Category Archives: Matahari Books

My First Writer Interview!

In my quest to speak to various Malaysian writers and publishers about the industry back home, I got hold of Elizabeth Tai. Besides being a close friend, Elizabeth is a voracious reader (her library definitely trumps mine!) and she has also been a features and entertainment journalist for nearly 12 years. She claims to get dizzy flying to exotic locations like Japan and California (I hate her), and has interviewed local and international authors, celebrities, and a dizzying array of personalities both weird and diva.

Give her a hand, and more interviews to come, I hope!

Tell me about yourself.

I’m a journalist @ The Star newspaper, a national English daily in Malaysia. I’ve always been a writer; I created my first graphic novel when I was 11, wrote my first non-fiction booklet about astronomy when I was 12, started writing short stories when I was 12 and later novels in my teen and young adult years. Ironically, when I started writing professionally as a journalist, my fiction endevours fell on the wayside…

What sort of books did you read as a child?

The Johor Baru public library had a curious children’s section. It only had biographies, non-fiction books and Shakespeare (children’s version of course), so that’s what I read as a child. My first book was a book on Mathematics. Loved it on account of the colourful pictures. I only read Enid Blyton in my teen years!

What genres do you read and why?

Well, I’m an omnivore. I read EVERYTHING. Which makes it difficult sometimes to make a choice. But if I were to pick a favourite, fiction = sci fi and fantasy. What I read depends on my moods. Right now I’m reading lots of non-fiction books, especially on languages and religion. Studying Christian theology is fascinating to me.

What do you write for enjoyment?

Fanfiction. Because it’s effortless and all the characters are there already for you to play with 🙂

Tell me what you think about the state of literature in Malaysia nowadays.

It’s growing, I suppose. Though the quality of the writing and packaging (I’m big on fonts and covers, being a former subeditor) ranges from good to abysmal. I feel that writers need to put more quality into their work and also be able to take criticisms more!

As far as you know, what is the Government doing about it?

Nothing as far as I’m concerned. Much of the initiative to encourage writing comes from private enterprises or companies such as Silverfish and MPH.

Are there any suggestions or measures you think Malaysia should be doing to promote literature and reading?

For God’s sake improve the libraries! We need to have more libraries – at least one library in one suburb area etc, not one library per city. There should be more funding to create writer’s festivals in Malaysia.

In 2003, the National Library reported that Malaysians only read two books a year on average. In 2010, Deputy Information, Communication and Culture Minister Heng Seai Kie said Malaysians read an average of eight to 12 books a year. Are you surprised? Glad? Sceptical?

In the urban areas, the figures are probably better. If you visit book warehouse sales or bookstores, you’d notice it packed with people. The concentration of reading Malaysians differ from rural to urban areas and this is simply due to the availability of books, methinks. I think in rural areas, the availability of books is simply dismal. We’re really spoiled in KL (Kuala Lumpur).

Tell me your views about Malaysian authors today.

There are some that are really enthusiastic about the craft, but I’m a perfectionist … I feel that they can improve their craft more. Some can’t even take criticisms, and feel that just because they’re Malaysian writers, Malaysians should support them. There are also some who are elitist … who believe that “literary” fiction is the only fiction worth considering. This is just my impression, however.

Do you believe they are being given enough Government support or encouragement? Eg Book festivals, grants, literary events?

NOPE.

How do you think this could be improved? As a developing nation, the priority for the Budget seems slanted towards infrastructure and urban development, after all.

Well, they could stop using the money for rasuah for one. 🙂 (Chris: *Coughs* Rasuah means bribes)

Do you think Malaysians have greater respect for literary fiction than, say, genre like crime, fantasy, science fiction, romance?

I think Malaysians in general do not think that way; the tastemakers, however, seem to. But this is a question that’s hard to answer with any certainty as I can only glean from what I read from their blogs etc.

Here is your soapbox! What is the one thing would you like to see changed, or done differently when it comes to writing and literature?

My needs are simple. I just want a library for each residential area. I want more Malaysian publishers like Amir Muhammad (through his publishing house Fixi) who will publish genre fiction. People look down on Genre fiction, but it actually takes great skill to write one as they need to keep readers entertained. Also, genre fiction is literature for the masses; Malaysians will find it more easy to digest. I want the glorification of literary fiction to stop – it’s highly annoying and obtuse.

What was the last book you enjoyed and why?

I would say Sergei Lukynenko’s urban fantasy series (Day Watch, Night Watch, Last Watch etc). I wept when I read the last book because I knew there won’t be anymore.

And last, but not least, what titles are you reading at the moment?

Gee. Like I said, mostly Theology books. 😉 I tend to read several books at once, so here goes:

1. God is nearer than you think, John Ortberg

2. Shadow Prowler – Alexey Pehov

3. May want to attempt Shantaram. Because it’s just sitting on my shelf scolding me for ignoring it.

4. Unlocking the Bible by David Pawson

5. The Bible. 😉 Book of John, to be specific.

6. Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer (starting this week!)

Thank you for reading 🙂

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Filed under Books, Malaysia, Matahari Books, Publisher, Silverfish, Triumph, Writing

Things that Go Bump in the (Malaysian) Night

For once, last night I actually slept at a decent hour (10pm as opposed to 6am) and woke up feeling much better compared to yesterday.  Body less achy, yay!

In fact, I even dozed off browsing the Malaysian Book of the Undead, a compendium of ghosts, spirits and jins benevolent or otherwise, for character ideas for the Beastly Babes anthology. Yup. I know how to choose my bedtime stories.

This is as good a time as any to share some of the wonderful illustrations of this book, which was published by Matahari Books and compiled by Danny Lim. Artist Mohd Kadir did the illustrations, and I have to say he really outdid himself. I wish I could see more of his work.

Those of faint stomachs should probably look away now 🙂

Euw. The Penanggalan is a species of female vampire said to detach her head from her body, entrails dangling, to fly around searching for women about to give birth.

I love the dogs! The Hantu Gerasi is accompanied by spectral hounds and is said to have a voracious appetite...for us.

The call of this serpent-eagle spirit, the Moyang Lang Kuit of aboriginal Mah Meri folklore, is thought to be a bad omen - signalling either someone's death, or that one's village will soon be abandoned.

The Jin (Jinn / Djinn) in Malaysia are difficult to define. They could be free spirits or bound to the will of a shaman. From my own research, there's even mention of complex societies and cases of them marrying humans. I wonder if they're the same?

Toyol - Awww. Looks like a goblin, doesn't it?

Awesome stuff. At 116 pages, I wish this compendium had been longer! There are many entries with single sentence explanations, with the most amount of pages given to popular supernatural beings like the Bunian and the Toyol. At first I thought it was simply the lack of research available, but I could find other references to Hantu Keramat, for instance.

There are also times throughout the book when Danny Lim demonstrates what a wicked wit he has, and I would have loved to have seen more, like what he wrote on the Pontianak, another lovely female vampire said to find her victims by hitching a ride on lonely roads:

“The lucky man who manages to vamoose before she can attack will usually fall ill with fever for several days, but at least live to tell the tale so that all beautiful female hitchhikers will always be forced to walk alone at night.”

And then there are ghosts that just BEG for elaboration:

Hantu Gulung – a river ghost that rolls up its victims.

Hantu Kangkang – the ‘straddling ghost’; male counterpart of the Hantu Kopek. This ghost uses his private parts to attack victims.

…Wha?

Seriously, this is not the sort of thing superstitious Malaysians laugh at. Heck, I’d gladly read about serial killer cannibals but when it comes to our own ghost stories, I’m a chicken! (Hey, I have to live there after all).

And lastly I leave with the Malay cover version of the book 🙂

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Filed under Books, Contests, Fantasy, Matahari Books, Publisher, Writing

Ghostly Research Ahoy

My parcel from Malaysia has finally arrived! Hey, it only took three months to arrive in UK.

I am in an amazingly good mood right now, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the combination of chewy milk candy, meat jerky, murruku savoury snacks and white coffee I just wolfed down after rescuing them from the somewhat battered box.

But a huge chunk of the box included research materials for the novel (or series) I’ve been planning! And it’s so exciting to have a bit of home with me. I worried it would get lost. Here they are:

The last time I was back in Malaysia, I invested quite a lot on horror/ghost films, specifically those most likely to feature how that culture ‘deals’ with said evil. My brother was awesome enough to bring me to this store selling a whole lot of titles, but I found there were too many to choose from! After going through some hilariously written movie synopses, I had to put quite a number of them back.

In the end I chose two Hindi, two Chinese and only one Malay ghost film(s). Mostly because I was less sure how Indians and Chinese dealt with ghosty nasties in films. I would have bought more, but I couldn’t afford it!

You will not believe the amount of research I had to do before and while writing Malaysian Dark! I had to read up on bomohs (Malay shamans), Hinduism, Taoism, feng shui, spiritual/medicinal herbs, and the folklore and mythology of the Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures.

And that’s not counting the 2,000 photographs and videos I took of wacky places/plants/things the last time I was home 😀 All this research is definitely exhausting, but still immense fun. I must remind myself however that the researching should never be used as an excuse NOT to write.

Moreover, part of me wants to be careful not to read too many ghost stories like Russell Lee’s and so on, of which Malaysia has plentiful! As much as I want to be inspired and informed, I don’t want it limiting the kind of plots and scenes my imagination could come up with. By all means, acquire a foundation of knowledge, but don’t copy from the research, I say to myself!

The UK has its Fortean Times. Malaysia has its own huge array of magazines on weird supernatural stuff. Nearly all of them are written with a heavy Malay slang, but I can sorta get the gist of it. Here are some of my favourite article titles within:

The Husband who Cast Spells with Black Chicken Head Soup

Married to a Jin

The Employee who Bewitched his Boss

UFO Lands in Gobek Village?

Victim of a Rain of Needles

His Corpse Smelled Sweet…

Dialogue between a Pocong (Burial Shroud Ghost) and a Pontianak (Malay Vampire)

“For 3,000 years, I have lived in this place…”

Penis Bitten Until Broken Off

We might laugh, and I might be (a freethinking) Christian, but I am inclined to treat Malay ghost folklore with a pinch of salt and a great deal of careful respect. After all, I come from a country where many people take ghosts for granted. Chances are, you’ll always find someone who knows someone who’s had a supernatural encounter, for instance. Whatever my views are on these things, I’m also of a mind that there are things out there you don’t laugh at or make light of. After all, who are we to assume we know everything about the world?

And last but not least:

This book of 366 Malaysian Folk Tales was a brilliant find for me! Although the title is aimed at children, the book features stories I’ve never heard of from states all over the country. Some are old childhood favouries, like that of Sang Kancil, the mousedeer.

And then there’s the fairy tales that are just plain bizarre. One story from Sarawak, Borneo, starts off with:

“Kill me and eat my flesh,” said the monkey on the tree. Kasaan happened to be standing under the tree.

“I have no intention of eating your flesh,” said Kasaan.

“Don’t waste time, kill me and eat my flesh, hurry!” said the monkey.

They tell this to children? COOL.

Oh, and the book No Plot? No Problem! is an awesome read I would highly recommend 🙂 Lots of tips on writing around family commitments, distractions and other forms of *cough* procrastination.

My Increasingly Swelling Library

It feels damn good to add all this to my meagre stockpile of research material here in Edinburgh. Here are some of the awesome titles I took with me from Malaysia:

This is a lovely encyclopaedia of Malaysia's spirits and demons. Very interesting reading! A bit thin, though.

A lot of it is fluff, but charming reading nonetheless.

This was to help me get an idea of the bewildering array of gods and mythology within Hinduism. It broaches more on Hindu concepts however.

Since one of my characters is sort of trained as a Taoist medium, I had to learn what their philosophies are (Man do I know how to pick them ;). Good book. Clear and straightforward.

That and the small mountain of feng shui books I keep borrowing for research! Too many to list 🙂

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Filed under Fantasy, Leisure, Matahari Books, Novel, Photography, Procrastination, Writing