Monday, 21 August 2006

Chatting with Malay Authors. So the Drama!

I went to the "Sembang-Sembang Dengan Penulis Melayu (Chatting with Malay Authors)" event at MPH MidValley yesterday. It was supposed to start at 2pm, and rushing there from a wedding ceremony in PJ at that time, was a nightmare. Stuck in the usual massive traffic jam outside MidValley during the weekends and couldn't find any parking. If one of the largest bookstores in Malaysia wasn't there, there wouldn't even be a reason for me to go.


So, like the event name suggests, a lot of Malay authors were there, and interestingly enough, most of them were authors in the PTS stable. I'm not really clued in on the Malay literary scene, but I recognised a couple of names and faces, the most obvious ones being A. Samad Said, Raja Ahmad Aminullah, Nisah Haron, Irfan Khairi and Azizi Ali.

In fact, the event started out with Azizi Ali giving a talk about how authors should market their books. (He started out with cry of "Who wants to be a millionaire writer!?" which I believed irked some writers in the audience.) They should be proactive and not just sit in their room and write and expect people to discover their "genius". This would include giving interviews, writing articles in the media and giving talks. Irfan Khairi added that one should also have an online presence to market themselves. Razali Endun, a veteran Malay writer, then proceeded to chastise them for stating the obvious. He wanted to hear something new. In defence to this, Azizi Ali said that he was stating this for those who didn't know.

Next up, was a forum moderated by Raja Ahmad Aminullah, of Suarasuara. The topic was "Quality Vs Quantity in (Malay) Publication", and the speakers were Najwa Aiman (who's really a guy*! SHOCKING!) and Nisah Haron.

Nisah Haron started by saying that a lot of contemporary Malay books lacked quality. By quality, she meant books that gave something back to the reader after reading them. Books that provided knowledge. She tries to provide this in her books, which provide some mental challenges to the reader. But she also said that books like these didn't necessarily cater to the demands of the (Malay) reading public, but there is a demand, even if it is minimal. This results in a situation where "quality" books were not being stocked by the stores because they wouldn't sell. This is why she set up Ujana Ilmu (The Malay equivalent to Amazon), where anyone who wanted to get any Malay book, could do so, rare or not.

Najwa Aiman was of the opinion that just because mainstream Malay novels (read: Romance and Young Adult novels) were popular, and sold in huge quantities, it didn't mean the novels lacked quality. He said to make it big, a writer has to cater to the demand of the writing public. But this resulted in the discussion degrading into a Literature vs Mainstream Fiction debate, and after that of zoned out a bit, because frankly, I'm sick of the topic, in any language or culture. Books are books.

There's a lot more to talk about the event (there's a bit of discontent on how the whole thing was handled apparently), but I'm really not the one to talk about it.

At least I got to meet Nisah Haron and get her to sign my copy of Mencari Locus Standi. Hooray! Seems she expected me to be older. I was a bit dumbstruck by that. C'mon... do I really strike anyone as being mature on this blog? ^_^

More sembang-sembang drama on Nisah's Malay blog. (And a pic of me and gf behind Pak Samad.)

*Apparently, when he changed to a female pseudonym, his books sold better. Go figure. Such is the state of Malay publishing.


  1. Ted,
    Don't take it so seriously. I am expecting somebody my age, actually. :) So, take it as a compliment, then.

    Yep, I was on the verge of vomitting the moment my fellow speaker started being defensive with his work, especially when no one was attacking.

  2. Don't worry, Nisah, I was just joking and was a little amused :D It was great to have had a chance to meet you!

  3. wish i had been there, ted

  4. Wah, so much drama! Good of you to post this up. Keeps us in the know.

  5. Thank you for noticing that PTS sent almost 20 authors to the sembang-sembang, though they remained silent, didn't they?

  6. Yes, they were. Perhaps they felt intimidated among the presence of their older brethren? I know I would!

  7. "He (Najwa Aiman) said to make it big, a writer has to cater to the demand of the writing public."

    That sounds a bit too 'capitalist', doesn't it? I think that's only half true (if there's any truth in it, at all?). Taking Najwa's suggestion out of context (and, don't blame me!) - all Malay writers should focus on 'porno novels' simply for the reasons that: such niche has yet established (in Malaysia) and we all know how HUGE the demand is (as far as public is concerned).

    I believe that good writers should be the trend-setters, not the other way around. We shouldn't commercialise 'sastera Melayu' the way ASTRO (i.e. AF) does to 'muzik Malaysia'. But well, we can't really blame ASTRO, can we? After all, they're only trying to cater the so-called 'public demand'! :)


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