The Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) is back with its 21st edition. On until 11 November, Sunday, its theme is centred around the Chinese character referring to the different world(s) we live in – 界 (jiè). Harper’s BAZAAR’s pages have long lent themselves to words and poetry by some of the world’s greatest writers, having published contributions from Virginia Woolf, Truman Capote, Jeanette Winterson and more. Continuing with tradition, Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore has collaborated exclusively with SWF on a series of short stories: Our brief to the writers? How a piece of clothing or heirloom has had an impact on you and the world(s) you live in.
The final contribution to the series comes from Sharlene Teo. A law graduate from Singapore, Teo also has an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia, where she received the Booker Prize Foundation Scholarship and David T.K. Wong Creative Writing Fellowship. Her debut novel, Ponti, tells a claustrophobic tale of three women in Singapore. For this year’s SWF, Teo will be contributing to a series of panel discussions and readings, including Writing about the New Asian Woman, alongside Korea’s Yujoo Han and China’s Xia Jia, on 11 November.
by Sharlene Teo
The first autumn when I graduated and started working in London, I saw a woman in a camel-coloured cape that fluttered as she stepped off a leafy Islington curb. She looked so elegant and expensive. Almost a decade later I can still recall her look with idealised clarity: dark hair in an elegantly loose Meghan Markle-style bun; autumnal knitwear, soft black leather mules, and most of all, that cape which held it all together. It was clasped at the neck with a signet button, and its bell sleeves flattered her perfectly. ‘I’m going to ask that incredible lady where she got that incredible cape from,’ I said to my then-boyfriend. When the woman told me it was from Topshop, I checked the website every lunch hour. The cape represented an escape and ascent from the business publishing job I’d sleepwalked into after university into an adulthood I didn’t feel I’d fully inhabited yet: a state of being where I would always know the right thing to say and how to deal with every daunting practical reality. It was like a fashionable superhero cape that would transform me into a super capable being. When the cape finally came back in stock, I ordered it immediately and messaged my boyfriend. He rang me, furious. He was angry that I’d ruined his surprise for me. “How could I not get that stupid cape for you if you were going on and on about it obsessively, every day?” We broke up shortly after, but I still have the cape. It hasn’t quite lived up to its transformative potential and I’m still fumbling toward elegant adulthood, but for what it’s worth, it’s a great cape.