Going onstage (www.esplanade.com).

Literary Arts

Meira Chand

Internationally recognised author of A Different Sky.


Published: 12 Oct 2016

Time taken : >15mins

Any creative person will tell you this: inspiration comes when you’re working. One idea leads to another idea, and sometimes you end up where you didn’t expect to be. You may have vague ideas about what you want to write about but things only become concrete when you are actually involved in the creative process. It’s a lifetime commitment if you want to paint, you want to write, or you want to be a poet. It’s not something that you do for a year or two. It needs perseverance and love of your craft. And you have to be prepared to face rejection and criticism.

Born in London in 1942 to mixed Indian-Swiss parentage, Meira Chand is a novelist of international standing who moved to Singapore in 1997. Her work explores the position of the outsider, spiritual isolation, the search for identity and conflicts of culture. Her historical novel, A Different Sky, her first to be set in Singapore, was longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012.

The daughter of a Punjabi doctor and Swiss housewife Meira Chand was educated in England, including at St Martin’s School of Art & Design. She first trained as a painter and textile designer, but had always been creating stories in her head for as long as she could remember. As a child, she would tell herself stories at night till she fell asleep.

In 1962, she moved with her husband to Japan, where she would spend most of her adult life. In the early 1970s, she would spend five years in Bombay, India, where she came to discover her Indian heritage. It was in Bombay that she found that writing was the only medium with which she could give voice to her experiences, and she began writing short stories. When she returned to Japan, she would start her professional career as a novelist with her first novel The Gossamer Fly, which was published in 1979. She published five more novels by the time she moved to Singapore in 1997, where she would contribute significantly to the literary scene.

On top of her writing, Chand has been, and continues to be, involved in many programmes to promote literature and mentor young writers in Singapore. She has served over a decade as an assessor and mentor in the National University of Singapore Centre for the Arts Creative Writing Programme, and served as a member of the steering committee for READ! Singapore by the National Library Board. Additionally, she chairs the English sub-committee for READ! Singapore.

She has also contributed her time and expertise in the organising committee of the Congress of Asian Writers in English by the National Book Development Council of Singapore and in the steering committee of the Singapore Writers Festival. She was a member of the Arts Resource Panel for National Arts Council and chairperson of the Singapore Literature Prize in 2012. Regionally, Chand served as the regional chair for the Commonwealth Writers Prize for the South East Asia and South Pacific region.

In 2011, she received a Special Recognition Award from the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts, Singapore.

She is the author of eight novels. Five are set in chiefly in Japan—The Gossamer Fly (1979), Last Quadrant (1981), The Bonsai Tree (1983), The Painted Cage (1986), and the war novel A Choice of Evils (1996). Her novels House of the Sun (1989) and A Far Horizon (2001) are both set in India. The Bonsai Tree and The Painted Cage were longlisted for the Booker Prize in the years they were published. House of the Sun was adapted for the British stage in 1990, where it was the first Asian play with an all-Asian cast and direction. Later it was also broadcast on UK television. Her novels are the results of the confluence of different cultures, with strong themes of identity and belonging.

Her eighth novel, A Different Sky (2010), written over eight years and based on meticulous historical research, came about after a conversation with former Singapore president S R Nathan in 1999, who suggested that she write about Singapore. The novel follows the lives of three families in the 30 years leading up to Singapore’s independence. A Different Sky was included on popular US personality Oprah Winfrey’s recommended reading list in November 2011 and longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2012.

Chand continues to write and is currently working on a volume of short stories and a novel.

In December 2023, Chand received the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to Singapore literature.


19 Aug 1942

Born in London, UK.

1948 to 1958

Attended Putney High School, London.


Attended the Foundation Art Course, St. Martin’s School of Art, London, UK.


Graduated from Hammersmith School of Art, London, UK with a National Diploma of Textile Design.


Moved to Japan where she taught art in an international school.


Moved to Bombay, India, where she began writing.


Returned to Japan.


Published The Gossamer Fly.


Published Last Quadrant.


Published The Bonsai Tree, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize.


Published The Painted Cage, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize.


Published House of the Sun.


House of the Sun adapted for stage and presented in London by Tamasha Theatre Company at Theatre Royal Stratford East.


Published novel A Choice of Evils.


Moved to Singapore.

1997 to Present

Assessor and Mentor, Creative Arts Programme, NUS Centre for the Arts.

Associate Member, NUS Centre for the Arts.

1999 to 2002

Chairperson, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (South East Asia and South Pacific region)


Published A Far Horizon.


Member, Organising Committee for Congress of Asian Writers in English, National Book Development Council of Singapore.


Member, Selection Committee, NUS and The Arts House Writing Fellowship, National University of Singapore.

Visiting Fellow in Creative Writing, Mansfield College, Oxford, UK.


Chief, Judging Panel, Centennial Writing Competition, National University of Singapore.

2005 to 2010

Member, Steering Committee, Singapore Writers Festival.

2005 to Present

Member, Steering Committee and Chairperson, English Sub-committee of READ! Singapore, National Library Board.


Appointed National Library Distinguished Reader, National Library Board.

Member, Selection Committee, NUS and The Arts House Writing Fellowship, National University of Singapore.


Judge, Golden Point Award, National Arts Council.


Member, Judging Panel, “10 Years That Shaped A Nation” essay competition, National Library Board.

Visiting Fellow in Creative Writing, Edith Cowen University, Perth, Australia.

2008 to Present

Mentor, Mentorship Access Programme, National Arts Council.

Member, Arts Resource Panel, National Arts Council.

2008 to 2011

Member, Editorial Board, National Library Board.


Judge, Golden Point Award, National Arts Council.

2009 to Present

Member, Arts Creation Fund Assessment Panel, National Arts Council.


Chief Judge, Singapore Literature Prize, National Arts Council.

Published novel A Different Sky.

Received Special Recognition Award from the Ministry of Information, Communication and the Arts.


Judge, Golden Point Award, National Arts Council.


Chairperson, Singapore Literature Prize.


Awarded the Cultural Medallion.


TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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