Writing From the Margins: Letters to Singapore

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By Kelly Kaur, author of the novel, Letters to Singapore

Kelly Kaur with her newly published book, Letters to Singapore
Kelly Kaur with her newly published book, Letters to Singapore

I never thought it was possible to write my novel, the one that I had been dreaming about all my life. It was too hard. I didn’t know how to start. I didn’t have time. I needed my imaginary house in the Rockies with a view of the mountains to be inspired. I had a million excuses, and the years flew by seamlessly and unforgivingly. No novel! 

Then, my vision found a germinating seed. I was accepted into a four-month writing program by the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and Alexandra’s Writers’ Centre in 2019. I was thrilled and inspired, especially when I found out that my mentor was the marvelous Aritha van Herk. Electrified, nervous, and determined, I ecstatically finished this novel in 100 days. This became a creative journey of possibilities for me, after facing so many roadblocks.  

I didn’t know much; I just wrote and wrote. One letter became two, and the stories took on a life of their own. I delved into the unknown intricacies of being a new writer, letting each day take me down mysterious paths of creativity, marbled by fear, joy, doubt, and questions. Out of the chaos, the voices of the women carved their niche and bellowed through me as I wrote their characters to life. 

Letters to Singapore takes place in Calgary, Canada and Singapore. The protagonist, Simran is a new international student at the University of Calgary. Bewildered and alone, she arrives in Calgary (the West) from Singapore (the East). Simran sends letters that go back and forth to four women in Singapore: her mother, sister, a Chinese friend, and a Tamil friend. She learns about surviving in a new city, new country and new “everything,” 

As a newcomer in Canada, Simran goes through a rollercoaster of emotions and must reconcile her eastern values with her new-found western ones. She is inexperienced in all matters of love and life and being on her own in a new country is exhilarating, painful, difficult, and hopeful, all at the same time. Simran struggles with and against the idea of patriarchal, societal, and cultural expectations. How do immigrants adapt? What is the price of freedom, and what do women deserve – those are questions Simran struggles to answer all the time.  

Who are these women in my novel? I am a keen observer of life. I watch people and ask questions. Therefore, this novel has bits and pieces about many people I know or have heard about. I loved my renewed ability to weave stories and create characters out of what was real, imagined, and crafted. These women in Letters to Singapore are authentic, raw, and alive. I know them well, and many readers have found a character in the novel they most resonate with – mother, mistreated wife, independent woman, lost soul, or all of them. 

My first novel, Letters to Singapore, gave me the confidence and the courage to write more. As I hold this impossible novel of my imagination in my hands, I know it’s never too late to dream big. Stories are powerful tools for reconciliation, hope and possibilities, both for the author and the readers. I am grateful I never gave up!

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