Catherine Lim


Catherine Lim Poh Imm (b. 21 March 1942, Penang, Malaysia - ) is the doyen of Singapore stories having written more than nine collections of short stories, five novels and a poetry book. She began as a teacher, then project director with the Ministry of Education and a specialist lecturer with the Regional Language Centre (RELC) before she took up full-time writing in 1992. She has won national and regional book prizes for her literary contributions. Her works are studied in local and foreign schools and universities and have been published in various languages in several countries.

Early life
Born in Malaysia in 1942, Catherine Lim came from a large family of 14 children, four boys and ten girls. She was the eighth child among her siblings. Her mother, who married at the young age of 16, had her first child at 17 and her last child at 40. Lim grew up in Chinese (Hokkien) towns in Penang and Kedah, Malaysia. Her family was Taoist and believed in ancestor worship. However, Lim and her siblings were sent to English-stream schools. Lim herself was educated at an English convent where she imbued the English culture and learnt the language well. Her early school compositions were particularly Euro-centric, with English-named characters. Lim, who converted to Catholicism when she was 15, had grown up wanting to become a nun. However, with her divorce later on in life, she gradually became a free thinker, or a secular humanist, as she preferred to be called.

Lim received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Malaya in 1963. A few years later, in 1967, she came to Singapore and has been living here ever since. She made a living working as a teacher in schools and a junior college before becoming a project director with the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore (CDIS) and a specialist lecturer with the Regional Language Centre (RELC), Singapore, lecturing in socio-linguistics and literature. In 1992, Lim resigned from her lecturing position to become a full-time professional writer. She has since gained international fame for writing vignettes of life in Singapore and Malaya.

In 1994, she also gained controversial fame for writing a political article entitled "One Government, Two Styles on the Great Affective Divide", in which she noted that some Singapore leaders lacked greater feelings for the people. She was reprimanded for this published piece because of an apparent lack of respect for the Singapore leaders. However, this incident has not stopped her writing literary pieces now published for a growing international audience.

: St. Anne's Convent, Malaya; Penang Free School
1963 : BA English, University of Malaya
1988 : Ph.D (Applied Linguistics), National University of Singapore
1990 : Fulbright programme, Columbia University, New York and University of California,
1991 : Graduated from Fulbright programme
7 Oct - 2 Dec 1993 : Filmscripting, Department of film and television, University of California

Early career
Teacher, St. Andrew's School, St. Patrick's School
Teacher, Catholic Junior College
Project director, Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore, Ministry of Education
Administrator, Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore, Ministry of Education
Specialist lecturer in Socio-linguistics and Literature, SEAMEO Regional Language Centre (RELC)
Columnist, The Straits Times
Jan 1992 - : full-time professional writer

Career as a writer
Lim is an accomplished and critically acclaimed author who has written more than nine collections of short stories, five novels and a book on poems. She is best known for her collection of short stories, Little Ironies: Short Stories of Singapore and Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories. Both collections had the distinction of being selected as literature texts for the international GCE O' Level Examinations managed by Cambridge University. Her first publication, Little Ironies, propelled her into the local literary scene and became an instant best-seller. Her works have since been published internationally, including in France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and USA. They are also studied as literature text in schools and universities.

Upon becoming a full-time writer, Lim gave talks regularly at local and international seminars, conferences, arts/ writers' festivals and even on cruise ships worldwide. She has appeared on radio and television programmes in Singapore, Europe and Australia. Some of her popular discussion topics include The Magic of Storytelling, The Supernatural in Chinese Culture: Its use in Fiction, and Problems, Perils, Promises: The unique experience of Singapore. She has also written numerous articles and commentaries on contemporary and cultural issues in local and international newspapers.

For her literary contribution, Lim was awarded several local and regional book prizes, including the National Book Development Council (NBDCS) awards in 1982, 1988 and 1990. In 1998, she received the Montblanc-NUS Centre For The Arts Literary Award followed by the regional Southeast Asian Write Award the next year. She was conferred with an Honorary Doctor of Literature by Murdoch University, Australia and a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ministry of Culture and Information in 2000 and 2003 respectively.

In addition, Lim became the first Singaporean author to have an electronic-novella, Love's Lonely Impulses, on the internet hosted by LycosAsia in 2000. More recently, local film producer Raintree Pictures is in the process of adapting two of her works, The Leap of Love and The Bondmaid into movies. Lim has also been appointed Ambassador for the Hans Christen Andersen Foundation, Copenhagen for 2005.

Lim's work deals largely with themes such as the east-west- divide, Asian culture, in particular Chinese culture, women's issues and issues concerning Singapore's culture, history and politics. As a writer, she would like her stories to convey respect and regard for human values. The independence of the human spirit is also an essential thread running through her works.

Lim's inspiration for her stories comes from her personal life experiences. Many of her characters are drawn from her childhood memories, the people she has encountered and her mother's and grandfather's stories that she heard while growing up in Malaysia.

"I write because I enjoy it. I write about things that interest me- human behaviour, human relationships, the not-so-pleasant abilities people posses to deceive one another, seek revenge, inflict pain. And their capacity to bear it all as well".

"I draw my inspiration and material from life around me; from people I've known".

"I love anything that is human, anything that defines us as human beings with all our flaws, all our struggles, but the thing that I'm most inspired by, the thing that is the whole basis of my spirituality is the conviction that our human spirit will transcend in the end all our little faults and feelings".

1982 : National Book Council Development (Fiction) (Commendation), for Or Else, the Lightning God and Other Stories.
1988 : National Book Council Development (Fiction) (Commendation), for The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream.
1990 : National Book Council Development (Fiction) (Commendation), for O Singapore! Stories in Celebration.
1998 : Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award.
1999 : Southeast Asia Write Award, Thailand.
2000 : Honorary Doctorate in Literature, Murdoch University, Australia, for contributions to education and literature.
2003 : Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et Des Lettres (Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters), Ministry for Culture and Communication, France.
2005 : Appointed Ambassador, Hans Christian Andersen Foundation in Copenhagen.

Selected works
Collection of short stories
1978 : Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore.
1980 : Or Else, The Lightning God and Other Stories.
1983 : They Do Return...but Gently Lead Them Back.
1987 : The Shadow of a Shadow of a Dream: Love Stories of Singapore.
1989 : O Singapore! : Stories in Celebration.
1992 : Deadline for Love and Other Stories.
1993 : The Best of Catherine Lim.
1993 : Meet Me on the Queen Elizabeth 2!.
1993 : The Woman's Book of Superlatives.
1999 : The Howling Silence: tales of the dead and their return.
1999 : Women in Bondage: The Stories of Catherine Lim.

1992 : Love's Lonely Impulses.

1992 : The Serpent's Tooth.
1995 : The Bondmaid (1997-1998 international editions).
1998 : The Teardrop Story Woman.
2001 : Following the Wrong God Home.
2004 : The Song of Silver Frond.

E-Novella (print-on-demand book)
2000 - 2001 : A Leap of Love.

Ex-Husband: George Lim, retired teacher and businessman (Canada) whom she divorced in 1984.
Children: Daughter, 39, doctor (Hong Kong) and son, 36, journalist

Nureza Ahmad


Low, K. T. (Ed.). (2003). Who's who in Singapore (pp.257-258). Singapore: Who's Who Publishing.
(Call no. : RSING 920.059590 WWS)

Ong, S. H. (2002). An interview with Catherine Lim. In Mohammad A. Qauyum & P. Wicks (Eds.), Singapore Literature in English (pp. 369-376). Malaysia: University Putra Malaysia Press.
(Call no. : RSING 820.995957 SIN) 

Koh, B. S. (1992, February 1). Catherines golden age. The Straits Times, Life, p. 10.

Ong, S. F. (1998, June 4). Book- beauty and the priest. The Straits Times.

Ong, S. F. (1998, June 4). Have pen will travel- life is is the money. The Straits Times.

Ong, S. F. (1997, January 16). Agent helps Catherine Lim make world debut. The Straits Times.

Wicks, P. C. (1992, February 23). A sketch of a Singaporean writer of international repute. The Straits Times, p. 28. 

Lim's love boat. (1993, July 17). The Straits Times, Life, p.14.

Youre all write, here is a pen. (1998, October 3). The Straits Times.

Further readings
Chow, C. (2003, April 12). Leap from e-novella to real book. The Straits Times.

Helmi Y. (1999, September 24). I dont believe in ghosts, my characters do. The Straits Times.

Leong, S. (2004, February 14). Affective to a fault. The Straits Times

Ong, S. F. (2000, November 29). Catherine Lim's novella goes online. The Straits Times.

Oon, C. (2001, July 21). Literary voices for export. The Straits Times.

Wee, L.A. (2000, October 11). Singapore more open now- writer. The Straits Times.

Lim wins French spurs. (2003, May 23). The Straits Times.

Book- doomed love in the ten courts of hell. (2001, April 21). The Straits Times.

Speakers Agency. (2004). Dr Catherine Lim. Retrieved 20 July, 2004, from

Kate Mayberry. (2004). Catherine Lim.  Retrieved July 20, 2004, from The Cheongsam Emporium Web site: 

The information in this article is valid as at 2004 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.

Language and literature>>Fiction
Women authors, Singapore--Biography
Lim, Catherine Poh Imm, 1942-
Language and literature>>Literatures>>East and Southeast Asian literature>>Singapore literature

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