HELLO THERE. My name is Charlene Sawit-Esguerra and I’m a writer based in Manila. I contribute to various Philippine publications (such as Esquire, Men’s Health, and Rogue) and have just completed my first novel (entitled ‘Kissing Yellow Dogs Goodnight’). I’m an author signed with Mulcahy Associates in London, and one of my short stories is being adapted into a feature film.
I grew up in a number of small towns in central Luzon, where the main source of livelihood is agriculture. My father runs farms planted with sugarcane and rice, and a small rural bank. My early memories have a backdrop of endless rice fields and big, uninterrupted sky.
My first ambition: to become a boy–thanks to being surrounded by brothers and male cousins. When I was two I tried to pee standing up (I was not very successful). I satisfied myself with playing with boy’s toys, mucking around in the mud, and picking fights.
My second ambition: to become an artist. I doodled a lot and drew comic strips.
My first real book: Through the Looking Glass when I was eight. Soon I was reading all the time–in bed, on the toilet, in school behind textbooks. After that writing stories came about as naturally as scratching an itch. I wrote everyday, in old notebooks.
I was accepted to a few of Universities and to sensible courses like political science, but I chose the College of Fine Arts at the super-wonderful University of the Philippines. I moved from my sleepy hometown to the delirious (in all the best and worst ways) city of Manila–capital of the Philippines, in case you didn’t already know.
My first real job: after applying for a job at the art department of a magazine, the editor-in-chief decided to put me in the editorial department instead. What followed sounds like a classic chick-lit plot: after an awkward month of not really knowing what I was doing, I got the hang of it and found myself enjoying the daily adrenaline rush–there was always some mini-crisis to be dealt with: models/photographers showing up hours late for a photo shoot, things disappearing from the fashion closet, catfights, crazy celebrity demands, mix-ups at the printing press, etc. I witnessed an intern burst into tears from the pressure and another fall to the ground in a seizure. I went to product and album launches, fashion shows, magazine parties, and concerts (once, an art director and I were nearly crushed by a stampede of rabid boy band fans). Eventually I was assigned to write for more magazines on a variety of topics–design, architecture, art, pop culture, fashion and beauty, music, fiction, food, etc. It was a dementedly hectic and wonderful time.
What I learned from working in magazines (some of which helped me to become a better writer): 1) how to roll up my sleeves and just work, even without ‘inspiration’ (an issue had to come out every month, unless you wanted the company to lose revenue and/or be sued by advertisers). 2) no whining–it takes up too much time. 3) Roll with the punches. And (from observing people both brilliant and kind) 4) It is possible to be a nice person and still get the job done. And get it done better.
Jobs on the side: Styling for TV commercials, music videos, and fashion shoots. And every now and then, doing illustrations. Eventually I did a stint as an advertising copywriter at McCann Erickson.
My third ambition: To someday be a good writer. In my spare time I worked on a novel. This went on for around two and a half years. After a lot of “Should I? Shouldn’t I?” I decided to quit my day job to be able to devote more time to finishing the manuscript. If you want to know what happened next, read it here.