A remarkable story of inter-generational links between Swansea University and Singapore will unfold later this year. In 1949, Singapore student Lim Poh Luan came to the Singleton campus to study youth work. Now, 67 years later, her daughter, the Singapore writer Verena Tay, will begin a PhD with Swansea’s renowned Creative Writing unit in October.

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Lim Poh Luan, known to her Welsh friends as Rose, studied at what was then University College Swansea under Jeffrey Jones. When she returned to Singapore she became a teacher and school principal before joining the Ministry of Education staff.  She married, taking her husband’s surname, Tay.

Now 92, Mrs Tay continues to play an active part in her local Methodist church and was honoured as the island nation’s oldest member of the Girls’ Brigade during 2011.‌

Picture:  Mrs Tay (centre), pictured in Singapore, with her daughter Verena Tay and Swansea University Professor of Creative Writing, D. J. Britton.

Verena Tay’s latest book is Spectre: Stories from Dark to Light, a collection of short stories. She has also edited nine other short story anthologies, including the bestselling Balik Kampung series published by Math Paper Press. She began her career as a playwright and has published three drama collections: In the Company of Women, In the Company of Heroes and Victimology.

For her Swansea PhD she will be writing a novel – the first part of a planned trilogy drawing on the history and mythology of her home region. Her own family stories, including those of her mother, provide fertile ground for her research.

Verena Tay says:

“There is so much that has been lost in the rapid growth of the past few years.  As human beings we need to revive and treasure these memories if we are to understand that we are more than individual grains of sand – we are part of a sweeping beach of experience.”

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Her mother’s memories are rich and vivid.  Mrs Tay remembers her pre-war schooldays in Singapore’s Chinatown, and taking her O-levels on the day the first Japanese bombers raided the island.  She remembers the details of the harshness of the Japanese occupation and her relief at being able to rebuild her life after the war and her journey to Wales to study at Swansea.

Picture:  Mrs Tay (Lim Poh Luan) pictured at Beck Hall, a Swansea University hall of residence, in 1949.

Mrs Tay described her own time at Swansea University and added that she was pleased at the prospect of Verena continuing the family link 

“It was wonderful.  I lived in Beck Hall. Swansea had been badly bombed, but I had a very good time there.”

Verena has been very creative ever since she was in primary school.  It’s all she’s wanted to do and I’m glad she’s decided to place herself with other writers at Swansea.”

Verena first met Swansea’s Director of Creative Writing Professor D.J. Britton early in her career when she attended one of his writers’ workshops in Singapore. She has also worked with another Swansea Creative Writing staff member, Gilly Adams.

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Professor D.J. Britton said:

“We’re excited to have such an accomplished writer as Verena with us, especially since it renews a family connection which reaches back so far.”

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Picture:  Mrs Tay (Lim Poh Luan) is third from left in this picture with some fellow students at University College, Swansea, in 1949, with tutor Jeffrey Jones (centre).