Artistic Voyages: Ovidia Yu
One of a handful of Singaporean writers established overseas, novelist and playwright Ovidia Yu gave up her place in medical school to study English language and literature. Melissa Gail Sing finds out why she has never looked back.
Over the past 30 years, Ovidia Yu has penned popular plays including Playing Around and The Women in a Tree on a Hill as well Round and Round the Dining Table which was televised. Ovidia has also delighted children with fiction titles such as The Mudskipper. For steadfastly pursuing her literary passion, she was rewarded with the 1997 Singapore Youth Award (Arts and Culture) and a string of other awards, both locally and abroad. Perhaps the biggest (global) recognition of her work came last year when international publisher William Morrow bought out her latest murder mystery novel, Aunty Lee’s Delights (2013).
Who were your early influencers, and how did they help you through your artistic voyage to find your own voice?
Books, and people like my parents who fed me enough books to satisfy my ravenous appetite! There’s also the lady in charge of the children’s books library at Wesley Methodist Church who introduced me to The Little House In The Big Woods, The Diary of Anne Frank and the Narnia books. I called her ‘Library Aunty’ and never knew her name but she changed my life.
These books enchanted my life and made me want to tell tatler_tatler_stories too. As I grew older and read more widely, I realised I wanted to create the same magic out of the tatler_tatler_stories, people and places I know and love. But the biggest early influences were books, books, books! Agatha Christie, Armistead Maupin, Nancy Mitford, Colette, Paul Doherty, Mary Renault, PG Wodehouse…
What keeps you passionate about your craft?
Meeting new ’tatler_tatler_stories’ whether in life or on the page. Always wanting to understand more about people and how they live, what is important to them and what they want out of life. What happiness means to them. I consider it as much a calling as a craft. Yes, I work to perfect the craft of writing, but it is the joy of writing that keeps me going.
Many artists undergo journeys of resilience and transformation as they mature in their craft. What’s the most significant challenge you faced and how has your journey transformed you?
I think the most significant challenge was dropping out of medical school. At that age (late teens), everything feels like ‘all or nothing’. It struck me that I was going to die some day. I told myself I had only this one life to live and I wanted to live it as a writer, not a doctor. So why did I apply to the Medical Faculty in the first place? My kiasu Singaporean side automatically applied to the hardest course to get into. That moment and that realisation was the real start of my journey as a writer. Now I am just trying to be the best writer I can be.
For every journey, there's a destination. What’s your creative process and what do you hope to achieve with your work?
There’s the great big ultimate destination (to produce the best writing I’m capable of) and lots of small checkpoints along the way (write 50,000 words, write 90,000 words, edit down to 75,000 words…)
As for creative process, I depend a lot on online support and apps. For example the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November is usually when I rough out the first 50,000 words of a new project. If I don’t have external pressure I can spend weeks writing and rewriting one paragraph that I end up deleting. I use an app called KanbanFlow when I’m writing, which reminds me to get up and stretch and walk around every 20 minutes, and calls me back to the computer after five minutes. I log in my daily word counts at The Magic Spreadsheet and that makes me sit down and write even on days I don’t feel like it. I use 750Words.com to write my ‘morning pages’ and that’s usually when I write-talk myself through plot lines and messes. And when that doesn’t work, I take my tangles to the Facebook groups for Magic Spreadsheet, 750 Words and the Artist’s Way Circle.
What are your biggest, boldest dreams for the local arts scene?
I think big, bold things are already happening especially amongst the young people who seem to be bursting with exciting things. My biggest dream is just to see and experience more of it. I never seem to manage to do or watch or read all I would like to. I have to get to bed by 11 pm or thereabouts, or the next day's writing is really a struggle. My biggest dream is to have more time and energy for myself, and more funding and audience awareness for them!
I’d like to make my audience laugh and be entertained. Recognise landmarks, pick up souvenirs and return to their own lives a little refreshed and relaxed and just a little changed. And my biggest hope of all is for everyone who reads my books to realise that tatler_tatler_stories are fun, creating tatler_tatler_stories is even more fun, and that all our lives are tatler_tatler_stories that we’re writing page by page and day by day (though preferably without the murders!)