#CulturallyAMA with Daryl Qilin Yam

Welcome to the first edition of #CulturallyAMA repurposed for a blog, where we introduce guests and conduct an ‘Ask Me Anything” session. The conception of this campaign #CulturallyAMA stemmed from wanting to introduce prominent individuals who have had an impact on local culture to our audience. This was to bring about discussion amongst our audiences which would, in turn, attract more attention to local topics that are often overlooked. This week we have award-winning homegrown writer Daryl Qilin Yam! 

Daryl Qilin Yam is a local writer of prose and poetry also on the Board of Directors of Sing Lit Station, a local literary charity. His works, apart from receiving the Creation Grant from National Arts Council, were also shortlisted multiple times for the Epigram Book Fiction Prize. Daryl's first novel, 'Kappa Quartet', has been described by Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS) as “[breaking] new ground in Singaporean writing… a shimmering and poignant novel, an immensely sympathetic and humane exploration of our existential condition.” His second novel, 'Lovelier, Lonelier', a 2021 Epigram Books Fiction Prize Finalist, is set to be published later this year. 

Daryl Qilin Yam

Why 3.45pm though? 

Some writers write in the morning, some writers write in the evening, but I don't think anyone except for me has ever professed to loving writing during the afternoon, which is a solitary but extremely strenuous activity that requires 1 x lunch and 1 x coffee to get me through. 3.45pm is roughly when I'm at my most productive, most creative (i.e. most caffeinated), most unstoppable.

What is your favourite Studio Ghibli film and why?

It used to be Kiki's Delivery Service – in another life I would be a witch, and I love the idea of being sent out to find a town of my own to provide my very magical services, but in this current life I can't imagine anything more terrifying than flying through a rainstorm on a broomstick. But my favourite Ghibli film of all time will now have to be Only Yesterday, about a young woman who travels to the countryside and ends up confronting the hopes and dreams of her younger self, and whether or not she has stayed true to that version of herself. It's a grown-up film that's nevertheless full of nostalgia, romance and innocence. The post-credits ending is probably the film's most Ghibliesque scene, and it totally took me out. It left me in tears.

What are your favourite Japanese authors / works? 

So much of my self-determination as a writer came from the likes of Haruki Murakami, whose works I naturally devoured in an effort to find more of myself – I've read basically every single work in translation of his, and the book I turn to again and again for enjoyment would have to be his short story collection, after the quake. Other books I also enjoy include the novels Kappa by Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata. I also adore everything that the art collective dumb type does, and have a very special fondness for Lovers, a multimedia installation work by its late founder Teiji Furuhashi.

What are some of your favourite reads, both local and international?

Aside from the ones I listed earlier, I find The Billion Shop by Stephanie Ye to be the peak of what Singapore fiction can achieve, followed by Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which is ironically a graphic novel. Other favourite novels of mine include Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, Michael Cunningham's Flesh and Blood and Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop.

Why did you choose to start Sing Lit Station, and what impact do you think Sing Lit Station has?

I chose to start it mainly because my co-founder Joshua Ip asked me to, and also because I am a person who is always in search of meaningful work. Starting a charity that's devoted to increasing our collective awareness of Sing Lit and championing the works and activities of our local writers felt like it belonged in that very category. And although we are only 4 and half years old (we began operations on 4 Jul 2016), we've programmed the hell out of Sing Lit, created jobs and opportunities for young people who want to work in the literary arts, and also raised a lot of money for many Sing Lit writers via all the outreach and engagement we've sent their way. I like to think we've made a difference.

What is your next book about and when is it coming out? 

My next novel is titled Lovelier, Lonelier, and it will be published by Epigram Books sometime in the third quarter of this year. The book is about four friends and how two of them come to love and build a life together over three decades. It's also about a series of inexplicable events that takes place just as the Comet Hyaktuake passes by Earth in March 1996, and how the consequences of these events come to shape the course of the lives of these four people.

Any advice for aspiring writers in Singapore? 

It's the same advice any writer will tell anybody else in any part of the world – read.

How did you start writing? What was your first published work about? 

I started writing when I was 17, but only decided to take it more seriously when I was 20 or so. I only started because I had a very encouraging teacher, who seemed to see something in me, and I only decided to make writing my life's calling when I realised that it wouldn't just be the passion of a precocious youth, but something that could very well preoccupy me for my entire life. The first short story I ever published was about a feral girl who escapes from a secret lab and raises a giant out of tarmac and concrete to wreak havoc across the city; the first poem I ever published is a very long and very angry one, which I wrote while I was in NS.

What are some of the challenges you faced getting to where you are now as a writer? 

Incredible self-doubt and relentless, sometimes crippling self-examination. I was also determined to work my butt off so I could shore up as much savings as I could on my own without feeling like I was losing my soul. Another challenge I also faced was knowing that growing up isn't a simple process of letting time wash over me; I had to do it consciously, gracefully, determinedly, kindly, willingly, which can be an everyday struggle sometimes.

What are your thoughts on Singapore’s Literature scene now as compared to the past? 

It's shining brighter than ever.

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