Friday, 29 December 2006

The Last Entry...

...for 2006!

Since I have no internet at home (I'll get to paying the bill, one day), today will be the last post for the year.

What has 2006 meant for me? 2006 was to me, the Year of Writing. This year, for the first time in my life, I took my writing very seriously. For the past 5 years or so, my New Year's resolutions had always included one where I resolved to write The Novel. Though I have yet to fulfil that promise, I have at least made huge strides in my writing.

This year, I wrote 9 short stories, submitted 6 of them to 11 publications, and have had 2 of them accepted for publication (one of them is included in a book being launched tomorrow). Compare that to the previous years... all I had written were some story outlines for the games company I work for... and that's it. They were pretty lame outlines too, come to think of it.

I joined a writing class, which gave me the confidence to actually keep writing (thanks, Sharon!) and I started a blog about books and writing. Both venues allowed me to meet and know other local writers and editors (here and abroad) who give me wonderful morale support for my writing.

I'd like to think that my writing has improved too. My first stories were terrible, now they're less terrible. And my characters don't drone on and on like they used to.

Oh, and I had two book reviews published in The Star.

All in all, it's been a pretty good year, writing-wise.

Resolutions for 2007:
  1. Get that novel done
  2. Get short stories published abroad
Happy New Year everyone!

Friday, 22 December 2006

J.K. Rowling and the Final Harry Potter Title.

Oh, come on... Deathly Hallows??? Surely you can come up with a better one than that...

11-Year-Old Girl Reads 2,200 Books.

There's a cute story in Utusan Malaysia today regarding a certain young girl who has read (drum-roll please) TWO THOUSAND BOOKS! ZOMGWTF!!!

For your convenience, I have run the article through a babelfish (not Altavista's Babelfish, but the actual fish you stick in your ear) and this is what was translated:
by ABDUL RAZAK DIN

IPOH 21 Dec. - Although only 11 years old, Afiqah Ramatullah Khan, has read 2,200 books including novels that are her faithful companions every day.

A Standard 5 student from Sekolah Kebangsaan Raja Perempuan Ipoh, she said that the titles of the books she read had been noted down since she was in Standard 1 and this means that the true total of books read by her would be more.

It is routine for her to finish reading one or two books daily, each approximately 70-100 pages long.

According to her, this total does not include light reading, such as religious books, newspapers, magazines or comics for children.

Among books that she likes are story books, fiction, non-fiction, informational books, either Malay or English, jawi or romanised.

"I collected the titles of books that I had read and so far the total is 2,200 books.

"I'm confident that next year the total number of books I will have read will reach 3,500 units," she said after it was announced she was the Reader's Role Model in Perak. She is also fluent in Malay and English.

This success has allowed Afiqah to bring home a RM400 cash prize, a trophy and a certificate. Her school will also receive RM500 worth of book vouchers.

The Reader's Role Model Prize was awarded by the Perak Director of Education, Datuk Ir. Mohammed Zakaria Mohd. Noor.

"Actually, I began my interest in reading since kindergarten as a result of my parents's encouragement and now I have my own library at home," she said.

Thursday, 21 December 2006

Mohammed Naseehu Ali.

By way of the Underrated Writers of 2006 project at Syntax of Things, I have discovered a wonderful writer which I would like to expose you to.

Mohammed Naseehu Ali, a Ghana-born writer living in Brooklyn, writes stories that are full of wit and allegorical complexities, yet are simple to read. The language he employs makes his prose a delight to read and the characters he deploys are a strange oxymoronic combination of unreal and normalcy.

Zongo Street, a fictional small African community where his stories usually take place, are described in detail and are steeped in African culture and religion, evoking the smells, the sounds and even the dust, resulting in deeply immersive stories that are rich with atmosphere and humanness.

For a taste of what he's capable of, I suggest reading his short stories, "Mallam Sile" in the New Yorker, and "The Manhood Test", in Gathering of the Tribes.

"Mallam Sile" is a story about a tea stall owner who suffers from dwarfism, poor eyesight, deformations in his feet, and the ability to only speak a smattering of the local dialect in Zongo Street. Though he is liked by the community, he is constantly bullied by the neighbourhood ruffians. He is also lonely and hopes to find a woman to marry one day... but who will marry an ugly dwarf like him?

"The Manhood Test" is a humourous story about a man who is facing a divorce by his wife who complains that he cannot fulfill her desires. To prove his manhood, he is forced to sleep with his wife in front of a court-approved invigilator.

Mohammed Naseehu Ali also has a collection of his stories out called, The Prophet of Zongo Street. For more on Mohammed Naseehu Ali, check out the interview on AfroToronto.

The Gremlins Return!

I can't believe it! Of the many children's books Roald Dahl has written, only the rare Gremlins remain as the only one I have unread. So when I was reading my feeds for today, it was with surprised delight when I read this in The Guardian:
...the Gremlins Project, has led to a release of the original text by the publishers Dark Horse, and a full marketing campaign is planned for 2007. A series of collectable toys based on the characters have been promised, while the text of an early limited edition with Disney illustrations is available on the internet.
Oh Dark Horse! My saviours! I shall purchase your wonderful digitally restored and reissued hardcover book once I find it in stores.

For those wondering what the fuss is all about (or you're too damned cheap to buy it yourself), maybe you would like to check out the complete text of The Gremlins at Roald Dahl Fans.com.

Wednesday, 20 December 2006

Time's Top 10 Asian Books of 2006.

Oracle bones, Bollywood gangsters and Chersonese culinary delights grace Time Asia Magazine's 10 Best Asian Books of 2006 list.

Apart from the Murakami and the Vikram Chandra, I haven't heard of any of these books before. Props to Time Mag for highlighting them.

Science Reveals Shakespeare's Works Excites Brain!

From Physorg.com:
Professor Neil Roberts, from the University's Magnetic Resonance and Image Analysis Research Centre, (MARIARC), explains: "The effect on the brain is a bit like a magic trick; we know what the trick means but not how it happened. Instead of being confused by this in a negative sense, the brain is positively excited. The brain signature is relatively uneventful when we understand the meaning of a word but when the word changes the grammar of the whole sentence, brain readings suddenly peak. The brain is then forced to retrace its thinking process in order to understand what it is supposed to make of this unusual word."
There you go! Your brain goes all orgasmic when the Bard spouts something indecipherable! Science has proven it!

Murakami Round-up.

Haruki Murakami's been in the news a lot lately. He's got a new translation of Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby out in Japan apparently so maybe that's why he's getting all the attention lately.

The Japanese daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, interviewed him recently, and Murakami claimed that his encounter with The Great Gatsby was "fate":
It's really difficult to explain in words, but it's easier to understand when you think about it as an encounter between two people rather than an encounter between a person and a novel.

We meet a lot of people in our lives, and there are fateful encounters among them. Such encounters can sometimes change your life completely.

Such encounters can often open up new doors and close others. You sometimes feel your whole being has completely changed from how it was beforehand.

My encounter with The Great Gatsby was of that nature.
Also in the Yomiuri Shimbun, but a few days back, is an article about a symposium held in Japan discussing Murakami's impact on Asia, specifically in countries like South Korea and China.

What piqued my interest was how Murakami managed to write something that appealed to these people, considering their nations's historic enmity towards each other:
In South Korea, which for many years after World War II had a military-controlled government, literature traditionally functioned as the "discharge channel of politics." Because of the situation, it was difficult for Japanese literature focusing on personal psychology or daily life to win wide support in the country. This was the case even for works by Yasunari Kawabata and Yukio Mishima.

But the Korean translation of Murakami's Norwegian Wood, which was published in 1989 with a title meaning "The Age of Deprivation," was a hit.

Kim Choon Mie, a professor at Korea University who has translated Murakami's works, including Kafka on the Shore, said: "The Haruki literature depicting the sense of defeat and loss held by those involved in the student movements of the 1960s and the internal conflict suffered by young people in Japan during the change to the later stage of capitalism have accurately expressed the sense of apathy and emptiness held by young South Koreans who played a pivotal role in the change of government to democratic rule in the 1990s."
It also makes me wonder why his writings have never really caught on in the same massive way in Malaysia. I'd make a guess that it's due to a lack of translation and a lack of the love ofreading in general.

The Asian countries where Murakami has found success tend to have a large percentage of people in their population that actually love to read, while Malaysia... well, I guess we're just a country who loves to keep telling ourselves to cultivate a love for reading then stopping there.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Pacific, Emily Parker of the Wall Street Journal asks, who will tell the story of Japan?

Not me, says Murakami:
Themes of history and memory clearly run through Mr. Murakami's books. Yet he seems loath to analyze his own work for political messages or historical lessons, saying that he just wants to "write a story." But if Mr. Murakami feels so strongly about facing the past, and so concerned about the future of his nation, why doesn't he address these issues more explicitly in his writing, using his prose to shake Japan out of its historical amnesia? The novelist answers that sending overt political messages is simply not the job of a fiction writer.

That's not to say that Mr. Murakami's colorful prose doesn't address serious issues. It just does so in an indirect way--which, in Mr. Murakami's view, may be even more effective. "If you say, 'I'm very sad, my dog died,' it's a message--a statement. Nobody sympathizes with you," he explains. "In that case, you have to change your statement into another kind of story. When you're sad, when you lost your dog, you should not write about your dog. You should write about another thing. If you write about the dog, it's an essay, not fiction."
Funny he should invoke a death of a dog as an example. I would have thought he'd go with cats.

Meanwhile, I still have a copy of The Great Gatsby that's missing the first 18 pages. Sigh.

Monday, 18 December 2006

A Book Will Never Let You Down.


What's that about e-books? Nah, I'll keep my reliable paper ones, thanks. (Also, they should've installed Firefox in that book.)

Via Scaryideas.

Over-rated and Under-rated Books of 2006.

Those "best-of" book lists that are popping up on all the book review sites and blogs? Forget 'em. Take a look at Prospect Magazine's Over-rated and Under-rated Books of the Year instead.

What's the most over-rated? My current read: Dick Dawkins's God Delusion. No surprise there.

Nice quotes abound:
Suzanne Franks writer & broadcaster
Snow, Orhan Pamuk (Faber). One should not say this when he has just won the Nobel prize and survived state harassment, but I found it tedious.

Alan Wolfe academic
The God Delusion. Written with so little tolerance and so much fervour that fundamentalists will recognise Dawkins as one of their own.

Writers Write Loud!

So I get to have a story published in 2006 after all! Hooray!

Karen-Ann Theseira and Oak Publications will be launching their short story collection, Write Out Loud, a very nifty book featuring short stories by up-and-coming young writers like Alexandra Wong, John Ling, Yvonne Foong, me (me! me! me!) and many other equally talented people*.

Come join us and support the local writing scene:

Date : Saturday, 30 Dec 06
Venue : Popular Bookstore, Ikano
Time : 3-4 pm

Write Out Loud will retail at RM29.90.

*Full List of Writers:
Charmaine Hon, John Ling, Low Mei Heng, Tan Phaik Cheng, Richard Huang, Melvin Tan, Tan Yi Liang, Janarthani Arumugam, Koi Kye Lee, Kelvin Ooi, Kwan Su Li, Selvam P. G., Ashvini, Graeme S. Houston, Yvonne Foong, Agnes Ong, Ted Mahsun, Frederick Kovilpillai, Wong Boon Ken, Joanna Van, Lynette Quah, Vanitha Krishnan, Alexandra Wong, Tracey Jan Francis, Jolin Kwok, Kwan Su Li, Noreha Yussof Day, Zachary Lee Francis, Bob Teoh, and last, but not least, M. Khairul Izad.

The Payless Warehouse Sale.... again.

Didn't think I'd go this time as I'm not really in the best state of finances right now... but I must've been trapped in their tractor beam and they managed to rope me in anyhow.

I managed to escape by the skin of my teeth with these:

1. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
I've been eying this for ages at Borders.

2. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Recommended by a friend a couple years back. Feel slightly guilty it took me this long to actually get the book. How long more will it take for me to read it?

3. Louisiana Power & Light by John Dufresne
Passed the first-page test. Looks like it could be an enjoyable read.

4. Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin
From the writer of the Tales from the City series.

5. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution by Nicholas Meyer
OMGWTFBBQ! I've been looking for this for yoinks! (Big Sherlock Holmes fan here!)

6. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
I hope I haven't already bought this.

7. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates
Who doesn't like Joyce Carol Oates?
...
...
...
okay, put your hands down. Geez. She's not that bad.

My wallet is now unburdened by RM24.50. Um. Yay?

Sunday, 17 December 2006

One Honking Big Book Launch.

So yesterday I went to Lydia Teh's launching of her latest book, Honk! If You're Malaysian. This probably ranks as the grandest book launch I've ever attended. Even that Roald Dahl launch for Rhyme Stew I went to when I was a kid couldn't beat this.

Congratulations, Lydia, for being able to launch your book with much fanfare.

I should also state here that the book is a really wonderful read, just like her previous collection, Life's Like That. Having already had a chance to read it in public, I can now tag it "Laugh-out-loud-funny".

It also certainly benefits from having Hassan Bahri's illustrations accompanying the text. The illustrated cover he did for the book is one of the best covers I've seen on a locally published book. (One that comes close that I can think of right now is Cinta Ubi dan Laksa, a Malay young adult novel-comic hybrid).

Having Adibah Amin write the intro is a huge plus too... though I thought it was a little insubstantial. (Yeah, yeah I know it's only an intro... but I was left feeling with a "huh-that's-it?" feeling.)

I managed to say hi to Xeus, Yvonne Foong, Lydia Teh (obviously) and Eric, who I finally got to meet. And he really is nice like so many other people say! Hooray! (As a side note, according to Xeus, seems MPH Publishing needs editors. Think you're up for the job? Get in touch with Eric.)

Thursday, 14 December 2006

What Kind of Reader Am I?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Dedicated Reader

You are always trying to find the time to get back to your book. You are convinced that the world would be a much better place if only everyone read more.

Literate Good Citizen
Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
Book Snob
Fad Reader
Non-Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Create Your Own Quiz

Monday, 11 December 2006

Attack of the Limericist.

You want poetry?!? I'll give you poetry, you hacks*!!!
Whenever you pet a cat,
Please make sure you're not a rat,
Please do be advised,
That it is unwise,
For a rat to pet a cat.

There once was a man from Peru,
Who didn't have a thing to do,
He picked up a phone,
Which had no dial-tone,
And made a call to Kathmandu.

There once was a man with a daughter,
Who wanted to marry an author,
Her father refused,
Because of the news,
That the man knew only one letter.

There once was a girl with a Volkswagen,
Who wanted to drive to Copenhagen,
But once she got there
She found it quite blehh,
And drove home again with her Volkswagen.

There once was a girl called Daisy,
Who hated the sky when hazy,
She vacuumed the air,
With her mighty derriere,
That wonderful girl called Daisy.

There was a young man in Peking,
Who declared himself to be king,
He made himself a crown,
Which kept falling down,
That silly young man from Peking.
Mwahahaha!!!

*I kid, I kid... you're all nice people really.

UPDATE:
Sharon sent me this in response:
there was a young writer called ted
let rejection letters go to his head.
at the paris review
and new york times too
by someone at least he was read!
LOL!

This Side Up.

Daphne Lee has a review of Adibah Amin's new (and long-awaited) novel in yesterday's Starmag and gives it a hearty thumbs up.

She seems to be a little confused over the title though, first calling it This Side of the Rainbow, then later calling it This End of the Rainbow, which I assume to be the correct title since that's what's printed on the picture of the book's cover.

Ms. Lee's concluding thoughts:
Anyone who is familiar with Adibah’s writing through her column As I Was Passing can expect the same fresh, simple and direct style here. This book is an easy read, and it is also eye-opening, especially if you are not familiar with Malaysia’s pre-independence days and the social unrest of the 1950s.
Anyone seen this in bookstores? I was in the Local Books section in MPH MidValley on Saturday but I didn't notice it anywhere.

And pity about the cover... it looks like it was designed by a high-schooler with a pirated copy of Photoshop.

Further reading:
Daphne Lee's interview with Adibah Amin (22 Oct 2006)

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Inspiring Yvonne.

I was in MidValley yesterday afternoon to watch a certain local superhero movie (don't watch it unless you want your IQ to drop to a single digit) and while I was browsing through MPH an announcement came over the P.A. system.

Yvonne Foong was to give a talk to promote her book, I'm Not Sick Just a Bit Unwell - Life with Neurofibramatosis.

Hey, that's lucky, I thought. I had meant to get her book and this opportunity would allow me to get it and have it signed, as well as to give her my support. I read her blog off and on so it was great to also be able to meet her in person.

Though it was hard to understand her at first (her condition, as I understand it, severely affects her jaw as well as her hearing), the crowd quickly warmed up to her as she talked about her experiences battling Neurofibramatosis as well as her struggle to write a book and get it published.

If you haven't bought the book yet, I highly suggest you do, as it is a very good read (although I admit I'm only a few chapters in). Yvonne writes well and John Ling's editing helps to tighten and improve the writing further. Plus, the book's only 20 bucks.

If you need another opinion, Eyeris has a review of the book on his blog.

Friday, 8 December 2006

My 2007 Book Rereading List.

Wow! They finally upgraded my Blogger account to the new Beta version! Yay!

Since some of us are posting up our "to-be-read" 2007 list, I'm gonna go the other way round and post what I will be reading again next year.

The following list is not in any particular order:

1. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Not as influential to me as it was when I was in Form 4, but still relevant. After all, as Malaysians, aren't we all under the gazing eye of Big Brother?

2. Animal Farm by George Orwell
For years I couldn't find this book in bookstores (ah... the days before Kinokuniya KLCC), until my second year in university. I made friends with a guy from the studying management and he was complaining about this "boring" book he had to study for his English class. When I found out it was Animal Farm, I asked if I could borrow the book. He said I could have it and he didn't want to see the damn book ever in his life. He must really hate socialism.

3. Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The best and only worthwhile book in the Narnia series! Even if it does have that insufferable Eustace.

4. A Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
Can't remember what happened in this book as I usually skip this one (and The Last Battle, ugh) when I do a Narnia marathon. Due for a reread then.

5. Neuromancer by William Gibson
Technically not a reread since I've never finished it, but I have read the first half of the book about three times now... Shall attempt another read as I want to know what happens in the end.

6. Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn
Read this in Standard 6... I don't remember what happened in it. Ah... the start of the Star Wars revitalisation. Anyone remember the good old days before Episode 1?

7. Dark Force Rising by Timothy Zahn
See above.

8. The Last Command by Timothy Zahn
Ditto.

9. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Genius kid plays video game to save Earth. A classic.

10. My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl
One of only two adult novels Dahl wrote, and I love it. Uncle Oswald, that cad.

11. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Need a refresh before HP7 comes out.

12. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I'm planning a full Sherlock Holmes marathon. This'll be the start.

And one book I do not want to reread... ever:

The Silmarillion by whatsisname

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

Writers Should Embrace Failure.

In the month of November, I received 2 rejection letters and another came in the mail yesterday.

Not that this is disheartening. Not at all! Rejection's part and parcel of writing. I'll get there one day.

Fellow writers facing rejection might find solace in Ha Jin's words from an interview published in AGNI Magazine:
The more ambitious you are, the stronger the sense of failure, because there are so many great books that have been written. When I was at Emory University I often taught a story by Kafka: “The Hunger Artist.” That story explains the psychology of a writer. Very often we write not because we want to achieve—maybe there was that desire, but so much has been accomplished. We can’t do anything better. On the other hand, you have to go on and continue. That’s why I think some sense of failure is essential to a writer from the very beginning.
So there you go. Keep on writing, y'all.

Monday, 4 December 2006

REVIEW: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

Lydia's threatening to put me on the dead blog list if I don't update. Fortunately though there's my review in Starmag yesterday to blog of. (I can't say much of the title they went with though...)

Here it is:
The Thirteenth Tale
Author: Diane Setterfield
Publisher: Atria Books
Paperback: 416 pages
ISBN: 1-4165-3726-0

If you apply the acid-test of reading a first page of a novel and seeing whether it pulls you into the story and makes you want to keep on reading to Diane Setterfield's debut novel, I am in no doubt it will pass.

The Thirteenth Tale starts simple: Margaret Lea, plain, bookish and reclusive, receives a letter at her father's bookshop. The letter is by none other than world-renown Vida Winter, claimed to be "England's best writer; our century's Dickens; the world's most famous living author".

Not only does Ms. Winter creates stories when she writes her acclaimed novels, she spins a different story every time someone interviews her about her past. Her many versions of a "true" personal history, as well as a legendary mystery behind the missing thirteenth story in her book, Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation adds to her infamy.

Margaret, preferring the works of authors long since dead, hasn't read the contemporary works of Vida Winter and is surprised that she has been chosen to be Winter's official biographer. She is intrigued by her strange letter, one that promises her the truth if she agrees to become Winter's biographer.

What follows is a deeply engaging story of Vida Winter's past and present that takes place in the haunting moors of Yorkshire. With a crazy woman, a governess, seemingly incomprehensible children and a burning manor, this book isn't just a homage to the gothic novels in the vein of the Bronte sisters, it's also somewhat of a send-up to them.

Margaret takes a liking to roaming about on the moors on a raining winter's night, and is consequently overcome with a high fever. She is later chided by her doctor for being a romantic and prescribes her a change of reading material: "In a vigourous scrawl, he had inked: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. Take ten pages, twice a day, till end of course."

Indeed, she is a little melodramatic. Margaret had a twin sister who died at birth and though she goes through most of the book pining for her lost sibling, it's hard to sympathise with her. The way she bemoans the loss is as if she had lost someone she had known for years, when in truth she had never met her at all other than in her wild, romantic imagination: "Under the covers I pressed my hand against the silver-pink crescent on my torso. The shadow my sister had left behind. Like an archaeologist of the flesh, I explored my body for evidence of its ancient history. I was as cold as a corpse."

Though The Thirteenth Tale has a few letdowns, Setterfield manages to engage our interest and succeeds in holding it to keep us turning the page until the satisfactory conclusion. It is a joy to read because it celebrates the wonders of reading and having a life surrounded by books. This is a stunning book and totally deserves its much-hyped million-dollar advance.
Anyway, I also have Lydia to thank for telling me about this. I'd never have known if she hadn't mentioned it because I hadn't had the time to read any newspapers. Hurray for the Internet!

I shall blog about my Nanowrimo experience later. Gotta make coffee.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

NaNoWriMo 2006 - Week Two.

You'll have noticed that my counter hasn't moved for two days now. There are two reasons for this - 1) all the work I managed to avoid in the office defeated my barriers and have come and hounded me - there is no escape; and 2) my inner editor - usually a nice chap with glasses - paid me and my novel a visit, and judged it crap.

What a bummer. Such party-poopingness!

So it is with great joy that I received the weekly inspirational email by Chris Baty (NaNoWriMo's founder) in my inbox today, in which he says:
The plot is draggy. The characters are boring. The dialogue is pointless, and the prose has all the panache of something dashed off by a distracted kindergartner.

If you're feeling any of these things---or find yourself starting to feel them this week---know that nothing is wrong. In fact, you're likely on track for a great NaNoWriMo. Just lower your head, pick up your pace, and write straight into the maw of your misgivings. If you are thinking about quitting, DO NOT DO IT IN WEEK TWO.

If you have to quit, do it in Week Three.

I'm serious.

Because if you quit in Week Two, you're going to miss an amazing moment---the moment when your novel begins to click. You'll miss a genius plot twist you can't foresee right now that will suddenly elevate your book from a distressing mess to a sort-of-tolerable mess. And then you'll miss the euphoric breakthrough that follows that twist, when your book improves itself all the way to not-half-bad.

Not-half-bad will make you scream, it feels so good.

And you know what? The more you write, the better it gets. So make it a priority to write in torrents this week. Allow your characters to change, and have change forced upon them. Follow your intuition, even if it leads away from where you thought your book was heading. And know that writing a novel is like building a car. Your only job this month is to create a clunky machine that will eventually move people from one place to another. If your beast rolls at all at this point, you're doing great. Pretty prose, snappy dialogue, brilliant metaphors---they're all part of the high-gloss paint job and finishing touches we put on *after* the body is built.
Feel better now. I think things should be okay.

Also, I have started reading Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon, a wonderful story that combines naval battles, Napoleonic wars and dragons. I am enjoying it immensely, and if the ratings on LibraryThing are anything to go by, a lot of other people agree. If you're a fantasy geek and you haven't read this yet, you should be ashamed. Ashamed!

At least read it before Peter Jackson puts out the movie(s).

Tuesday, 7 November 2006

Anyone Can Make It.

Anyone can become a successful writer. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and stop whining about how that other writer keeps getting awards and recognition. Or so says J.A. Konrath.
Here are some things to keep in mind, which might help curtail the poisonous envy:

There will always be someone doing better than you.

Luck plays a big part, no matter how hard you work or how talented you are.

There is no such thing as karma, no one is keeping score, and no such thing as destiny or fairness.

The writers you wish you were all wish they were someone else.

The only writer you're competing with is yourself.

Anyone can make it.

The last one is the most important. Your goal should be to maximize your opportunities, minimize your weaknesses, and keep at it until you're the one that makes it.

Friday, 3 November 2006

NaNoWriMo 2006 - Day Three.

10027 words... and I'm spent.

Probably won't be writing during the weekend, so had to make up for it. All those Raya eats to go to, y'know.

Where is the story going? Dunno, one of the characters just finished an extensive monologue which hopefully isn't boring, then the whole cast got on a train.

Off to where? Dunno. Maybe I'll put some snakes on the train.

Say it! SNAKES! ON A MOTHERF'ING TRAIN!

Wooot! I'm off to the 10k word party. Happy weekend peeps.

Thursday, 2 November 2006

NaNoWriMo 2006 - Day Two.

Looks like I have time to post. Thoughts on the Novel-In-Progress:
  • Woke up feeling a little afraid that my momentum had lessened because I did not know how to continue where I left off yesterday. Well I did, but I couldn't really "imagine" a perfect continuation. Solved it by simply not thinking about it and sitting down and writing it.
  • GF mentioned that the story reminds her of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which is interesting in that I did not have it in mind when I wrote it but I did read it recently. (About 2 months back?) The story does have some similarities to Never Let Me Go. A story narrated by a young person, and a "gob" instead of a "carer". But no clones in this one. Or any nostalgic escapades into the 80s. Or sex. :(
  • I'm scared of writing this down because I might jinx my novel, but damn! I have a good feeling about this story. I didn't really plan the whole thing like I usually do, and I find this to my advantage because I find out at the same time with my characters if any surprises are thrown their way.
  • I was planning it to be non-literary... but seems it's starting to become very literary. Hmmm.
  • Am mostly happy with my wordcount-per-day (at leat 2k words per day) but am absolutely amazed at those who finished 17k words in a day. In fact, someone has even reached 50k already. Caffeine truly is magic.
6491 words today. Not bad, hor?

Wednesday, 1 November 2006

NaNoWriMo 2006 - Day One.

Well! So far so good, I guess... 3731 words on the first day. I'm not going to be posting my updates every day, but here's a short excerpt of what I have so far, to give you an idea of what I'm working towards:
The day Antartica finally declared independence was the day I saw my first true gob. I know, I know, I shouldn't say "gob". But that's what we called them back then, before it started becoming offensive. Of course, I had seen gobs before. Some of my teachers were gobs. But like I said, I wouldn't call them "true" gobs. Not after meeting Dulkhan "Magwitch" R.1128.9x. Compared to Dulkhan, my gob teachers were mindless drones, and when compared to my human teachers, they were even lesser beings. I cannot say this enough - Dulkhan was a true gob, in every sense of the word, good or bad... and I am fairly sure he was proud of it.

The day I met Dulkhan was also my last day in school. My secondary education was completed. What awaited me was the entrance exams for the great universities of Negara. I was not one of the top students in my school, but my results were good enough for them to have considered me for the better universities in the country. I thought about what university I wanted to enter, and that made me think - yet again - of what was it that I truly wanted to further my studies in. I came to a conclusion - sadly, yet again - that I did not know. I still needed time to think.

In fact, I was thinking this over when I left my school for the very last time, and had said my goodbyes and wished my fellow students good luck. I mulled over it while walking over to my younger sister's school. And I pondered over it some more while I waited for her school hours to end.

My younger sister's name is Nouha. We were very close. Every day, after school, it was routine for me to walk over to her school, wait for a few minutes until she came out, then we would walk home together. I guess I could say that she even looked up to me then, her big brother, wise in all the ways of the world.

It was on these walks home that we had all sorts of talks, discussing together about people, the nation, the state of the world. Really deep stuff. Not all the time, of course. That would have been really depressing. Other times we talked about what we wanted to eat when we got home, what we should get for mother, who would be slaving away in her sewing room at home, or what we should write in our weekly letter to Father, who was stationed in Antartica, doing research on behalf of the Government. We had all sorts of talks. Together.

But today would be different. The bell rang, and very soon after that, the students came pouring out of the school. The school's main building was more than a few hundred years old. It was rectangular in shape, beige incolour and was four floors high. Open corridors ran along one side on each floor, and on each end of the building there were stairs that led up to each floor. The building had minimal decoration, the only attraction a line of inspirational verse from the Qur'an scrawling along the third-floor corridor balcony in gold, ornate script. The other buildings that circled the main building were obviously built later, but they too were designed in very much the same spirit of the main building. Each building had an inspirational Qur'anic verse on its third-floor corridor balcony. Between these buildings were open spaces, paved with cement, for student sports or otherco-curricular activities, and these open spaces started to fill with crowds of students on their way home.

I spotted Nouha walking amongst them, and waved. She smiled, then waved back.

"Hello, Nabhan," she said when she reached me. "So today is our last walk home."

"Don't say that," I said. "I can still walk home back with you for a while yet. It's not like I'm rushing off to university already."

"But it won't be the same. You'll be more concerned with grown-up things, and you'll start growing apart from me and you'll ignore the petty affairs of your younger sister."

"Don't be so melodramatic. Of course it won't come to that. You'll always be on the forefront of my mind." I tapped my forehead and smiled.

"Have you decided what university you want to go to?" she asked.

I kept silent and looked straight ahead. She looked at me and frowned. I ignored her.

We walked through town, passing the tired row of shophouses where in previous years I had bought sweets, my comic chips, my game discs, or groceries if I was running errands for mother, reaching the outskirts where our house was. My family was lucky to have a small garden with our house, a luxury in urban areas. With so much land being protected under Government law for tree-growing, having a garden seemed a little extravagant. But being a government-funded scientist, my father received a few benefits here and there. They didn't pay much, but they tried to make up for it by giving him gifts once in a while. Like this house with its garden. And the steam-powered generator we have in the back.

We were near the house. If I closed my eyes, I would have known we were near because of the chugging and hissing of the generator we used to power our house and even now I could hear it. I could even see the white plumes of smoke that floated slowly into the sky from behind the house.

I once asked mother why the Government would give us a steam-powered generator, when they could have easily afforded to have given us a cell-powered one instead. She gave me a stern look and started scolding me for not being grateful.

"At least you have a generator! Other people have to survive with just fire and wood to make do," she said.

I never mentioned it again. Some of our neighbours didn't have a generator of any kind that I could see, and once in a while I would see them light a fire in a kitchen window. I had never thought about that before. Other people not having any generators.

"Hey, Nabhan, you haven't answered my question," my sister said. "Lost in your thoughts? What were you thinking about back there?"

"Nothing, just wondering," I said.

"Wondering about what?"

"I said it's nothing."

"Okay, but you should really start choosing a university already. Mother's very worried about you, you know."

"I know. I know."

We reached the door to our house. I dug into my pockets for the front-door keycard, but Nouha started tugging my arm.

"I'm going round the back," she said.

"I'll follow. Let's surprise mother," I said.

"Good idea."

There was a very narrow corridor between our house and the neighbouring one, and each side was walled up high. There were no windows in the walls and inside this narrow corridor, sunlight seemed to shy away from bursting in. The air was damp and colder in here and I told Nouha to hurry up. I was never comfortable when I walked in the corridor. It truly gave me the creeps.

I gave out a sigh of relief when we came out the other end, back into the warmth of the sunlight. The steam-powered generator was noisier back here. The back door led straight into the kitchen, and mother usually left it open so the wind would always air the house. If she didn't then the door was usually unlocked anyway.Nouha peered into the kitchen window, trying not to fall against the hot metal plating of the steam-powered generator that sat chugging underneath the kitchen window.

"Hey, careful," I said. "Don't scald yourself."

"I can't see mother," she said. "I think she's in the sewing room."

Nouha opened the back door, quickly kicked off her white school shoes and rushed into the kitchen. She ran straight for the sewing room which was adjacent to the kitchen.

"Mother! We're home! Surprise!" she said. But then Nouha just stood in the doorway to the sewing room looking in. She seemed disappointed.

"What's wrong?" I asked. "Where's mother?"

I took off my shoes slowly because they were tight and always a pain to take off quickly. I walked to where Nouha was and then she said, "There's a note."
I probably won't be posting much during the month, so I guess this is me signing off... yet again? :D

Tuesday, 31 October 2006

NaNoWriMo 2006 - Shifting Into Gear.

NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow! That's just 12 hours away...

I participated in last year's NaNoWriMo. Even went to the meet they had organised in MPH 1 Utama. But my efforts sizzled pretty quickly as work took over my life. But thanks to a different job and a lifestyle change this year, I'm pretty confident I can make the 50k mark this time round.

Phew! 50,000 words. The number almost leaves breathless every time I think of it.

Hey, it's just, you know, words.

Anyway, I've decided that I won't be writing the usual angsty stuff I usually write in my short stories and will be aiming for a novel with a science fiction/young adult persuasion. One that doesn't require me to think too much. Plot driven, rather than character driven. Something that would most likely fit in the mass market.

My influences would most likely be... er... lemme list 'em: The Hungry City Chronicles, The BFG, Snow Crash, Eberron, The Golden Compass (but not the rest of the His Dark Materials books), Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, Hayao Miyazaki's early movies (think Castle of Cogliostro, Nausicaa, Laputa... and not Totoro) and - yikes! - Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Anyway, that's the plan, but I'm not sticking to it. I'm letting the characters tell their story. Here's hoping I make it out alive with 50k words at the end of November.

Monday, 30 October 2006

The Great Singaporean Novel.

David Leo takes a look at Singaporean lit and wonders whether they can ever come up with a Great Singaporean Novel:
But before we - in typical Singaporean manner - rush to start on a blueprint of production- line initiatives and targets, let's be mindful that this cannot be a completely objective-driven task.

What is important is the creation of space for writers to find their niche, grow and excel.

Asked what he thought would go into the making of that much-touted but still elusive Great Singapore Novel, a publisher answered with a question: What makes Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind a great American novel? Or John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, or J D Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye?

Clearly, they all breathe America. In the same vein, the works of many great Irish writers, such as Roddy Doyle's Paddy Clarke Ha! Ha! Ha! and Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, are unmistakably Irish in soul.

Too many of our local works, though well written, do not exude the Singapore breath and breadth of life. They could be works produced of any place. Except for the names of the characters and a sprinkling of Singlish, they are almost un-identifiable in that respect.
Do we have any Malaysian novels exude the breath and breadth of Malaysian life? And exactly how do we identify a "Malaysian" novel anyway? If a novel is written in Malay and concerns mostly Malay characters, is that truly "Malaysian"?

Via the Literary Saloon.

Sunday, 29 October 2006

Is there anything WD-40 cannot do?

Ah! So WD-40 does the trick!

For years I tried to remove the huge ugly patch of sticker residue on the back of my white-covered copy of Philip K Dick's Man in the High Castle, and nothing worked. I don't know where I read about it. Perhaps on a forum somewhere but I admit I was skeptical.

I ain't now! No more stubborn sticky stuff! Bonus - it cleaned the book too. The only drawback is that the book smells weird now. I'm wondering whether I should spray Febreze on it now too.

UPDATE:
Just remembered... the stickers on the books from the Times Warehouse sales have the most stubborn sticker residue. Right, time to hit the library with a can of WD-40.

Saturday, 28 October 2006

My Ipoh Childhood.

This is coming a bit late but what to do? It's Raya. I've been tagged by Eliza to join in on the 50 Posts to Independence gig initiated by Nizam Bashir.

So what makes Malaysia special to me? I think I can honestly say my childhood. More specifically, my childhood during the years my family lived in Ipoh.

I was not born in Ipoh, and my family did not move there until I was 10. My father was a civil servant, a highly optimistic man who joined the government because he wanted to make a change "from within". He also fancied Chinese chicks... something that's been passed on to me and my brother.

But while we both fail in scoring ourselves a Chinese chick each, my dad successfully seduced and married one. He is indeed our idol. (The secret, I've been led to believe, is getting them when they're young, and I suppose it also helps when the girl you're after happens to be the sister of your art teacher when you were in Malay College.)

But I digress.

Between 1981 and 1990, my family moved from KL to England to Taiping, then to KL again, and finally to Ipoh. Ipoh's quite famous for its good schools, ones like ACS, Cator Avenue and St. Michael's, but dad would instead choose to send me to a school much closer by - Sekolah Kebangsaan Sg. Rokam.

Situated in the Malay housing estate of Kampung Sg. Rokam (Lat fans will recognise this as the kampong he grew up in, as documented in his classic, Town Boy), the school is as Malay as a school can be. Malay pupils, Malay teachers, Malay ideology. If I remember correctly, there was even a limit of non-Malay teachers that could be posted to that school.

Having only just returned from England at the time, I could only speak English, and my dad thought it would be good for me to be sent to a "Malay" school so I could easily learn my "mother tongue". So, imagine if you will, a half-Malay, half-Chinese kid (more Chinese in terms of looks), who could only speak English in a school full of Malay kids.

Hilarity ensues! Check out the fun:

The other kids calling me "Cina makan babi".
Ostracised, because I'm "different" and I speak the language of the infidels.
Ridiculed, because I didn't know how to pray or do my ablutions properly.
As well as other amusing and hilarious episodes!

Well, we were all kids once, yeah? We all deserve some fun when we're young. So, anyway, that's what makes Malaysia memorable to me. My Ipoh childhood. Loads of fun, yeah.

Next to be tagged: The Eternal Wanderer! *clap clap clap*

Friday, 20 October 2006

Holidays!

Well, I'm off for Raya.

I think I'll be able to claim extra reading time even amidst the nosy distant relatives and noisy brat cousins. No internet or cellphone access helps a lot.

I'm packing a Raymond Carver, a V.S. Naipaul, a Barbara Kingsolver, and maybe that Karen Armstrong book that's gathering dust for almost a year now. Will also be finishing Allen Kurzweil's The Grand Complication, which is like a Da Vinci Code with librarians and (much) better prose. Even the obligatory French chick is there.

Anyway, I don't know what all the fuss is about meeting relatives and going back to your hometown. Give me solitude anytime.

Happy Deepavali and Selamat Hari Raya, folks. Out.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Never Enough Murakami...

They say you're too much of a crazed Haruki Murakami fan when you order from Japan his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing. I guess now you can count me in as one of those crazed fans... I just got my copy yesterday.

It's a very small book, measuring only 4.25" x 5.75". This spoils my Murakami collection a bit though - I collect the UK editions - but I don't care! It looks so cute! How typical of those Japanese! Have you seen the new Picador Shots! books? It's as small as a Shots! book. But instead of costing RM7, this one costs RM50...

Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973 are the only two novels by Murakami that haven't made it into the West. Though translated by Alfred Birnbaum and published by Kodansha for Japanese students studying English, Murakami has stated that these two early efforts by him were weak and not fit to be republished.

And while the English translation of Hear the Wind Sing continues to be reissued in Japan, Pinball, 1973 hasn't and most likely won't be any time soon. This has resulted in any available copy being sold for up to US$500 by people taking advantage of its rarity. That's just crazy... especially when you can find a PDF of the book floating around on the net.

My solution to the Pinball problem - though highly unethical and undoubtedly illegal - has been to take the PDF, reformat the text, and print it into a book using Lulu. Problem solved.

I'm planning on marathoning through the whole Murakami "pantheon" that's available in English, which is why I've been making all this effort. I had planned earlier to start chronologically from A Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami's earliest novel published in English, but as it was the sequel to Pinball, 1973 and Hear the Wind Sing, I felt that reading it first would lack some context.

I might start my Murakami Marathon in December after the chaos of NaNoWriMo has settled down. Can't wait.

(For a review of Hear the Wind Sing, click here.)

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

An Ipoh Ghost Story.

When I was growing up in Ipoh in the 90s, the only good bookshops around were Mubaruk's, which specialised in textbooks (and still does), and Novelhut, the second-hand bookstore that used to be in Yik Foong (and maybe still is there, but I haven't checked in years since I prefer going to their Ipoh Parade outlet when I'm in town).

There was also a pretty good bookstore in the Parkson Grand in Ipoh Parade which could have been a Berita outlet, but I don't remember. This was in the days before they expanded Ipoh Parade into what it is today. (And temporarily causing the Convent school next door to consider moving.)

I recall this because I was thinking of when exactly I started reading "serious" fiction, trying to pinpoint the years when I moved from young adult/fantasy/sci-fi books into non-genre fiction. I still can't remember, but it brought back memories of a book I bought from a short-lived bookshop in Old Town.

Mum had brought me there, because she must have been looking for some rare exotic spice or ingredient that could only be found with the almost-forgotten Chinese traders in that part of town. Even back then the shophouses looked tired, with the cream white paint peeling from the walls, the rotten window shutters ready to drop in the next rainstorm, but business ran as usual. These were the wholesalers and they survived because they stocked what others did not.

I remember feeling a little surprised to find a newly-opened bookshop among these traders. Between the smells of dried fish and traditional Chinese medicine, there was this shop which offered a different kind of smell - the smell of musty old books. It sold both second-hand and new books, and mostly in Chinese. I browsed through the shelves and a small paperback caught my eye. It was purple and on the cover was printed a photograph of a ghostly white shape in the form of a woman.

It must really have been ages ago. I don't even remember the title but it was probably "True and Chilling Ghost Stories" or something to that effect. I read the first story. I was hooked. I had to bring this book home. So I asked mum to buy it for me. I read it all the way home in the car. I read it until it was time for dinner. I read it through dinner.

"Don't read while you're eating," Dad said.

Usually I'd acquiesce but this time I couldn't.

"But, I have to read this, Bapak," I said. "I just can't put it down. I just can't"

To my surprise, he shrugged and continued eating without saying a word.

That night, I couldn't sleep. The book, aided with the claim that the stories within were "true" scared the bejeebus out of me. But I couldn't stop reading it! I read it under the sheets in bed. And the next day, I read it in school, between classes. When I finished reading it, I read it again.

The fact that I couldn't stop reading the book, that somehow that was some mystic force pulling me in to keep reading it must have spooked me. Never before was I so entranced with a book. I became convinced the book was haunted. I started seeing things. Hearing things. When I was alone in the house, I imagined shapes moving in the corner of the eye, plates subtly shifting downstairs in the kitchen, phones ringing for no reason at all...

I had to get rid of the book.

I first tried lending it off to friends. No one wanted to borrow it, because I didn't have friends who liked (or could) read English. Then I tried to sell it off to the school library. The librarian teacher didn't want it but she borrowed the book from me anyway, wondering what all the fuss about the book was.

When she was done, I asked, "It was scary, wasn't it?"

"Ah, it was okay lah. I don't know why you're so scared about it though. It's just a normal ghost story book," the teacher said.

"No! It's cursed, I tell you! Cursed!" I said.

But the teacher just shrugged. "If you're so desperate to get rid of it, why don't you try selling it off to Novelhut?"

Now that was an idea. But I couldn't go there without my parents knowing, and if they knew I was going to sell a book, they would really get mad.

So, what I ended up doing was hiding it behind my wardrobe. And the curse was lifted. Temporarily.

Years and years later, when I was in Form 4, I decided to rearrange my room, and I rediscovered the book. The curse came back. I was overcome again by a strange urge to keep reading and reading the book. Though I wasn't as scared as I was when I was younger, it was still very creepy.

Fortunately, I was already old enough to go to Novelhut by myself, so I did what I could finally do - I sold the damned book off... and the curse was finally lifted.

I wonder sometimes whether I would still be spooked by the book at this age. Maybe, maybe not. I tell myself I'm too old to be scared of ghosts, but I'm still on edge whenever I hear something go bump in the night, and I prefer not to read horror stories if I can help it. Maybe the curse never was lifted...

Photo nicked without permission from Ghost-Mysteries.com

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Orhan Pamuk is Nobel Laureate for 2006.

Yay! Haven't read any of his stuff yet, but I have Istanbul on my TBR list, which from what I've browsed through, looks like a smashing good read, chockful of huzun and Turkishness.

Darker City.

The sequel to the best-selling Dark City by Xeus will be different. Well, only slightly. For one thing, the stories will no longer be written only by Xeus, but will be contributed by other writers and selected by Xeus herself:
For the Dark City sequel, which is scheduled to be published in April 2007, author Xeus is calling for short story submissions. Dark City 2 will be an anthology of dark and twisted Malaysian tales much in the tone of the first book.

The submission criteria are:
  1. Each short story should contain around 3000 - 8,000 words. Please use double spacing and Microsoft Word.
  2. Each plot must be in the same vein as Dark City 1, which are stories about the darker side of Malaysian life. The short story genres can be contemporary, horror, fantasy, science fiction, suspense, romance, Roald Dahl-style ironic etc.
  3. The stories must meet the English and storytelling standards of the first book. (In other words, the editor will only select only what is publishable)
  4. Each short story must contain a twist which hopefully no reader will see coming.
  5. This is open to published and unpublished writers of all ages. For unpublished writers, this allows you an opportunity to be published and to use this in your literary resume. You will then be able to sell your work more easily to a future publisher.
Your story will be selected on the strength of its plot, your ability to beguile the reader, and the shock impact of your twist. Your story must be concise, gripping and satisfying! Selected contributors will be paid RM 150 and 4 free books for each story. You can submit as many stories as you like.

The editor reserves the right to conceptually edit selected stories in the purpose of making them more appealing and ask you for a rewrite.

Closing date is Feb 28th, 2007. Good and publishable stories will be selected on a first come, first serve basis. So if you’re interested, get cracking now!

Stories are to be submitted to dark.city.xeus@gmail.com

For more information about Dark City, log on to darkcity-xeus.blogspot.com
So the call for contributions are out. Got a Dark Story?

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Her Loss is a Win.

Kiran Desai is this year's winner of the Man Booker Prize for her book, The Inheritance of Loss, making her the first woman to win the coveted prize since Margaret Atwood scooped it for The Blind Assassin in 2000.

From the press release:
Chair of the judges, Hermione Lee, made the announcement at the awards dinner at the Guildhall, London, which was broadcast live on the BBC 10 O’ Clock News. Harvey McGrath, Chairman of Man Group plc, presented Kiran Desai with a cheque for £50,000.

Hermione Lee comments,

“We are delighted to announce that the winner of the Man Booker Prize for 2006 is Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, a magnificent novel of humane breadth and wisdom, comic tenderness and powerful political acuteness. The winner was chosen, after a long, passionate and generous debate, from a shortlist of five other strong and original voices.”
If you missed it, read Sharon's review of the book, published in the Star last Sunday.

Let the cheers and jeers commence.

The Blog in Bangsar.

The Bloke in Bangsar has started a blog, or that is to say, he started three blogs.

Raman of Silverfish has started using Blogger as his "content management system" and now, thanks to its amazing aggregating powers he will post news items more "frequently" because "because some news have very short shelf lives".

(Of course, one wonders why he didn't go with a better CMS, like, say, cough cough, Wordpress.)

The three blogs actually power three categories on the Silverfishbooks website: Literary News, Writers's News, and the probably the most interesting of all, the Silverfish Writer's Circle.

Quoth the Bloke:
It is not infrequently that I receive request feedback on a short story or a manuscript. It is difficult to say no, but at the same time it is diffcult to say yes, lest it starts an avalance. Take for example the stories submitted to the Silverfish New Writing series. We typically recieve about 200 stories each time. It would be humanly impossible for us to go through each one of them and give them individual comments. Most understand our dilemma, but many don't and, hence, the flaming in some blogs. Frankly, I think they should pay reviewers for their time, but I also understand that writers are generally a poor lot. And unlike some other countries, we don't have anything like a writers' support group. Even writer-groups are few.
And so, Raman, with the powers vested in he, set out to create what he calls "a community of writers and a forum for comments and feedback. A writer's support group, as it were."

I think this is a good idea. I'm sure there will be some sceptical and cynical comments about this, but I'll be cautiously optimistic about this.

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Nobel Prize in Literature.

They're announcing this year's winner for the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday. I'm guessing the winner will be someone I've never heard of. (Certainly not Haruki Murakami, surely.)

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Vetri Nichayam.

I don't like Samy Vellu. But when he takes time off to launch a writer's book, I'll resist the urge to poke fun at him.

From The Star:
WRITERS should produce literary works that provide ideas for the socio-economic development of the people, Tamil Nesan quoted MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu as saying.

He said a positive and right frame of mind was needed to improve one’s quality of life.

In this context, writers could help contribute such ideas for the betterment of society.

One’s success in life would be more meaningful if it also benefited society as well, he said.

In this respect, writers should be broad-minded and far-sighted to help uplift the people’s socio-economic status. They could share constructive ideas in their writings, he said.

Samy Vellu praised Tamil writer P. Sundarapaadiyan for possessing such positive traits. He was launching the writer’s Tamil short story collection entitled Vetri Nichayam (Success is in Our Hands) in Sitiawan, Perak, recently.
Wonder if there are any plans to translate Success is in Our Hands into English?

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Reading List Update.

I am currently reading:

The Malayan Trilogy by Anthony Burgess
People keep saying Burgess is so irreverent in this one and I keep expecting the rudeness to appear, but it never comes. I've almost finished the first book, "Time for a Tiger", and so far, apart from the "orang darat" of whom I've never met, the descriptions seem to be generally accurate. Other than that, the book's a very fast and enjoyable read, especially so when you "know" what the real places are supposed to be and when you can understand the snippets of language the characters speak from time to time.

I have recently finished:

4 Sep 2006: after the quake by Haruki Murakami
Six wonderful but sad stories about the wide-ranging effects of a huge event (in this case the Kobe earthquake of 1995) and the emptiness of the human soul. Book ends on a carefully optimistic note.

5 Sep 2006: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
A realistic portrait of life, confused identity and origins. Sad, uplifting and inspiring at the same time.

12 Sep 2006: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Nine short stories that deal with the Indian diaspora in the US. Prose is simple and quick to understand. Wonderful light reading.

22 Sep 2006: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Breathtaking! Both a homage and a send-up to gothic fiction such as from those of the Bronte sisters and Austen, this is one superb book.

3 Oct 2006: Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
This book is an oxymoron, a paradox for me - I like it and I hate it; what I like about it I hate and what I hate about it I like. My favourite chapters are the first chapter and the last two chapters. I enjoyed "Learning from Chekhov" the most.

I might be reading these next:
Previous reading list updates:

From Ubud with Love (and Literary Pretensions).

From the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival we have 18-year-old Indonesian author Vira Safitri, who's already had two of her books published:
Asked how long it took to write her first novel, "Secret Admirer", a giggling Safitri said: "Four days and three nights."

"And in another week's time I had a publisher," she added.
There's been a spate of young writers in the media recently, hasn't there?

The article continues on about how Asia is "trying to reclaim its literary heritage". Seems the in-thing for an Asian writer to do is to write about Asian issues like "the repression of women, the politics of the hijab, political dissidence and eastern mythology".

Speaking of the politics of hijab, Dina Zaman (who's currently in Ubud with Sharon) gets to chip in a few words:
Malaysian writer Dina Zaman, who writes a column about Muslim life in Malaysia called "I am Muslim," said she wanted to write from the perspective of a modern Malay woman.

"Being a modern Malay woman could mean anything. I don't wear a hijab, I expose my legs, but I pray five times a day," said the glamorous young writer, sitting in a huge Balinese style gazebo perched at the edge of a hill overlooking lush paddy fields.

Monday, 2 October 2006

Eat Your Heart Out, Ebooks!

So you think ebooks are the future? Yeah, whatever.

Try reading digital books in a virtual world published by a real-world publisher. Penguin is planning to introduce digital books to the online world of Second Life, starting with the aptly chosen Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson.

What is Second Life? Ah, let me quote Jeremy Ettinghausen, Penguin's digital publisher:
For those who don't know, Second Life is a virtual world (a 3D MMOG in geekspeak), where the residents themselves create and build the world which includes homes, vehicles, nightclubs, stores, landscapes, clothing, and games. People also design their representation in Second Life, which can be pretty realistic, or totally outlandish (I met a Penguin author in Second Life whose avatar is a hippo!). In some ways, it's a cross between myspace and collaborative virtual lego, though some see it as a possible future of the internet.

Rushdie Profile.

The Guardian profiles Salman Rushdie:
The first drafts of his novels are written straight on to the computer, from which he then takes a print-out for cold-eyed revision. "I can't really see it unless it's in type." His new novel, though it may be mediated by these technological miracles, is set at a distance from them. "I've invented a story which unites the India of the Mughal Empire with the Italy of the High Renaissance. It's a fantasia, set at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries called The Enchantress of Florence. And I must say that, given how horrible the world is, it's really quite nice to spend some time in the 16th century."
I am very intrigued about his next book. Look forward to reading it!

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Young, Smart – and Published.

Alexandra Wong spars wits with Lim May Zhee over ice-cream, life as a teenager and her debut novella in today's Star:
“For Vanitee Bee, nothing in particular inspired me because that’s the kind of book I have been writing about my whole life. Teen life with a mixture of fantasy. Everything in life, the books I read, the movies I watch, everything inspires me,” May Zhee says.

What was the most difficult part about getting the book published?

“Writing the book was easy, because when you feel so passionate about something, it just comes naturally. The hardest part was probably getting the support from my parents.

“I understand my parents’ fears – they were just worried I would sideline my studies for this. But I knew I was capable of balancing this and school, and in the end I did it myself because there was no other way.”

So, was she saying here studies were not affected at all?

“Nope, my studies were unaffected. I scored straight As for my PMR, which I sat for while writing and editing the book.”
Bah. Parents.

On another note, I have yet to see her book in bookstores, but then I haven't been to MPH yet. Anyone read it yet? Did you enjoy it?

Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Reading SO not cool, says uncool guy.

I'd have to agree with Eyeris on this:
Reading is cool, ok? It makes you look intellectual, and shows you actually have a brain beneath all that gelled dyed hair. Oklar, maybe in your eyes being seen with a book is not as cool as being seen in some Beemer or a SLK; but heck, I'd rather be able to strike up a conversation with a girl PROPERLY, rather than just sidling up to her and going, "Hey, How you doing? Wanna take a ride in my SLK?". How shallow did you think she is?

Yorkshire Moors Bores.

I'm surprised to read that while Diane Setterfield's debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, is doing good and has sold 70k copies in the US in the first week of its launch, British sales have been far from remarkable at only 600 copies sold in that same week.

Is it because the British are sick of reading about the exploits of crazy women running about in the rain on the moors of Yorkshire? Do gothic novels bore the pants off people? Aw, come on... Jane Eyre and Rebecca weren't so bad, were they?

Nancy Yi Fan's Swordbird.

It sounds almost too good to be true. A Chinese 11-year-old kid writes a fantasy novel about warring birds. She submits it to a US publisher (who usually doesn't accept unagented submissions) and they agree to publish it.

Kid must be a freaking genius. I'm jealous:
Born in Beijing in 1993, Fan lived in New York with her parents from the age of seven, graduating 'with excellence' from an elementary school there in 2004. When she was in sixth grade, at the age of 11, she was taught about terrorism and the events of 9/11. That night, she explains, she had a startling dream all about birds at war and the next day she started writing Swordbird in her bedroom as a way of trying to convey her worries about violence in the world. She now lives back in China, on the beautiful Hainan Island with her parents and their three pet birds. The girl, now 13, is a compulsive writer and reader who spends most of her time in the library, but she also loves bird-watching and martial arts.
This Fan reminds me a little of Matilda... except maybe she doesn't have any telekinetic powers.

I have to admit, I'm curious to read Swordbird. What's interesting to me about this is they don't bill it as a children's book, not even YA... so is it something for adults? Who's their target market? What's so great about it? Unfortunately, we'll only find out in 2007. Damn.

Tuesday, 26 September 2006

Murakami Bags Frank O'Connor.

Nice to know that Murakami won the Frank O'Conner International Short Story Prize, and is sharing the booty with his translators, Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel.

Monday, 25 September 2006

It's Banned Books Week!

From the American Library Association:
Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, this annual ALA event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted. This year, 2006, marks BBW's 25th anniversary (September 23-30).

BBW celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can exist only where these two essential conditions are met.
Of course, as Malaysians, we don't have that much democratic or intellectual freedom, but we do have more of it than some nations. I guess that's something to be thankful for. More intellectual freedom would be nice though.

It'd be great if our government stopped treating us like children for once and let us decide what's good for us and what's not. John Ling says it's our own fault, we're the ones who voted for this government. But that's the thing - I didn't vote for the government we have now. (And at least I went to vote in the last election unlike most of my generation.)

Ranting aside, to celebrate the 25th Banned Books Week, Google Book Search has a list of banned books you can browse and search through. Pretty damn neat. More banned books on Wikipedia if you're interested in building your own library of banned books. Nice to know I've got quite a number of these banned books.

Via The Librarything Blog.

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Faster Than Fast.

It's Ramadan.
I've resolved to stay far away.
Far away from bookstores.
For the duration of Ramadan.
I'm fasting all right.
I'm fasting from buying books.
Wish me luck.

Saturday, 23 September 2006

Readings.

Seems everytime I go in the direction of Bangsar, it rains. And boy, does it rain. Visibly was really bad on the NPE at around 3pm. The rain eased a little when I got near the Bangsar LRT station, but traffic just decided not to move, so I got stuck there for a while. Might have reached this month's Readings at Seksen's 67 Lorong Tempinis on time if it weren't for the jam. But then again, I probably wouldn't have come at all in the first place.

Azman, the Streamyx contractor had called me a couple of weeks earlier to tell me that he and his Gang of Installers would be paying me a visit on the 23rd to get my wireless internet up and running. (Irony paid a visit too when Maxis dropped a leaflet in the mailbox announcing the arrival of their new wired broadband plan this morning. I hate Puchong.) He said they would come at 4pm, right when Readings would be scheduled. Thank goodness he decided to come a little earlier, so that was how I found myself in Bangsar for the Readings.

I came in while Patricia Sykes was reading her poems. I loved Amir Hafizi's story about his father, and he's an absolutely wonderful reader. Joy read an excerpt from her play, which I thought was interesting because of the subject matter but I wished she had read it in prose form (but that's just me, yo).

Faridah Abdul Manaf (author of The Art of Naming) made a surprise appearance and read some of her poems. She only read briefly, because she was on her way out. Xeus read "One If By Land" from Dark City, and Aneeta Sundararaj read "Brought Back to Life" from Snapshots!

I thought this session was quite good, but I'm jealous Sharon got a hardcopy of Amir's story! Also met some lovely (and drunk) people too. Yay!

Friday, 22 September 2006

REVIEW: The Darkness of Wallis Simpson by Rose Tremain

Some authors were made to write novel-length prose. Some were born to write words in short story chunks. Then there are those who manage to do both well. I'm not sure which categorisation Rose Tremain would fit in - if one would even dare to do so - but let me take a gamble: I have a sneaking suspicion she belongs in the first category.

Having won the Whitbread Novel of the Year in 1996 for Music and Silence and received praising reviews for her latest novel, The Colour, Rose Tremain is undeniably a good novelist. It was with this knowledge I armed myself with before expecting to enjoy her latest collection of twelve short stories, The Darkness of Wallis Simpson.

The title story imagines the last years of Wallis Simpson, the twice-divorced American who King Edward VIII abdicated for in 1936. Tremain takes this true story and spins it into a tale filled with whimsy and irony.

Wallis Simpson is dying but why can she only remember her first two husbands - one abusive the other kind yet boring - but not her third, world-famous husband? Her lawyer, Maitre Suzanne Blum, forces her to remember but it only ends in frustration: "Wallise! Talk to me. Don't pretend anymore. Pretence is so ungrateful! He gave up an Empire for you. An Empire! And you pretend to remember nothing. But I 'ave sworn to myself I shall not rest, I shall not return to my legal practice nor go again into the world until you admit to me that do remember."

The other stories take their cue from the initial story and continue the theme of loss, divorce, family, longing, etc. such as in "The Beauty of the Dawn Shift", concerning a guard on the east side of the Berlin Wall finding the familiarity of the old regime threatened by the looming threat of capitalism when Germany reunites. He cycles across a wintery Poland hoping to find his past in Russia: "Since childhood, he'd admired the stern ways of his country, and he hoped to find these still prevailing in Russia."

This story, along with some of the other stories, like "The Ebony Hand" about a spinster who has to take care of her niece; "The Over-Ride", about a man who as a child, loved to sit outside an apartment of a musician couple; and "Moth", about a baby who grows wings, are the ones that make the book worth a read.

The other stories seem only to act as filler, and are oft times uninspired and meandering. In "Nativity Story", her annoying use of adverbs even mars the story flow:
" 'Oh, nothing,' he said vaguely. 'She's just having her baby.'
'Having her what?' I said stupidly."

Ultimately though, it is Rose Tremain's ability to weave wonderful prose about the fragility of the human condition - frequently taking place in an understated historical moment in time - that manage to make this collection worth at least a read.

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