Magical Realism; LADS Literature Workshop

It was Wednesday evening on the 25th of February when I scrolled through @unmclads’ Instagram page to double check the details of their literature workshop. The moment I walked into F4C11, I was warmly greeted by Joann and Ashvin, LADs Heads of Literature and Creative Writing. In the middle of the room, some tables were pushed aside to make way for a cozy circle of chairs. We chatted as students slowly arrived. Even though it was a small group, we were all determined to have fun learning.

An ‘undercurrent’ of magic

Joann kicked off the workshop by introducing the basics of magical realism, how it is a genre of literature that depicts the real world as having an undercurrent of magic or fantasy. It is about inviting readers to explore ordinary characters living in ordinary settings carrying out ordinary routines, all too familiar, only with a hint of something fantastical, leaving readers questioning their own world while being suspended on a tightrope between magic and reality. Joann continued to walk us through the many doors that make up the house that is magical realism, in other words, the elements that have come to define the genre.

For example, stories of the magical realism sort have the tendency to adopt a matter of fact tone whereby the characters are often unfazed by bizzare happenings. Another example would be the manipulation of time whereby characters can zigzag between the past, present and future. Here, the natural and supernatural mingle in harmony, from ghosts to vampires, and superstitions and coincidences are more than what meets the eye. Joanne also gave us examples of books and movies that employ magical realism, such as Aladdin and Harry Potter. 

The information was heavy but Joann reassured us that the general objective of the workshop was simply to serve as inspiration for us to start writing our own stories, and when the time comes and if we want to add a magical element to them, we would know where to start. 

Exercises in imagination

Then we were on to our first little fun activity of the evening. Induced by a short video clip of Avatar’s fantastical world building, we were to put our imaginations to the test. Joann facilitated this process by first instructing us to close our eyes and then tell her what we see. She prompted us with questions such as:

What is the colour of your sky? What about the ground? Are there trees or people? 

After a few minutes of relishing in our extraordinary worlds, we opened our eyes and landed back on Earth. Some shared how they had midnight blue skies full of stars, some shared imagery of cotton candy clouds like the ones that would occasionally descend upon our campus. Some shared grounds full of roses and some shared details of lone scraggly looking trees. It was great to hear the diversity in perspectives coming from all across the room. 

Subsequently, we moved on to our second little activity which involved three music clips to boost our brainstorming. First, we had to close our eyes and immerse ourselves in the music. After, we had to open our eyes and write down the frameworks of a story that was birthed from that process. Then, rinse and repeat. 

These are the links to the interesting music choices:

1. Magical Celtic Music – Magic of Fairies | Fantasy, Enchanting, Relaxing


2. Most Beautiful Music Ever: “Everdream” by Epic Soul Factory


3. Fantasy (Lyrics) By Earth Wind and Fire


Personally, the first one was calming with a noticeable range. The second one had momentum like it was building up to a climactic moment. The third was an old school song with lyrics unlike it’s instrumental counterparts. I say that these are simply my interpretations because I’m positive every single person in that room experienced the songs differently.

It was evident when Joanne made us share the ideas that came from our favourite piece of music. For example, Shizen chose the second music choice and came up with a cyber punk music video-esque situation where an alien with a neon green heart in its arms was on the run. Natasha also picked number two but borrowed the environment of her Oman upbringing and talked of a dessert being that connected people from the small city to the unknown outskirts. Again, the variety in imagination was fascinating.

Tarot-inspired Haikus

The third and final fun activity was all about tarot card readings and haikus. Ashvin explained the basics of a haiku which were that there should be 3 lines, the first having 5 syllables, the second having 7 syllables and the third going back to 5 syllables. He believed writing haikus was a good exercise for us to get in touch with the abstract tones of magical realism.

Basically, we had to randomly choose from cards on a table. We didn’t know which card we were getting so it was all very exciting. Then Ashvin gave us each a general tarot card reading. We had a good time commenting and laughing about how accurate or inaccurate our tarot cards were in comparison to our lives. Then we got down to business. The haikus that followed may or may not have been consciously or unconsciously linked to what we were presently experiencing in our personal lives.

Overall, the ordinary workshop on magical realism felt pretty extraordinary. I hope more people will join the LADs Literature Workshops in the future. Tentative dates for future circles are 17th March (Spoken Word Poetry Night Workshop, 6-8 pm) and 24th March (Ordinary Women, Extraordinary Lives Workshop, 6- 8.30 pm). 

There is a sense of community here, a safe space for anyone mildly interested or wildly fascinated in writing. For questions to be asked, discussions to be developed,  hearts and minds to be expanded, and your voice to be heard. 

Participant Writing 

Shizen Wong’s Card: The Devil

General meaning (upright): Feeling restricted or sad (source)

Drew a smiling sun
When the devil calls to me
Come to me will you?

Aishwarya Niralee’s Card: The Moon

General meaning (upright): To trust your instincts when insecure

The moon comes to my 
Window while I try to sleep.
There is no escape.

Tan Jie Ying’s Card: The Lovers

General meaning (upright): Harmony and balance in life (source)

Red thread, lil’ fingers
Binding two halves, miles apart
Thanks to Uncle Moon.

Natasha Nor Azmi’s Card: The Star

General meaning (upright): Hope for the future, inspiration and contentment (source)

He planted a tree
‘How do you love where you live?’
He said as it bloomed.

Geerthanaa Santhiran’s Card: The Tower

General meaning (upright): Sudden change and chaos

Falling down so fast
The tower is burning gold
Climbing up so slow 

Written by Geerthanaa Santhiran

Photography by Joann Chua Rou En and Ashvin Tiwana

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