Category Archives: Charity Shop

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!



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

November ‘Nanigans!

Recent Bedside Books

Here I am, having moved (again!) to my original flat after roughly ten months of living in temporary flats. How wonderful it is to have a stable home again.

For some reason, my books have bred like bunnies, however, and I was forced to make room for them on another makeshift shelf. If only there was some way to neuter my purse.

Anyway one unpacking, cleaning and vacuum later, and my bedroom is decent again. Which brings me to November.


For over a week I wondered how I was going to commit to NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month – when I haven’t fully finished Malaysian Dark yet. With one week left to October, I had to:

  1. Pack and move house
  2. Finish up loose ends at the bookshop job (like baking farewell beer brownies for the colleagues, twice, after certain misadventures with the Evil Oven of Temp Flat #2)
  3. Play this new tabletop RPG game, Anima, I’d been eager to try out with friends;
  4. And somehow finish that novel.

I can see it – the ending of Malaysian Dark – so clearly. I’m almost there. I just need to bridge the gap between the Chapter where the Hero is Horribly Traumatised, and the Chapter where Revelation Hits, which would hurtle me towards the ending I’ve already written. I tried to finish by the end of October, but it’s been a struggle.

And then it hit me. Why not do both? Write both for NaNoWriMo AND finish the novel in November too? I had some time, now that the bookshop job was finished. Sure, I had some commitments with the charity shop volunteering, and a possible mail sorter job later this month…

Why not?

1,700 words a day + 1,000?

Disclaimer: Models were used to re-enact the awesomeness of the Hat

So yes, I decided to do both. NaNoWri by day, novel by night.

I am taking precautions. I have appointed my new fuzzy headwear, the Blessed Hat of Productivity +5, so that whenever I don this holy cap of authorship, I shall be afire with the need to ejaculate as many words onto the screen as possible. I shall wear it chanting the mantras of NaNoWriMo:

    1. Quantity, not Quality.
    2. The Backspace Key is Thine Enemy.
    3. Announce your Commitment to the World, so that the World may Mocketh thee if Thou Dost Not Finish;
    4. Neglect all Social Commitments, but thou art allowed to findeth out what happened to thine Thief left Abandoned on that damn beach in Anima–

Okay, so I made that last up. Hey, I need to reward myself somehow!

I even have a writing buddy, one I have shamelessly egged into doing it, and we are both excited. We drew up our Magna Cartas, and Evil Magna Cartas, as suggested by Chris Baty in his wonderful book No Plot? No Problem!

My story will be, oddly enough, a Youth Adult novel, something I’ve never written before. I have enjoyed Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia series, and Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider books in the past, however. Here’s my Magna Carta list of what I would love to see in a/my novel:

  • Bookshops (this whole premise was inspired by my bookshop job)
  • Travelling, dimension hopping
  • A young protagonist with a sensible head on his/her shoulders
  • Magic – unique powers
  • Characters who survive great hardships or abusive backgrounds, overcome a flaw/disadvantage
  • Plot twists
  • Awesome villains – does not think they’re evil
  • Drama with a sense of humour
  • Books with grandiose titles
  • Tyrannical employers
  • Unexpected/thwarted romances – young, gay, sweet, subtle and awkward?
  • Good to bittersweet endings
  • Sacrifice
  • Redemption
  • Elaborate, intricate worlds that I would love to explore – sense of wonder
  • Pretzels, candy, chocolate – Very Important
  • Angels, dragons, demons, unicorns – Very Important

And here is my Evil Magna Carta, things I dislike in a/my novel:

  • Yet another vampire character – unless something different about it
  • Silly and nonsensical settings
  • Pets
  • Ditzy women
  • Pretentious writing
  • Characters who do (dumb) things that make no sense
  • Scenes that demean gay/bisexual chars
  • Characters who do long soliloquies aloud, or in their heads
  • Overly scifi or ‘lifeless’ settings – I want worlds that breathe
  • Too many strange events or settings that alienate readers – strange for the sake of being strange
  • Too many viewpoints that make it hard for readers to care
  • Contemporary settings – unless it is different/unique enough
  • Trite or convenient deus ex machina
  • Characters who brood/angst overly much – Get over yourself!
  • Too many adverbs
  • Clumsy info dumps – “As you know, Jim, we are three hundred years old and secretly blue”

Mind you I wrote these while half asleep, but it will do. Right then. No more dithering. On to Day One of NaNoWriMo! Wish me luck and sanity!

Hmmm, I suppose I should think about a character and plot, huh?

By the Way

My lesbian erotica shapeshifter story was accepted for the anthology Beastly Babes (now called She-Shifters). I am so relieved. The ‘race through a rain forest morphing from tiger to kingfisher’ part refers to my story!

It’s another step, at least. Must keep writing, must keep sending out there.


Filed under Books, Charity Shop, Contests, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Role-Playing Game, State of Mind, Triumph, Writing

A job, a job at last!

These last three weeks have been quite the rollercoaster.

For one thing, the landlady and I have moved to what I shall call Temporary Place #2. And not only have I finally finished my Edinburgh tour article (it’s looking quite exciting!) and written another article for a fantasy-themed newspaper column, but I managed to get a part-time job too!

Since I’m writing all the time, my hope was to find a job that would get me active, allow me to “drink in” the world and meet more people.

In short, I wasn’t too keen on journalism (if I could get any in this job climate!) or anything that might suck up too much of, ahem, creative juices.

I wasn’t getting very far with job sites like gumtree, and I was learning – I read this from a book at the charity shop where I volunteer ;P – that apparently only 20% of job vacancies are advertised.

So these past two weeks, I got into the habit of printing out different versions of my CV, and just walking around and passing them to some promising looking places. It was strange walking into these stores and restaurants at first, and I did feel self-conscious, but really after a while you don’t care. On the telly, they’re showing grim news about UK’s unemployment problems and the radio stations have been discussing the debt crisis and the like.

When you’re desperate, scared and angry, and ashamed to be living off your loved ones, I think something changes inside you. Certain things no longer hold the same priorities as they used to, like pride or shame. I’d rather hold onto integrity and dignity, ya know?

One Fateful Day

So last week I just randomly walked into this restaurant. It didn’t even have a vacancy sign but I was mindful that this was the festival season and servers were always wanted around this time.

The girl there sounded encouraging and took my CV.

The next day I got the call asking if I could come in for a 6.30pm to 10.30pm shift. That Saturday was a particularly interesting one, because it just so happened I was moving (yes, again!) my things to the flat of a friend who asked me to house-sit for about two weeks.

I got the call at 3pm while waiting for a bus. Struggling with my suitcase and a bag full of food, I listened in disbelief as the lady on the line asked if I could make it that day. My mind was mostly going: What? Someone’s hiring me? Today!? But I’m moving house! I need to make another trip for my second batch of stuff! Someone’s hiring me? I’m not ready! Do they want me to cook? Someone’s hiring me!

I said yes. I literally only had time to dump my second batch of stuff at my friend’s flat before rushing off for my first part-time job in, like, eternity.

The first day was naturally a shock. I arrived a little late so that cut into my working hour. I was not dressed right – I was apparently supposed to wear black shirt, black pants and black shoes (I was wearing jeans and sneakers). And then for the rest of the night, I went through what had to be called ‘Waitress Boot Camp’. Let’s just say, it was a highly enlightening experience.

By the end of it, I felt bruised and battered. Three hours felt like forever. But by the end of it, I got two meals (they feed me, yay!), a deeper (and I am convinced lifelong) appreciation for all servers…and my first wages.

Okay, this should be a B, but you get the idea! I love this set of mosaics I spotted near the Greyfriars Bobby statue. Wonder who made them!

That first night when I got home to the flat, I numbly held the 18 pounds in my hands and recall feeling a bit…emotional. It’s a far cry from what I used to earn back in my journalist days, but the main thought in my head was: I actually earned something. I actually earned something.

To be frank, I thought I made a terrible waitress. Half the time I was convinced one of them was going to point at me and say, “You’re fired!” All I could do was make mistakes, learn and work as best as  I could.

I did much better on Sunday, and the rest of the week at home I staggered around like a zombie, wondering if I would be called back.

I was indeed called back, for Friday, Saturday and today. I am still a little stunned, to be honest.

What’s even better is that the manager found out about my writing and copywriting skills, and asked me to help with the restaurant’s Facebook page. So now I’m helping to do that and create a website for them as well, for extra cash. Sweet!

It’s a relief also to find myself getting used to the work and enjoy chatting with the guests. It’s amazing how many lovely people there are, and sometimes we need that reminder, I think.

Of course, I’m still a newborn at this job 😉 And I have no idea how long this will last, but for now? Thank you, Lord.


Filed under Charity Shop, State of Mind, Triumph, Wordpress, Work, Writing

The Scars We Carry

I overslept and woke up at 5.42am(!) when I was supposed to rouse at 2am. (Rouse? Who says that nowadays?)

Ahk. Writing, writing, must finish the Edinburgh article. So very close. A few hours from now I leave for the charity shop where I volunteer.

To settle down, I jot down a shortfic inspired by something I experienced yesterday:

BUMPING INTO A COLLEAGUE – I stare and try not to stare at the white lines slashing all down your arms. “I used to hurt myself,” you say, so casually, as if it didn’t bother you to wear clothes revealing those marks, like a hundred badges of defiance or honour. I murmur apologies. You cheerfully say it’s okay. We go our separate ways. My own scars are so small in comparison; they still don’t hurt any less.


Filed under Charity Shop, Fantasy, Photography, State of Mind, Writing

My Neck, It Creaks!

I just wanted to share these lovely curiosities which I stumbled across while working in the charity shop where I volunteer. Yes, instead of hauling books I was whipping out my camera.

It’s a booklet of images produced by one Otto Bromberger, first published in the 1890s. Turn the images upside down and you’ll get another picture.

I thought this was a lovely idea, and it reminded me of experimental novellas with a narrative where the chapters can be read backwards, from the ‘end’ to the ‘beginning’. A mind-boggling concept, and I suspect for those who like their stories really…arty.

Can it be possible to attempt this backward-narrative with something that has a plot? Makes me want to try something like this some time!


Filed under Books, Charity Shop, Leisure, Photography, Writing

Becoming Elizabeth Bennet – Part One

I have a confession to make.

I’m one of those people who have not read Pride and Prejudice. I tried. Heck, I tried. Years ago when my best friend Liz kept raving about it, citing the complex plot and the beauty of the language and so on, I borrowed her lovingly yellowed copy and gave it a go. I was in my 20s, mind you.

Made it to around page 10. I stumbled on the style and prose, not used to either. Confused by all this talk of balls and marrying well and details of social fluttery things I had no interest in whatsoever, I gave up…and dozed off.

A year later, I thought: I didn’t really give that book a chance. I want to understand what Liz appreciates. I need to see how Colin Firth made it big!

"I'm...too sexy for this suit, too sexy for this--" © BBC -

What I didn’t want was to cheat and watch some movie or TV series just to find out what the fuss is about. I wanted to read and experience the story for myself, to marvel in its original written form. And no, Bridget’s Jones Diary does not count.

I picked up the book again. This time I fell asleep by page 12, and ever since, Pride and Prejudice would always represent that literary Shangri-la, setting off fears that I might secretly be an uncultured swine. But surely it can’t be! I’ve tackled Poe, basked in Sherlock Holmes, read every damn classic of adventure and horror and intrigue. If it had pirates, knights, swashbucklers, rampaging robots and murderers most foul, I would be all over the pages.

But the Bronte sisters, D.H. Lawrence, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf, on and on – there was a whole world of authors and poets out there whose works I didn’t know. And Pride and Prejudice stuck like a facehugger down my gullet.

Until I unearthed this treasure at the charity shop today. I actually gasped. A gamebook. Of Pride and Prejudice! Genius.

I absolutely adore gamebooks. Something about them endlessly fascinates me, the concept of changing the outcome of the tale by your decisions, giving you the illusion of freedom within the story. Somewhere on my shelves back home are stacks of nearly every Fighting Fantasy gamebook in existence, Grey Star, the hilarious Grailquest, the sadly shortlived Fabled Lands, Blood Sword, Sorcery, Duelmaster series, the inspired Black Baron and White Warlord…and too many Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks.

I even have gamebooks featuring the Famous Five and Nancy Drew, so there, my geekiness is complete ;P

So I brought my find home and turned the pages, aware that the author – an Austen specialist it seems – would have to adapt a large part of the original work. But as long as she kept to the spirit of the classic, I didn’t mind compromising. This, then, will be my first determined journey into the heart of Pride and Prejudice. Surely this will be interesting.

Your Mission

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young Austen heroine must be in want of a husband, and you are no exception. Christened Elizabeth Bennet, you are tolerably beautiful (Chris: Good. I’m sick of drop dead gorgeous heroines) and moderately accomplished. You are the daughter of misguided but well-meaning parents and live with them and your four sisters. You are of a happy disposition and have hitherto whiled away your years reading (I’m starting to like this chick), walking and enjoying what limited society Meryton has to offer. A recent event, however, threatens to disturb your tranquility: a man of large fortune has let a nearby manor house. It is the first in a long chain of events that will require you to face difficult decisions and impolite dance partners. Equipped only with your wit and natural good sense, your mission is to marry both prudently and for love, eluding undesirable suitors and avoiding family scandals which would almost certainly ruin any hope of a financial advantageous marriage for you or any of your sisters”.

Reading that opening page reminded me why I disliked the classic. It was one of those novels that seem to imply you need a man to complete your happiness. This just sits uncomfortably with me. Why couldn’t one be single and happy like myself?

…Okay, perhaps I’m not the greatest example in the world. How about single and content? Do we really need to be married to define your worth as a person? But anyway, I was playing the role of Elizabeth Bennet, and at least she was not a ditz. Look at this, the game even awarded me 200 points for Intelligence and Confidence (yay!) but only 50 points for Connections and Fortune (boo).

Bing, Bing, Bing

The story starts with my character going with my sisters to a party attended by one Mr Bingley (a name that summons images of church bells). Apparently my ‘mother’ yearns for one of us to attain Mr Bingley’s heart, but it is during this party that the ladies start buzzing about that Mr Darcy, who is predictably tall, handsome and rich. (They never point out the ones with a sense of humour..)

And then comes the part when my character overhears Mr Bingley commenting to Darcy about how I appear to be without a dance partner. Only for Darcy to coolly say: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.”

What? That jerk! And Elizabeth is supposed to fall for this guy?!

Later my character describes this to the rest of the family, and my parents are suitably outraged. Mama, however, is thrilled Mr Bingley kept dancing with Jane, and nurses high hopes real wedding bells would ring this time, which would make her ecstatic as Jane is “her favourite daughter”. Whereas you continue to be a disappointment, opines the narrator’s voice in bold, which startled me.

Nonetheless I was getting into the story. Maybe Darcy said that for a reason. Maybe he was having male PMS that day. I had to read on.

The Silliest Decision in the World 

My ‘mother’s’ mercenary tactics to marry off her daughters was beginning to disturb me. My sister Jane receives an invitation to dine at Mr Bingley’s manor, but Mama refuses to lend her a carriage. Instead the woman insists Jane go on horseback so my sister will get caught in the rain and be asked to stay the night, all to allow her more Bingley quality time!

Later we receive the note telling us poor Jane caught a bad cold. I am refused horse and carriage to see her, and instead of kicking Mama, my character opts to walk the three miles to Netherfield, which makes me rather proud. (Add “Love of Walking” to your list of Accomplishments).

I climb a gate and find myself in an unfamiliar field. And to my horror, I arrive at my very first fateful decision. The decision that’s supposed to change the course of the entire book. It was: To take the path to the left, turn to page 29. To take the path to the right, turn to page 20.

That’s it? This is the “difficult decision” I was promised? What do the paths even look like? Why is it so damn important to choose which road I go? Why didn’t I accompany Jane to that bloody manor?

I shook my head and chose left:

“After about half a mile you make a sudden turn into a path deeply shaded by elms on each side. You have advanced some way when you suddenly perceive, at a small distance before you, a party of gypsies. A child on the watch comes towards you to beg, causing you to let out a scream (Huh?). How the vagrants might have behaved had you been more courageous is doubtful, but such an invitation for attack cannot be resisted. You are soon assailed by half a dozen children, headed by a stour woman and a thickset boy. Growing more and more frightened, you promise them money and, taking out your purse, given them a shilling, begging them not to want more, or to use you ill. You are then able to walk forward, through slowly, and you move away from the group–but your fear and your purse are too tempting, and you are followed, or rather surrounded, by the whole gang, demanding more. When you confess that you have none, they set about attacking you until your face is so disfigured that you are never able to attract a husband all your livelong life.”


Narrator’s Voice: That didn’t take you long, did it? You have failed to complete your mission. You didn’t even get NEAR completing it, in fact. You deserve to be disfigured. Be ashamed.


…I am trying not to swear, but WHAT THE POTATO!? I scream just because a child approaches me to beg? What happened to my fabled wits? I am supposed to be intelligent! To have a backbone! What is all this pleading? I’m not even a gypsy and I feel insulted. “You deserve to be disfigured”??

What the potato!


Filed under Books, Charity Shop, Gamebooks, Leisure

The Book that Flew Me Through Time

Every time I sort through the books at the charity shop where I volunteer, I come across some amazingly weird book that makes me pause and grin.

A month ago it was this book, which made me laugh because I have a friend who claims her cat is gay. The kitty would follow the hubbie everywhere, as well as perform “suggestive rubbing, doting looks, attentively pushing his anus against hubbie’s toe…”

The opening page of the book confronts you with this earth-shattering question: Have you ever found yourself pondering your cat’s sexual preference? 

The book then proceeds to painstakingly describe the many situations that would help “pet lovers get in touch with their feline gaydar”. Sadly I’m unable to refer to it now as the book has since been carted upstairs for sale, but I do vaguely recall something about stumbling across your cat strutting around the house like Lady Gaga, or catching him applying nail glitter at the vanity table. Or something similar.

Today, however, I fatefully came across this book – Position of the Day: Sex Every Day in Every Way.

Tagline: A Position A Day Keeps the Love Doctor Away.

Wow. 365 sexual positions.

This book made me smile for another reason entirely. It had me soaring down memory lane, all the way back to 1997, when I – minds out of the gutter now! – would create what would become one of my favourite characters.

He was for a MUSH, which for uninitiated is basically a text-based game where players from all over the world role-play characters with each other in a shared universe. Just think, you could be playing characters from Star Wars, Highlander, Lord of the Rings, Transformers, and dozens more!

Imagine taking on the role of a character – becoming that character – acting out their story, exploring their motivations as you describe what your character does or say to the characters of other players, in real-time. In short, you were creating that narrative together, developing your character as time goes on, and carrying them through complex, interconnected stories in ways few games allow nowadays.

This was in 1997, way before the days of World of Warcraft and other flashy, non-text, multiplayer online role-playing games of today. Even now, I could never play one of those MMORPGs. I don’t care what Richard Garriott or Peter Molyneux says. None of these games can compete with the ones you build with your imagination.

Raistlin Majere - Art by Destarian aka Antonio

In my case, my first MUSH, my first love, was with Dragonlance.

I would love to explain my passion for Dragonlance, but for now, let’s just say that over 14 years ago, I fell hard for this fantasy world of dragons and Highlords and brave, flawed heroes.

And within this world, I created a new character starting off in the bustling city of Palanthas.

His name was Eliande. And he was a professional escort.

Now understand, the Dragonlance MUSH wasn’t that sort of game. Other than two players’ occasional need to squirrel themselves away into a private room and play with each other for hours and hours and hours on end, the MUSH was a fairly clean game. Really.

But for some reason I wanted to play something different from the usual city-destroying mages or the holier-than-thou priests or the warriors bristling with weapons as huge as their egos.

Nay! I will instead play one of those rare ‘peasant’ professions. No, not a blacksmith, too sweaty. A tavern keeper? A merchant? Well, what would be fun? Exciting? Provocative?

To this day, I am still amazed the MUSH staff – the administrators who ran the game – approved my character. I did explain to them that I would not at all role play any of the ‘naughty’ stuff. Instead as a professional escort (or gigolo or whore or however you call him), Eliande is meant to be flamboyant, fun, charming, outrageous, unapologetic. Completely at ease as he provides a service just as needed in any quasi-medieval society.

(We’ll leave his clandestine spy activities for another time 🙂

And because the topic would undoubtedly emerge from lady clients hoping to ‘engage’ Eliande for the night, I actually spent some serious thought, considering my vastly limited personal experience, on the number of sexual positions my character would likely know. What would be realistic? What would be possible?

In the end after some wide-eyed nail biting, I decided on 126. Obviously after seeing today’s book, that was too low a number.

A common line, played gleefully over-the-top:

“What do you say, fair love?” Eliande says, bestowing his warmest smile upon Lilian after noting how dazed she looked. He had merely kissed her hand, after all, a brief press of warm lips over the knuckles. A gentleman does not slobber over a lady’s hand. “Which do you prefer? I dance, play music or can attempt to hold you enraptured with scintillating conversation in any subject you desire. Or if you wish, we could go upstairs to my chambers. I am highly trained in eight different massage techniques and 126 sexual positions–“

“126 positions!?” Lilian / Jenna / Lady Etcetera would sputter in disbelief.

And by then, Eliande would usually smile and flit on, sauntering through the rest of the crowd in that merry tavern, a promise here, a favour there, stealing a secret or two along the way.


Filed under Books, Charity Shop, Computer Games, Dragonlance, Fantasy, Leisure, MUSH, Writing