Yesterday morning, I was delighted to once again appear on Read with Michelle Martin—a short periodic segment in Michelle’s daily radio show on Money FM 89.3 in Singapore—to discuss A Fickle and Restless Weapon. (I previously came on as part of the promotion for Most Excellent and Lamentable, Diary of One Who Disappeared and LONTAR #10.)
Over the course of the interview, we talk about world-building, Tinhau, alternate universes, swees, Singlish, surveillance, exposition and telling details, the influence of Singaporean food and culture, and the Vertigo Tarot. And as you can see in the video, I’m wearing my Nine Inch Nails hoodie and cap, which I only bust out on special occasions.
I also realise now that I never exactly answered Michelle’s question on when I felt it was appropriate to use Singlish in the book (I talked more about the mechanics of using it instead). And the best answer I can think of is: it depends. The characters who largely use colloquial English* in the book tend to be of an older generation, though not all (one character who speaks this way is only in her twenties).
The way I thought about it while writing is that these are people who were educated locally; the ones who use what’s typically called “Standard English” (problematic as this term is) have spent significant time in the US or UK, and their speech patterns reflect this. But then again, one of my protagonists who has lived in the UK for over a decade slips back into colloquial English when talking with the aforementioned woman in her twenties. It is not a differentiation of class or race or economic status because, as has been my observational experience over 13 years in Singapore, people across the spectrum in those categories speak colloquial English at different times, and code-switch at others.
As I say in the interview, I wanted to make sure I got it as correct as possible, since this is not my natural way of expressing myself, and I depended on the kindness of my Singaporean friends and readers for helping me when I didn’t get the details right; of course, any mistakes in the book are my own.
* It’s obviously not called Singlish within my fictional country of Tinhau, since “Singlish” is a portmanteau of “Singaporean English”; nor is it called “Tinglish”, which would seem to have other connotations.