Author Suffian Hakim grew up in a 4-room flat in Bukit Panjang with his family, where he had to share a room with his late grandmother. “Every night, she would tell me horror stories about monsters as tall as HDB flats and fantastical stories about sentient grains of rice and talking animals.” Suffian reminisces. “I am a storyteller today because my grandma passed it on to me. We may have used different mediums and languages, but that spirit lives on in me.”
Deriving Inspiration from HDB Living
From a Harry Potter satire starring Harris bin Potter from Tampines, to a horror comedy set in a Yishun HDB flat, Suffian Hakim’s works prominently feature the HDB heartland. “I write what I know,” he explains. “And I know HDB spaces because I’ve lived in them for most of my life. There is great food, arresting art and novel businesses in our estates. I always try to capture that energy when I’m writing stories set in Singapore.”
A proud HDB dweller, Suffian also says the heartland references in his stories help keep his quirky, offbeat works relatable to the local audience. In his debut novel, which has topped the national bestsellers list, the bustling Bizarre Night Bazaar— where the protagonist, Harris Bin Potter, first discovers one of his many magical abilities— brings to mind the sounds, smells, and chaotic energy of pasar malams.
In his second novel, the Yishun flat where a motley crew live, features a neighbourhood garden opposite it, not unlike the ubiquitous landscaped spaces around HDB estates. “I conceived it to be a sanctuary for them, a sliver of nature in their urban lives,” Suffian says.
WFH = Writing from Home
Suffian now lives in a Telok Blangah flat that he shares with his wife. “Telok Blangah is great. It’s so historically rich, near the sea, and near nature. I think it’ll make a really good setting for a story someday,” he says.
Suffian does a huge chunk of his writing at home, having set aside a room which doubles up as a library and work space. “This room is my getaway. When I need to find inspiration and disappear into the fictional worlds I am building, I come here,” he says. “My book collection is here, and the decor items I have chosen remind me of what’s important as a writer.”
When he needs a change of scenery, Suffian heads to the closest public library to write, or nearer still—the void deck. “It’s very chill there!” he laughs. “People do stare out of curiosity at times but no one disturbs me.”
On pursuing writing as a career, Suffian remarks that while the journey has been fulfilling, it hasn’t been easy.
“When I give creative writing workshops, I tell my students: Don’t follow your passion. Follow your pain. Writing is tremendously rewarding, but only if you can bear the pain of uncertainty and judgement that comes with, including the “you’re-wasting-your-life, you’re-never-gonna-make-it-as-an-author” look. If you can bear that pain, then chase the passion. If you cannot, then writing is probably not for you.”