Claire Tham



Claire Tham Li Mei (b. 1967, Singapore–1) is the author of several award-winning short story collections and two full-length novels, Skimming (1999) and The Inlet (2013). She has also contributed literary reviews for The Straits Times newspaper.2 Previously a legal officer, Tham is currently a partner at a local law firm.3

Education
Tham graduated with a degree in law from Oxford University after her secondary and tertiary education at the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus and Hwa Chong Junior College, respectively.4


Publications and achievements
Tham’s writing career began in 1984 at the age of 17, when two of her short stories – “Fascist Rock” and “Homecoming” – both garnered the second prize in that year’s National Short Story Writing Competition.5 In 1992, she was awarded the Commendation Award for Fiction by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) for her first short story collection, Fascist Rock: Stories of Rebellion (1990).6 “Lee”, one of her short stories from the book, was adapted for television as the second episode of AlterAsians on MediaCorp TV12’s Arts Central channel in 2000.7 The story is also included in Ties that Bind (2007), a compilation of local short stories published by the National Library Board.8

Tham followed up her debut short story collection with another award-winning volume of short stories, Saving the Rainforest and Other Stories (1993).9 The sophomore effort won her the Highly Commended Award from NBDCS in 1994.10

Tham’s subsequent short stories have found similar success in the annual Short Story Writing Competition jointly organised by Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) and the National Arts Council (NAC). She received the Golden Point Award for two of her short stories, “The Gunpowder Trail” and “Driving Sideways”, in the SPH-NAC Short Story Writing Competitions of 1999 and 2001 respectively.11 Both stories are included in her third volume of short stories, The Gunpowder Trail and Other Stories (2003).12

In Fascist Rock: Stories of Rebellion, Tham’s spare, concise sentences and her sharp dialogue heighten the ennui of local youths, a group frustrated at the outdated and conformist practices in their society.13 Saving the Rainforest and Other Stories develops on the tensions between socially accepted behaviour and the need for individualism, an important concern in the creation of self-identities for both the characters and Singapore as a young nation.14 Continuing with Tham’s themes of non-conformity and rebellion, The Gunpowder Trail and other Stories has been lauded for its technical innovation with style and form. Tham plays with the presentation of time and space in the progression of her narratives, creating multilayered possibilities in her short fiction.15 In 2011, “The Gunpowder Trail” was adapted into a theatre production by Teater Ekamatra, which was performed with a mixture of English and Malay dialogue.16

Departing from the short story format, Tham’s first novel, Skimming, was published in 1999.17 It was originally intended to be a short story, but Tham felt that she could not reach a proper resolution within the usual length of a short story.18 The three protagonists in the novel take turns retelling the story in each of their own perspectives, thereby creating a more nuanced and complex treatment of the love triangle in the novel, an experience described as “tight, claustrophobic but ultimately cathartic”.19

Malaysian newspaper The New Straits Times noted in a review of Skimming that, unlike several other Singaporean writers, Tham’s emphasis is on characterisation rather than the physical location and setting of her stories.20 Her characters frequently stray from the mainstream society and its conventions, pushing against the boundaries of social norms even while recognising the comforts of conforming to these conventions.21

Tham released her second novel in 2013, The Inlet. This work is loosely based on a 2010 news report about a 24-year-old Chinese national found dead in the swimming pool of a private residence in Sentosa Cove. The crime thriller is centred on the death of a karaoke lounge hostess in a wealthy man’s swimming pool, and examines Singaporean sentiments towards immigrants.22

Awards
1984:
Second Prize, National Short Story Writing Competition.

1992: Commendation Award (Fiction), NBDCS, for Fascist Rock: Stories of Rebellion.
1994: Highly Commended Award (Fiction), NBDCS, Saving the Rainforest and Other Stories.
1999: Golden Point Award, SPH-NAC Short Story Writing Competition, for “The Gunpowder Trail”.
2001: Golden Point Award, SPH-NAC Short Story Writing Competition, for “Driving Sideways”.

Works
Short story collections

1990: Fascist Rock: Stories of Rebellion
1993: Saving the Rainforest and Other Stories
2003: The Gunpowder Trail and Other Stories

Novels
1999: Skimming
2013: The Inlet



Author
Hong Xinying




References
1. Ooi, S. (1985, December 29). A teenager in her own write. The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Wicks, P. (2004). Emergent voices in Singaporean fiction in English. Asian Profile, 32(1), 31–40. Retrieved from University of Southern Queensland website: https://eprints.usq.edu.au/2362/1/Wicks_Tham1.pdf
3. National Library Board sets up independent panel to advise on review of materials. (2015, April 15). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Nanda, A. (2013, August 25). Mystery of body in a pool. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
4. Nanda, A. (2013, August 25). Mystery of body in a pool. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Ooi, S. (1985, December 29). A teenager in her own write. The Straits Times, p. 13; Nanda, A. (2013, August 25). Mystery of body in a pool. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Koh, B. S. (1992, September 5). Quality wins the day. The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Lee, T.-J. (Director, Writer). (2000). AlterAsians. Lee (Episode 2). Singapore: MediaCorp TV12. (Call no.: RSING 791.457 ALT)
8. Tham, C., et al (2007). Ties that bind. Singapore: National Library Board, pp. 5–22. (Call no.: RSING 808.83 TIE)
9. Tham, C. (1993). Saving the rainforest and other stories. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 4. (Call no.: RSING S823 THA)
10. Record 42 book awards given, no winner for English fiction. (1994, November 20). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11.  Oon, C. (1999, September 9). Quietly making their point, in brief. The Straits Times, p. 3; Chow, C. (2001, September 5). Tham is tops and Alfian is aces go places. The Straits Times, p. L3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Tham, C. (2003). The gunpowder trail & other stories. Singapore: Times Editions. (Call no.: RSING S823 THA).
13. Wicks, P. (2004). Emergent voices in Singaporean fiction in English. Asian Profile, 32(1), 31–40. Retrieved from University of Southern Queensland website: https://eprints.usq.edu.au/2362/1/Wicks_Tham1.pdf
14. Madell, J. (1994). Cover story on Claire Tham’s Saving the Rainforest. The pen is mightier than the sword. London: Skoob Books, pp. 246–248. (Call no.: RSING 809.8959 PEN); Wicks, P. (2004). Emergent voices in Singaporean fiction in English. Asian Profile, 32(1), 31–40. Retrieved from University of Southern Queensland website: https://eprints.usq.edu.au/2362/1/Wicks_Tham1.pdf
15. Murphy, N. (2004, January). A dark contemporary eye. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, 3(2). Retrieved from Quarterly Literary Review Singapore website: http://www.qlrs.com/critique.asp?id=110
16. Ng, Y. (2011, September 10). Trail and errors. The Straits Times, p. 21; What’s up this week… and the weeks ahead. (2011, September 9). The Straits Times, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Wicks, P. (2007, September 1). Claire Tham (1967–). The Literary Encyclopedia. Retrieved from University of Southern Queensland website: https://eprints.usq.edu.au/3173/1/Wicks_Tham2.pdf
18. Ong, S. F. (1999, November 25). 5 spiceThe Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Quayum, M. A. (2000, August 23). The love triangle reinvented. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/; Helmi Yusof. (1999, December 18). Knocking down sacred cows. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Quayum, M. A. (2000, August 23). The love triangle reinvented. New Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/
21. Helmi Yusof. (1999, December 18). Knocking down sacred cows. The Straits Times, p. 19. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. Nanda, A. (2013, August 25). Mystery of body in a pool. The Straits Times, p. 25. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



Further resource
Means, L. (1994, November). The role of the writer in today’s Singapore: Voice of the nation? Asian Survey, 34(11), 962–973. Retrieved from JSTOR via NLB’s eResources website: http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/




The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

Subject
Authors, Singaporean--Biography
People and communities>>Social groups and communities
Writers
Fiction
Award winners--Singapore--Biography
Tham, Claire, 1967-
Personalities>>Biographies>>Authors
Arts>>Literature>>English (Singapore) Literature>>Fiction