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YRC 36: Featured Author — Wong Zi Ling

The sound of piano music greeted us as we stepped through the glass doors leading to the rooftop of the Esplanade. There sat our Featured Author for this issue, Wong Zi Ling, skillfully flitting her fingers over the keys of a piano. “I used to take piano lessons when I was younger,” she explains as we took photos of her playing. “But not anymore. So I just play for fun.”
Now 15 years old and in Secondary 3 at Nanyang Girls’ School, Zi Ling has matured since we first met her in 2011, having traded her teeny-bopper twin tails for a single ponytail at the back of her head. Then a Primary 4 student at Innova Primary School, her love for reading and curiosity in writing led her to join the Young Author Scheme. Through the course, Zi Ling wrote The Magic Prophecy, which earned her a spot as finalist in the Young Author Awards 2011/2012. It is currently featured in our Tales of Magic & Fantasy anthology.

Conducting this interview with Zi Ling was akin to catching up with an old friend. After all, for the past four years, she had been actively helping us in various ways; her stints include being emcee (alongside former radio presenter Larry Lai) for the Young Author Awards 2013/2014, contributing her story to one of our anthologies, writing for our book Heritage Journeys: No Place Like Serangoon Gardens, and being a junior writer for Young Reader Club.
Recently, on May 29 this year, Zi Ling was part of a panel of former Young Authors for a workshop called ‘My Child Can Write Well! Can He/She Write a Book?’, where she graciously answered questions posed by parents, teachers, and Channel News Asia’s Suzanne Jung. “It was an interesting experience,” she said.
She explained that helping us at every given opportunity was an expression of gratitude for guiding her to explore her literary prowess, and a chance to do something new.
“Every opportunity I take is a learning opportunity,” she said. “There are things I can work on and things I can improve from all the projects, like YRC and Serangoon Gardens. I really like to improve myself in all aspects of my life.”
“Also, it’s because YAS has been with me and has opened many doors for me, the first one being encouraging me to start writing. So I have a strong connection and bond with the programme, the people working there, and with Ms Khoo. So that is why I always find an opportunity to help out, and give back from what I have gained, which is immense.”
Zi Ling still writes, but she admits that it is mostly for schoolwork due to her busy schedule. However, writing academically has opened new and exciting frontiers for her. “It’s really interesting, because in the programme I am in, we focus a lot on humanities…although it may sound boring, I got to explore a different style of writing and use certain sorts of phrasing.”

It was curiosity that led Zi Ling to be interested in the craft of writing, especially when the Young Author Scheme rolled into her primary school four years ago. It all started from her love of reading, something cultivated in her since young.
“At that time, I was an avid reader, but I didn’t do much writing then,” she recounted. “So I thought, ‘Why not?’ So I joined. It was quite an experience because unlike some of my friends who started writing since they were very young, I only started getting into reading when I was Primary 4. So I started writing things other than school compositions because of Ms Khoo (the publisher of Young Reader Club and director of the Young Author Scheme) and the YAS.”
Through the Young Author Scheme, Zi Ling delved further into writing and deeply enjoyed its benefits. “I could let my creativity flow and go wild when I am writing.”
However, she admits that it was ‘frustrating’ trying to put certain images or scenarios into words. “I had to look through the dictionary or thesaurus to find certain words, to find that right imagery,” she shared. “But that whole journey was a positive one, something really memorable.”
The story she wrote in the YAS, The Magic Prophecy, was about a pair of twin sisters separated at birth by a cruel witch. When one twin came of age, she journeyed to find her sister and thus fulfil the prophecy surrounding their existence.
“What inspired me to write that story were the books I was reading then, as they were all of the same genre as my story — magic and fantasy,” Zi Ling shared. “I didn’t think anybody was going to read it. (Back then) I was embarking on this journey of creativity and (aiming) to finish something I have a passion for.”
“It was reading what other writers wrote and thinking to myself, ‘Why can’t I do the same? Since I have this opportunity, why not try it?’ And so that was why I created The Magic Prophecy, and Abigail and her sister (the main characters). This book represents a journey for me when I started writing, so it’s really means a lot to me. It reminds me of a lot of good times.”
Zi Ling also cites the inspiration for the characters of The Magic Prophecy from Barbie movies. “I got fascinated with the idea of a lost twin, or somebody out there whom I might meet one day and who might be a big part of my life,” she shared. “That was probably due to the movies I watched or the books I read back then. There was always this aspect of mystery, like a lost link, which I got interested in.”

Everyone has two sides, which leads to the contradictory complexity that makes up the human personality. Indeed, while Zi Ling has a goofy and playful personality, she takes on a sombre tone (albeit with a grin still on her face) when she talks about the life lessons she has picked up from her favourite books.
One particular work that had her gushing about what she had learned from it is C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, which she had picked up during a school assignment. This story was a retelling of the mythological relationship between the Greek god Cupid and his lover Psyche, told from the viewpoint of Psyche’s bitter and deformed sister Orual.
“I just love it so much because of how realistic and human it is,” she shared excitedly, pinpointing Orual’s character development throughout the story. “It’s just so real and so reflective of what we go through as humans.”
Stories like Till We Have Faces, brimming with the poignancy of life, strike a deep cord with Zi Ling. Popular author John Green, who wrote Paper Towns and The Fault in Our Stars, came to mind, so we asked Zi Ling about his works. And yes, she has read them and watched the screen adaptations. She especially enjoyed Paper Towns.
“I identify with Margo a lot,” she revealed. “When I started secondary school, I started going out a lot, just to search for a good place to sit and think about things. This book brought me back to reality and reminded me that there are people who are worried about me and care about me.”
“It’s books like these that helped shape my thinking a lot. That’s why I love books. Different books show a different aspect of everyday life…you don’t know what you are going to come across, what you are going to learn, or what the book will impart to you. And that is what is so beautiful about it.”
Books are not the only things that make her contemplate life; Zi Ling shares that over the years, her inspiration has shifted from the latest titles to her personal life experiences. “Back then, what would inspire me (to write) will be new stories, and I will be scrambling to write (my ideas) down,” she said.
“Now, because of the books I read and the school’s influence, the stories I write are more reflective and drawing from real-life experiences.” She adds that school trips, conversations with friends, conflicts, and sudden ‘revelations’ are currently some of her strongest muses.
Zi Ling also revealed that one of her hobbies is to walk the streets and parks of Singapore (mostly in the central area) and ‘sonder’ — a variation of people-watching that makes the watcher realize that every passerby has their own life story to tell.
“I have really learned a lot over the past one or two years,” she reminisced.

Zi Ling has progressed from looking at books to looking at life, and she hopes to carry her study of life and reality into her future. “My priorities are changing,” she said, adding that she now spends more time with friends and family. “Last time it was about grades and studying, but now I have to redefine what is important in life.”
Her future aspirations include venturing into arts, writing, or humanities. “I will like to dabble more in the arts, especially in writing,” she shared. “But practically, I will like to pass my exams so that I can go into a good junior college.”
“Looking at where I am right now, I will really like to do more in political stuff, like looking at the human aspect of everything. So I have been attending talks about society, how people have evolved, businesses today, and the world around us…that’s what I like to expose myself to. I am interested in how people react and how that shapes tomorrow.”
Armed with gungho panache and much determination, Zi Ling is willing to go the distance for her ambitions. “I like to try out everything and challenge myself to go beyond my comfort zone, to see how I can push my limits. I will just see what comes around and grab what opportunity comes by. In the little time I have as a student, I want to do as much as possible so that I can get a rounded perspective on how people are.”
We round off this interview with Zi Ling’s advice to budding writers: “Write not because you have to or somebody pressures you to, but because (you want to) use words to paint a picture you want people to see.”
“Grades are important, yes, but don’t just write for the grade, or you will find it to be a chore. Do it because you want people to see what you see and you feel that using words is the best way to do it. It’s okay if you can’t see the beauty in words, because eventually it is all about how you express yourself.”

Thursday,7 July 2016 by | Blog, Catherine Khoo, Featured Authors |