Doing the Write Thing: Peter Tan
Peter Tan, more famously known as the Singaporean playwright Tan Tarn How, is the author of the Sengkang Snoopers middle-grade book series.
However, before he ventured into middle-grade books, Peter had already carved out quite a career. He was a political reporter for The Straits Times before becoming an op-ed writer, the arts deputy editor, and a foreign correspondent in Hong Kong and Beijing.
He left journalism to be the head scriptwriter for television drama and comedy at Mediacorp for two years, before returning to the newspaper in 1999 to be its science and technology editor, political correspondent and deputy news editor until 2005.
Peter has also written several critically acclaimed plays, including The Lady of Soul and Her Ultimate 'S' Machine and Fear of Writing (2011). He has also won awards for Undercover (1994), The First Emperor's Last Days (1999), and Machine (2002), all of which can be found in his play anthology, Six Plays.
These days, he's a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, Singapore, but Peter has found a new audience as the author of children’s stories that entertain and hopefully, enlighten. His first foray was Sengkang Snoopers: The Mystery of the Hermit's Hut, which became a bestseller. Now, he has published the second addition to the series, Sengkang Snoopers: The Secret of the Tiger's Den. Here, he talks about his inspiration for the Sengkang Snoopers series, his fascination with Singaporean history and landmarks, and also, his difference in his writing techniques between writing plays and middle-grade books.
What inspired this book and the Sengkang Snoopers series? I couldn’t get enough of Enid Blyton’s adventure books as a child; they were exciting page-turners. As I got older, I realised that those books are rich with English atmosphere and landscape and English ways of thinking and behaving—and that there was no Singaporean equivalent.
When I first went to England, the place was strangely familiar to me, and I saw that all those stories by Enid Blyton and Thomas Hardy and other books had given me a deep sense of the place.
There are many layers to a place beyond what we know about it from having a direct lived experience: there are layers that derive from what we know about its history, the creative stories and other forms of art about and set in it. In that sense, I hope that my books will help a little bit in bringing about these other layers of our country.
How do you make that switch from writing plays to writing middle-grade books? I didn't think of it consciously but now that you ask, I write the novels while imagining that I’m telling an exciting story to a child. For my plays, I think about what the audience is seeing and hearing on stage. Children’s novels have to be fun or interesting in other ways and are more driven by plot. My playwriting focuses more on themes. But that said, characterisation is important for both.
What do you hope to impart into younger readers when they read your books? First of all, I hope that they have lots of fun just enjoying the adventures and getting to know the Snoopers. I also hope that along the way, they find it interesting to read about the history of these islands.
Is there a third book in the works? If so, could you give a sneak peek? Yes! The Sengkang Snoopers go camping on Sisters’ Island Marine Park and uncover a plot to … well, you will have to wait for the book to find out!
Get the Sengkang Snoopers books here.