Suchen Christine Lim on her recent writing residency immersion with the Writers Immersion and Cultural Exchange (WrICE) program.
This writing residency is like no other. In most writing residencies, the writer works alone. In the WrICE residency, 12 writers from different parts of S E Asia and Australia spend 10 days together to write and to listen to one another’s work-in-progress, to laugh and cry over, oh, so many things to do with writing and creating, loving and hating or simply just getting on with it and write.
The soul of this programme is in the attentive listening of a writer’s work-in-progress by fellow writers from diverse cultures, people you have not met before, and whose writing you have not read before and whose books you would probably give a pass in a bookshop.
For the writers reading their new and raw work for the first time to a group of peers who are also strangers, the experience is both nerve wrecking and exhilarating, but highly rewarding. In the process, new bonds and friendships are forged. Later in the evening over drinks and dinner, we laugh and chat shooting the breeze as the Ozzies say. We sit by the river in Hoi An. We eat Vietnamese satay, drink Hanoi beer and talk about love and life.
On the surface, the WrICE programme looks simple enough. In the morning, writers are free to read and write or simply to wander around. In the afternoon we meet to listen to one another’s work. At night we have dinner together and simply hang out to relax. But beneath the surface, something magical happens.
A writer who never writes poetry dreams a poem into being. This actually happened to me. I saw the first line of WrICE Dream in my sleep and wrote the rest at 4am when I woke up.
If there are problems they were meant
to be swept out of the sky.
There’s something about being in the presence
of poetry or a story being born.
A new poem rough hewn with lines sharp as glass
we still hold it to our heart, and if a line cuts we gladly bleed.
The same for stories that make us laugh and cry
in the presence of strangers
who become friends because of a story shared.
In the presence of a new story or new poetry we rejoice
like farmers bringing in the harvest of WrICE
our laughing faces echoing our thanks to the sky.
Suchen Christine Lim’s latest novel The River’s Song was launched in Singapore & London this year. The Singapore author has written five novels, a short-story collection, a co-written play, a non-fiction work and fourteen children’s picture books. Her novel Fistful of Colours won the inaugural Singapore Literature Prize In 2012 she received the Southeast Asia Write Award. Other novels are Rice Bowl, Gift From The Gods, and A Bit of Earth, and other works include The Amah: A Portrait in Black & White, The Lies That Build a Marriage, Hua Song: Stories of the Chinese Diaspora. Awarded a Fulbright fellowship, she was an International Writing Fellow and writer in residence at the University of Iowa, and a Visiting Fellow in Creative Writing in the Technological University of Singapore. She has also been awarded writing residencies in UK, Australia, S. Korea and the Philippines.