Singaporean YA: Fact or Myth (Guest post by J. Damask)

Joyce Chng writes SFF and YA fiction, urban fantasy with Chinese werewolves under a pen-name. She is Singaporean and promises she is normal. Her writerly blog is found at A Wolf’s Tale.


Does the Singaporean YA writer really exist?

Is this elusive writer as mysterious as the Loch Ness monster? Where do we find him or her? Wait, is the Singaporean YA writer even a real person?

Comb through the known bookstores like Popular and Kinokuniya, you get a profusion of young adult novels ranging from Julie Kagawa’s The Iron King to Shaun Tan’s gorgeous The Arrival. Tables and shelves are thick with new arrivals and new releases. Urban fantasy, fantasy, science fiction and contemporary – Singaporean teenagers (and adults) are lapping them up.

But have you ever wondered about Singaporean YA? Perhaps the story is set in Singapore, filled with teen angst. You might expect to see stories written about the rigorous education system or even teen love. I mean, the teenage years in Singapore are not easy: hormones, trying to find a place to belong and – gosh! – the examinations! You might think that these ingredients make a perfect YA novel… but, besides Adrian Tan’s The Teenage Textbook and Workbook, there seems to be a dearth of Singaporean YA.

Harder still, if it is genre. Are Singaporean publishers that leery of local talent? The recent Asian Festival of Children’s Content seems to indicate otherwise: they want local and Southeast Asian stories. I would say that the local publishing industry is slowly opening up, but it would take years for Singaporean YA to take root and take off.

I write urban fantasy under a pen name. I also write YA fiction, choosing the ‘Net as a platform. Most of the stories are genre (science fiction, steampunk etc). At first when I started writing, I worried about the marketability of such stories. I self-published Winged, a novel comprising two novellas (one steampunk and one science fiction). The National Library of Singapore reviewed an e-book version of it. Yet no one seemed willing to pick it up. Later, Oysters, Pearls And Magic was released with several platforms and formats (Smashwords and Lulu). Printing is expensive and I am only able to print limited copies. Yet again reception seems weak and lack-lustre.

At the same time, the Happy Smiley Writers’ Group published Happiness At The End Of The World and Bubble G.U.M. It looks like genre fiction for young adults is emerging. The Singaporean YA writer does exist. Only that the scene is extremely nascent and dominated by the US and UK markets.

There is Singaporean YA. It is just that it does not follow the usual route or keep to the familiar patterns. Do teenagers like dystopian worlds? Do they like vampires and werewolves? Or are their tastes dictated and shaped by popular culture? Most importantly, are we cultivating a new generation of readers open to read all genres?

Singaporean YA writers, if you are reading this: write what you know. Vampires and werewolves or dystopian worlds are only trends. The most critical thing is to hook the teenage reader right in with a good story that would last for years.

So, is the Singaporean YA writer fact or myth?

You decide.

  3 comments for “Singaporean YA: Fact or Myth (Guest post by J. Damask)

  1. Wednesday, 21 December 2011 at 10:31 PM

    Teenagers have a heightened sense of injustice and disempowerment. The best YA fiction imparts a sense of enabling and overcoming these feelings.

  2. Thursday, 22 December 2011 at 8:11 PM

    “The most critical thing is to hook the teenage reader right in with a good story that would last for years.” Couldn’t agree more. I also believe that Singaporean writers lack exposure. There is a need for more awareness on their works.

  3. Friday, 23 December 2011 at 9:21 AM

    I agree with Eeleen here. The best YA fiction imparts a sense of enabling and overcoming these feelings of injustice and disempowerment. The trick is to write a story where the teenager is able to find ways or tools to cope with the inherent disempowerment. I don’t necessarily agree with some of the YA fiction on the market – Yet, I hasten to add: are we writing stories teenagers enjoy reading or are we just ‘preaching’ to them?

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