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YRC 39: Featured Authors – Eliora Joseph & Athena Tan

It was 4 February 2017, the evening of the beautiful pink-purple sky that came after the rain. Sitting at Coffee Bean at Junction 8, we sat next to two teenage girls and gleefully observed them as they bantered over school debates they had participated in recently. After nearly half an hour of excited chatter, they paused. Turning to us, they asked, “Oh, are you going to start the interview now? Sorry, we got carried away!”

These two girls were none other than Eliora Joseph and Athena Tan, our Featured Authors (yes, two Featured Authors!) for this issue. They are also long-time friends of the Young Reader Club magazine, having contributed to our publication several times.
Not only that, they are two of the six Young Authors who pitched in for our book for the Singapore Memory Project, Heritage Journeys: No Place Like Serangoon Gardens. They were also emcees during the Young Author Awards 2014/2015, working alongside former Young Author Bryan Joel Lim.

Not only are Eliora and Athena friends of YRC, but they are also best buds with each other. Both are feisty, dramatic, and enthusiastic, their similar personalities playing off each other well.
What were their first writing experiences like? Athena, currently in Secondary 4 at Xinmin Secondary School, gamely answered first. “When I was six years old, my mother got us these library cards, where we could borrow up to a hundred books per week,” she referred to her childhood as a grade-schooler in America.
“So every time my parents brought us to the library, I will drag home a hundred books every time. And I will read a few books every night. So that was why I really got into reading and writing. Like, it was literally my life then. I was reading picture books at first, then books like Little Women, then stuff by Enid Blyton.”
Athena shared that during her schooling years in the States, there was more attention given to passion than to academics, and that played a role in her love for reading and writing. “In Grade 1, there were all these writing competitions. And there was this writing competition that came from the education board partnering with Barnes & Nobles. I joined the competition and won that year for my school. I was the youngest winner then. I thought to myself, ‘Hey, maybe I am good at something! Hohoho!’ So I continued writing after that.”
From writing fictional narratives, little Athena went on to write blogs, thanks to an initiative by her Grade 3 teacher. This teacher had a blog where her students could post on anything under the sun, exposing Athena to the wonders of online content.
It was when she was nine years old that Athena shifted to Singapore, where she attended an international school in Lorong Chuan for the remainder of her primary school education. It was then she stopped writing, due to an emotional void felt from the big move. “I started writing back in America because I had something there,” she shared. “My friends were there, I thought I had something there. But when I came here, it was just depression and heartbreak.”
However, thanks to author Susan Brennan visiting her school, Athena returned to writing. She participated in poetry competitions and set up a fashion blog. “I only dabbled in fashion then because of my interests then,” she admitted with a cringe as she remembered those days. “Doesn’t mean I am still interested! I just want to write useful stuff that people could think about.” She also divulged having kept ‘five blogs that contained very pretentious and angsty poetry’.
When she reached Secondary 1, she discovered the Young Reader Club magazine and wrote in as a contributor (and unfortunately stopped her fashion blogging). From then, Athena became a writer for YRC. She is currently editor for an online literary magazine, Carpe Bloom (, where students contribute their creative writing and photography. “I was actually inspired by YRC to start it,” she coyly admits. She frequently nags Eliora to submit her writing for the publication.
“Well, my first writing experiences are nowhere as interesting as Athena’s,” Eliora revealed when it was her turn to answer. “I mean, Athena, yours was so cool!” She is currently in Secondary 3, posted in the Integrated Programme (IP) at National Junior College.
“Basically, as a child, I read a lot,” Eliora started. “Like, a lot. I especially like mystery books, and I still like them now. I went to the library a lot when I was young, and one day, I came across the Young Author Clubs workshops being held at Woodlands Regional Library. I thought I would just go in for fun, so I went in with my sister. And I found out I really enjoyed the sessions.”
Eliora was in Primary 4 at Marymount Convent then, and her experiences with the library sessions propelled her to participate in the Young Author Awards 2011/2012. “It was after a few sessions, when the instructor told us about the Young Author Awards and asked me if I wanted to join. So I said, ‘Sure’.”
Eliora was a finalist in the awards twice. That first time, five years ago, she wrote a mystery story called The Mystery of the Glowing Skulls…a feat that her current teenage self cringes over whenever it is brought up. “I admit, I procrastinated a lot,” she revealed. “It was only when I received a call asking about my story that I went to my mum’s laptop and quickly typed it out! It was, like, a rushed story! I did not even know what I was writing about!”
It did not help that whenever the story was mentioned, Athena would tease Eliora about it: “Oh, did it received glowing reviews? Don’t worry, you have a glowing brain in that glowing skull of yours!”
In the Young Author Awards 2013/2014, when she was Primary 6, Eliora wrote in once again with her heart-warming tale Safe and Sound, inspired by pop-singer Taylor Swift’s song of the same title.
Reminiscing about the awards, Eliora led her experiences back to her childhood-borne love of writing. “I have always loved English, I have always loved writing,” she said. “So for me, it was always something that comes back naturally. And I read a lot, so thus I also like to write.”
“When I was in English tuition, we always had these four picture which we had to write about. And I would always give these super-weird, crazy, out-of-this-world stories. And my teacher told me that I should treasure them, because when I get to secondary school, I would not be able to write like that. And I thought she was lying, that I would still be creative and imaginative when I get to secondary school.”
The brutal truth was, Eliora ended up not writing as much as she did before when she got older. “In Secondary One and Secondary Two, I wasn’t writing (creatively) at all,” she shared. “But then I joined this Writers’ Circle in Secondary Two. However, I wrote around two to three poems and that was kind of it. My teacher encouraged me to go for this writing competition, but I was having such a bad writer’s block that I couldn’t churn out anything beyond a single paragraph.”
It was only after a missed chance at the Creative Arts Programme, which she was eager to enrol into, that Eliora pushed herself back into writing. “I just picked a topic, and wrote three pages about it,” she recounted. “I had a lot of ideas coming in, and it was really good.” However, that time of bliss was halted due to her schoolwork. “But I will go back to it when I have time,” she said determinedly. “Now I am writing a few poems here and there, thanks to my school’s Poetry Nights.”

In these days where our local public schooling system is criticized for its rigidity, how are the two girls faring? “It’s not all that bad!” they chorused.
“I think the school system is linked to the values and culture in that country,” Athena pointed out. “In different schools, you deal with different people and different ways of doing things. It’s not bad, but sometimes they have different priorities.”
“I think schools here are the most intense. And that has made me stronger, because people here expect a lot from you, especially in your studies and personal development. I used to prefer a different schooling system, but when I look back, if anyone has to go through a cultural or educational shock, it has to be when you are young. Because in the future, it’s going to make you more open-minded.”
Eliora added her bit. “For me, my school gives bite-sized tests every week, and that is easier for us because it is not crammed and our grade weightage is spread out. So if we fail one test, we can still catch up and pull our grades up.”
“While we focus on academics, we also have group work and project work. Each subject has a few group projects, so we learn how to work with people, how to do research, how to speak well, how to do presentations, all that. We also do research projects in science and language.”
Does that mean they have little time to socialise? “It goes both ways,” Athena replied. “When you are in school, school is supposed to prepare you for society, so you have to talk to people, even to those whom you do not like.”
“Being in a class with people, and considering school is a microscopic society like what Athena says,” Eliora chips in. “You have to talk to people. It’s instinctive for you to make friends. Schools give you CCAs and recess times to give you opportunities to bond with people with similar interests.”
“It gives you a chance to maintain healthy relationships with people,” Athena went on. “So that you can avoid conflict and also learn how to say ‘no’. It makes for a good class and firm relationships. But then again, the same things apply wherever you go. There will always be social avenues for young people here.”

Both girls would neither forget nor abandon their love for the craft, seeking a chance to write something extensive once more. They also exhibit child-like joy at discovering something new to read – Eliora is into local authors like Low Kay Hwa (her favourite work from him is tragic romance I Believe You), while Athena is currently enjoying a local haiku anthology entitled Equatorial Calm (she is a fan of poet Pooja Nansi, whom she saw at the book’s launch).
Whenever they have time, they would indulge in Korean pop culture, gushing about their favourite bands, and writing fanfiction. Eliora chips in that she has discovered the cheesy yet adorable romances of Taiwanese dramas. She also reveals her plans to open a food blog or Instagram in the future due to having café-hopped in freer times.
Currently, what takes up most of their time is their debate clubs; while debating takes up most of their writing time, the two girls’ friendship is strengthened due to them frequently meeting each other at debate championships…even if they were in rival clubs and thus had to compete against each other.
When we asked them about their future aspirations, Eliora hopes to find hers through exploring as much as she can. “That’s why I took up so many CCAs,” she said. “Because I want to have more exposure. I chose to take Double Science instead of Triple, and I chose to study Advanced Literature where I get to look at law cases and such. So my future aspirations are to be either a doctor or a lawyer. I like chemistry and biology, and I also like to help people.”
Athena shares the same sentiments as her friend; other than making as much puns as she could (at Eliora’s expense), she is also keeping her options open about her future. “I am also open to whatever profession I want to go in,” she said. “Because although I like writing, I also like speaking. And there may be other things I want to do when I am older, so I can’t throw a dart on the board and pick one. I want to write and speak, but in a way that helps the world progress. It’s one of the reasons why I started Carpe Bloom – to give young writers like myself a chance to express themselves.”
So, any advice for budding writers? “I think the reason why so many people stop writing when they get older is because they see it as homework,” Athena explained. “Instead of seeing writing as something to conform to, write because you want to. Write because you have something to say and because you want to say it. If you have any ideas, jot them down and keep them for the future. If your heart tells you to write about glowing skulls, write about glowing skulls. Sometimes, you can write not just for yourself, but also for other people. You can have a positive impact on others through your writing.”
“As for me,” Eliora said. “My advice is – well, I like Athena’s advice about not conforming – so my advice will be to just write, especially when you are still young. For me and Athena, we saw this problem of not being able to write when we got older. I think when you are younger and more innocent and carefree, just write whatever you want. Because when you get older, you might be filled with regret and start thinking, “Oh, why didn’t I write this before when I was younger?’. Writing would seem like a chore once you get older, so write whatever you can now. Once you get that spark, don’t lose it.”

Monday,13 March 2017 by | Blog, Featured Authors |