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
by Hayley Tai /
May 24, 2019
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.
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
Whenever there were pockets of time, even at odd hours, she worked on her book: “I gave myself a target of writing 1,000 words every day. As long as I write something, even if it’s not great, I can work on it the next morning. When you know where your focus is, you can write quality stuff .”
And Jo-Ann is her own greatest critic. As a former magazine editor, editing on-the-go was almost innate to her.
She didn’t fixate on the book’s ending because, to her, book characters are alive. “I didn’t know how to end it at the beginning, so I let my characters transform on their own.”
And she shared her preliminary work only with one friend, whom she describes as her “personal cheerleader”.
“He would say things like ‘I can’t wait to see what happens to this character’ or ‘I’m very excited to know what happens in the next chapter’. Without him, I’m not sure if I would’ve finished my book in time,” she says.
But finished it is, and Jo-Ann got to have her cake and you get to eat it.
ART DIRECTION Shan
DIGITAL IMAGING Sebastian Lee
STYLING Violet Foo, assisted by Praveena Ravin
HAIR & MAKEUP Zoel Tee, using Hanz De Fuko & 3INA
This was first published in the May issue of our magazine.