Women Now

Singaporean author to know: Jo-Ann Yeoh whose first book became an award-winning one

Jo-Ann wasn't even thinking of winning the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, she merely intended to use it as a catalyst to get her manuscript done. But little did she know that she would win the prize for the first book she's ever written
 

Photo: Frenchescar Lim

We all know that old axiom about how everyone says they’ve always wanted “to be a writer”.

The only difference between people who spout that tired line and actual writers is that writers write. Which is what Jo-Ann Yeoh did.

Her manuscript, Impractical Uses of Cake, won the Epigram Books Fiction Prize (2018) – and it was the competition’s submission deadline that was the catalyst she needed to propel her childhood dream to take flight.

“It was one of those things I never quite made time for. I’d always dreamt of being a novelist as a child, but what I didn’t know was how life gets in the way. And the thing is, we actually have a very finite amount of time,” the 37-year-old client operations director says.

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The manuscript tells the tale of Sukhin, a lonely 35-year-old teacher who reads, works and visits his parents’ house, and has only one friend.

But one day in Chinatown (you’ll love her description of the place), Sukhin meets someone from his past who’s living a life so drastically different from his, it turns his own life upside down and forces him to question his choices as they bond over cake.

Jo-Ann (second from left) with the other finalists of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize

Photo: The Straits Times

“It’s a book about all the things we don’t ask ourselves. It questions all these expectations we have for ourselves because of societal norms,” Jo-Ann says.

But starting the writing process wasn’t effortless.

Jo-Ann cites Netflix as the “bane of her existence”. We understand – we’ve all succumbed to its bingeability.

All she needed to start on her first draft was discipline and time, which she found when she had to take time off work to attend to family matters.

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