In our series on interesting and inspirational expat women, freelance writer and editor Kim Inglis talks about her home in Bin Tong Park near Holland Village, her family, work, travel – and what inspires her.
What brought you to Singapore?
Kevin’s work, initially. He came here 15 years ago from London to open a branch of his company. I followed soon with Tanis, who was just a baby. As I was born and brought up in Pakistan and India, and have spent no more than a total of ten years in England, the expat life wasn’t strange to me.
How long have you been in this post-war colonial-style tropical bungalow, and how did you get it?
It’s been our one and only home in Singapore. When Kevin first arrived, the estate agent warned that our chances of getting it were very slim, but he told her to give it a try, anyway. Eighty-seven business cards were literally put into a hat, and his was the one that was drawn. That’s how it worked in those days. If we were to move out, though, the next tenant would be decided by the new bidding system.
So, we were lucky to get it. The property wasn’t in the best condition, however; tropical decay had set in and the grass was waist-high. But the various government-contracted landlords we’ve had over the years have been very good about maintenance and rent increases. That said, we are good tenants: instead of asking for a new kitchen a few years ago, I went out and bought one from IKEA; and when the bathrooms were redone last year, we bought the fittings we wanted over and above the bog-standard ones supplied.
This living area is all original, from the red-oxide-painted front porch to the terrazzo-chip tiling to the terracotta on the back verandah. Built to house junior army officers, it’s a fairly basic British standard design that was used from Bengal to Singapore. It’s the ideal home for us: reasonably central, but nice and quiet.
Freelancing isn’t always easy. How did you get into it?
After gaining experience at a few companies – such as Dorling Kindersley, international publisher mainly of illustrated reference books – and having done some freelance work for various magazines and other publications, I decided to give it a go.
It was a good decision, because as a freelancer it doesn’t matter where I live or how much I travel; everything is done electronically. Even with my experience in the industry, it wasn’t easy to get going, particularly when we moved back to London after three years in Hong Kong. But I persevered, and finally it started to click into place.
Where do you do your work, and how do you manage your time?
What is now my office was once the garage, so I do actually leave the house in the morning to go to work! I generally confine my office hours from 9am to around 3.30pm or 4pm when the kids get back from school, but sometimes I have an afternoon meeting or photo-shoot.
Tanis (15) and Max (13) are both at United World College (UWC) and are really happy there. Chatsworth Primary was ideal for when they were younger – being smaller, it’s more intimate and nurturing. But a big school like UWC is able to offer so much more. Max plays rugby and football, and is mad about skateboarding; Tanis is into horse-riding.
Singapore is a great place to bring up kids. In such a secure environment, they can have a measure of independence. When we lived in London – near Brixton, admittedly – everyone we knew had been mugged or experienced a similar incident.
Do you have a steady flow of work?
Yes, I do. Just when it looks as though it’s easing off, the work picks up again. My range is broad, specialising in books and features on interiors, architecture, design, food, health and beauty. I have had ten books published – 15 if you include the ones I’ve edited. The latest is Tropical Home*, which I wrote.
I also do commercial work, such as websites. I recently did one for a new travel company, Turning Point Travel. It takes specialist tours to especially Mongolia, but also Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal and the Indian Himalayas, that often incorporate “voluntourism”. The owner supports specific communities, such as nomadic herders in Mongolia – you stay with them in their gers, or tents. I’m thinking of us going there as a family later this year.
Do you ever turn down work?
I never used to, but I’m getting better at saying no to projects that I don’t think I’d be good at, or which I think someone else could do better. I now refuse work that is not up my street. It’s quite empowering to do that, or to say: No, you’re not offering enough money for the work that’s involved.
What are you working on now?
An exciting project: I’m editing The Singapore Shophouse. It follows on from Julian Davison’s Black and White – The Singapore House 1898-1941, with the same photographer and from the same publisher, Talisman.
It starts by defining the shophouse, then homes in on some examples that have kept their historical architectural detail; it was a case of getting in to record these treasures before it’s too late. Finally, it looks at living in a shophouse today.
What inspires you?
At the moment, the issue of sustainability. Looking back through my book Tropical Home, I realised how often I had referred to the value of recycling materials. And The Singapore Shophouse does the same by encouraging, for example, the re-use of defunct roof timbers elsewhere in the home, for flooring, say. I don’t think there have been any books on sustainable architectural design in Southeast Asia; that’s humming about in my mind and I’m talking to a few publishers.
I’ve also been chatting to Geraldene Lowe – the doyenne of historical tours in Singapore – about collaborating on a book that could be called Vanishing Singapore. It would seek out and record people who live in traditional homes and pursue traditional ways of life, such as producing increasingly rare crafts.
I look both forwards and backwards: I like change and progress, but believe that preserving the past and its best traditions is important.
Turning Point Travel
Geraldene Lowe’s tours
Monika Barp Design Goldsmith Atelier for original modern jewellery
United World College
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