A choice destination for the discerning traveller, Raffles Hotel Singapore has over the years been frequented by the powerfully rich, royal and famous, not to mention many illustrious writers and novelists like Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad and Somerset Maugham who once said, “Raffles stands for all the fables of the exotic East”.
From its stunning architecture lined with balmy palm trees to plush interiors fit for a queen and intriguing mix of guests, there is no doubt that this historical landmark has inspired some of the world’s best literary works dating as far back as 1887.
To honour these literary powerhourses — and support and inspire the art of the written word — Raffles Hotel launched a Writer’s Residency Programme in 2019, coinciding with its grand reopening after a two-year restoration. To date, the hotel has hosted two writers, both of whom enjoyed complimentary month-long stays with the promise of a Raffles-inspired book by the end of it.
The first invited writer-in-residence is British-born essayist and novelist Pico Iyer, considered by many to be arguably the world’s greatest living travel writer. Drawing upon his many stays at the Raffles Hotel over the last 35 years, the bestselling author of more than a dozen books explores how Singapore and Raffles Hotel continued to evolve around history while meeting the ever-changing needs of people in his 2019 book, This Could Be Home: Raffles Hotel and the City of Tomorrow.
“Any writer who gets to be part of Raffles’ rich literary tradition considers himself fortunate to be following in such a distinguished line,” says Iyer. “The fact remains that you can’t really say you’ve been to Singapore until you’ve stepped through the columned corridors of Raffles Hotel. I was very happy to get to spend time with many of the people who are bringing the hotel into a new century”.
Following in Iyer’s footsteps is New Zealander Vicki Virtue, the second writer-in-residence who this April launched her very first novel The Raffles Affair, a murder mystery set in Raffles Hotel. While this is her first published literary work, Virtue is a travel writer who has contributed to a variety of leading newspapers and magazines.
Inspired by childhood memories of reading detective masterpieces such as Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile, and her visits to Raffles Hotel over the past few years, The Raffles Affair is a modern take on the classic whodunnit, melding together the familiar past with the new and exciting, bringing back the fun and glamour of a Golden Age detective novel.
On her website, Virtue waxes lyrical about her love for Raffles Hotel which has an allure that few hotels can match. The contrasts of old and new, whilst bestowing luxury at the end of a rugged adventure, are some of the reasons she chose the hotel as the setting for her first novel featuring heroine Victoria West. She intends for the book to kick off a series of other detective novels fronted by her lead character.
The synopsis for this one is simple: A beautiful former MI6 agent Victoria West returns from a gruelling three-month assignment in East Africa and arrives at Raffles Hotel to attend her friend’s wedding. But Victoria’s plans for a relaxing break end abruptly with news the groom has been kidnapped. Warned not to contact the police, Victoria sets out to find him. But in this glamorous setting nothing is quite what it seems. Victoria suspects murder and there’s a total of 16 suspects. With time fast running out, Victoria must untangle the web of domestic squabbles, red herrings and false alibis before it’s too late.
“For any writer lucky enough to stay at Raffles Hotel Singapore, it is impossible not to feel inspired by the hotel and its rich literary heritage. I can still remember my first visit to Writers Bar, sipping a chilled glass of Billecart-Salmon and basking in the legacy of the many literary greats who had crossed the fabled threshold before me ... Little did I imagine then that I would one day return as writer-in-residence, having written that novel and sipping cocktails inspired by the characters in it,” wrote Virtue in a magazine article.
Get your creative juices flowing while you sip novel-inspired cocktails at the Writers Bar located at the Grand Lobby of Raffles Hotel Singapore
Just like Iyer, Virtue’s book has inspired a series of creative cocktails served at the Writers Bar, a beautiful space that pays homage to the hotel’s literary patrons. Head bartender Nicholas Alexander has brought The Raffles Affair to life with creative libations inspired by its characters with equally provocative names like Femme Fatale, False Alibi, Wrath, Agent Provocateur and more.
If you fancy yourself a budding novelist or an already accomplished writer with dreams of penning a book about the Raffles Hotel, you are invited to apply for the Writer’s Residency Programme designed to support storytellers of today and inspire new literary works.
As part of the programme, the hotel will host up to two writers annually for up to four weeks — more than enough time to retreat, reflect and draw inspiration from the 132-year-old stories held within the walls of the establishment.
The programme is open to both local and international writers, aged 18 years and above. All aspiring and established writers are invited to submit a proposed synopsis of their planned pieces for review by an appointed panel made up of Raffles Hotel representatives as well as highly-respected writers in the region. Interested applicants can apply at [email protected]
Follow the adventures of former MI6 agent Victoria West as she uncovers the truth behind a Raffles Hotel murder mystery in The Raffles Affair ($29.90). It is published by Penguin Random House SEA and available at the Raffles Boutique.
Drawing upon numerous stays in Raffles over 35 years and the fast-ascending city all around it, author Pico Iyer shares his musings on this fabled hotel in This Could Be Home ($18.90) from Epigram Books.
Pictures Courtesy of Raffles Hotel Singapore