In this exclusive interview, we are privileged to hear from a Political Satire Author from within Singapore that goes by the name of Singa Crew. For his own safety, his identity is not revealed. This interview gives a surprisingly eye-opening contrast compared to the life of a western author.
What’s your day job? I am an odd job labourer. I wash dishes, clean toilets and perform other menial duties whenever I can find employment. When I am gainfully employed, I tend to record my thoughts in my journal at the end of the day. Some day, my journal entries may find their way into a full-length novel. At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.
Most of my writings are reactionary. I look out for government propaganda, and I contradict them. So my usual output depends, not on my mood but, on the amount of bull sh*t they (the Internet Brigade) put out.
What inspired you to become an author? Internet Trolls.
Without a free and independent press in Singapore, many dissidents turn to internet forums to vent their frustrations with government policies. Unfortunately, the government caught on and formed their own internet brigade to counter negative opinions about themselves and to cast aspersions on Opposition politicians (i.e. those who do not belong to the ruling party).
And thus, the sole bastion of free speech in Singapore came under attack from government propagandists who troll the forums. First, I made a thorough study of the various propaganda techniques they use, such as ad hominem, ad nauseam, black-and-white fallacy, unwarranted extrapolation and glittering generalities. Then I started surfing the forums myself to respond to those propagandists. I found that in order to successfully counter the propaganda and attract the attention of the readers, I have to be an even better, a more engaging, writer than those propagandists.
Before I knew it, I had written whole chapters, and some of the arguments I used against the Internet Brigade formed the backbone of some of the short stories that appear in Singapore Sucks!.
How do you target your audience effectively? I want my book to be read by Singaporeans and foreigners from all walks of life, so there isn’t a sub-set of the population I am targeting specifically. I try to get everyone interested and when I was selling my books by myself, I was approached by working adults and teenagers alike.
I set aside a few days every week to do online promotion. Activities include answering emails, posting replies on the forums and chatting with my readers.
What’s been the most effective way of promoting yourself? One single incident was far more helpful to book sales than the hundred odd hours I had spent putting up posts on the internet, sending and answering emails, begging fellow writers to review my book and talking to strangers to solicit interest.
Have you heard of the Streisand Effect?
Shortly after copies of Singapore Sucks! were printed and distributed to the bookstores, my friends and I decided to hold a modest book launch event to raise public awareness in Singapore. Four hundred copies of the book were sent down from my publisher’s office in Malaysia but, alas, they did not reach me in time for the event on the 11th of December, 2011.
You see, on the 9th of December, I was informed that all four hundred copies of the book were held back from entering Singapore. News of that impasse spread like wildfire through cyberspace. We received many encouraging emails and interest in the book surged with multiple discussion threads appearing in different online forums.
And even though we had no books to sell at the launch, enough guests showed up to fill the seats at the modest loft space we rented for the event. Such a show of support would have been gratifying enough.
Then when the books were finally allowed passage into Singapore, Mary Martin Booksellers – our local distributer – reported brisk sales at their Bras Basah shop. Customers would drop by daily, some asking shyly for a copy of Singapore Sucks! while others loudly proclaimed their support for that “banned” book.
Before that incident, the bulk of the book sales took place in Malaysia and only one bookstore in Singapore displayed a few copies of the book.
What do you think will be the future of publishing? I am worried to be honest. It seems that less and less children are reading books. When I was a kid, we used to bring story books to school. Sometimes, I would hide an Enid Blyton paperback behind my Maths textbook during if the lesson was sufficiently boring.
But now school kids are being busted for smuggling cell phones and other technological contrivances to class. I would feel more positive about the future of publishing when I read the news story about the fifth grade teacher who busted a school-wide ring of paperback smugglers.
Top tip for aspiring writers? You must read before you write!
That is to say, you have to read the books written by more accomplished authors before you attempt your first novel. Learn from them! What exactly makes a novel a bestseller? You have to read it for yourself to find out. Don’t rely on hearsay or reviews.
A good novel captures the reader’s attention with the first sentence.
If you wish to write about a fantasy novel for young adults for example, do check out JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It doesn’t matter if you don’t wish to write about a magic boarding school. Maybe you plan to set your action within and around a shopping mall popular with teenagers in an Australian city. Maybe you wish to write about a heroic and brilliant girl wizard with a bubbly personality. Fine and dandy. Your novel bears no resemblance to the gothic world of Harry and friends. Yeah, okay, it might work.
BUT, please, read the Harry Potter novels in any case. Read and learn how Rowling captivates her audience with her use of literary devices such as defamiliarization. She transformed a train platform used everyday by crowds of commuters into a magical portal that leads to another world, and Platform 9 ¾ became so famous that tourists to London visited King’s Cross Station just to see the non-existent Platform. Now, that’s true literary magic!
Oh, the Dungeons & Dragons player guide books are also worth reading if you wish to dabble in fantasy writing. In JK Rowling’s Potterverse the rules of magic are explained in detail. You know the Dos and Don’ts and what are the limits of magic etc. And the world of Harry Potter becomes more real for the reader.
Reading role-playing guide books can help you create a larger-than-life magical universe for your readers to play in. I am not saying you have to write a 300 page guide book to go with your novel. I am just saying that when your heroine and her friends are trapped in the elevator shaft of the enchanted mall, your readers might want to know why she can’t conjure up a levitating rope to save the day when she just magically pulled several large pizzas out of her Bottomless Backpack.
And that’s what I meant by “You must read before you write!”