An author, a poet and a graphic novelist, who are participating in the Singapore Writers Festival this month, discuss the power of prose, poetry and picture. In the second of a three-part series, author Adam Tie, the founder and resident poet at The Novel Encounter, shares how he is connecting with people through words and expression

The premise is simple: give Adam Tie three words, tell him a backstory, or anything at all, and watch him work on his vintage Corona typewriter to customise a poem for you or a loved one, in five minutes flat. Tie, or “Mister Write” as he calls himself on social media, is on a mission to help you find the romance in customised typewritten poetry, or a good date with a mystery wrapped book, through The Novel Encounter.

He started the online bookstore five years ago, introducing mystery wrapped books as the perfect gift, “just like a Kinder Surprise is with chocolate”. He explains, “I took my favourite books, wrapped them up and put a sentence on the wrapping, and waxed-sealed them, because, why not?” Not just any book, though, as Tie makes sure to curate those that have a rating of 3.9 out of 5, and above, on Goodreads. “We have a return policy—if you don’t like the book, or have read it before, we’ll do an exchange or give you a refund. We’ve only had five such refunds since our inception, which I think is pretty good.”

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The customised typewritten poetry service he offers came later. He recalls selling his books at a vintage fair, when the owner of a neighbouring booth asked if he could help keep an eye on his typewriters so he could go to the bathroom. Just as Tie was fiddling with one of the typewriters, a girl came up to him. “She asked, ‘Are you one of those poets who can write me a poem on the spot?’, and I said, ‘Okay, tell me a story.’” By the end of the day, he had a typewriter and initiated a new “novel encounter”, a service he now provides at live events, festivals, brand launches and weddings.

The poems have been compiled into a collection called Finders & Keepers. Tie also shares his poems on Instagram (@thenovelencounter). “Poetry doesn’t just have to be printed on paper, look at how people are sharing their poetry now. They can do a voice recording or include it with art. I write to connect with people through words and expression, and Instagram has made it easier to do so,” says Tie, who is also surprised by the quality poetry discovered through #poetrytok on TikTok, which was introduced to him by a follower. 

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Tie was a shy and introverted child, and writing was his way to express himself. “The more I wrote, the more I realised that I wasn’t just writing to express myself anymore. Now, I’m trying to inspire. It’s also about the human connection and a safe haven—and that’s what I’m trying to do and provide with The Novel Encounter.

“I’ve always liked books that seem to take you to different places: The Adventures of Tintin, Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected and, of course, the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling. But my favourite book of all time is The Great Gatsby; I’ve got 12 copies in 12 languages.”

So it is no surprise that his first novel This Life Electric (2020), published by independent Singapore publisher Landmark Books, was inspired by the F Scott Fitzgerald classic. “I like the whole basis of the dream and a promise of what people would do to feel connected, to feel loved, to feel successful, and to achieve. The book is about someone who seems to need everyone to need him, and he meets an introvert who doesn’t seem to need anyone at all. Almost the entire book is set in a shophouse called The Haven, which to me is the main character, where curious people show up for parties and to interact.”

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Tie already has the idea for his next book. “What I’m trying to do is world-building, which is to create an entire universe. My first book takes place in one location. For the next one, I want to create an entire new city, a new location and, to do that, I need to think about all sorts of things, from how would the world work, to how would time work, how would everything work, and the kinds of souls who would find themselves there—and I’m building on that. It’s truly exciting for me,” he shares.

“With every book I write, I want to emphasise that people are not alone. If you look at my poetry and my novel, you’ll see that I’m almost always inspired by the way humans interact or connect—whether as strangers or people of your ‘tribe’, the aha moment of symmetry will always fascinate me. I live for these moments; I feel alive in these moments.”

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Join Adam Tie and other Instapoets in reimagining how we experience poetry, in Instapoetry – The New Wave, on November 9 on Sistic Live, as part of the Singapore Writers Festival 2021, from November 5 to 14.