5Q Interview: Audrey Chin (Singapore), 2017 IWP resident

The Writing University conducts is a series of interviews with writers while they are in Iowa City participating in the International Writing Program's fall residency. We sit down with authors to ask about their work, their process and their descriptions of home.

Today we are talking with Audrey Chin, a writer from Singapore. 

1. Do you have a plan or project in mind for your time at the residency?

I’m about 1/3 through a 1st draft of The Ash House, which is about a young woman who comes to Singapore to work in an ash-house and, in her pursuit of the quickest way to a better life, becomes entangled with the men, the wives and the ghosts of the house.

Set in the now with flashbacks to the first half of the 20th century, the novel explores the intimacies that can develop when women of different status and background are thrown together, and the capacity for agency of all women including ghosts.

The novel draws from a long line of creative works by Singapore artists using domestic workers and ghosts as lens to reflect on our society. Indeed, I’m hoping to present The Maid, a film in that genre, at Cinematheque.

2. What does your daily practice look like for your writing? Do you have a certain time when you write? Any specific routine?

Until May 29th, I was a director for two companies in the financial sector. I’m still a wife, mother and manager of a private investment office. Financial markets need a watchful eye on them 24/5 and husbands and kids expect one to be on call 24/7. So… I don’t really had a writing schedule. I’ve just been stealing time when I can. I’m hoping to develop a routine at the IWP and keep to it for at least 3 months! 

3. What are you currently reading right now? Are you reading for research or pleasure?

My eyesight’s beginning to trouble me, so I’ve begun to “read” on Audible. I’m in the middle of Martha Nussbaum’s Anger and Forgiveness and dipping into Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs and a Thousand Morning. The latter’s for enjoyment, the former’s meant to edify. Unfortunately, I’m not sure I’ll get through the Nussbaum.
My reading’s mostly for enjoyment. For the last months, I’ve been on a bit of an Asian-Catholic binge. Causes - the movie Silence, a silent retreat at a Thai Jesuit center and because I missed the “Trying to Say God” conference for Catholic-rooted writers at Notre Dame. So, I’ve just finished Shusako Endo’s Samurai (tremendously moving and even better than Silence), Kyung Sook Shin’s Please Look after Mom and Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere.
For research, I’m planning to read:
Sandi Tan’s The Black Isle, a ghost story set in an un-named Singapore-like island.
Eka Kurniawan’s Man Tiger, about family life (with supernatural elements) in an Indonesian town that I imagine the protagonist in my WIP might have passed through.

4. What is one thing the readers and writers of Iowa City should know about you and your work?

It’s all and always a work in progress. 

5. Tell us a bit about where you are from -- what are some favorite details you would like to share about your home?

I’m from Singapore, a small South-East Asian island that’s its own country and not part of China, nor India, nor Indonesia, nor Malaysia, nor within range of the guns of the Vietnam War (when that happened).

There are lots of ghosts in Singapore, in army camps, on Changi Beach, and especially in our heads.

We also have lots of wayside trees, because our founding father decided it would be a selling point for tourism. This is actually wonderful. Sometimes though, after rainstorms, the branches crack. A snippet - between 2003 and 2013 , 4 people have died and 62 have been injured by falling trees an branches. As for cars… The event is provided for in all motor policies
! 
We are great gourmands.

I love that our political ideology commits citizens to diversity. The practice doesn’t quite reflect that commitment, but we’re saying it. That’s significant these days, when too many speak with so much bravado against the others and the strangers in our midst.

***

Thank you so much, Audrey!

Check the IWP website for events that will include Audrey Chin throughout the residency. 

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