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Brian J. W. Lee is a writer. When he's not writing, he's plotting to plunge the world in a deep chasm of terror, darkness and screams. Sorry, did I get carried away?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

An Introduction to Pulau Purba, Chapter 2: Emergence

Where did we last left off? Oh right - The Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015. I found out about it from a fellow intern at a local publishing firm (whether we can call it that is debatable, but that's a tale for another time). The problem? I found out a little late.

By the time I started writing my novel, I had about 5 months left. That wasn't the only problem. I had never completed a novel before. The last one, the precursor to Pulau Purba, crashed and burned and probably screamed like a wretched witch before it finally breathed its last (and I screamed alongside it). As if that wasn't enough, my final exams were around the corner.

My memories of those days are a little sketchy, but I remember managing only something like 15,000 words in a month before I took a drastic step that I had been planning since before the end of my exams. 15,000 was an optimistic estimate.

But that initial push into writing costed me dearly - I expended the remainder of my energy, for I was tired from my 4th year of grinding the academic stone, and I nearly had to retain a semester because I stayed up late to write, as a result misinterpreted my exam schedule and was very late for my last paper (2 hours late!).

Before I move on with my writing adventure, let's talk about Pulau Purba like I'm supposed to, eh?

I didn't start out by thinking, 'Gee, my old novel-in-progress was a waste, let's turn it into something worthwhile!' No, I wasn't good enough to do that yet. Instead, I sat down and thought about what could constitute a breakthrough in Singaporean literature - After all, I've been studying literature for four years, might as well put what I learnt to good use, right?

I had known about the tendencies of the Singaporean literary scene for a while. The local publishers are almost always publishing historical fiction, or contemporary fiction. Or non-fiction. Almost everything has something to do with politics, and are almost always social critiques at their core.

None of those things are what I wanted to do. Post-colonial literature was never my cup of tea. Neither was it 99.99% of the world population's cup of tea. So I decided: Why not take the next step? Pop culture, mass media came after the business of writing essays, non-fictions and manifestos on how we should live and define ourselves. Pop culture and mass media could do that, and more!

Then there's the personal level. What do I want to write? A little soul-searching revealed the truth. I've been a big fan of Stephen King for more than a decade. I love my horror stories, movies and video games. So why not join the horror scene?

The contents of my novel? 'Write what you know', Stephen King advises. So I decided to base my story in Singapore, and around topics that really mattered to me. Conscription. The problems of putting young men in the army whether they like it or not. And other related issues. I wanted the 'Triple A' treatment. I wanted it to be big, so I decided to involve not just a few characters, but entire military units, bases, islands, ships, the nation at stake, hell, everything at stake!

I remember reading a lot of ghost stories set in Singapore, and a good share of them in the camps and forests of the military. I figured, I could bring those folk stories and campfire tales to the next level too.

The result: A Military-Horror genre novel inspired by Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft and local stories that does just as much to talk about relevant issues of the present day, intended to be mainstream and accessible to most people while at the same time entertaining (I hope).

The precursor novel wasn't absorbed by Pulau Purba until I was in the middle of the novel, when I incorporated a few chapters from it, completely rewritten however.

In the next episode of 'An Introduction to Pulau Purba', we move on to the rest of Pulau Purba's writing process.

Thanks for reading!

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