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Come join the All In! Young Writers’ Seminar 2010. For writers in the new media.

Students from junior college, polytechnic and university.

This seminar will provide an insight into:

  • How the Internet and web technologies have evolved and are evolving
  • How has the traditional publishing value chain been affected by IT and the new media
  • Writing in the larger context of Digital Media
  • How to keep up to date with new developments
  • Future trends like e-books, e-readers, interactive and multimedia content
  • Responsible blogging

20 Feb 2010 (Sat), 9.30am to 6.00pm

The Arts House
1 Old Parliament Lane

We just need you to register before coming.


Ways to register

1. Register online by visiting
2. Complete the registration form and fax it to (65) 6742 9466
(Please download details and registration form HERE)

Our group did an exercise to help us hone our observations skills. We were to station overselves in a place (home, train station, kopi tiam, hospital, airport, etc) and just observe using our senses and write down our observation. Here’s mine.

It is 7.30 am. I take forever to get myself dressed. I am both half asleep and hungry. Armed with a pen and scratch paper, I make my way to the nearby coffee shop. I expect to see a crowd – that was the way it was when I went there two months ago after it was newly renovated. The newness has died down. There are fewer people than I expected.

The upgraded coffee shop is clean and airy – miles of improvement from the dark, cramped and dirty looking shop that I remember. Half the stalls are still dark. The poh piah seller arrives and begins turning on the lights to prepare for a hopeful business day.

The permanently fixed tables have orange tops and backless chairs. I am spoilt for choice as to where to sit.

I scan the backlit sign boards that show mouth-watering familiar local favourites like char kway teow and chicken rice; iced lemon tea, lime juice, half-boiled eggs and kaya toast, but my mind is already made up – it’s oily crispy roti prata for me this morning. There is no queue and I get my order very quickly.

I plunk myself strategically. Good morning senses.

There is a quiet hum of the fast spinning ceiling fans above. Mental spoons clink again the cups as customers stir their kopi or teh. The kopi counter is crowded with cups and canned drinks. A neat row of cigarettes of every brand are in the display just above the counter. Coffee servers in blue and white stripped polo shirts and a Tiger beer logo ply around to take orders. Read the rest of this entry »

Cecilia does it again… another Straits Times Online Forum published in response to a Straits Times Article that appeared on Wed, 8 April 2009 entitled ‘Using death to sell marriage’

Taking the plunge: Fear may stem from cheating hearts rather than absence of Mr or Miss Right

I REFER to Wednesday’s article, ‘Using death to sell marriage’.

It was reported that the television advertisement ‘was spurred in part by a 2006 survey which showed that many respondents were waiting for a suitable partner to show up’. The advertisement aims to impart the message that beautiful relationships can develop, despite imperfections in spouses.

A few years ago, I attended a Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry@Home (Reach) discussion aimed at getting more Singaporeans to marry.

One participant revealed how her sister and many friends were put off marriage because of unfaithful boyfriends.

They also saw many instances of marriages breaking down due to adultery. Therefore, the more pertinent imperfection to address is cheating partners.

It would be instructive to see the results of a survey on fear of unfaithfulness as an impediment to marriage and how this could be addressed in advertisements.

Cecilia Nathen (Ms)

What you can do to make yourself “irresistible” to the literary agents (or publishers) you hope to represent you.

Find out what literary agents look for in query letters and book proposals, and what are the clues that attract their interest. If you’re interested in obtaining literary agent representation or get an insight on presenting your manuscript to publishers, you’re invited to attend this free session.

Date: 13 January 2009
Time: 3.30pm to 5.30pm
Venue: Possibility Room, Level 5, National Library Building
Registration: Call 68488290 or email with your name, email & tel. no.

Admission is free. Seats are allocated based on first-come-first-serve.


KELLY SONNACK is a Literary Agent and Submissions Manager at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, USA. She also assists with PR, events, foreign rights, and manages permissions. She specializes in children’s literature (picture books, middle grade, young adult, graphic novels, as well as illustration). She is also interested in adult fiction and non-fiction from unusual perspectives. She has been with the agency since 2006.

My friend and nominator  Shirley Leong surprised me in August 2008 when she called to say she was nominating me for the Mediacorpradio Lifelong Learner Awards.  It set me reflecting on my learning journey. Maturing without losing innocence, curiousity and the adventure spirit of a child keeps me fresh and alive as a person and as a writer.

In 2003, the Management Development Institute of Singapore where I did my diploma in Mass Communications (MC) published an article which I wrote I wrote about studies which has the seed of what I am elaborating on here…

One day my Mass Com classmate Bob and I were travelling together on the MRT to go for our exam. Bob asked me, “What questions did you study?” He meant what questions did I spot?
I told him, “I studied everything.”
He was very shocked. He said, “Everything?”
I said, “Yes everything. I didn’t go back to school to pass an exam, I went back to learn. So I’m learning.

I did poorly in secondary school because I was playful and couldn’t find meaning in what I was studying for. My poor grades were something I lived to regret for a long time. When the opportunity came to go back to do my MC in my 40s, I was thrilled no end and saw it as a gift, a second chance. Many people go to the university to get their education, I learned along the way that there is such a thing as formal and informal education.

Mark Twain is attributed to have said, “Never let school interfere with your education.” That was a great comfort and inspiration to me. I have never let my learning become limited by “school” as we know it.

According to, the word university comes from the Latin universitas, “the whole,” from universus, “combined into one.” I got my education mostly from the University of Life.

An interesting thing I discovered, about the word “school” while writing this post: the word school traces back to Greek skhole “lectureplace,” but earlier it meant “leisure,” “learned discussion,” and “study.” I like the original meaning of school… leisure.

In the 90s, I took a series of ten-weeks evening classes at the Singapore Bible College. I found out that my favourite teacher, an elderly lady, had gone back to the university in her 60s to upgrade herself. I made it my aspiration then never to stop learning. says the term disciple is derived from the New Testament Greek word μαθἡτἡς“., coming to English by way of the Latin discipulus meaning “a learner“. There are many people I know who have stopped learning.

Another friend once told me, “Never reject a new experience if it is not morally wrong.” Well I have not accepted every single opportunity but for the most parts, I have tried as much as I can to at least try it once.

What are some skills I have learned along the way?

Mostly through informal learning, short courses, networking, personal reading, I’ve learned to use the computer, use graphic design software like Adobe Photoshop, inDesign, Macromedia Dreamweaver, Adobe Premiere etc. I can take photos and make digital stories, videos, design websites, do blogging, cross-stitching, cook, write, speak Filipino…

Some of the things in the recent years that I feel a great satisfaction over: getting my articles published in The New Paper, Today paper, Chicken Soup for the Singapore Soul, and publishing my book, “How the Moken Sea Gypsies got their Book“. (I did my own layout and design too!)

What has helped me in my learning journey?

Understanding my learning style has made a big difference in getting me where I am now. While I was playful (and irresponsible) during my school days, I believe that a small (I emphasise small) part my failure had to do with the one-track way in which lessons were being taught.

For instance, I realise that I am a hands-on person. When I wanted to learn how to make websites, I started out asking questions from friends who knew how to make them. From the things they taught me, I started trying them out on my own. I borrowed many books from the library and learned by trial and error. In all I tried about four different types of software: PageMill, FrontPage, DreamWeaver, and now WordPress.

I also did a lot of surfing on the internet. There are so many resources out there, even video tutorials.

When I felt I had hit the ceiling, I enrolled in an evening class. By they, I knew exactly what I didn’t know. I went to class with my ammunition of questions. I don’t think my teacher liked it very much. He said I asked too many questions. I didn’t let the school determine everything I wanted to learn because I knew to some extent what I wanted to know.

I also realise the value of formal education having gone back to do my diploma. Being in a routine, being with people who are pursuing the same disciplines, having systematic teachings, taking exams are helpful for me.

There is a saying, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Right now, I am part of a small writers support group – this is also very helpful for me. We keep our writing passion going. There is celebration when one succeeds. It inspires the rest of us to press on. And, there are friendly jokes and gentle reminders when we slack.

What keeps me learning?

I learn because I enjoy learning. I derive much pleasure when I can do things.

But I also have a bigger reason that keeps me learning. Recently I read a quote (I forget its source now). It said,

Success is when you add value to yourself.
Significance is when you add value to others.

When I went back to school (MDIS), I made two decisions that would steer me through my course — To be the best student that I could be (my only competitor was myself) and to serve my classmates. I believe I did them both in my 15 months of studies.

I don’t want to just be successful. That becomes meaningless after a while. I want my life to have significance. That to me is real success.

My other role model is Aunty Say Bay, a 74-year-old anthropologist — I had the privilege to write her biography. She never stops learning and she is always thinking about others and how to make them succeed in life.

Some things I have done?

Gone for community service trips to serve the poor and then later leading a team to build houses for 2004 tsunami-hit victims in Thailand. I have always said, “I have more ideas than I have life to live.” I can’t help thinking and dreaming about things I can do to build people up and then being a catalyst to encourage others to do the same. I know what it’s like to fail and to feel like a failure.

I don’t think I have done much in terms of “productivity” or “making more money” etc. But I like my life as it is: making a difference in the lives of other people.

Many years ago, I took up piano lessons. I played the drills and the scales but I couldn’t hear the music. I find that ironical because my father and his siblings loved music. It was always a part of my life.

I think a good teacher is one who can help the student to have a love for the subject, whatever that subject might be. And then, they should give them basic skills on how to learn on their own and how to find resources. I think if a teacher can do that, they have set their students up for life and they would never stop learning.

To all those who have gone before me, taken time for me, and believed in me. Thank you.

I hope I never stop being a learner.

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