I could not carry on the way I was going. The rejection letters said that my writing (although good) was old fashion - that my voice felt distant, that I was not drawing readers in enough. Fed up with such comments, I spent the next four months trying to understand what the editor meant. I read tons of books by recent authors I admired. I also experimented with different writing styles until finally, I think I got it (to learn more about this please read my upcoming blog post entitled, Finding Your Voice). When I found my voice, not only did my writing style change, so did the stories. And thus, begin the next step in my writing career.
I was at a writing event listening to a published author explain how she got a literary agent when everything changed. When I crossed paths with an alumnus of the Faber Academy, she mentioned the Academy's Writing a Novel course, citing it as perfect for anyone serious in building a career in writing. Eager to learn more, I went off to do my research and learned that the Faber Academy was actually one of the premier writing schools in the country. I realised then that doing the course could help me develop as a writer, providing me with the skills necessary to produce my best work. I was also looking forward to the opportunity to learn from my peers and to receive vital feedback from experts within the industry.
Hence, I applied for the course and was thrilled when I was accepted. Coincidentally, I was also accepted into Curtis Brown Creative's Six Month Novel Writing Course at the same time (another great school by the way). Finding myself at a crossroads, unable to decide, I enrolled for both and for 6 months, I submerged myself in the writing world. For the first time in my life, I actually felt like a 'real-life' writer, like I had been given permission to call myself one.
That was also the time I started attending plenty of writing conferences, agent pitch sessions and competitions. Even though I was terrified of pitching my work in public, I decided to join the London Book Fair's The Write Stuff competition (pitching in front of a hall full of writers and 5 literary agents). I was thrilled when I won.
When the courses were finally over, I had two complete novels and had exposed myself as much as I could to the publishing industry. I'd met a dozen agents and so I started on the arduous journey of editing and querying. I started with my first book and although agents said it was very well-written and there was plenty of request for full manuscripts, there was concerned about the subject matter (too serious) and so the rejections started piling up again. This time, however, agents wrote me personal messages, taking the time to explain why they couldn't sign me on. Deciding that I needed to put that book aside for awhile, I focused on my second novel. This time there was plenty of interests and many request for fulls. I was thrilled when the offers started coming in and the rest as they say is history.
If you want to find out more about How I Got My Agent, How to Find Your Voice, and many more other upcoming blogs, please sign up for my newsletter.