my secret life

"Why do you say these things, knowing I will kill you for them?"

          -- General Zod (TERENCE STAMP), Superman


I started writing when I was 12 years old and my mother handed me a typewriter. I was an incredibly sheltered child - my basic knowledge of the world came from comic books and television, so when I began to write, science fiction seemed an easy genre to pick up on. It didn't really need any knowledge of the real world (or so I thought back then). Contrary to popular belief, I had no childhood traumas, no odd experiences that twisted me for life. If anything, it was the sheer ordinariness of my actual life I was rebelling against. Fantasy, imagination, dream, they seemed much better companions.

All of my writing prior to age 15 was for my own personal consumption (and to be frank, I don't ever want to let some of those see the light of day). My first published piece was in my school magazine in 1985, a very amateurish rip-off of one of Arthur C. Clarke's short stories - my only deliberate act of plagiarism, I promise. In 1986, along with Colin Goh and a couple of other classmates, we produced Singapore's first teen fanzine, Pale Shelter, covering the music and comics scene. We had quite a following among some girls' schools - our sole claim to fame being that we noticed Matt Bianco before it was fashionable. As it turned out, my real productive period, fiction-wise, began around 1987-88, when I was a charter member of the Science Fiction Association (Singapore) and got involved in the production of our now-defunct in house magazine, Tesseract as Features Editor, which included Fiction.

Like a lot of fan produced magazines, we had problems with getting material for Tesseract. The odd part was, we had no dearth of art submissions, but articles and stories were difficult to come by. In the end, only Alistair Chew and I were the regular contributors to the fiction sections of the magazine. I wrote numerous articles and about four short stories that saw print in Tesseract. Outside of that, I had submitted a story for and won the second prize for the Shell-sponsored National Science Fiction Writing Competition in 1987 with The Man Who Was Organised, inspired by Larry Niven's organ-legger stories, about a man who replaces every part of his body with fresh organs, and is haunted by the past owners (I was 16, gimme a break).

I also won the Creative Writing contest for both 1987 (a non-SF piece about teen angst called Masks) and 1988 (a SF-ish tirade about Christianity and humanism entitled On The Road To Golgotha) in Anglo-Chinese Junior College, and wound up as first Secretary/Chairman of the Creative Writing Club. I even managed to get an excerpt from Masks read out over the radio for National Day. It was weird - the guy who did the voice-over for was overly dramatic, I thought, and they did it to the soundtrack of "The Silk Road", which was surreal.

I entered the Army in 1988 and became a clerk, which afforded me some free time. It was between then and 1991 that I put together the collection of stories that was to become The Nightmare Factory. When I had about ten stories put together, I handed them to Goh Eck Kheng of Landmark Books, who, wonder of wonders, thought it was good enough for publication. Over the three months or so between leaving the Army and heading off to London for my law degree, we edited and argued and discussed and edited some more until we came up with a package that was sent off to the printers in time for the Book Fair in 1991 (I wanted, like Isaac Asimov, to have my first book out before I hit 21). I remember receiving the first copies of Nightmare Factory. It felt so strange, seeing my name on the cover, like it was the name of a complete stranger. Who the hell was this Terence Chua guy anyway?

I wish I could tell you that it was a runaway bestseller, but I can't. Nightmare Factory sold moderately well, about a third or so of its 5000 print run, but it barely moved after the first year or so of publication. Eventually, MPH, my distributors, decided that they couldn't spare the warehouse space and decided to pulp the unsold copies in early 1995.

I was so traumatised by the idea, and with no income to speak of (I was still awaiting employment), I didn't even manage to salvage any copies myself, except for the one or two writer's copies. I had high hopes for Nightmare Factory - it wasn't hard science fiction, more Twilight Zone-like stuff, but I thought it would be a way to make science fiction have a real impact on the Singapore market, instead of the usual creepy-crawly horror fare that has become common on the shelves today. I blame myself, really - I wasn't around to help market it properly, and my design for the cover, while arty, just wasn't eye-catching enough to attract sales. If you do manage to find a copy in a second-hand store (or maybe Amazon.com can try tracking it down for you... I'm listed in their catalogue), I'm more than happy to hear from you and even sign it personally if you want, out of sheer gratitude. Despite one or two cringe-worthy stories, I'm rather proud of Nightmare Factory, and I think it holds up to age pretty well, considering it was written by a gawky, angsty teenager.

I worked on stories during my University days, but none of them have really seen print except for one or two in Tesseract. I wrote, with Chan Man Loon illustrating, the last four-part story on the weekly horror Sunday strip Souls in the Straits Times, Dead Run, a story about a friendship between a middle-aged executive contemplating death and the ghost of a jogger. I'm glad to say that a number of people still remember that story and consider it the best of the Souls run. Over the last couple of years, I've also been a participant in Nanyang Girls School's Creative Arts Camp, giving talks on science fiction.

Today, I'm uncertain if I can convince my publisher to take a chance on a second science fiction anthology. Writing novels and stories has been difficult since I started my job, and for a time I was so demoralised by what I felt was the failure of Nightmare Factory that I didn't feel like doing any more SF. I'm hoping to change that now. Wish me luck.

Recently, I've also been getting more and more into filk - since I attended my first Worldcon in 1999 in Melbourne, I've discovered I've an aptitude for the stuff. What is filk music? Well, it's difficult to describe, but essentially, it's songs that have a general science fiction, fantasy, genre or fandom theme. My songs are generally parodies (and there's a lot of really great original filk out there), but people seem to like them - I hope you do too.

Onward!


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