Friday, 5 July 2013

500 Words From Verena Tay

500 Words From is a series of guest posts from writers, in which they talk about their latest books.

Here, Verena Tay talks about Spectre: Stories from Dark to Light, her 2012 anthology of short stories, from Math Paper Press, a small, independent publisher which, like Verena herself, is based in Singapore.

For more than 25 years, Verena has acted, directed and written for local English-language theatre in Singapore. She has created various solo and collaborative performances, often based on original, self-written material, and she has published three collections of plays: In the Company of Women (SNP Editions), In the Company of Heroes and Victimology (both Math Paper Press). In 2007 she was an Honorary Fellow at the International Writing Program, University of Iowa. Spectre: Stories from Dark to Light  is her first anthology of short stories, although she has edited two others, Balik Kampung (Math Paper Press) and A Monsoon Feast (Monsoon Books). In addition to her theatre and creative writing, Verena tells stories to both adults and children, and also teaches voice and speech, presentation skills, storytelling and creative writing.

So: 500 words from Verena Tay:

Spectre: Stories from Dark to Light comprises nine short stories with different degrees and types of thematic darkness, from supernatural tales to narratives of magic realism that explore the murkier, even morbid, aspects of the human personality. As my first anthology of short stories, Spectre not only marks my full transition from playwriting to fiction writing, but also represents a clear move to find new audiences for my stories.

The first story in this anthology to be written was The Gravedigger in 2005. Back then, I had begun to move away from creating theatre towards telling stories and needed to include ghost stories as part of my storytelling repertoire. So I re-positioned an urban legend within the context of rural Malaysia/Singapore and developed my version of a gravedigger who gets his comeuppance the moment he feels guilty about his body-parts stealing enterprise.

The reinterpretation of myths, archetypes and folktales is a running motif throughout Spectre. I wrote Broken to literally give voice to the usually silent figure of the pontianak, that famous vampire-banshee of Malay folklore. I again reworked other supernatural folklore elements (such as the orang minyak, toyol, and the bomoh who practises the dark arts) within The Land, a story of four sections that traces how a certain piece of real estate in Singapore becomes cursed and how that curse manifests itself over time.

In rewriting various folktales, I was able to invest aspects of magic realism within Spectre. The original text of A.K. Ramanujan’s Tell It to the Walls is only a page long - I found it in his collection Folktales from India: A Selection of Oral Tales from Twenty-two Languages.  Though short, the simple tale of how a fat Indian village woman releases all her frustrations out on the walls of a deserted house, levels the building and returns home a skinny person spoke to me and, in Walls, I redeveloped and extended the story idea within a contemporary Singapore setting. Meanwhile, The Fisherman’s Wife is my retelling of  The Fisherman and The Magic Fish from the perspective of the fisherman’s wife so as to portray her in a more sympathetic manner than the shrewish figure in the original Chinese folktale.

By contrast, other stories in Spectre are based on real life incidents. Honey’s Story and Coast have their roots in crime and mysterious death stories that hogged The Straits Times for weeks at various points in time. Fast Food 1979: Portrait of an Old Lady, the lightest tale of the collection,  is my imaginative envisioning of how an old woman would have regarded MacDonalds when the fast food joint first opened in Singapore. The Doll is not directly linked to any specific incident, but draws from the tales of domestic violence and industrial exploitation of workers that we all sadly encounter in the media now and again.

In compiling these nine stories together, I hope readers will be thrilled and delighted. At the same time, I hope readers will be able to identify with the characters and situations and gain new perspectives on life.

For more information about Verena, please visit
To Purchase Spectre online, please visit