Seeing their published work displayed at a Kinokuniya store with other bestsellers can be one way of defining a Singaporean writer’s ultimate dream. More so for a millennial who’s already making it big in the literature scene here.
Meet Daryl Qilin Yam, a Singaporean writer who published his first novel when he was barely 25.
If you are into books, you must have heard about his novel Kappa Quartet published by Epigram Books in 2016. Long-listed for the 2015 Epigram Books Fiction Prize, the book is set in different locations across Singapore and Japan.
Daryl tells me that his key influences were Murakami, and also the world-and time-spanning books of David Mitchell. “As a Singaporean author encountering so much source material that was essentially Japanese in origin, I knew, instinctively, that I would have to set my novel across both countries. It was a challenge that I couldn’t avoid,” he explains.
Looking Back at 2 Years of Kappa Quartet
Since the publication of his novel, “life has been different,” Daryl says. “I am gratified when I see a kind review of my book. It’s more than I need or have ever come to expect.” He fondly recalls his year in Japan when he wrote Kappa Quartet. He confesses that it was a lonely time, especially during the winter.
“It was a dark time, literally and figuratively, in which I found respite and warmth in my friends, the dorm I lived in, and the Starbucks near Inokashira Park that I regularly frequented.”
“I did not know what love was, at the time, or to be specific – how it ever felt to love, and be loved in return. That lay at the core of my loneliness, which also lies in the core of Kappa Quartet.”
Daryl explains that Kappa Quartet is, in many ways, like a time capsule for him. It represents who he was at a point in time that nothing else can compare.
“In my eyes, the book also serves a point of arrival and departure; it allowed me to finally embrace the identity of being a published author, while also allowing me to fully confront what being published truly entails.”
When people start off as aspirant authors, many assume that being published is about being prolific, rich and popular. Daryl felt the same way initially but in retrospect, understands that what really matters is the kinship between writer and readers.
“I write now so as to find a kindred soul who believes in the things that I do, sees the world as I do, and feels as intensely about life as I do.”
Back To The Starting Line
It goes without saying that Daryl was a voracious reader as a child. He was an Enid Blyton fan and a Potterhead. He began writing at the age of 17, under the encouragement of his English teacher named Brian Connor.
He would send Mr. Connor pieces to review, who would leave comments and feedback. His first-ever literary appearance was in a print journal named Ceriph somewhere around 2010.
Daryl mentions that the unparalleled support from his editors throughout his career gave him a constant sense of validation that any beginner needs.
He has also co-edited the SingPoWriMo Anthology from 2015 to 2017, describing his relationship with poetry as “difficult”.
“Poetry comes from an intensely personal space. It is the medium I turn to when I wish to confess or memorialize something. I feel that being a poet, is a very big claim to make, a claim which a person has to actively live up to.
“I am not a poet – merely a writer of poetry.”
As Daryl speaks of poetry and mentions social media, I cannot help but ask him about the rise of InstaPoets.”Wig. It better werk!! And tea,” he exclaims wittingly.
Queer Community In Singapore’s Literary Scene
As a queer writer himself, Daryl says that the local Sing Lit scene is “oddly lucky to see a glut of Chinese queer writers in Sing Lit – we’re active, we’re visible, we’re creatively thriving and winning awards. But I believe that queer folk from ethnic minorities have to handle a baggage that’s far heavier (and trickier!) to manage”.
“Queerness involves understanding one’s strange place in the un-strange world, the otherwise normal world. Things that naturally manifest in others – romance, affection, desire – are otherwise constantly second-guessed and riddled by self-policing in queer folk.”
Does he take this as a social responsibility upon himself and does it affect his writing?
“Queer life is strange and so I don’t consider queer representation to be a social responsibility of any sort. Queer life is strange and so my writing shall therefore be strange. The stranger it is, the queerer it is. Strangeness — queerness — is how I honor the members of my community,” he beams.
To know more about Daryl Yam’s work, click here.