Profile: O Thiam Chin

Published on 8 December 2015

His first novel clinched the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize and made him S$20,000 richer. So who is O Thiam Chin?

BY pamela ho

“I never felt I was born to write,” reveals O Thiam Chin with a chuckle. “But I’ve always felt the need to tell stories. It took me a while to come to the written word. I was 27 when I took it seriously.”

Armed with a diploma in Mechatronics from Temasek Polytechnic, O worked briefly as an engineer before pursuing a degree in English Language and Literature at SIM University. Graduating in 2003, he then moved into banking and marketing communications. It was only in 2005 that he took the plunge to put writing above all else.

The self-confessed late bloomer has since authored five collections of short stories. He was shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for fiction, and long-listed for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award for Never Been Better in 2010; The Rest of Your Life and Everything That Comes With It in 2012;  Love, or Something Like Love in 2014. In 2012, he was conferred the National Arts Council’s Young Artist Award for literary arts.

While O has focused primarily on short stories, the idea of writing a novel was always at the back of his mind. “The push finally came when I attended the Iowa International Writing Program in 2010; that’s when I started penning down the words,” says O, who was an honorary fellow of the renowned writing residency in the United States.

His first novel, which took four years to write, revolves around two couples — all friends — holidaying on an unnamed island when a tsunami strikes. The story traces the extent they go through to find one another; and the pain, grief and remorse they each experience to find resolution and closure.

“I completed the novel in 2014 and put it aside. It was exactly a year later that I decided to take it out again — the push being the announcement of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize — to give it a full, cold-blooded edit,” he shares. “The one-year break was absolutely necessary, as it gave me a clear eye to see the gaps and blind spots in the novel, and also the impartiality to trim, delete and rewrite parts of it without any sentimentality.”

His labour did not go unrewarded. The Infinite Sea clinched the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize, making him S$20,000 richer. Still an unpublished manuscript, the novel will likely hit bookstores in the first half of 2016. In the meantime, O is already working on a new story collection (consisting of speculative fiction pieces) entitled Signs of Life, which should be completed next year.

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