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My First Time...with Sharlene Teo

Sharlene Teo was born in Singapore and now calls London her home. She has an LLB in Law from the University of Warwick and an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she received the Booker Prize Foundation Scholarship and the David TK Wong Creative Writing award. In 2016, she won the inaugural Deborah Rogers Writer’s Award for Ponti, her first novel.

Sharlene is reading from her sensational debut at The Riff Raff on Thursday 14th June...

Sharlene Teo, The Riff Raff

Here's the blurb for Ponti...

'2003. Singapore. Friendless and fatherless, sixteen-year-old Szu lives in the shadow of her mother Amisa, once a beautiful actress and now a hack medium performing séances with her sister in a rusty house. When Szu meets the privileged, acid-tongued Circe, they develop an intense friendship which offers Szu an escape from her mother’s alarming solitariness, and Circe a step closer to the fascinating, unknowable Amisa.

'Seventeen years later, Circe is struggling through a divorce in fraught and ever-changing Singapore when a project comes up at work: a remake of the cult seventies horror film series ‘Ponti’, the very project that defined Amisa’s short-lived film career. Suddenly Circe is knocked off balance: by memories of the two women she once knew, by guilt, and by a past that threatens her conscience . . .

'Told from the perspectives of all three women, Ponti by Sharlene Teo is an exquisite story of friendship and memory spanning decades. Infused with mythology and modernity, with the rich sticky heat of Singapore, it is at once an astounding portrayal of the gaping loneliness of teenagehood, and a vivid exploration of how tragedy can make monsters of us.'

Describe the exact moment you decided to write your book?

I really wanted to read a book that combined Malay mythology, Singaporean schoolgirls, spirit mediums, Chang Er the moon goddess, millennial despair, horror movie tropes, shoegaze music, abandonment issues, wild dogs, Orchard Road, the Pollutant Standards Index, and a man with a terrible moustache. Write the book(s) you want to read, so they say.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known before starting to write your book

That it is a long process with many opportunities to revise, improve and refine the material; so to be less hesitant in getting the first draft down (easier said than done)

What’s your go-to procrastination method?

Making ungodly snack combinations with whatever I have in my cupboard.

Ponti, The Riff Raff

What was the biggest tantrum you had while writing it?

I thought about giving up and throwing it all out and starting again at least 50 times, but I am glad I didn’t

Best thing about writing your book?

Entering into the flow state, just before completing the first draft. It became a true pleasure cohering the different strands of the story and feeling totally immersed in it. I hope I find that state again for the book I’m currently working on. And the worst?

Running into dead ends of my own construction; writing some truly clunky dialogue and cringingly awful sentences; getting the names of minor characters mixed up; boring myself and then editing out the boring bits, wincing the whole way.

Go-to writing snacks?

Crunchy peanut butter on soft bread; or sweet corn and some butter, heated up and placed in a little dish; chips; grapes; segments of Satsuma; apples and peanut butter; peanut butter and Nutella on Ryvita; peanut butter and raisins on some celery sticks, almonds and dates, walnuts because they are meant to be good for the brain; Kit Kats both chunky and classic; hard-boiled eggs, sliced and placed on rye bread with some avocado, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and cheddar on bread; crisps and hummus, Babybels, Brie and caramelised onion spread on rye bread, Laughing Cow, Hob Knobs, Nik Naks, Freddos.

Who or what inspires you to write?

My favourite writers and the incredible, moving novels I’ve loved, admired and found consolation and laughter in for so many years.

The book that changed you?

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson Mccullers.

Your pump up song?

For Ponti, it was “Island Song” by US Girls.

If you could share a bottle of wine with one writer, who would it be?

Deborah Levy.

One piece of advice you’d give first time writers?

Read passionately and widely, don’t punish yourself for making mistakes; every effort makes you a better writer.

There’s a lot of luck and timing that goes into getting a book published. The most important thing is to get the work done. Keep going.

Buy the book


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