Tag Archives: library

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

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 - bbc.co.uk/drama

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.”

THE END

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.

"Baaaaa."

…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!

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Filed under Books, Charity Shop, Gamebooks, Leisure

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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