By Clarice Tan (21A01C), Neo Xin Yuan (21A01D) and Tan Yu You (21S03H)
Photos courtesy of Writers’ Guild
The space between two words on a page. The one-metre social distancing gap. The gaps in history and governance. These are just some manifestations of lacuna, the theme of the Writers’ Guild Anthology ’20.
The word itself has an aesthetic appeal reminiscent of dreamy lunar imagery. In truth, the dictionary definition of lacuna is simple: a blank space or a missing part. A gap. But it is the beautiful simplicity of the word that made the wondrous interpretations compiled in this anthology possible.
Writers’ Guild is not a CCA you see in every school. Dedicated to the practice of creative writing, Guild members—or Guildlings—tap on their imagination to pen down prose, poetry, and even plays. During sessions, they do everything from brainstorming, writing, learning new writing techniques, and most importantly, critiquing the work of fellow members. It’s a space where writers feel comfortable expressing themselves in their own unique way. The cherry on top? Their annual anthology—a compilation of each member’s best works, bound together and published for everyone to enjoy.
The anthology in 2019 was themed “Past Perfect” and the year before that, the comma. In 2020, the anthology, titled [lacuna], was made available to Rafflesians from 3–7 August at the Y5–6 canteen—a simple booth made up of a table, two chairs, and a green felt noticeboard where golden block letters had been meticulously pinned to spell the words “ANTHO SALE”. Decorations were minimal, and the booth was unmanned—we quickly saw why: a white piece of paper was pinned below, and on it printed: “$0. just take it, my dude.”
And so we did—though only two out of the three of us managed to get a physical copy. By lunch, the table had emptied itself of copies. Sales were clearly going well. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a free lunch, but our canteen did have free anthologies up for grabs and people were quick to take them.
How COVID-19 impacted the launch
The launch usually plays a significant part in the release of the much-anticipated anthology. It’s a platform for the writers to showcase their works and the stories behind them.
Their preparations were almost complete when news of its cancellation hit them.
Chairperson Tay Jing Xuan (20S03C) revealed, “We actually had a 15-minute skit prepared, along with promotional videos and spoken word poetry events lined up.”
While it was a devastating turn of events, their spirits were not dampened.
“It definitely feels bad to be unable to show our friends and the rest of the school the effort we put into our writing and publishing, but a launch is just a launch, I guess! The star of the show is still the book.”
This brings us to the anthology itself. Instead of pricing it at $4 like they did in 2019, they decided to distribute it for free.
Vice-Chairperson Li Fangqing (20S03A) explained, “We wanted to release the anthology no matter what, and Mr. Ortega was very kind to let us distribute the anthology with some appropriate safe distancing measures in place.”
Apart from the cancellation of their launch, COVID-19 was hardly a hindrance for Guild in the grander scheme of things. Their writing, editing, illustration and formatting processes continued as usual because all of these could be done completely online without the need for face-to-face interaction.
Between the lines
Before the anthology could be published, Guild had their hands full with behind-the-scenes work. The entire process had started way back in September 2019, with the initial intention to launch in April 2020.
The Guild batch of 2020 was relatively small, with eight members compared to 2021’s batch of nearly 20 Year 5s. Hence, they decided to combine their efforts and do the preparation work together, rather than splitting themselves into even smaller groups.
When asked about the inspiration behind the theme lacuna, Jing Xuan said, “Let’s just say we went with ‘democracy’ and ‘lacuna’ was born. We told everyone to go wild writing and interpret the theme any way they liked, as long as they kept within ‘gaps’ or ‘missing spaces’. ‘Lacuna’ was chosen because of its significance to us as writers.”
“When we write, we create something new, so “nothing” is a foreign concept to us. We wanted to challenge ourselves and write something new about gaps and missing spaces.”
Writers’ Guild clarified that the theme of ‘gaps’, although befitting of the current social distancing measures, wasn’t thought up because of it. “[The theme isn’t] merely relevant to this specific year, it’s an all-encompassing theme that you’re bound to notice when you observe the world around you a little more. [For example, these ‘gaps’ can include] gaps in history, gaps in understanding, even trivial things like ‘eeee halal gap’.”
One of the challenges that arose during the writing process was the varying lengths of the submissions.
For example, Ong Zi Qing’s (20S06A) Philautia is about 50 pages long in the book, but the original draft was even longer than that. This proved a problem when Fangqing started formatting the book and realised that they might exceed their budget.
To trim down the total page count, Zi Qing cut out a bonus chapter from her original draft and included it as a link at the end of her piece instead. The batch also worked personally with another member Aaron Rodrigues (20S06T), to revamp his “novella-length fantasy story” idea. All of these adjustments were precariously close to the (cancelled) anthology launch, creating much trepidation among the Guild members.
The process of creating [lacuna] had certainly been a memorable one. “So you may notice that there’s this rather peculiar piece in the anthology titled Incomplete Draft,” said Fangqing, “It’s written by our very, very beloved Rosie and wasn’t meant to be a piece at all. We actually found it during one of our antho critique sessions, in her draft for FML: Playing With Dimensions, where we saw her struggles in coming up with the story. I personally think it’s a quirky and relatable piece that will let you into the mind of the typical struggling writer in all of us here at Guild.”
The writers also talked about their respective pieces and the inspiration behind them. For Jing Xuan, her favourite piece was the poem based on her experience moving house the previous year, Echoes Of Moving.
When it comes to inspiration, Rosie shared with us one lesson she had learnt: you can’t wait for it; you have to actively seek for it: “Any idea with an interesting enough concept can become a good story, really.”
Judging a book by its cover
Design-wise, the drawings on the cover of [lacuna] and the little piece illustrations found scattered throughout the book are all hand-drawn by the secretary of Guild, Audra Chua (20S06S). She told us that these illustrations were actually based on the pieces that the writers are the proudest of. On the other hand, the formatting of the book—the fonts, margins, how the words and illustrations appear on the physical pages—was entirely handled by Fangqing.
One of the major changes that Guild made was the shift from Microsoft Word to format their work. The team also looked at Math Paper Press books as a stylistic reference to make the book look more attractive in order for them to reach a bigger mainstream audience.
Fangqing then explained to us some stylistic choices in the anthology: “For starters, we stylised the theme as [lacuna], so if you rotated any one of the square brackets ( ] or [ ) it would become the symbol for the space bar ( ⎵ ). In a way, the words between the brackets are meant to ‘fill the gap’.”
Spreading the word
“The concept for one of the trailers really came about on the way to the MRT after CCA. We were joking about the theme, [saying] ‘What about platform gap or halal gap?’. And everything just clicked [which] was phenomenal,” said Fangqing.
If you found the first trailer confusing, don’t worry—that was the point of it. Fangqing revealed that they wanted to “get the students to have fun watching but at the same time ask ‘what the heck is going on’ which really helps to build that anticipation.”
“[The second trailer] was really made just to make sure that our first trailer wouldn’t get too annoying when we screen it at the canteen [laughs]. But I did have a lot of fun making it!” Fangqing confessed.
The aesthetic of this trailer also complemented the black-and-white posts on their Instagram account. For those who are curious about the black-and-white colour scheme, Guild shared that it was “to enhance the idea of contrast and difference brought out by these missing spaces in the world”. Clearly, everything is linked back to the theme.
Between each annual anthology and the next, there is always a lacuna of sorts, a time gap where the succeeding batch of writers quietly prepares for the next publication, while posting other works on their WordPress blog for others to read and enjoy.
Guild ’21 has worked hard on their upcoming anthology which will be released next month, titled within cells, orbits cease. Be sure to attend their virtual anthology launch on 24 May!
“As with previous batches, [the next] anthology will serve as a diverse curation of our own guildmates’ dedication to the literary craft,” the current ExCo promises. “All of us will put forth our best efforts to create a piece that not only encapsulates us as a group, but also lives up to our seniors’ legacies. So far, we have seen promising, insightful and interesting creative works from our batch, and we can confidently say that [the next] anthology will be one to look forward to.”
18 works, 8 writers, 1 anthology. All their hard work finally saw the light of day when [lacuna] launched back in August. It was beautifully written and indeed a true reflection of the writers’ skill and love for the craft. If you missed the chance to grab the physical copy, you can read it here!