Sunday, 28 May 2006

A Treasure Tower of Books.

There are a 170,000 books and papers consigned to the Cambridge University's library tower because they were deemed too populist or lowbrow. But a recent look inside has revealed that the material inside are literary gems:
In Cambridge, the main body of history has always been looming above the town in this big Stalinist building of eight or nine storeys [designed by Giles Gilbert Scott of telephone box and Battersea Power Station fame]. It's always had this mass of hidden history inside."

The collection includes popular Victorian and early 20th-century novels with beguiling titles such as Tempted of the Devil, Love Affairs of a Curate and Only a Village Maiden (which, despite the implications, has an entirely innocent content). As the definition of academic in the 19th century was very restricted, it also covers translations of foreign and classical literature and authors not studied at Cambridge.
Ooh! Imagine being able to browse through the stacks of books! And in mint condition! I would never leave the place!

Thursday, 25 May 2006

British Council's New Writing 15.

Just got word from British Council that the editors of their anthology, New Writing 15, will be Maggie Gee and Bernardine Evaristo. Submissions are currently being collated and we'll find out in September whose writings made the cut.

Personally, I'm excited! When I sent in my submission (on the last day *groan*), I forgot to attach my short story, and had to resend the email. My snafu has been making me nervous ever since. Getting this email just confirmed they got my story, which is a huge relief. Now to wait. Wake me up when September ends?

If anyone's wondering what I submitted (but I suppose nobody cares :p), it's a story that concerns a father who has brought his son back from England to Malaysia and now his son is finding it hard to get used to life there.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Book Cover Design.

Despite being told not to judge a book by its cover, the man on the street does exactly that when browsing in a book store. (I know I do.) A visually catching cover is likelier to entice him to pick up the book, read a few pages, and hopefully, buy the book. So it's no surprise that much thought and care goes into the design of a book cover.

Jane Sullivan of The Age looks at the tricky business of matching a book with its cover.

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

The Water Tower.

Back in February, I heard that local publisher Silverfish was accepting submissions for their new short story compilation. I've always wanted to get into some serious writing, so I sat down and wrote The Water Tower. Then I rewrote it again for another six times. But alas, the story was rejected. Oh well. Here it is anyway. I present to you, my first short story. Enjoy! (Please?):
Suresh once asked what I loved so much about exploring.

“Seeing new things, new places. Seeing what kids in the other neighbourhoods do in the evenings,” I had said.

“The kids elsewhere do the same thing other kids do lah,” he replied.

“No, sometimes they have different activities. What they do depends on what’s around them. And what’s around them is what I look forward to finding when I go exploring.”

“What do you mean, around them? Like what?”

“Like the airport. The kids in that neighbourhood play different games than in other housing areas. I think it’s the noise. Or the planes.”

“The airport! Now that’s fun!”

“It is.”

“And you go exploring every single evening?”

“You want to come along?”

“This of course I say yes.”

That was how Suresh started following me in my explorations. He was a close friend. Sat next to me in class. We used to talk about all sorts of cool stuff our crazy little minds would come up with, like speed-cycling to Taman Cempaka and back within 20 minutes (a most admirable feat), or perhaps discussing what fighting moves Masked Rider would execute when surrounded by evil monsters, or maybe even putting our hands into a bucket of icy water for as long as we could. He was the sort of person who nearly always had ideas for crazy, fun stuff to do, and one of the things he loved to do was to tag along when I went exploring.

We were in math class one day, doing the exercises from the Standard Five textbook, when Suresh leaned towards me.

“Hey, Rafeeq,” he whispered.

I ignored Suresh and tried to concentrate on the current math problem.

“Rafeeq.”

Ignored.

“Rafeeq.” He nudged me with his elbow.

I dropped my pen and glared at him. “What?”

“Eh, this evening going exploring aaa?”

I nodded. “What’s seven times six?”

“Forty-two.”

“You sure?”

“Sure lah. You never learn the times table is it.”

“Just checking.” Of course I learned it. I just didn’t have it memorised.

“Where you going?” he asked.

“Rapat Setia, to see if I can reach the mountains.”

“The mountains aaa? Sounds like fun, I’m following.” He gazed through the windows. “What you think we find over there ya?”

“At the mountains? Caves probably.”

“Maybe got something like Sam Poh Tong temple? That would be cool!”

The math teacher spun around on her heels and glared at us. We continued our exercises, trying to pretend nothing was happening.

Evening came. Suresh cycled to my house and called out my name. I was lying on my bed, reading a book I had borrowed from the Tun Razak Library. I’ve forgotten the title, but it was a children’s book about a boy stuck in a perilous situation. The boy, putting his nose where it didn’t belong, fell underneath the rotting floorboards of an abandoned house and subsequently got bitten by a poisonous snake. I found the book preachy, yet I had somehow managed to read it till the last chapter. I glanced at my alarm clock on the bedside table. Twenty minutes past five.

“You’re early!” I shouted from my bedroom window.

“Come on lah! Let’s go!” Suresh shouted back.

“Okay, okay! Give me a minute.” I rushed to change into the track bottoms that I loved to wear for cycling.

When I came down to the front gate, Suresh was nowhere in sight. He had left his bicycle, a mountain bike his parents had bought for him a few months back, lying on the road in front of my house. I wheeled my bicycle out and locked the gate.

Suresh popped his head out from the drain across the street. I think he had found it fun to inspect the drains while waiting for me.

“There you are. I was getting bored out here,” Suresh said. “Come on. Let’s go already!”

We started pedalling our way towards Taman Ipoh Jaya, the housing area that led towards Rapat Setia. “So what were you doing when I came?” Suresh asked.

“Reading a book I borrowed from the library.”

“That one in town? I hate that library. So silent there, and whenever I go, nobody. Scary.”

“You like the school library though.”

“The only place in school I can play Scrabble.”

“I’m surprised the teachers don’t mind you skipping classes.”

“I got excuse one. I say I practice for the inter-district tournament.”

“There’s a Scrabble tournament coming up?” I glared at Suresh. He knew I loved to take part in Scrabble competitions. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“No lah... where got one.”

“You... You didn’t lie to the teachers again, did you?”

“Relax. Small lie only.”

I kept quiet. I simply didn’t know what else to say. He had got into trouble many times before for lying and now, here he was, doing it again. I was amazed he could get away with so much lying and I was probably a little admiring of him for his ability to do so too.

After about 15 minutes of cycling, we reached the housing estate of Rapat Setia and cycled past the huge field that was its landmark. Every Wednesday evening, traders from around the city would come and set up their stalls on the field for the weekly night market. Today was not Wednesday, and the only people on the field were kids like us, playing football, rounders or just fooling about and chatting with friends.

Just a little farther up ahead from the field, were a secondary school and some houses, which we rode past. We cycled on until there wasn’t any road left. The mountains were still quite some distance away.

“End of the road,” Suresh said. “Now what?”

I got off my bicycle, let it stand on the side of the road, and enjoyed the unobstructed view of the mountains. Between the mountains and us was a vast, unused land of bushes and remnants of tin mining lakes. We were just kids, but already we had been told by our parents and teachers that tin mining land was dangerous. I may have loved exploring, but I was not about to attempt cycling through such terrain.

I noticed a little hut beside one of the lakes. A man, unclothed above the waist, but saronged below, came out of the hut and started to fish on the lake.

“Look!” I pointed towards the man. “There’s someone fishing over there.”

“Wow,” said Suresh. Though he was behind me, I could sense he wasn’t looking where I was pointing.

I turned towards Suresh and saw him looking around us and taking in our surroundings.

“Look, look!” He jumped up and down. “Come on Rafeeq! Stop looking at the half-naked fisherman, let’s go check that out!”

A short distance away, a behemoth of grey steel towered far above the rooftops of the houses that surrounded it. Suresh had discovered the Water Tower, the tallest man-made structure for miles around.

We cycled to the Water Tower and as I expected, it was fenced to discourage trespassers. I was content to look at it from outside the fenced area (the enormous structure was definitely a sight to behold). Suresh had other plans. He wanted to get inside. He inspected the gate to see if it was unlocked, which of course, it was, and then inspected the fenced perimeter to find a hole to crawl through. I was confident he would never find such a hole, so it was to much surprise when I heard Suresh’s excited cry.

I rushed around to the rear side of the Water Tower, and found him squatting in a drain by the side of the fence. There was a hole in the fence, probably made by wild dogs. Suresh had already crawled in through the hole and started wandering inside the compound. Not wanting to feel left out, I reluctantly crawled through and followed him.

There wasn’t much of interest inside the compound, apart from the thick, grey, steel beams that rose from the ground and the way they criss-crossed each other to support the humongous, rectangular water tank far, far above us.

“There’s a ladder here, going up,” I called to Suresh, who was examining one of the beams.

Suresh’s eyes lit up. “Wah! Let’s climb up. Imagine what we could see up there.”

“Probably a view of the whole of Ipoh City.”

“Maybe the whole of Kinta too. Go, go, climb. What you waiting for.”

I looked up the ladder. It really was a long way up. And the platform that ran around the Water Tower didn’t at all look safe. The railing seemed flimsy. I looked at my watch. Almost seven. I looked up the ladder again. Then I looked back at Suresh.

“Suresh, let’s not,” I said, “it’s almost Maghrib.”

“Aw, come on lah, we were just going to have fun, we go up there for short while only,” Suresh said.

“I have to get home.”

He sighed. “Okay lah. Tomorrow? Let’s climb the Water Tower tomorrow.”

“We have to hurry or it’s an earful from my mum.”

“Ya, ya, okay. Come on lah.”

It rained heavily the next evening. And the following evening, much to Suresh’s dismay, he had to go to his grandparents’s house.

On the third evening, Suresh phoned. “Get ready. No rain today. Now’s our chance to climb the Water Tower.”

“But there’s a great new cartoon on today,” I said.

“What? Hey, forget that. Come on, Water Tower!”

“Can’t you go alone?”

“Eh. You scared to climb is it?”

“I’m not scared.”

“Yes, you are. I call you and you give this excuse la, that excuse la, and--”

“Okay, okay, okay! I’ll follow you.”

When we returned, the hole in the fence was still open, tempting us to enter and climb the Water Tower within.

“You go first,” Suresh said when we reached the ladder.

I looked up and once again I saw how high the Water Tower was. “No, you go.”

Suresh looked up and he too realised exactly how high the Water Tower was. He hesitated for a while, and then as soon as he placed his foot on the first rung, we heard a shout.

“Hoi!” It was an adult. “What are you kids doing? Get out from there!”

Trouble! We swiftly crawled back out the hole, grabbed our bikes, and cycled off before the adult could reach us.

“Spoilsport,” Suresh complained later.

The next evening, there was another heavy downpour. But much to Suresh’s delight, the rain stopped before half-past five, allowing us to return, once again, to the Water Tower. I had initially refused to follow, but Suresh was so adamant to reach the top of the Water Tower, he couldn’t stop talking and talking about it, so I acquiesced. Again, we crawled through the hole in the fence, this time carefully making sure nobody was around.

The moment I stepped inside the compound, a feeling of dread engulfed me. This was not a good idea. But Suresh would have none of it.

“Climb lah! Don’t want to see the view aaa?” he would say whenever I complained.

I offered to climb first. I had to get it over with as soon as possible. To avoid having second thoughts, I made sure not to look up the ladder before climbing. When I grabbed the rungs, they were still wet from the rain. I climbed up a couple of rungs. Then I lost my footing, and slipped. I didn’t fall. I managed to hold on tightly to the ladder. Climbing the Water Tower was definitely a bad idea.

“Hey, careful up there!” Suresh called up. “You’ll fall!”

I pursed my lips and started to climb back down.

“Rafeeq! What are you doing?”

“I’m coming down,” I said, “the ladder’s too wet, too slippery and too dangerous to keep going up.”

“What! Don’t let a little thing like that stop you! We’ve got a mission! A mission to get to the top!”

“I’m not going on a suicide mission, Suresh.” I stepped foot on solid ground.

“Don’t want to see the view aaa? Afterwards you regret.”

“Better regret than dead.”

“Aw, come on! We wait so many days for this chance!”

“I don’t care. It’s slippery and we might fall and break something. And besides, it was you who waited for so many days. I didn’t even want to come in the first place.”

“You break my heart.”

“Don’t start getting melodramatic with me.”

“You know I don’t understand your big words, okay?”

“I’m going home. You coming with me or what?”

“Well, I’m not going up without you. What fun is that?” Suresh had the most disappointed look I had ever seen him with.

We cycled home with nary a word between us.

I had thought that this would be the end of it, that Suresh would now stop pestering me to climb the Water Tower. But when I received a phone call from Suresh’s father late that night, I realised I was wrong.

“Rafeeq? Could I speak to Suresh, please?” Suresh’s father asked.

“Suresh? But uncle, he’s not at my house,” I answered.

“Suresh told us after dinner that he was going to your house for a short while. But it’s been two hours and he’s still not back.”

“I’m sorry, uncle, but he really isn’t here.”

“Would you have any idea where he could be?”

I remembered Suresh’s disappointment when I climbed down from the Water Tower. “I think so.”

Not long after, Suresh’s parents came over, and my parents and I got into their car. I showed Suresh’s father the route we had cycled to the Water Tower, and when we reached there, the darkness made the Water Tower looked ominous.

We found Suresh’s bicycle lying on the ground outside the hole in the fence. We crawled through the hole into the compound. He was nowhere to be seen but we found another clue to his whereabouts not far from the ladder. His right shoe.

My father looked up the ladder and said, “he must have gone up.”

“I’ll climb first,” Suresh’s father said.

“I... I can’t take this much longer.” Suresh’s mother hid her face in her hands.

“You better stay in the car,” Suresh’s father said, “you don’t worry now.”

“I’ll follow,” my mother said. She held Suresh’s mother’s hand and they both returned to the car.

“Rafeeq, you stay here and don’t you dare follow us,” warned my father.

I nodded.

I looked up, seeing the two men’s figures getting smaller and smaller as they climbed farther and farther up. There was a flash of lightning and the sky was illuminated for a brief moment. Was it going to rain again? I looked at the car. Squinting, I could barely see both Suresh’s mother and mine, looking up at the Water Tower and their husbands who were climbing it.

I looked up again. The two men had finally reached the top. I could hear their footsteps clanking as they walked on the metal grating of the platform above. All I could hear were muffled voices. Then more clanking. More muffled voices. Then silence.

I walked around, trying to catch a glimpse of the two parents. It was too dark.

“What’s going on up there?” I called out.


My father’s voice replied. “Hold on! We’re coming back down!”

“Did you find Suresh?”

“Don’t worry about him.”

A few minutes later, I could see my father, followed by Suresh’s father, climbing down. I squinted again to see if I could see Suresh but they were still too high up. The two figures descended slowly down the ladder. I wondered why they were taking so much time climbing down.

Another flash of lightning. It was brief, but enough for me to catch a glimpse of Suresh. His father was carrying him, not on his back, but in front and this was making their climb down slower. Suresh’s eyes were closed and for a split-second, a thought of how lifeless he looked crossed my mind. I shoved the thought away, not wanting to think the worst.

When they finally got back to the ground, my father spoke to me. “Don’t worry about Suresh. He’ll be all right. In the mean time, I want to have a word with you.”

He was going to blame me. I just knew it.

“Rafeeq, what have I told you about going to places you‘re not allowed to enter?”

“That... That they’re dangerous?”

“So why did you and Suresh come to this water tower? You do know that this is a dangerous place, right? That one of you could easily fall off and die?”

“But, Bapak, Suresh was the one who found the Water Tower and wanted to climb it. I did tell him not to.” Would my father listen?

My father was quiet for a moment. He sighed and said, “Thank Allah you’re alive. Promise me you’ll never do something like this again. Promise me.”

“Yes, Bapak. I promise. Sorry.”

We hugged each other. Suresh’s father--still carrying Suresh--was looking at us, waiting for us to get back in the car.

“Come on, let’s get back home,” Suresh’s father said. “It’ll start raining soon.”

“Yes, yes. Let’s,” my father said.

Thunder growled in the sky. Suresh stirred. He looked around, dazed and confused. Then he saw me. “Rafeeq! I did it! I climbed the Water Tower! It was beautiful!”

“Hoi! You good-for-nothing idiot son! Somebody’s getting in more trouble than he can imagine!” Suresh’s father shouted. He continued with a stream of endless Tamil scolding.

The next day at school started out sombre. Suresh kept to himself and was unapproachable. Even during recess, he remained solitary. But after a plate of nasi lemak, he began lightening up and soon, he was his old self again.

“Suresh? You okay? You feeling better now?” I asked.

“You know what?”

“Erm. What?”

“Ipoh is so beautiful at night. The most beautiful sight I have ever seen.”

“What happened up there?”

“I... actually, I... aaah, fell asleep.” Suresh blushed.

I slapped my forehead. “I don’t believe it.”

“It was the view lah. So beautiful, it make you want to go to sleep.”

“What about your shoe? We found your right shoe on the ground.”

“Oh. I drop it.”

“It came off your foot while you were climbing?”

“No lah. I drop it to see got sound or not when it fall on the ground.”

I groaned. “I really hope this was all worth the trouble you got into.”

“Oh, it was. It was.” Suresh smiled wide, his pearly white teeth flashing brightly. I think it was the biggest smile Suresh would ever make.

Rejected by Silverfish.

Received my first rejection ever in the email today. My Water Tower short story isn't going to make it into the next New Writing collection. Ah well. It was my first "proper" short story and it probably wasn't as polished as it could have been, or it probably wasn't the editor's cup of tea, perhaps?

I'll be posting it up on this blog soon. Let's see what you think. (I need to go back and look at it too; I bet it'll be one cringe-fest for me.)

Anyway, I've got other stories I'm waiting on and in the meantime, I shall just keep on writing.

UPDATE:
Story is up! Read here.

Monday, 22 May 2006

Google celebrates Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birthday.

Google celebrates the birthday of one of my favourite authors, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with a nice homage (or is that Holme-age? *cough*) in the Google logo:
Pretty cool, eh? I really like how the magnifying glass and the trademark deerhat make out the "O" and the "G" with the Victorian lamp post completing the deal as the "L". Excellent!

I shall celebrate by re-reading my all-time favourite Sherlock Holmes tale, "The Adventure of the Dying Detective". The game's afoot!

Payless Warehouse Sale.

And yet another money sink appears:

At least the organisers have the good sense to organise this sale when my salary's already in, unlike some other bookstore chains *cough*Times*cough* who like to organise their sales at the end of the month when the money well's dry.

Can't read the location? It's at:

3K Sports Complex & Inn,
Jalan SS13/1, Persiaran Kewajipan,
47500 Subang Jaya

Sunday, 21 May 2006

DAY SEVEN: Stay on target!

Word Count: 1500

It is the seventh day of my manuscript writing and what do I have to show for it? By right I should have around 7000 words down, but instead, I have only 1500. I've got plenty of excuses to why this is, all of them involve work in some way or another. Also, the other day there was a games industry meeting I was invited to go to. (I used to be in the games industry, now I'm stuck in advertising, yeeuchh.)

But excuses are still excuses and the manuscript is waaaay behind schedule. Can I make it in time for my August deadline? I'm still optimistic that I can reach this target. I'm gonna finish this damn novel by August or die trying, goddammit! I'm typing till my fingers fall off!

Fancy a shot?

Picador is launching a new series of books called "Shots", and each book is a short story priced at £1. The idea behind this scheme is to encourage people to read more short stories, which are in the decline in the West. (Short stories seem to be on the up-and-up here in Malaysia.)
Picador Shots was (Andrew Kidd's) solution and, thus far, the reaction of booksellers has been enthusiastic. With elegant, minimalist covers, these slight volumes are very collectable but, because they cost only a little more than a daily newspaper (and far less than, say, Vogue), they are also highly disposable.
Sounds great, but who knows how much they would end up costing here in Malaysia? RM6 per book? Would Malaysians welcome such a price of admission for a half-hour or so read?

UPDATE: Sharon gives her take on Picador's Shots.

Friday, 19 May 2006

Saddam Hussein, Novelist.

A novel said to be written by Saddam Hussein was smuggled out of Iraq, and the manuscript has been translated into Japanese. It is entitled Devil's Dance and--here's an interesting bit--it was supposedly finished a day before the US strike on Baghdad.

I also found this particularly interesting too:
Its Japanese translator has made a plea for the former Iraqi leader to be spared the death penalty should he be found guilty by the tribunal in Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein is a witness to the troubled relationship between Iraq and the US, she says; he should be allowed to live and tell his tale.
Yes. Let him live. We need more novelists in this world. (Just as long they don't continue their careers in dictatorship.)

The Influence of Literature and Myth in Videogames.

IGN has an interesting article that looks at how literature and myth in fantasy, horror and science fiction have influenced games over the years.

Wednesday, 17 May 2006

DAY THREE: Wallowing in Self-pity.

WORD COUNT: 700 words

Didn't do any writing yesterday because I got sidetracked by the latest episode of Doctor Who. (The one with the Cybermen, goddammit why does it have to be a two-parter!?) With that in mind, I resolved this morning when I sat down with MS Word loaded, to write as much as possible to make up for yesterday.

Unfortunately, today I was sober enough to realise that what I wrote the day before was utter and complete rubbish! The direction wasn't where I wanted it to go, the characterisation was off, the details of the scene were wrong, wrong, wrong! What the hell was I thinking?

So I started again from scratch, and this time I've got the story plodding along to where I want it to go. (I think.) Because I spent most of the time wallowing in self-pity and cursing how stupid a writer I am, I ended writing only 700 plus words... 300 words short of my daily goal. Sigh. And that's not counting what I owe from yesterday. Looks like I'll have to somehow make up for it these coming few days. Hopefully the weekend will be a productive one for the novel.

Monday, 15 May 2006

DAY ONE: Writing a manuscript in 80 days.

I woke up at 2am this morning, having slept at 11pm. I was wide awake, and I couldn't fall back asleep. Plus, I began thinking of my guilt. You know what guilt. The guilt writers always have. The guilt of not writing when you promised you would! But didn't! I had three days of holiday and I wrote not a single word in my novel.

Ah, procrastination.

So yeah, I'm awake. So I get up, feeling guilty, I put fingers to keyboard... and typed away. Two hours later, I have 1700 words and the first chapter finished. (One heckuva short chapter, but I'll take what I can get. Can always expand in 2nd draft.) But this achievement did made me think a bit. (My brain's usually in sleep mode even when my body isn't.)

If I could just force myself into writing at least 1000 words a day... I could probably have a first draft done in 80 days! (Shush! Stop laughing! I'm serious!) If I could just push myself, force myself, to write everyday, I'd be done by August. I've got my outline; I know where my story's headed; I know what my characters do. Can't be worse than NanoWriMo right? All I need to do is to put all that down in writing.

...I just know I'm gonna regret saying that...

Anyway! So this is DAY ONE of my novel journal. Wish me luck! Or laugh at my naive optimism. Whatever floats your fancy. Now, if you'll excuse me... I need some... sleep... zzzzzz

Current Word Count: 1700

Sunday, 14 May 2006

Interview with Hari Kunzru.

Sharon Bakar's interview with Hari Kunzru is published in today's Starmag.

Saturday, 13 May 2006

Tan Twan Eng gets published.

A bit old this, but Susan Abraham reports that a Malaysian writer has successfully had his book accepted by Gregory & Company, a British literary agency, and the book has already been sold to a publisher, Myrmidon Press.

Tan Twan Eng's debut novel, The Gift of Rain, concerns a young half-chinese boy, Philip, who meets a Japanese diplomat on the eve of World War II. Due to his mixed parentage, he is considered an outsider by his peers. But Philip finds a true sense of belonging with his new friend, Hayato Endo, who teaches him about Japanese culture and the martial art of aikido. But when the war starts, his friend proves to be a spy and Philip is put in a dangerous situation to protect his family. Expect the book sometime in autumn this year.

Wonder how much Tan got for his advance? Tee hee!

Actually, I'm wondering more about the reason why Malaysian writers like to set their books during the Japanese Invasion. It's great and all, and I'm not yawning over that particular period just yet, but I have a feeling we'll be beating this horse long past it's expiry date. Catharsis is good, I know--and I'm going a little into rant mode here--but I do hope future Malaysian books will be a little more diverse in their settings. And I don't mean John Ling diverse. I mean I would prefer other aspects of Malaysian society being shown. Bonus points if it is contemporary. (Should I wish for a sci-fi story too? Not sure if I want to tread down that path just yet...)

In any case, I wish Tan Twan Eng the best of writer's luck. If he does a reading in KL, I'm there!

Here are some links for you to peruse:

Friday, 12 May 2006

Wesak Day.

Happy Wesak Day everyone!

If you've been wondering why the font types and sizes keep changing on my blog, it's because I'm experimenting on what makes best readability. I think I'm settling on what I have currently. What do you think? Do your eyes hurt? Does my blog look fat in Trebuchet MS, size 11?

After a long week at work (I've been coming home after 12am every day), I was thinking of sleeping in today, and probably waking up sometime tomorrow, but alas and alack! my bioclock woke me up at 8am today. I almost got up to get ready for work before realising I had to get back to sleep but it was too late. By then I was already wide awake. Curse my daily routine! Curses and plagues!

Since I'm up and about, I might as well have some quality time with my short story manuscripts and perhaps a little with Salman Rushdie too.

Thursday, 11 May 2006

Kiffe Kiffe Demaine by Faïza Guène.

The book I'm currently looking forward to buying is a book that was wildly popular when it was first published in France in 2004, selling well over 70,000 copies.

Originally published in French, Kiffe Kiffe Demaine by Faïza Guène is about a 15-year-old Muslim girl raised by her Algerian immigrant parents. Poor, they live in a ghetto on the outskirts of Paris. The novel touches upon themes such as cultural diversion and conservativeness as well as criticising the social systems in place.

...okay, so I'm not really doing a good job at making it sound exciting, but I will be getting this whenever it reaches here, translated to English. I can guess there will be a slight confusion though, as the US edition is entitled "Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow", but the UK edition is entitled "Just Like Tomorrow".

Gah. By the by, here are a couple of interviews with Faïza Guène:
The book was released on 4 May 2006 in the UK by Chatto and Windus and will be released on 3 July 2006 in the US by Harvest Books.

Hari Kunzru in Kinokuniya KLCC.

So I went to Hari Kunzru's book reading at Kinokuniya just now at 7.30pm. (After which, I had to go back to the office and is why I'm only posting this up now.) The reading was held in Coffee Club Xpress upstairs. When I arrived, I was a little surprised (but maybe I ought not have to) to see that there was a full audience seated, waiting for Mr. Kunzru.

He gave a superb reading from a chapter in The Transmission, the scene where Guy Swift goes to Dubai to pitch to the rich Arab golf guy. After the reading, there was a Q&A session and the following is what was discussed. (If anybody who was there is reading this, please do tell me if you spot any discrepancies in the comments section, thanks!)

On Dubai:
Someone asked if Hari Kunzru had been to Dubai, and he said yes. He found it so amazingly odd, he felt compelled to put it down in writing.

On Malaysia:
He couldn't really give a proper opinion, because for the last 48 hours, what he's seen of Malaysia has been the insides of conference rooms and his hotel room. The Malaysians he has met though, have been friendly and have taken him to places with great food. Yep, sounds like Malaysia, all right.

On characterisation:
When Hari Kunzru writes about his characters, he admits to not taking real peoples's characters wholesale. He takes bits and pieces from here and there to create someone new. He shared with us a story of a writer he knew, who wrote a story about her close friends and what they did. Her friends recognised themselves in her story, and pretty soon she found herself without much friends. Hari Kunzru's advice: when writing about someone, make sure to make the character unrecognisable to the real person.

On why there's a theme of India in his books:
Hari Kunzru is a mix of English and Indian, so he has extended family on the subcontinent. Though he grew up in England, he feels the connection to India because of his family. While growing up, he says, what he was exposed to India was the image prevalent in the 70s and 80s, of the Indian servant loyally standing in the background while the English man and woman falls in love with each other. This is what he tries to send up in his books. He expected harsh criticism from India as he felt that the Indians would feel a bit more cynical of him, being that he comes from a mixed background and having not grown up there. He shared with us a hilarious anecdote of the time he went to India to promote The Impressionist. They gave him funny looks and didn't really know what to make of him.

Advice for aspiring authors:
Get someone that isn't so cruel to read your book so he can give you comments. And always keep writing. Make sure you finish what you write. Don't be afraid of criticism because once you get on Amazon.com, they're going to be really out to get you!

On writing (outlining or plot device) software:
Satan's tools, he says. Hari Kunzru uses only Microsoft Word.

On where he writes:
He says he prefers writing at home in his study and doesn't really have a special place to go and write. He says that this is because either the place is too beautiful he spends too much time admiring it, he gets distracted by other people or he suddenly realises that he has a books he absolutely must have, else he can't get any writing done so he has to go home.

On a possibility of a short story collection in the future:
He's thinking of one, perhaps after he finishes the novel he's working on right now. Though it might not be old material, it could possibly be new ones. He might also consider just putting it all up on the his website for free, like his current short stories. (If you visit, I recommend Deus Ex Machina.)

On his next novel:
It's going to be totally different from his current books. It's set in 1970s England and has some political elements in it. He says that trying to finish the novel is like having his "teeth pulled out "but he is anxious to find out what people will think of it.

After the Q&A session, there was an autograph session and while I had both my free copies of his books signed, we had a nice, short chat. All in all, he's a really nice person. I think he's my new favourite author! *fanboyism starts here*

If you missed him, Hari Kunzru will be in Borders, The Curve at 7.30pm.

Did anyone else blog about his reading in Kinokuniya? Do tell me and I'll link you up here.

UPDATE:

Wednesday, 10 May 2006

I've been tagged!

I don't normally do this, but since it's Hilmy who's tagging me, why not.

THREE NAMES YOU GO BY:
1. My real name
2. Teddy
3. Tedds

THREE PHYSICAL THINGS YOU LIKE ABOUT YOURSELF:
1. Being able to fit in a small space. (Very useful when diving underneath the computer table to check if rats got to the wires.)
2. I can wink with either eye!
3. I can spin a pencil or pen on my fingers.

THREE PHYSICAL THINGS YOU DON'T LIKE ABOUT YOURSELF:
1. I am short-sighted.
2. I can't look in the rear-view mirror without taking my eyes off the road ahead.
3. I don't have any useful superpowers (or useless ones).

THREE PARTS OF YOUR HERITAGE:
1. Siamese-Pakistani
2. Chinese
3. Javanese

THREE THINGS YOU CAN'T STAND:
1. People who feel the need to talk loudly about inane topics and can't stop when they've started.
2. People who don't signal!!!111
3. People who mess up my perfectly planned writing schedule.

THREE THINGS THAT SCARE YOU:
1. Gory pictures.
2. The possibility of going blind.
3. Religion.

THREE OF YOUR FAVORITE SHOWS:
1. Doctor Who (David Tennant as the new Doctor is Fantastic!)
2. Lost
3. Firefly

THREE OF YOUR FAVORITE JAPANESE ANIMES:
1. Hachimitsu to Clover
2. Neon Genesis Evangelion (I hear it's old-skool now?)
3. ...Marmalade Boy (what? people have their guilty pleasures okay?)

THREE OF YOUR CURRENT FAVORITE SONGS:
Don't have any. Currently in non-music phase.

THREE MOVIES YOU CAN WATCH OVER AND OVER AGAIN:
1. Star Wars
2. Casablanca
3. Serenity

THREE MOVIES YOU WOULD LIKE TO WATCH:
1. Superman Returns
2. Cars
3. The Maltest Falcon (can't find the DVD anywhere)

THREE OF YOUR EVERYDAY ESSENTIALS:
1. My moleskine notebook.
2. Pilot G2 07.
3. Reading material.

THREE THINGS YOU ARE WEARING RIGHT NOW:
1. A hoodie! Wheee
2. Black shirt
3. Jeans

THREE THINGS YOU WANT IN A RELATIONSHIP:
1. Love
2. Hugs
3. Time

THREE PHYSICAL THINGS ABOUT THE OPPOSITE GENDER THAT APPEAL TO YOU:
1. Upper forearms.
2. Those bits on the front, wossnames...
3. Shiny hair!

THREE BAD HABITS:
1. Lack of time management.
2. I tend to skip things when I shouldn't.
3.

THREE OF YOUR FAVORITE HOBBIES:
1. Reading
2. Writing
3. Cycling

THREE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO REALLY BADLY RIGHT NOW:
1. Write my novel.
2. Polish up my two short story manuscripts so I can send them off for submission.
3. Shout like a madman (at certain people).

THREE CAREERS YOU'RE CONSIDERING OR CURRENTLY PURSUING:
1. Game Writer.
2. Published Author.
3. Wildly Successful Author with million dollar advances.

THREE PLACES YOU WANT TO GO ON VACATION:
1. Cuba.
2. North Korea.
3. Somewhere capitalistic. Like Japan.

THREE KIDS' NAMES YOU LIKE:
SYNTAX ERROR

THREE THINGS YOU WANT TO DO BEFORE YOU DIE:
1. Get published.
2. Win the Booker.
3. Learn to be content with what I have.

THREE WAYS THAT YOU ARE STEREOTYPICALLY A GUY:
1. I like talking geek (especially when it comes to Macs and video games)
2. I like boobies and love to talk about them. Whee!
3. I love cars.

INITIALS OF THREE CRUSHES:
1. OMG
2. WTF
3. LOL

THREE PEOPLE YOU TAG TO DO THE SURVEY:
No! It ends here!

Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Best First Lines in Novels.

In a post dated 9th May 2006 on John Ling's site, he writes:
Most people ignore the power of that first sentence. It can kick things off and set a mood. And the best way to learn how to write one is to study the openings of some classic novels... (more on his site)
How true. One of my favourite things to do when I'm in a bookstore is to open a novel and read the opening line--to see whether the author can hook me into his or her story. If I find one that's really good, I make a mental note of it (and perhaps even buy the book in hand) so I can learn to write as good an opening line in my stories.

Check out the American Book Review's list of 100 Best First Lines in Novels. I don't agree with some of the inclusions but at least my favourite is listed:
30. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. —William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)
But take note! It is usually advised (I think Elmore Leonard is a major proponent) that a story should not start with weather. Gibson got away with it because he was just good.

UPDATE:
Swifty shares with us the opposite of the spectrum: Worst opening lines in made-up novels.

Novel Outlining.

*puff puff pant pant*

I've just finished outlining my novel, and boy, it feels like I just jogged a few huge rounds. And I haven't even started writing it yet!

Of course, some writers prefer not to outline their novels. It stifles their creativity. Take Stephen King, for instance. He just dives straight into his prose and hopes for the best. His reason, he says, is that he loves to be surprised when he gets to the ending. I totally get that, but I'm not Stephen King, so I have to outline.

An outline is useful for keeping me reminded of what to write next and, hopefully, will stop writer's block from happening. And who's to say there won't be any surprises? A novel outline is like a road map. Sure, you know where you're going, but if you take a little detour, you might see some stuff you weren't really expecting.

Now that the outline's done, I more psyched than ever before to get done with my novel. Hurrah!

Here are some links for those wondering about outlining:
  1. Effectively Outlining Your Plot by Lee Masterson
  2. Novel Outlining by Paperback Writer
  3. Footsteps to a Novel by Margaret McGaffey Fisk
  4. Creating the Professional Plot Outline by Holly Lisle
Happy outlining!

UPDATE:
John Ling (author of Fourteen Bullets) offers an alternative technique to outlining in the comments section.

Friday, 5 May 2006

Getting Free Books from Kinokuniya.

If you've been asked by Kinokuniya to provide them with your house address, they'll be nice enough to add their newsletter to the junk-mail, promotion leaflets and numerous bills you get in your mailbox every month. The newsletter, called "Gems of the Month", showcases the book offers they have in the current month and interestingly, what books their staff recommend to read.

Last month however, they started asking their readers to submit book recommendations instead. (I think they ran out of staff to ask for recommendations.) Readers who submitted their recommendations, and were accepted to be published in the May newsletter, got to choose a book from the May Gems of the Month selection. I don't mind a free book (who wouldn't?), so I emailed in a short review of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist. About a week later, someone from Kinokuniya called me up and said my recommendation was going to be published in the May newsletter. Hooray! (I regret to share with you that I misspelled Coelho's name, and Kinokuniya didn't even bother to edit the error.)

When the May newsletter came, Hari Kunzru was on the cover; I thought I'd get one of his books then (either The Impressionist or the Transmission). I heard they were good, and for the longest time I couldn't decide which to get. Finally I decided on getting The Impressionist, but when I went to Kinokuniya to claim my free book, they said I couldn't claim that, because it wasn't one of the Gems of the Month. No probs. So I chose Naguib Mahfouz's three-novels-in-one book, Respected Sir | Wedding Song | The Search. It would have been great if the story ended there. I mean, I got my free book right? Ho ho!

The reason Hari Kunzru was featured in the May newsletter was because he was coming to Kinokuniya for a meet-the-readers session. First 15 people to sign up would get a free Hari Kunzru book. After getting my Naguib Mahfouz book (worth RM64.32, yikes!), I signed up for the Hari Kunzru meet. My girlfriend, who was with me at the time, also decided to sign up.

When the girl at the counter gave us our forms, she said, "You're the first two to sign up."

"Cool. Does that mean we get a free book each?" I ask.

"That's right, congratulations!"

Three free books in one month! And I get both Hari Kunzru books! Not bad, huh?

By the way, Hari Kunzru's coming to Kinokuniya this Wednesday, 10th May at 7.30pm. Or you could come to Borders on Thursday, 11 May at 8pm. Sharon Bakar has more details in an older blog post.

Thursday, 4 May 2006

On Murakami.

I've recently finished Haruki Murakami's brilliant Kafka on the Shore, and now I've started (and am immensely enjoying) Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.

Kafka on the Shore was--and this is stating quite the obvious for those familiar with Murakami's work--quite easy to read, but hard to understand. I think you could read it and interpret it anyway you like, and you'd probably still be right... even if what you think the book means wasn't really what the author had in mind.

My initial exposure to Murakami was through Norwegian Wood, which I liked for its pop culture references, nostalgia and simple storytelling. I then borrowed a copy of The Elephant Vanishes, a collection of short stories, which I first hated, then slowly began to like as I began to understand what Murakami was trying to say (or at least, I like to think I do!). His stories are surreal and often have subtle motifs that, when examined carefully, bring to light much of his characters's personality and the reasons they act the way they do.

The reason I initially hated The Elephant Vanishes was that the first short story was actually the first chapter of the novel, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and when I had read it, I found myself unsatisfied. I wasn't aware at the time it was merely an excerpt, a first chapter, hence no resolution and no satisfactory conclusion. I've since gone and bought the novel in question. (Can't read it yet though, I've got a few other books in queue.) I'm hoping the novel will end this unsatified feeling I've had since reading The Elephant Vanishes, though I have been warned: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is an immensely depressing book. Apparently, a friend told me, a friend of hers read the book, and subsequently got into such a rut, it changed his life... probably for the worse. But even then, he loves the book! Although, I think, in a love-hate sort of way.

I think I can relate to that. When I had finished reading Norwegian Wood--also quite depressing--I went ahead and broke up with my then-girlfriend. I'm still not sure if I was influenced by the book or not. Could a book have such an impact on our psyche and subtly manipulate our emotions? Or perhaps it was just hormones? (I was young and foolish. Still am, come to think of it.) Regardless of what it was, I like to think the split happened because I had "internalised" some of Murakami.

I hear that Murakami's latest collection of short stories, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, has been translated by Philip Gabriel and Jay Rubin. I await eagerly for it to reach these shores. (Kinda funny, don't you think, for the book to leave Japan, arrive in the West, translated into English, then come back to Asia, more specifically, the tiny nation I live in: Malaysia. That's quite a journey!)

The Guardian has one of the short stories, Hanalei Bay, published on its website:
Part 1, Part 2

Start Internalising.

In probably the funniest thing I've seen related to the infamous Kaavya Viswanathan, The Morning News launches a contest to find out who can plagiarise the best.

Get internalising, people! Follow the link below.

Wednesday, 3 May 2006

Submitted!

In the past two months, I've written two short stories: "The Water Tower" and "Odd One Out".

"The Water Tower" is about two young boys who go exploring one evening, and they find a water tower. They try to climb it ("Imagine the view!"), but there's always something to hinder their plan. I have submitted this 3100 word short story to Silverfish Books to be included in Silverfish New Writing 6, but I will only know at the end of May whether the story is to be included or not.

"Odd One Out" is about a Malaysian father who has recently brought his son home from England. He sends his son to a Malay school so the son can reintegrate himself with Malaysians, but the father soon finds out it's not as easy as sending him to a school and letting things take care by itself. At 4700 words, this is by far, the longest story I've written so far. It was also the hardest. I think I felt like jumping off cliffs numerous times during the course of writing this piece. "Odd One Out" was submitted to the British Council to be included in New Writing 15. I have no idea when they'll notify me (if they ever do), nor do I have any idea whether they even received my submission!

I can't express how relieved I am to be able to submit both pieces on time. I hope they get accepted! In the meantime, I shall work on my other short stories. I've got two (used to be three, but I'll get to that in a mo') short stories in the pipeline: a story about Zeus in a Malaysian taxi, and the other I tentatively call Looking for Tchaikovsky, which is set in a music shop in Ipoh (where most of my stories take place).

The Zeus story's actually done, but I'm going through a rewrite (my second). Tchaikovsky's still plodding along.

I mentioned I was actually working on another short story. Well, I was, until I decided it would be too long too fit into short story format (which I consider between 3000 and 7000 words). So now, I'm planning to write a novel based on that idea.

Pretty busy, aren't I? I've got literary pretensions, I have! So gotta write, write, write!

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