Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Clara Chow
By Yeow Kai Chai
Before she made her literary debut in November 2016 with her feted fiction collection Dream Storeys, Clara Chow has already made a name as an arts correspondent with The Straits Times.
For those who have followed her personal column in My Paper from 2008 to 2013, they would have noticed, too, her funny, relatable accounts of being a young parent, raising two sons and dealing with all sorts of family shenanigans. It's in these weekly pieces that she first honed her narrative gifts a conversational tone, a great set-up, and an economy with words.
Even then, Dream Storeys (Ethos Books) was a lovely coming-out and an artistic step-up. Leveraging on well-earned journalistic skills, she interviewed 12 Singaporean architects and asked them to conjure up their dream buildings. She then wrote nine stories in and around these edifices a tree house, a revolving jail, an underground city, among others and populated them with vivid humanity.
Her forthcoming collection, Modern Myths (forthcoming from Math Paper Press), sounds equally intriguing, adapting Greek mythology into contemporary Singaporean settings.
Besides running WeAreAWebsite.com, a literary and art journal she co-founded, she has published short stories in various publications such as Asia Literary Review, Blunderbuss Magazine, CHA: An Asian Literary Journal, Cheat River Review and The Stockholm Review of Literature, as well as QLRS.
1. What are you reading right now?
I have a terrible habit of leaving half-read books all over the house. Right now, I've got fingers in The Matchmaker, The Apprentice & The Football Fan by Zhu Wen (translated by Julia Lovell), Volume 1: Plays in Chinese The 1960s and the 1970s by Kuo Pao Kun, and Monstress: Volume 1 Awakening by Marjorie Liu. Communally, my husband, our elder son and I are reading the same copy of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (multiple bookmarks sticking out from it), before we watch the movie.
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play or poem, what would you be and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living writer and one dead writer you most identify with, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you most admire in a writer?
7. What is one trait you most deplore in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy, or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
Least favourite: "Monetise."
12. Write a short-short story in three sentences that include the following three items: funicular, omakase, speakeasy.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you have a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. You have been delivering a seminar titled How I Became a Liar. In this age of #FakeNews, how do you negotiate between creative fiction and journalism? What does truth mean to you?
At the same time, one must not wilfully mislead others by passing off fiction as fact.
These days, I write mostly fiction and personal columns, and leave the news reporting to others who are abler and more dedicated, so there's not much to negotiate: You don't have to believe anything I publish, unless you want to. And if I accidentally hit upon something that chimes all too true about the world we live in, I claim plausible deniability.
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?
But I'd really rather have my ashes kept in a small jar on top of the fridge at home. I could come with a sign that says: "Dust me."QLRS Vol. 17 No. 2 Apr 2018