Artistic Self-Doubt, and then Unexpected Encouragement

Fickle reviewed at SG UnboundBit of a long post, so please bear with me.

Part of being an artist of any kind is dealing with days where you doubt yourself and wonder whether it’s even worth continuing in your chosen field. Today was one of those days for me, a big ol’ pity party about the fact that, because A Fickle and Restless Weapon had been released during the pandemic, it hasn’t reached the number of readers I might have hoped for in the past six months or even made a dent in the cultural awareness of the reading public in Singapore or anywhere else. It’s the thing that’s creative death to any writer, that feeling of utter obscurity.

And so my brain was telling me this story again and again throughout the day, basically convincing me that my career was over and that I just didn’t matter, when two totally unexpected things happened to me.

1. I received an unprompted email from Pico Iyer. Yes, that Pico Iyer. We first met in September 2018, at the Epigram Books office, in a preliminary meeting about a book he was publishing with us, called This Could Be Home: Raffles Hotel and the City of Tomorrow (released in Singapore and the UK in 2019). We apparently hit it off, and have written to each other several times since then. His email today was concerned with the fact that his editor on the book, Eldes Tran (who also edited my three most recent books), has left for Manila, and that I was now his “Man in Epigram” on matters relating to the book and (crossing fingers) any others he might publish with us.

But among all this, he said some very kind and generous things about my own writing, which I’d shared with him some time back, as well as admiration of the fact that I can “soar into other genres and freshly reimagine the world”. It was so surprising and out of the blue, and so so appreciated. I often feel like I’m shouting into a hurricane with my work, and it did my heart so much good to see that someone whom I respect immensely and whose work I always enjoy saw something in my creative endeavours worth praising, just when I needed to hear it.

2. I received another email this evening from Jee Leong Koh announcing that A Fickle and Restless Weapon had been reviewed quite favourably at Singapore Unbound. I immediately opened the link and read with both anticipation and fear, but found that Samantha Neugebauer had done my novel the honour of a fair and thorough evaluation. The fact that she spent so much time examining and picking apart what she appreciated (including an unintended comparison to “John Hersey’s celebrated 1946 New Yorker article-turned-book, Hiroshima, where Hersey’s narrative eye swoops in on several citizens of Japan right before, during, and after the horrific dropping of the atomic bomb”), made me feel seen and respected for my art.

WARNING: the review is unapologetically packed with spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet and/or don’t want to be spoiled on the details, maybe give it a miss. If you have read the book or don’t give a shit about spoilers, then click on!

It’s a bit difficult to find a pull quote in a review that gives so much of the book away, but here’s a good one:

“[A Fickle and Restless Weapon] brims with larger-than-life events and heroic actions, but most impressive are the three, imperfect protagonists, trying to figure out their identities in a complex, shifting society. Lundberg’s Tinhau is a vibrant, deadly and creative world, much like our own.”

What a wonderful Xmas present, to be validated and critically encouraged twice on an especially low day. I suppose I’ll keep this writing thing up for a little while longer after all. 🙂

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Filed under Books, Reviewing, Tinhau

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