I came across the very friendly Ika Koeck, whom I started corresponding with on Facebook. Ika writes fantasy too, and in fact is in the midst of revising her manuscript (she’s already written the drafts of two books!). She’s also looking for an agent to represent her, like myself. She even told me of another friend who writes science fiction, so this is all very exciting.
Even more intriguing is what I learnt on support for genre fiction back home. According to various sources, it seems there is significant local encouragement from fellow writers and readers of those who write genre fiction. Brian Gomez, for instance, wrote a thriller ‘Devil’s Place‘ which was very well-received, and John Ling who is apparently based in New Zealand has been writing kick-arse thrillers.
The bulk of local creative support, however, is naturally focused in Kuala Lumpur. Led especially by the very prolific Sharon Bakar (her blog is amazing, with posts I have referred to in my course essays) who organises monthly readings of local writers, poets and other performers. It’s nice to know that when I go back to Malaysia, there will be a group of peers and veterans I can hang out with.
Why all this focus on genre, one might ask?
Because frankly I have been operating under the view that more attention (respect?) was being given to Malaysia’s ‘literary’ fiction, comprising the many, many short story anthologies, plays and the novels produced by Tash Aw, Rani Manicka, Khoo Kheng-Hor and many more authors I know I’ve left out. Am I wrong? Perhaps it is unfair to single out Malaysia, because frankly genre fiction has also been getting the cold shoulder worldwide from the literary establishment.
How many fantasy and science fiction books have been written by Malaysians? There has to be some out there! Pardon me, let me clarify that, how many of these books that are written in English? Because I do know there is a wealth of these works in Malay, which sadly I cannot comment on as I’ve not read any of them. But what about the English ones? Where are they?
Is it because writers think they won’t find a market in Malaysia? Or because they believe Malaysian fantasy and science fiction fans will always go for oversea titles, perceiving them superior to local titles? I hate to think people are turning up their noses at fantasy / scifi just because they think it is “childish”. What about Ursula K LeGuin? David Gemmell? Michael Moorcock? William Gibson?
Back to the Beginning
I think part of this is simply because finishing a novel takes a mammoth amount of work, not to mention finding someone to publish your book. A friend of mine, for instance, has a post-apocalyptic series long brewing in her head. She’s told me of characters and hints of the plot, which I think is simply brilliant, and I would love to read them if ever the books come out.
But back to the topic of local creative support. I’ve heard stories also of Malaysian genre writers, when all is said and done, getting the most encouragement from other writers overseas, from people who know the business and are more aware of how to make it. Perhaps I need a mentor, someone who can prod me gently and show me the path. It can be a bit intimidating, being on your own.
Or perhaps I just need to keep plodding along this fascinating, murky tunnel, step by step, with a friend zooming past on butterfly wings every now and then to cheer me on, as I search for that light in the distance.