Joelyn's Book Bites

Book Bites: The Wordsmiths of Sultan Hotel

Book BitseNear the southern coast of Singapore, lies a cultural treasure chest known popularly as Kampong Glam. Within that chest are a couple of gems known as The Sultan, and The Writers’ Centre. And those were the places I had a weekend to remember for a long time.


Just to give a bit of a background, accommodation for the retreat was at The Sultan Hotel, and most of the workshops and lectures were done nearby at The Writers Centre, Aliwal Arts Centre. A two day – two night event which I utterly enjoyed.

Day #1

I checked in during the early afternoon, and it turned out that it was one person to one room so that was nice and fancy. Soon after, everyone gathered at The Writers Centre (TWC) Studio for ice breakers and stuff, which turned out to be some National Education quiz on the lesser-known historical facts of Singapore. We almost passed (hangs head in shame).

No matter, we had a great walking tour of Kampung Glam and Kampung Rochor, courtesy by our wonderful guide, Vikas.

Vikas giving us a tour of a grove near the Rochor Canal.
Vikas giving us a tour of a grove near the Rochor Canal.

While it was supposed to be inspiration for a piece of writing we were supposed to present at the end of Day #2, it was a good glimpse into the traces of history left in Singapore. Combining communication and architectural knowledge, Vikas gave us historical anecdotes and told us about the changes in the Singapore landscape as we went through today’s modernity in search of glimpses of the past.

Dinner was at Sari Ratu Nasi Padang, and it was satisfying end to walking for about 3 hours non-stop.

Day #2

Day 2 was probably the most fulfilling and productive day. Starting with Colin Cheong, we were treated to a couple of hours of him telling us about his writing journey. Highly entertaining and useful, the talk had us walking away with a whole lot of laughs and a good list of local writers to put in our “to-read” lists.

Colin and his recounts.
Colin and his recounts.

The Breakout sessions post-lunch were, to me, possibly the most interesting and satisfying part of the retreat itself. For mentees doing fiction and non-fiction, our facilitator was Miguel Syjuco, Man Asian winner of 2008.

Miguel listening intently to our readings.
Miguel listening intently to our readings.

Most of us actually came out of this Breakout session really satisfied. Together with the facilitator, we read and critiqued our work using a combination of constructive workshopping techniques and the Oreo critique (what you like about the work – things to be improved – a good finish). By the end of the session, it felt incredibly satisfying – not because there was some degree of validation, but because you really felt like the critique was useful and you knew what to keep and what to improve.

This made networking / bonding over food incredibly interesting and fulfilling.

Day #3

Day 3 had us meeting with Josephine Chia and Robert Yeo – two of the many literary pioneers of Singapore. They recounted how the literary scene in Singapore has changed, together with the issues affecting writers then and now.

Josephine Chia and Robert Yeo speaking to us about writing back in those days.
Josephine Chia and Robert Yeo speaking to us about writing back in those days.

Finishing off, NAC DCEO and SWF Festival Director for this year Paul Tan gave us a kind of “reality check”, talking about the parallel artistic and economic lines we will face.

Paul being totally relaxed. LOL.
Paul being totally relaxed. LOL.

While it seemed like an unwelcome jolt of real life, it was rather encouraging of Paul to state that regardless, we should continue to do what makes us happy. And even if our artistic line is moving faster than our economic line is, it is still up to us to decide if we want to continue, not the market’s.

That’s it from me so far! It was a great 2+ days with fellow mentees, guest speakers, and various writers. Many thanks to the National Arts Council’s and The Writers’ Centre’s Mentor Access Project, especially Annabel, Marc, and Savinder.

And if there was an opportunity to go to another retreat as fulfilling as this, I would definitely go for it.

For more information on the Mentor Access Project, click here.Blanket Fortress Logo


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