Singapore Stories: Karien van Ditzhuijzen

ANZA Member Karien van Ditzhuijzen writes about life for domestic workers in Singapore.

ANZA member Karien van Ditzhuijzen recently published A Yellow House (monsoonbooks.co.uk) Set in Singapore, it tells the story of ten-year-old Maya, who helps ill-treated domestic workers. Karien also edited My Voice at Home (myvoiceathome.org), an anthology for local charity HOME, of stories written by domestic workers.

Where is your home country?
I was born an expat child, so even though I am technically from the Netherlands, I have lived outside the country for more than half my life. We have lived in Singapore for over six years, and for now this is home.

Have you always been a writer?
No, not at all, I actually have a degree in Chemistry and worked in the food industry for a decade developing ice cream recipes. I wrote my first book – a children’s book about my childhood in Borneo – when I was on maternity leave ten years ago. Since then I have written for magazines and blogs, as well as fiction. A Yellow House is my first full novel, and I only now really dare call myself ‘a writer’.

What made you interested to tell the stories of FDW in Singapore?
I grew up with domestic workers in the house myself and always felt a bit awkward about how they left their own children behind in their home countries to take care of us. When I moved to Singapore and hired my own domestic helper I wanted to learn more about what motivates them and what their lives are like. I joined local charity HOME and met so many inspiring women through my work with them that I wanted to write and share their stories. They are an important part of the Singapore story, yet a voice not heard often
in literature.

What writing support have you had in Singapore?
Through a friend I was introduced to the Singapore Writers’ Group and I met most of my writer friends there. I went to several sharing sessions and workshops organised by them. With writer friends we now critique each other directly. I’d also like to check out the ANZA Writers’ group!

What has been your journey to publication in Singapore?
Initially, I found an agent who helped me get my manuscript into shape, but then we parted ways, which was very frustrating at first. A friend introduced me to Monsoon Books Publisher, Philip Tatham. Monsoon is based in the UK, but with a focus on work set in South East Asia. Thankfully, they loved it and agreed to take it on. I also had some local publishers interested to take on the book. There are quite a few out here that are looking for new authors that have works set in Singapore, and the good news is you don’t need an agent to pitch to them.

Karien blogs about life in Singapore at bedu-mama.com