My younger son Lucien is seven - and has literary ambitions. "I'm writing a book," he announces to anyone who will listen.
Never mind that he has neither completed a manuscript nor a concrete idea of what he wants to write about. He goes to his father's office, where serious corporate copy is churned out, and buttonholes a busy graphic designer. The boy asks, with the innocent shamelessness children possess and a flash of his winsome front-tooth-missing smile, if the in-demand (and very, very nice) designer can design his book cover. For free. As a Christmas present.
I am amazed at his chutzpah. And glad.
This is the boy who, only a few columns ago I had lamented, did not like to read; who had declared that chapter books were too long and difficult, and tossed them aside. The one I had shipped off to English enrichment class.
These days, he leaves drafts of short stories on other people's computers, like a guerilla writer. When his Auntie Dee-Dee, my husband's business partner, returned from an extended work trip, she was bemused by a seemingly magically authored tale on her desktop, about a boy who gets a job after his PSLE and invents the best car in the world.
When Lucien requested his own computer, so he didn't need to compete with his elder brother to use the Dell all-in-one in our living room, my brother gave us his ancient gaming PC. Installed, the behemoth machine looked like Darth Vader next to tiny Lucien.
Unfazed, he sits for hours tapping at the keyboard with his little hands. His latest project is a novel titled The Destroyer. The chapters he asked me to edit were mostly dialogue between a young man and his parents, in which they worry about having enough money to carry out some mysterious plan. It sounds suspiciously like conversations I have with my parents about saving up for their retirement. "Okay, you don't have to care about what I do. I know what I'm doing," goes one line. "Don't worry about me."
I start to wonder if I should block the three-book deal in his future: A satirical cartoon I once saw had an elderly couple clutching each other as an author calmly signed books in a store - "If we knew you were going to grow up to be a writer, we'd have been better parents!" read the caption.
How to be a better parent to this Martin Amis-, AJ Low-wannabe Primary 1 son of mine? I stop asking him if he has done all his homework or taken his shower, whenever he boots up his noisy space-helmet of a computer. I don't make a big deal of grammar mistakes and typos - trusting him to find his own words to express himself and to iron out the kinks later.
Only once did I falter. His computer had hung and eaten up many new paragraphs he had laboured over one afternoon. He began to bang the mouse and keyboard about in frustration. I yelled at him and sent him to bed without dinner. Feeling guilty, I crept upstairs to retrieve him, and found him with his nose buried in a Pokemon manual.
It is not enough just to groom young people to write beautiful sentences and churn out Angus Ross-worthy essays. What the literary scene here needs now, more than ever, are new generations raised with the confidence that writing is a viable and worthy career... As parents, we can allow our children to hone their entrepreneurial savviness and be fearless risk-takers, while encouraging them to explore original ideas, plots and styles.
So what can a parent do to nurture a writer?
•Stay out of their way, preferably
•Stop asking them to become lawyers/doctors and write only in their free time
•Save up a few tens of thousands for the day when they come to you, asking you to fund their MFA in creative writing
•All of the above
•None of the above.
It is not enough just to groom young people to write beautiful sentences and churn out Angus Ross-worthy essays. What the literary scene here needs now, more than ever, are new generations raised with the confidence that writing is a viable and worthy career. Increasingly, Singaporean writers are not afraid to find new ways of promoting their works and Singapore literature to the world. As parents, we can allow our children to hone their entrepreneurial savviness and be fearless risk-takers, while encouraging them to explore original ideas, plots and styles.
At the Singapore Writers Festival, which wrapped yesterday, Lucien sat through many excellent readings, panel discussions and quite a few book launches. He struck up a friendship with a technical crew member, who encouraged my son to quickly finish and launch his book at the same venue, The Arts House. Lucien hung out in the festival bookstore, watching authors sign copies and chat with fans. I am glad he got to do all that, for it has impressed upon him the practical as well as social aspects of becoming and staying a writer. It has shown him the generosity, encouragement and exchange of diverse ideas that fuel the publishing scene here. Of course, one could still be a writer without taking part in literary festivals, scribbling away in one's mountain cabin. But, these moments - this lively engagement with one's peers, betters and readership - enrich your thinking and work in unexpected ways.
In the end, perhaps, it all boils down to trust - trust in a child to pursue his or her passion, whatever it may be. My son is setting his own goal. Each time he asks me how many pages his book should be, I say: "As many as it takes to tell the story you want to tell." It is up to him to go the distance, to get it done. But I will support him: as proofreader, publicist, IT helpdesk and his biggest fan.
•The writer is co-editor of WeAreAWebsite.com and author of short story collection Dream Storeys (Ethos).
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