Suchen Christine Lim on “Walking to meet my story”

Suchen Christine Lim writes about “meeting one’s story” in our Guest Author column, Author Speak. One of the most celebrated of Singaporean authors and recipient of the Fulbright grant, Suchen Christine Lim is the author of numerous novels and children’s books. She is also a Fellow of the International Writers’ Program, University of Iowa, and was its former International Writer-in-Residence.

Suchen-Christine-LimI walk to meet the story I am writing. Who are you? I ask the people in my head. Who are you? When I am writing, I walk a lot. I walk alone to be with myself. I walk alone to be with whoever is being born inside my head. I walk in order to hear myself think. Walking is my counterpoint to the angst of writing. When I am sad, I walk. When I am lonely, I walk. Walking can overcome a depression or writer’s block.

I love walking in the city, alone. When I walk alone, I walk into the landscape without the distractions of a companion. I can hear myself think. My mind, body and the landscape are engaged in a conversation that only I, the solitary walker, can hear.

I love walking slowly. The ambling pace of a slow walk allows ideas, memories and images to emerge effortlessly. Chunks of words or scenes come into my head sometimes. Often I fail to write them down. But when I return home, something will emerge when I sit down to write as if walking had softened my mind and imagination for words to sprout although this does not happen all the time.

I love walking in the city late at night or in the early hours before sunrise when people on the streets are few and far between, when the streets are quiet and empty of cars. Walking alone at such times, the city reveals herself like a woman taking off her clothes and cosmetics. In the dim light we spy her warts and scars.

A row of dustbins overflowing with rubbish. Empty beer bottles flung under a hedge. A snail crawling towards a coca cola can on a wet pavement. Earthworms crushed underfoot. And in a side lane, an old woman picking up empty drink cans left by late night revellers and drinkers.

Sometimes miraculously we encounter the angel of solitary walkers bearing an unexpected gift. When I was grappling with an unresponsive muse while trying to write what eventually became The River’s Song, I often walked alone along the Singapore River many a night. Once, late one night after the pubs and restaurants had closed, I thought as I walked that I ‘heard’ the music that used to be played by the Chinese boatmen and coolies who once lived along the riverbank. It felt a little eerie this music from the past yet at the same time it stirred a most wonderful feeling in me.

The experience didn’t last long. A few seconds perhaps. Very probably it was the flash of an auditory memory rising to the surface like the flash of a flying fish that caught the sunlight. And my mind ‘heard’ it because I was walking alone in the quiet of the night.

For a writer who loves to walk when she writes, I am very fortunate to live in a city where it is relatively safe for a woman to walk alone at night. How I wish all cities could be safe places for women to walk alone at night.

The River’s Song Book Launch with Suchen Christine Lim

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