Creative Writing Workshop 3



Over the weekend, I was worried that the sore throat that started last Thursday night would turn into a full blown flu, and I would have to miss the ‘Big Event’ at the last session of the Creative Writing Workshop. Thankfully, though my throat is still sore and I have lost my voice, I’m otherwise well.

It was an enjoyable session, even though a third of the participants did not turn up today. I wonder why the numbers kept dwindling – we started with 15 at Creative Writing Workshop 1 (and I have a group photograph to prove it), then it was only 12 attendees at Creative Writing Workshop 2, and only about 10 of us today.

Despite my bad throat (or maybe because of it), I really enjoyed the session today because I got to listen to the poems and stories of all those present yet I didn’t have to read mine as Sally McHale, the main Writing Through facilitator, did the reading instead, and did a much better job than I could have!

Before the reading, though, Sally shared some Presentation Skills with the participants: Stand Proud, Be Loud, Eye Contact, Read Slowly. A volunteer then read the Group Poem (written on Thursday) to all, to demonstrate how voice could be modulated to suit the tone of the poem. This was followed by all of us practising reading our poem and story with a partner (I was the exception but I sat with two others and listened to them).

After a ten-minute break, the ‘Big Event’ began. The presentation was done in the order in which they are published in the little magazine put together by Sally and her assistants, Patty Bierley, Ally Dishong and Stephanie Nyugen. They all sound very good and interesting, much more than just reading them as there was dramatisation that brought the characters in the stories to life. (Even the group story which I didn’t like, when we wrote it on Friday, is so much more interesting.)



Creative Writing Workshop 2



Yesterday was Day 2 of the Creative Writing Workshop (Day 1 was on Thursday: Creative Writing Workshop 1), and I enjoyed the session on writing a short story. The stimulus was Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, played twice. From an analysis of the lyrics to a discussion on the images, the participants are made aware of the five main elements of a story:

1. Who? – this would be the characters, which could include people or animals or even things, male or female, young or old;

2. Where? – this would be where the story takes place, such as the town, countryside, here in Singapore, in another/foreign country, or even in space or a place of imagination;

3. When? – this could be the past, the present or the future, and may include a season;

4. What? – this would refer to how the idea or theme is built into the story, such as what is going to happen and what challenges there may be;

5. How? – this would be the genre or type, which could be funny or sad, dramatic or a fantasy and so on.


The next hour and a half was spent on writing a story in a group. Much time was taken to brainstorm ideas and coming up with details for each of the five elements. As with the poem on Thursday, nobody else seemed to be inclined to start the ball rolling, so your truly came up with a random first line/sentence. Then the other participants built on it to come up with something along our earlier brainstorming session. Just like for the poem, I feel it was a case of having ‘too many cooks spoiling the broth‘, hence I’m not totally pleased with it. Just for the record, this was the result (unedited):

A Celebration Gone Wrong

Music plays in the background. Rosmah, looking glamorous, wearing a brand-new wig, and her husband Richie, are getting ready for their party on their private yacht, listening to the gentle lapping of the waves. Celebrating their Golden Anniversary, they had invited fifteen close friends and family along with a private chef. They also have a group of musicians to play and sing their favourite songs. Rosmah is showing off a dazzling diamond anniversary ring, a gift from her husband. Her friend Elizabeth, recently retired, is green with envy because the diamond cost more than what she earned in her entire career.

Just as Rosmah is standing on the edge of the deck taking a selfie, in the midst of the revelry, a  loud sound is suddenly heard. The musicians stopped in mid-phrase. That was a gunshot and Rosmah fell overboard with a loud scream. She flailed in the water. Her wig floated next to her.

The gunshot came from a fast-approaching motor boat with six masked and burly men, menacingly brandishing their guns. Then Richie realised he hadn’t brought along his bodyguards.

Rosmah shouted, “Help me! Save me!”

The leader saw the dazzling ring and ordered one of  his men to jump in the water. He swam towards Rosmah. Richie shouts desperately, “Take her and the ring and leave us alone!”

Elisabeth was so pleased as the pirates sailed away with Rosmah.


*     *     *     *     *


After a short break, the participants had to each write her own short story. The following is my story, written in about half an hour, unedited:


“Oh! It’s another day, and a gloomy one too,” moaned Catherine, a pudgy 14-year-old who lives with her mother, two sisters, her step-father, and a half-sister. Unlike her two sisters, Catherine has never been to school. Though there was no emphasis for females getting a formal education, Catherine’s two older sisters are well-educated, one having attained a Grade One in her Senior Cambridge exam the year before, in 1960, and the oldest one already a freshman at the Chinese University. It was their late father’s idea that Catherine stayed at home to learn how to be the exemplary housewife and mother. When he died suddenly by alcohol intoxication, his wife struggled to bring up three teenage girls on her meagre salary as a clerk.

It was fate that led Catherine’s mother Gim See, to remarry only six months later. Gin See’s new businessman husband is a widower with four children who all live with their maternal grandparents in Seremban; so he insisted that Gim See bore him at least one child, preferable a boy, as he already had four daughters and, to him, girls are a lost cause. Alas, as destined, Gim See conceived quickly but gave birth to a girl, whom they named Sarah.

Being a girl, Sarah felt neglected from young; (she would say, from the day she was born, as attested by Catherine, who described how the two of them are treated like second class citizens by their own mother and father). Catherine also claimed she was mentally and physically abused by her mother. Ironically, her step-father, Sarah’s father, treated her better than he treated Sarah who was a disappointment in everything she did.

The two girls, now 14 and 10, began to form a bond over their abuse and neglect. Over time, they developed feelings for each other that was unnatural but kept it secret from the family. However, their intimacy was suspected by the oldest sister, the undergraduate. She confided in the second sister, and they brought it to the attention of their mother. But before the mother could confront either Catherine or Sarah, something unexpected happened.

In the quiet, private residential neighbourhood, people kept to themselves and nobody knew anything about anybody else’s business; so when patrol cars and men in uniform appeared on their street one day, they were all shocked. The two younger sisters have run away! Where have they gone? And why? What happened? And why are the police here? Would the girls be found before darkness fell? Or would it be another day, and a gloomy one too, for all?


    *     *     *     *     *


Since the sooner I submitted the story, the sooner I could go home, and I was not feeling too well, I just made do with a piece I was not entirely satisfied with. I look forward to the final session on Monday, and hope to get feedback/comments from the trainers.




Creative Writing Workshop 1



A friend attended the Creative Writing Workshop run by the team called Writing Through at WINGS (Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully, a non-profit organisation) last year, and recommended that I attend this.

This is a basic course where, through the theme of “Bridges”, we learn to ditch our inner critic, uncover our creative thoughts, and write our own poem and short story through a programme of techniques in a relaxed and supportive environment. The four trainers today are Sally (a British who’s been here for 6 years), Ally (from Chicago and has been here for one-and-a-half years), Patty (New York born, but moved to Canada and all over the US, and has been here for 10 years) and Stephanie (from Vietnam and has been here 2 years).

Today’s session is on Poems. The four main tips shared are: ‘Do not think’, ‘Use the back of your brain’, ‘Write with your ears’, and ‘There are no mistakes’. We began by discussing what a poem is: an expression of thought, a way of expressing feelings, a song without music, it has imagery, doesn’t have to rhyme and doesn’t have to be a particular length and so on.

As the theme is ‘Bridges’, the trainers brought with them eight pictures of bridges, some of them physical structures and others between people. A group effort of a poem is thus:

A tunnel in the sky/ Reaching out to the unknown/ Where will it lead to/ And how will I go/ It can go high and nigh/ Where it will go and flow/ Or plunge within the abyss of despair/ Where is the end I cannot see/ A crooked bridge of confusion/ Is someone there to help me?/ A glimpse of hope within my reach/ Consolation?/ Is God there to lead the way/ Or am I alone/ And behold on this troubled water/ I will be your bridge.

I did not really like this poem; I preferred the second half of the session where we were told to write a poem on our own within 20 minutes. I took it as a challenge (and I think I succeeded), but I was disappointed that there was not a single comment from any of the trainers. (More than one fellow participant had feedback and changes made to their poems.)

This is what I wrote:


A solid foundation

Or one simply suspended?

Broad and wide

Or just straight and narrow?

Connecting and bonding?

Alone and liberating?

Love and sharing?

Control and ravaging?

A two-way communication

Or one-directional?

Helping hands along the way

Or a solitary journey?

Different cultures and traditions

Fused by knowledge and thoughts,

A network of connections

To promote peace and harmony.


I had hoped for feedback on the structure, rhythm, rhymes (or the lack of them), and other techniques. I hope tomorrow’s session on short story would be more fruitful.

Pretending to Dance



After being disappointed with The Silent Sister but still hopeful that this book by Diane Chamberlain would be at least as promising as Secrets at the Beach House , I eagerly plunged into Pretending to Dance, touted as ‘gripping’, ‘twisty’ and ‘smart’. The tagline on the cover also read, “When the pretending ends, the lying begins…”.

The opening sentence is arresting: “I’m a good liar.” Molly Arnette had, as a child, been helping her father type his book about Pretend Therapy (actually Cognitive Behavourial Self-intervention). Thus she is very good at keeping secrets, pretending and lying. Now 38, she has an adoring husband and they are trying to adopt a baby because they can’t have a child of their own. But the process of adoption brings to light many questions about Molly’s past and her family, which she left behind twenty years before…

Another promising start which, unfortunately, did not live up to expectation. The ending is predictable, though some attempt has been made by including in the writing truths that are shocking and heartbreaking to a 14-year-old Molly. This book would probably win accolades from teenage readers, but not yours truly. Also, the ‘twist’ is not much of a twist at all. The characters and their behaviour and the ending are rather odd and not convincing.

It is as though this book is like Molly’s father’s Pretend Therapy – pretending to be something it isn’t : deep and dark – only to finish with a simplistic and predictable ending.

The Silent Sister



Having enjoyed Diane Chamberlain’s Secrets at the Beach House, I expected The Silent Sister to be equally thrilling. The story: Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she’s in new Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrry. Lisa is alive. And living under a new identity. Why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality.

This smacks of a mystery, but I guessed the ending quite early. Still, I was absorbed enough in the drama that I turned page after page to find out whether my guess was correct and how it would play out. The ending, though, is quite implausible.

There is no real intrigue. Some of the characters are unbelievable and unrealistic. The relationships are not well developed. The various subplots did not weave together well enough. All these point to mediocricity in the writing, though the message seems to be that the cost of withholding secrets could result in living a life of lies for oneself and others too.

I was just disappointed with this book, because I love Jodi Picoult and Kristen Hannah (who write in this genre), and Secrets at the Beach House was promising. Maybe the next Diane Chamberlain book I read would be better.




As I’m not really a fan of futuristic movies, I skipped this 2016 movie and waited to loan it from the library.  Two hours is rather long, and I had to fast forward several times.

Passengers is about a spacecraft, called Starship Avalon, on a 120-year voyage to a distant planet known as Homestead II.  Thousands of passengers (258 crew members and five thousand passengers) are kept in hibernation chambers and are to be awaken just before they arrive. However, two pods open prematurely – Jim Preston’s (Chris Pratt), 90 years early, and Aurora Lane’s (Jennifer Lawrence) the following year. They try to unravel the mystery behind the malfunction, and discover that the ship is in grave danger. What happened? What causes it? What will happen next? Will they survive?

Science fiction has never appealed to me (hence I’m not really bothered that the story here lacks logic), but I’ve always expected the movies would come with special effects. The spaceship itself has all this fantastic and amazing features. And the sound effects (muffled explosions, computer trilling, muffled popping, low beeping, alarm blaring, clicking and whooshing sounds, electricity whooshes, low whirring, gas hissing, mechanical whirring, electronic chime, rumbling, buzzing and metallic sounds) and music (metallic, crescendos, accelerandos, orchestral fanfare, upbeat dance music, songs like Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, Sammy Cahn’s Call Me Irresponsible and Hill & Hill’s Happy Birthday, plus a dozen more) are top-notched. The technology is fascinating. The presence of a robot bartender Arthur (Martin Sheen) is cool, especially his wise advice, “Take a break from worrying what you can’t control. Live a little”.

This is all thanks to the production crew and people like the engineers and propmakers, those in charge of welding and plaster, the labourers, the set designers, the technicians, the set decorator, the camera crew, the special and visual effects coordinators, the sound designers and sound effects editor and the music editors, the stunt coordinator and stunt performers, the costume designer…





The Yards



This 2000 movie has an impressive cast : Mark Wahlberg, Joaquin Phoenix, Charlize Theron, Faye Dunaway, Ellen Burstyn, James Caan and more. I was also keen to see what these people looked like almost two decades ago.The story: After serving time in prison for taking the fall for a group of his friends, Leo Handler (Wahlberg) just wants to get his life back on track. so he goes to the one place he thinks will be safe – home. There he takes a job with his highly connected and influential uncle Frank Olchin (Caan). But in the yards, where his uncle now pulls the strings, safe is not how they do business. Unwittingly, He’s drawn into a world of sabotage, high stakes payoffs and even murder.

This is quite an interesting drama about crime and family, well acted and edited. Other than Gustav Holst’s The Planets and Petula Clark’s Elusive Butterfly, there aren’t any other tunes that I recognised because they are all original scores by Howard Shore. I thought there are a few more familiar tunes that would have been appropriate in some of the scenes.