Category Archives: Graphic Novels

My World, my Muse

Believe it or not, the first time I’d really heard of the word ‘muse’ was from Neil Gaiman’s short story ‘Calliope‘ from his famous Sandman series.

Pencilled by Kelley Jones and inked by Malcolm Jones III.

For those who haven’t read it, Calliope is the tale of an unscrupulous author who, in a desperate attempt to cure his writer’s block, bargains for the muse Calliope of Greek legend. Instead of treating his muse kindly, the author abuses her. Inspiration strikes, and he churns out novel after successful novel.

Let’s just say the story does not end well for the author. What stayed with me all these years, however, was not the man’s gruesome fate, but how he was punished – when a flood of ideas began swarming his mind in a neverending stream. Babbling them aloud, he frantically tries to write them all down, in vain. And these are not substandard ideas, people! Some of the ideas Gaiman wrote were stunning enough to make me want to pen stories out of them myself.

I wish I could give a transcript, but I’d left my entire Sandman collection back home in Malaysia ;P

Since then, I’ve not given much thought to what inspires me. I’m pretty sure I pick up ideas like everyone else – reading books, watching a movie, people spying or watching the world go by on a bus. I certainly do a lot of that during the 50min bus ride to my place of work.

Some people might think an hour-long bus ride is torture (I have to run out of the house at least 80mins before my shift to comfortably get there on time). But this is just perfect for someone who probably stays home far too often. I use the bus rides to catch a nice power nap or take the opportunity to see the streets of Edinburgh, which to me remain exotic and deeply fascinating. Look at the shop signs all written in English, for instance, instead of the mixture of English, Malay and Chinese back home. And the roads with names like Rose Street, Niddry Wynd and Leith Walk, instead of Jalan Yap Ah Loy or Laluan Ipoh Perdana. And look at all the people! With hair frizzy or yellow or purple or dreadlocked, and dressed too in so many different ways to beat the chill of Scotland. The variety amazes me, the alienness incredibly exciting even after two years.

Chances are during these journeys, an idea would either creep up or smack me on the face. That’s when the writer is supposed to whip out their trusty notebook and jot down the ideas that would no doubt inspire their next bestselling novel.

Or you could be like me, notebook again left snoozing at home, and write those ideas on their mobile phones.

I just rediscovered two such ‘gems’ of an idea saved on my phone, which I keyed in months ago. Pleased, I reread them eagerly…only to end up squinting at the words: Tablet time capsule from future. Bus breathing like heart.

Please don’t ask me what on earth the ‘tablet’ refers to, because I haven’t the faintest idea. And as for the ‘bus breathing like heart’ bit, I suspect I was high on cider at the time, but I do like that bit of imagery!

Speaking of which, I must share this from the Oglaf comic strip! I won’t be providing a link, as this brilliantly funny webcomic is very NSFW. Those interested can google Oglaf, but for now, enjoy!

How about you? Is there any particular thing or place that inspires you? Gets your creative juices going? Any person who has become your Muse? 🙂

PS: Eeeps at the time. I hope to wake up in time to volunteer at the charity shop tomorrow! Runs off!

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Filed under Books, Charity Shop, Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Malaysia, Novel, State of Mind, Writing

“Oh my god, did The Joker just pass me?”

August has been a crazy month!

First of all, I don’t know how I got it into my head to work two jobs. Besides the waitressing thing on Friday and weekend nights, I found myself working as a volunteer press officer for a theatre venue during the massive August Fringe Festival.

For nearly nine days straight, I helped this non-profit company do media-related stuff like booking tickets for reporters to attend the plays, searching the net for reviews, sticking the reviews up on notice boards, and so on.

But best of all, I had no idea we could see the plays for free! In fact, press officers are encouraged to so they know how to sell the show to the media.

The idea of having access to all these plays is amazing to me – simply because I have never seen a play or theatre production in this country before.

Like, never. Each time I went to London, for instance, determined to finally go see one of those fancy West End shows, I’d always be daunted by the ticket prices (£35 for The Lion King, really??).

In Malaysia, we’re not really a theatre-going culture. Most of the younger generation flock to the cinema, malls or the nightclubs for our entertainment. I can count the number of theatre venues in Kuala Lumpur on one hand (two places? Three?). The only time I was exposed to a play, it was to report on high school renditions of the West Side Story, the Flower Drum Song and Disney’s Mulan as a journalist. Some of them were not exactly melodious to the senses.

That’s why I can’t imagine paying even a few pounds here in Edinburgh for a show. It’s like opera, yet another species I’m not exactly exposed to. What if it’s not my cup of tea?

Then I thought, Oh stop bitching! Wait until you see a show you’d die to see, then go! Stop counting the money! 

How can you NOT goo over this man? © Copyright John Barrowman

And I know I’d die to see John Barrowman aka Captain Jack Harkness of Torchwood sing. He’s one of the few – very, very few – celebrities I would go gooey for, and last year he actually was scheduled to perform a concert in Edinburgh.

I ended up giving him a miss too.

Arrrrgh. *Faceplant.* Apparently my love of John Barrowman stops at thirty-plus pounds.

The Plays

So, yeah, free access to plays. Provided there were tickets left.

I found myself swept away in a whole new world:

  • Replaying Macbeth – My very first play seemed more like a university lecture than a performance. Actor and researcher Ray Sutton explained how two very different 18th century thespians portrayed the character of Macbeth, and proceeded to reenact the dagger scenes by each actor, then finish with Macbeth’s death scene. Interesting!
  • Batman!! Holy Spoof Musical Batstravaganza! – I’m not much for comedy, but this Batman spoof on its opening night had me grinning for most of their performance. I couldn’t believe how much fun it was! I loved the costumes, the one-liners, and all the actors and actresses. Sure, I’m seeing it through rose-tinted glasses, and the story is not exactly deep, but they made an hour-plus fly. This is pure entertainment, and if you can’t see it for what it is – a fun romp – then your soul is dead. (I’m looking at you, two-star reviewers).
  • Sanctuary – I’m not used to dramas where every actor communicates their speech through music. Therefore it took me a while to get used to this operatic show about a post-apocalyptic world where a father shuts himself and his daughter up in a shelter, and the daughter struggles to convince him to save another man banging desperately at their door. It had me with its post-apocalyptic setting. Haunting stuff.
  • The Dumb Waiter – Two young hitmen waiting in a small room for the orders to take out their next target. Each of them handle the madness of mindless waiting in their own way, and the open ending is definitely powerful. Again, another play that ends without resolution, inviting the audience to make up their own ending, which I don’t mind at all. (My best friend Liz might go barkers, however). The acting is amazing, and it helps that the two actors are very easy on the eyes 😉
  • Batman!! Holy Spoof Musical Batstravaganza! – And yes, I am such a geek that I have to watch it again on its last day of performance, wondering if they ironed out their kinks yet. Again I had a great time, even if some things could still be improved, but hey, I didn’t regret listening to the songs again. If only the producers could record the songs and put it up in their website, because that damn Arkham song is still stuck in my head ;P
  • Yours, Isabel – An absolutely stunning play of an American woman struggling for independence in the 1940s, a time when good girls did not work and were expected to stay home, wait for their husbands and make babies. The actress, playing with her real life husband, has such amazing control of her voice. I think I am a little in love with her! The dancing and sheer energy were magic. I can’t believe they performed so strongly, especially since the couple came down with a nasty bug and had to cancel their show a few nights! Somehow they pulled it together and performed the last two nights. What a wonderful way to finish my theatre-hopping journey.

And of course, I enjoyed the Batman spoof so much I had to chase down some of the actors and get a picture with them. I wish I could fit them ALL in the frame, even the Victim and Alfred, but hey, at least I got to briefly meet them.

I didn’t tell them, but Joker’s actor had no idea how surreal it felt when I passed him in costume the other day in a backstage corridor. I blinked, did a double take, and experienced an embarrassing SQUEEE Moment.

I can’t help it. I love villains. Am I the only one who looks out for the monsters and evil doers in every movie I’ve ever watched? Every book I’ve ever read? I’m one of those who thinks that if the bad guy is crap, the entire experience is ruined for me.

Hmmm, now that’s something to tackle in another post one day.

Thanks for reading 🙂

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Filed under Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Malaysia, Photography, State of Mind, Triumph, Volunteer

Oops, I Did It Again

I have sinned.

I actually ordered…a book. I told myself I should save money and not buy from Amazon, to just borrow the books I want, but I couldn’t help myself!

In fact I think I must have borrowed about thirty books from various sources. Some of them are being read, others are scattered across two houses, waiting desperately to be picked up, their egos soothed, their pages stroked… Ahem. Where was I?

Anyway the only time I buy books is for research, or if I consider it an investment. And this time I thought Liz Williams’ book Snake Agent, the first novel in her Detective Inspector Chen series, was worth it. Besides the fact I was unashamedly attracted to the stunning cover, drawn by the award-winning artist Jon Foster, the premise for Snake Agent was intriguing. It’s set in Singapore!

Here’s the description from Amazon: Detective Inspector Chen is the Singapore Three police department’s snake agent – the detective in charge of supernatural and mystical investigations. Chen has several problems: in addition to colleagues who don’t trust him and his mystical ways, a patron goddess whom he has offended and a demonic wife who’s tired of staying home alone, he’s been paired with one of Hell’s own vice officers, Seneschal Zhu Irzh, to investigate the illegal trade in souls. Political pressures both Earthly and otherworldly seek to block their investigations at every turn. As a plot involving both Singapore Three’s industrial elite and Hell’s own Ministry of Epidemics is revealed, it becomes apparent that the stakes are higher than anyone had previously suspected.

Which reminds me – just a bit – of the setting for the anime/manga Yami no Matsuei, or Descendants of Darkness. Except that protagonist Tsuzuki is, well, dead, works as a department agent in the Underworld, and doesn’t have a demonic wife. He does have a partner who acted like one, though.

Influences

Part of me worries about reading something I might end up replicating too much within my writing. I’ve got these bunch of ideas and ideals simmering in my head, and my concern is to translate them into stories I want to tell in as unique an outlook as possible. At the same time I know it’s virtually impossible to not be influenced by writing that resonates with you. I’m conscious of the fact, for instance, that the main character in Malaysian Dark reminds me of Hellblazer’s John Constantine, or Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden from the Dresden Files series – which I enjoy, although the premise for my novel popped in my head before I ever heard of Storm Front. Still, no harm in letting someone’s work stimulate you, and I recognise that as a writer, I should read and read and read as well.

Ordering a book online feels different from carting home the odd one-pound book from the charity shop, and so to ease my guilty conscience, I found myself browsing through my Amazon wish list. This is actually my Oh-I-Want-This-Badly-But-I-Shouldn’t-So-Let’s-Stick-It-Here-So-I-Can-Temporarily-Forget-It list.

Going through that list was amusing. Some of the titles were accumulated over the years, and feature a rather funky range of mostly books, computer games, TV series, movies and music CDs:

My Wish List, from Most Recent

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)

Best of Michael Moorcock

The Night Watch (Sergei Lukyanenko)

Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)

DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadow (Michael J. Ward) – Gamebook *coughs*

Night of the Necromancer: Fighting Fantasy (Jonathan Green) – Another gamebook, with the premise that you’re a murdered knight who must rise as a ghost and claim vengeance!

Jupiter’s Travels (Ted Simon) – One of five motorcycle books I shoved in there, thinking I needed research on how to write motorcycle riding.

The Visual Dictionary of Architecture – I’m fascinated by architecture and I’ve always feel this burning need to know about the style of buildings. I haven’t a clue, for instance, on how to identify Victorian from Georgian from Doric from Retro whatever. I’m pretty updated on Star Wars and Star Trek building styles however, for anyone who’s interested. I might get this some day!

Two Worlds II – Computer role-playing game. Weird name, I know. But not as wacky as Divine Divinity.

Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs: Complete Series – Don’t laugh! This 1980s cartoon show of giant robots, intergalactic cowboys and a British main character who speaks perfect Queen’s English (but is oddly from the Scottish Highlands) inspired a girl’s fertile imagination. I can still remember some of the epic plots and characters I made up from this universe 🙂

Dungeons & Dragons: The Complete Animated Series – Errr. I’ve only watched one episode in my life. Maybe two. And that’s my defence. Right.

The House of the Stag (Kage Baker)

Ramayana: India’s Immortal Tale of Adventure, Love and Wisdom (Krishna Dharma) – Yet another book I want for research.

Thundercats: Complete Season One – The only cartoon I know where cat men and women prance around the pilot episode nekkid before they put on clothes.

How to Write a Mystery (Larry Beinhart) – Back when I thought I should read up on how to write crime, after realising my knowledge of crime novels extended mostly to Sherlock Holmes. And the Famous Five.

The Little Book on Vaastu – Wha?

Wizardry and Wild Romance: A Study of Epic Fantasy (Michael Moorcock) – I actually borrowed this from the library but had to return it. Now I want to keep it, but the price is daunting!

Devil’s Cape (Rob Rogers) – Gritty crime novel with superheroes. Winning combination.

Finding Serenity: Anti-heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly (Jane Espenson) – A collection of essays and articles on the Firefly space western TV series. I absolutely adore Firefly. Whoever was responsible for cancelling it after just 14 episodes should be examined by the Scary Blue Glove Men.

Life After Doomsday: Survivalist Guide to Nuclear War and Other Major Disasters (Bruce D. Clayton) – Because admit it, all of us want to know how to survive the apocalypse.

I Dreamed a Dream (Susan Boyle) – Oh, don’t tell me you didn’t want to!

To Be Continued 🙂 

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Old Library

Hurray, I found pictures of my old library!

This was back in Ipoh city, of the state of Perak in Malaysia. I worked in Ipoh for eight years and, well, one tends to accumulate the odd book here and there. Those sturdy bookshelves were snapped up for an absolute bargain, thanks to my lovely housemate. It’d taken scores of boxes to move them from my previous cramped house, and once I had finally assembled them on the shelves of my new home, in order of genre and species: Bliss.

How I so loved to stare at the shelves. There’s something comforting about coming home weary from work (I was a journalist) to feast your eyes on those lovely books all stacked out.

And then I resigned my job to study in Edinburgh, and the time came to ship my somewhat expanded collection back to my hometown, in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.

That’s in Borneo, by the way, across the frickin’ South China Sea. This was when I learned my library numbered some 600, not including the stacks of magazines, comics and graphic novels. And this was AFTER I had sold three bagfuls of them for cash.

I nearly broke the backs of my poor parents when they flew in to help me pack. They didn’t have to help, bless them, but for some reason my Dad thought I couldn’t do it all on my own.

“SIX HUNDRED!?” I could hear him mentally roar as he stood there staring at the shelves resembling tracts of stubborn battlefields.

In the end, we needed TEN large plastic containers to pack them all in. Later as we huffed and puffed, hauling the sealed containers between us precariously down the stairs, I made sure to look properly contrite while my Dad muttered about how I would be the death of them.

Here is a very rough inventory of my library, off the top of my head:

Fantasy(roughly 30%) – Tolkien, C.J.Cherryh (Chronicles of Morgaine), Fritz Leiber (Lankhmar), Ursula K. Le Guin (Earthsea etc), Dianne Wynne Jones, Megan Whalen Turner (I adore her Attolia books), Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance), Jim Butcher, Piers Anthony (Incarnation series), Wendy and Richard Pini (Elfquest), C.S.Lewis, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Steven Jackson (Fighting Fantasy), Mercedes Lackey (Valdermar), Mickey Zucker Reichert (Nightfall), and probably some others I’ve forgotten or despise.

Science Fiction (15%) – Frank Herbert (Dune), Stephen Baxter (Evolution), Star Wars, I am sure there are plenty more, I just can’t remember!

Other Fiction (5%) – The odd classic, thriller, crime and Young Adult titles, such as Anthony Horowitz’s strangely compelling Alex Rider spy series. There’s something about the writing that just hooks you in, and that’s a rare talent.

How-To (8%) – Plenty of books on plot, characters, viewpoint, how to write fantasy and science fiction, and so on.

Non-Fiction (8%) – I keep acquiring books on psychology, first aid, survival, religion, history, wars, castles, conspiracies and so on. Sun Tzu’s Art of War, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and so on.

Manga (15%) – Some titles were given as review copies, since I used to write manga and anime reviews for my newspaper company. But mostly I’m guilty of spending a sinful amount of cash on these in my richer days: Gravitation, Death Note, Fruits Basket, Fake, King of Thorns, Saiyuki, and some significant number of shonen-ai and yaoi titles 🙂

Comics/Graphic Novels (15%) – Strangers in Paradise, Bone, X-Men, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Impulse, A Distant Soil, scores of titles. Clear Marvel slant there.

Magazines (4%) – Stuff, PC Gamer or any other tech or computer gaming magazines. Basically anything geek.

I just wish I took better pictures of my fantasy collection! But ah well, most of them are back in my hometown now, waiting for me.

When I travelled to UK, I did carefully choose and take with me a few favourites. These are the books which, one way or another, inspire me to write fantasy in the first place. A topic for another time!

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