Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Retrospective 08.

While 2007 was awesome for me, 2008 was not.

A lot of things did not go well for me and people close to me this past year, and I'm not even counting my writing failures yet. I won't go into my non-writing disappointments this past year but I will touch on my writing disappointments.

Of the three resolutions I made earlier this year, I achieved none. No surprise there, really ... since when have I kept a resolution? But still! Pretty disappointing! I mean, I would have loved to have finished that novel and would have been blown away to be able to write 12 short stories, one for each month.

As it stands, not only have I not finished the novel, I went and started another unfinished novel for this year's NaNoWriMo, and I didn't even finish that. I did write 5 or so short stories this year, but all of them are unfinished.

Yep, 2008 was an epic fail and not a year I will look back on fondly. On the other hand, I did have more book reviews published this year than the previous year. Yay!

I look forward to 2009, a chance for me to redeem myself.

Resolutions for 2009:
  1. Finish that novel. (One day I will achieve this, you wait and see!)
  2. Write six short stories, one for every two months. (Maybe that's more doable...)
  3. Start submitting to foreign pubs again. (Didn't submit at all this year, how embarrassing!)
Okay! Enough whining and self-pitying! Happy New Year everyone!

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

REVIEW: Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup.


This review was published in The Star on 28th December 2008.

Unusual Whodunnit
Review by TED MAHSUN

Instead of following along in the steps of a detective unravelling a crime, we’re given a different perspective in this simply-told but cracking good mystery.


SIX SUSPECTS
By Vikas Swarup
Publisher: DoubleDay, 472 pages
ISBN: 978-0385608169

VIKAS Swarup’s latest book, Six Suspects, looks conventional at a glance: a notorious mob tycoon, Vicky Rai, is murdered in his own house during a party, and there are six suspects. Sounds like a straightforward whodunnit, right?

Not quite. Unlike most crime novels, this novel does not employ a sleuth; well, not it in the conventional sense, anyway.

But then, Swarup is not your conventional novelist, either: he is a diplomat, currently posted in Pretoria as India’s Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa. His debut novel, Q & A, was also unusual in that its protagonist is a slum dweller who wins the jackpot on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire TV game show. Q & A was made into a film called Slumdog Millionaire by British filmmaker Danny Boyle. The recently-released movie garnered critical acclaim and made it into Time magazine’s list of top 10 movies of the year. (Both Six Suspects and Slumdog Millionaire are available at a discount in the coupon below.)

In Six Suspects, a sleuth does initially appear, in the form of investigative journalist, Arun Advani, and it is his newspaper articles that bookend the novel. However, though it is Arun who eventually uncovers the clues that lead to the murderer, it is not his story we follow. Instead, the reader is given the stories of each of the six suspects, with each story resembling a self-contained novella, detailing their varied backgrounds, mishaps, and adventures that will eventually lead to and converge on the scene of the crime.

It is to Swarup’s credit that he has managed to imbue each of these six suspects with enough character and detail that the reader cannot help but be swept along by the narrative.

Each suspect is distinct from each other with nary a generic character in sight:

There’s Mohan Kumar, former Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh state in India, once corrupt and selfish, now channelling the soul of Mahatma Gandhi himself.

Shabnam Saxena, a Bollywood star who quotes French Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre.

Eketi, a 1.5m tribesman from the Andaman Islands who has come to the Indian mainland to search for a sacred stone stolen from his tribe.

Munna Mobile, so nicknamed because of his career as a mobile phone thief.

Larry Page, who isn’t the famous co-founder of Google, he just shares the same name and is in India to get married

And, lastly, Jagannath Rai, father of the murdered Vicky Rai, the corrupt Uttar Pradesh Home Minister who aspires to become Chief Minister.

Of these six, the most developed and interesting character to me is Eketi, the Onge tribesman from the Andamans.

It comes as no surprise to me that in the acknowledgements at the end of the book, Swarup mentions at least three books and a website about the Onge tribe that aided him in researching the character.

Eketi’s story is perhaps the most epic of the six. It is a sort of mini coming-of-age tale, with Eketi embarking on a quest across India to recover his tribe’s sacred stone, and discovering disappointment and betrayal along the way.

He is aided by the scheming Ashok, a junior welfare officer stationed in the Andamans who has a selfish reason of his own for finding the sacred stone.

Their travels through various locales, from a eunuch colony in Kashi to the slums of Mehrauli, provide many chances for the author to give readers a tour, albeit a generalised one, of India. Some readers may appreciate this, but I suppose those familiar with the country would likely be unimpressed.

The least interesting character – though I have to say this is a novel in which even the least interesting character remains engaging – is Larry Page.

It certainly seems as if Swarup didn’t put in the same amount of research and effort into creating Larry that he did for Eketi – and what research he did do was based on episodes of the TV soap, Dallas! You see, Larry comes across as a stereotypical redneck American. While such people may exist in real life, in fiction, this simplicity in personality comes across on the page as nothing more than a two-dimensional cardboard cutout.

Even so, as trite as the character may be, Swarup’s fast-paced and easy flowing prose allows the reader to forgive this setback. Larry’s misfortunes in India – losing his passport and money, and eventually being kidnapped by a terrorist cell – thankfully, make for a delightful and humorous read, and provide yet another chance for the author to caricature India’s “exotic” elements.

Taken as a whole, Six Suspects is an enjoyable and light read. Granted, it is no literary masterpiece; in many ways it is too generalising and too stereotypical.

Don’t go in expecting a Salman Rushdie or a Vikram Seth novel. There are certainly no verbal pyrotechnics to be found, and the only glimpse of magic realism remains just that, a tiny glimpse.

But I say this not because I scorn the novel. On the contrary, I rather like the simple tone the book takes. Swarup does not seem to want to show off; there’s no putting on of airs here.

Six Suspects may lean towards being literary by being slightly unconventional but it doesn’t take a Sherlock (sorry, couldn’t resist!) to know what the author intended to write: a good mystery crime novel – and in my opinion, he’s succeeded.

Monday, 29 December 2008

REVIEW: The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.


This review was published in The Star on 28th December 2008.

Revisiting Columbine
Review by TED MAHSUN

THE HOUR I FIRST BELIEVED
By Wally Lamb
Publisher: HarperCollins, 832 Pages
ISBN: 978-0007290697

THERE’S a selection of the book-reading populace that thumbs its collective noses at books picked by talk show host Oprah Winfrey for her Oprah’s Book Club.

I don’t get this. Shouldn’t one judge a book by its own merit rather than dismissing it just because one isn’t fond of the talk show host?

I was pondering this after I finished reading The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb, whose previous two novels had both been selected for discussion by Oprah’s Book Club. It would be such a shame if Lamb’s latest novel is disregarded just because Oprah likes it!

Well, those who hate her book club ... they won’t know what they’re missing. The novel is intriguing and enjoyable; it constantly reminded me why I enjoy reading.

The novel weaves fiction and fact by placing its two central characters, Caelum Quirk and his wife Maureen, at the centre of one of the United States’ most tragic events in recent history, the Columbine high school massacre.

Both of them work at the school: Caelum is a teacher and Maureen is a school nurse. On the fateful day of the tragedy, Maureen is trapped in a closet while she listens to the students getting shot.

Caelum – though away during the tragedy to visit a dying aunt – is deeply affected when he discovers that many of the students he once taught and teachers he worked with were either dead or terribly wounded.

Lamb should be given credit for being able to write about Columbine in an intriguing way, yet treating the subject respectfully by not resorting to sensationalism or finger-pointing.

In fact, the chapters focusing on the tragedy are written in a neutral, journalistic style and Lamb tries to be as unbiased as possible.

Although, at first, it may appear that the novel revolves just around the Columbine massacre, the author cleverly uses this tragic event as a jumping point and takes us further by following the lives of the two characters after the tragedy.

Though she survives the ordeal, Maureen is psychologically scarred and finds it hard to recover from her trauma. She winds up being addicted to painkillers and antidepressants and so Caelum decides that it may be a good idea to move back to his family farm in hope that getting Maureen away from it all might increase her chances of recovery.

The Quirk family farm, which Caelum inherited when his aunt died, is not the solve-all that Caelum hopes it to be. Maureen shows little signs of improving and while Caelum tries his best to help her, he is obviously not a flawless human being either.

He has anger management and insecurity issues, which result from his wife having had an affair some years earlier, as well as his own painful childhood.

The Hour I First Believed, it turns out, is also a novel about the burden of family and the many skeletons a family can hide in its closet.

Caelum’s attempt to confront his past while coming to terms with his own tragedy ultimately become the path towards finding faith and meaning in his own life.

All this adds up to a wonderful and engaging read, a truly modern and contemporary epic journey.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Tales of the Unexpected.

Well, that was unexpected. I not only have one, but two book reviews in today's Star. The other review is for Wally Lamb's Hour I First Believed.

I only noticed when I went out to get my own deadtree copy. I'd have noticed sooner though if only Google Alerts wasn't being so choosy...

Anyways! A few months ago, I was given an advanced review copy (or as they call it, ARC) of Wally Lamb's Hour I First Believed for review, but when I finally finished writing the review, MPH Bookstores, who provided the ARC, told me they decided not to have a promo for the book so I thought, well that's that. Maybe the review wasn't going to be published.

Turns out the Star editors turned to another bookstore to get a promo discount coupon from them instead. Neat!

So there you go. If you get a copy of today's deadtree edition of The Star, you'll get a 25% discount coupon for both Hour I First Believed, Six Suspects and even Vikas Swarup's earlier book, Slumdog Millionaire (formerly published as Q&A).

I have a review in The Star today.

Dude, I totally forgot. I woke early today too – a rare event for me on a Sunday – to go to the dentist's. If I had remembered then I could have just picked up a copy while I was out. Dammit, now I have to make the long trek out to civilisation.

Anyways, behold, a review of Vikas Swarup's Six Suspects, just for you.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Met An Old Friend Last Night.

Met an old friend last night. It was his wedding. Haven't met him in at least 8 or 9 years. And now he's a doctor!

Monday, 1 December 2008

That Post-Writing Feeling.

Ahh! I feel pretty good.

I just finished writing a book review and it was the easiest peasiest book review I've ever written. Usually a book review would take me days to finish (sometimes even weeks!), but this one just took me 45 minutes.

Can't say what book the review is for, because I haven't sent it in for publication yet. This isn't on commission so I won't know whether they'll publish it ... until they do.

In the meantime, I'll be basking in that nice post-writing afterglow. It feels nice and warm!

It's December.

And before long it will be the New Year.

Hurray.

Well, NaNoWriMo was a complete and epic fail for me. It wasn't all a loss though. I do have the beginnings of a novel that I'm pretty excited to continue writing, but for now I'll have to shelve it because I'd like to continue writing the novel I was working on before November ... which was really last year's NaNo project.

Anyways, did you hear the news? Syed Alwi passed away. What a bummer huh? I enjoyed immensely his play "Alang Rentak Seribu" and regret I haven't seen any of his other theatre productions.

Al-fatihah.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

One can never claim a shortage of short story writing opps in these parts.

From Amir's blog again:
BODY 2 BODY
Writings on Alternative Sexuality in Malaysia
Edited by Jerome Kugan and Pang Khee Teik
Published by Matahari Books

-

CALL FOR ENTRIES

1. Writings should depict queer or alternative sexuality in Malaysia, or of Malaysian queers' experience in the world.

2. Possible Genre: fiction, true life accounts, essays, memoir, excerpts from novel or play. We do not accept verse.

3. Queer includes gay, lesbian, bisexual, transvestite, transgendered, intersexed.

4. Possible topics: coming out, forced out, going back in, love found, love lost, love squandered, encounters with homophobia, trying to go straight, married life, being friends with a queer person, being seduced by a queer friend, self-loathing, religion, family, work, studies, activism, etc.

5. Writers can be Malaysian or non-Malaysians. Writers can be queer or straight.

6. All writing must be in English, or translated into English. The writers are responsible for getting their own translations done. Minimal use of other languages is acceptable with explanatory notes.

7. Writers should use their actual names. A pen name is allowed when the writer has been publicly associated with that name.

8. You're advised to submit no more than 3,000 words. However, the maximum is 4,000.

9. Deadline: Sat 28 Feb, 2009

10. The editors plan to select up to 20 pieces of writings.

11. Book will be launched at Seksualiti Merdeka 2009 at The Annexe Gallery in August 2009.

12. Please email entries to matahari.books@gmail.com with the heading "Body2Body"

13. Writers who are selected will share 10% of the royalties from the sales. Conversely, they can choose to receive 4 books in lieu of royalties.

-

EDITORS' BIO

Pang Khee Teik is the Arts Programme Director for The Annexe Gallery, Central Market Annexe, Kuala Lumpur. He was formerly the editor of Kakiseni.com. Pang has also been involved in theatre, independent films, writing and even a spot of experimental dancing.

Jerome Kugan is a writer and musician who has been living and working in Kuala Lumpur since 2000. Besides being the Media Manager at The Annexe Gallery, he is the creator of Poetika and one of the organisers for KL Sing Song.

In Aug 2008, Pang and Jerome organised Seksualiti Merdeka, Malaysia's first sexuality rights fest at The Annexe Gallery.

PUBLISHER

Matahari Books is a publishing company, set up by the writer and occasional movie-maker Amir Muhammad, that specialises in non-fiction books about Malaysia. Its first book in 2007 was Volume 1 of Malaysian Politicians Say the Darndest Things, which was an immediate best-seller. It published five books in 2008, including a tie-in screenplay book for the hit film Kami. All its books are sold in major Malaysian bookstores as well as Amazon.com.

* If you have comments on this, do post them on the Matahari Books Facebook group :-)
A-ha! Malaysian Gay Lit! A veritable Blue Ocean in the Malaysian publishing industry, if ever there was one.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

George.

Three eggs. Hah! Take that, George Orwell!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Jemputan ke Peluncuran Kitab Pengetahuan Hantu Malaysia.

Here's an announcement from Amir Muhammad:


Bapak-bapak, ibu-ibu, jambu-jambu dan awek-awek hadhari dijemput ke acara yang santai lagi gerek: Pelancaran buku KITAB PENGETAHUAN HANTU MALAYSIA.

Buku sususan Danny Lim ini telah diterjemahkan secara sahih oleh Ahmad Kamal Abu Bakar.

Ketahuilah asal-usul, sifat serta tumit-tumit Achilles puluhan hantu dan roh yang menjadi khazanah budaya masyarakat sibilis (sekular, pluralis dan liberalis) kita.

Tempat: Bau Bau Cafe, The Annexe, Central Market.
Tarikh: 5 Disember (Jumaat)
Masa: 8:30pm hingga LRT senyap.

Terdapat hiburan oleh beberapa kumpulan gitar rancak yang akan diumumkan kelak. Juga pembacaan mengejut oleh:
Ahmad Kamal Abu Bakar
Amir Muhammad
Danny Lim
Fahmi Fadzil
Shahril Nizam
Sharon Bakar
Ted Mahsun
dan beberapa lagi artis yang tak sempat masuk Bi-pop hari minggu lepas.

Buku akan berada di toko-toko hanya 2 minggu setelah tarikh pelancaran, jadi dapatkanlah di sini agar anda tidak frust menonggeng.

Harga buku: RM20. Tebal: 115 mukasurat.

Bisa konfirm di Facebook
Hold on a sec. Is that my name there?

Thursday, 20 November 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008: Day Twenty - Tempus Fugit Edition.

Crap. Has it been twenty days already? I don't think I need to say I'm seriously behind on my word count.

It's not that I haven't been writing. I have. Lots of it. It's just that all the writing I've done this past month has mostly been of the speeches, essays, book forewords and book reviews variety. After all that, the last thing I want to do when I get home from work is to wrack my brains for a novel. In addition to that, the gallery I work for just held a HUGE event (I've mentioned this before I believe) yesterday, where People of Royalty came and graced us with their Presence. It was all a huge fuss and all so we were all understandably kept busy.

It's true what they say. If you want to write a novel, don't have a writing job as your day job. You'll have written a lot during work, and by the time you get home, you'll be too tired to write anything for yourself.

Having said that, I believe NaNoWriMo's not over yet. So there's still time for me to catch up on my word count. Even if some people might consider what I'm about to take on as madness.

Madness?! This! Is! NaNoWriMo!

Okay. Sorry. That was lame.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008: Day Thirteen - Procrastination Is Our Enemy.

Hmm. Well I've been real busy of late so I have had to abandon my NaNoWriMo efforts for the time being. Also! My brother bought the Dragon Quest IV remake for the Nintendo DS...and it's completely captured me within its evil grasps.

I'm making up for lost time. I never finished it the first time I played it on the NES all those years ago, and when they released the Playstation remake, I couldn't read Japanese.

Now I'm determined to save the goddamn world, NaNoWriMo or no!

(The following paragraph might only be interest to a special breed of nerd–the video game soundtrack nerd. I was digging through my video game soundtrack CD collection yesterday, and I could only find the soundtracks for Dragon Quests 1 to 8 except 4. I'm pretty sure I bought the soundtrack for 4. Did I lose it or something? Oh well, at least I rediscovered a CD I thought I had long ago lost: the Saga Frontier II OST! Yay! Only the best jRPG soundtrack evah! Well, next to Final Fantasy 6 obviously.)

Oh yeah! NaNoWriMo! I'm planning to catch up soon. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008: Day Five - Obama Edition.

Woke up this morning to a NaNoWriMo pep email written by Jonathan Stroud in which he equates writing the first draft of a novel to an epic, heroic journey starring Charlton Heston: "Full of dramatic highs, dreadful lows and endless tedious bits when the audience goes out to make a cup of tea."

How very true!

Last night's writing session went better than the day before with me being able to hammer up to 2200 words. I had a target of reaching 3000 words but it was not to be. Still! 2200 words! That's a lot! My overall word count is now 5236.

I'm happy with that number and also happy with the direction my story is taking. I didn't expect it to take a life of its own just yet, but that's what happened. I certainly did not expect the protagonist to impersonate a masseuse to break into a house. Weird.

I think I'm beginning to feel the NaNo vibe now!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008: Day Four.

Yesterday's word count was much better. It didn't reach the requisite daily count of 1667, but I did write more than a thousand words and managed to reach 1400 words.

If it's better than yesterday and the day before, than it's good enough for me.

There's another thing that's good about all this. The fact that my daily word count is getting higher everyday might mean I'm gaining momentum so things might get better in the coming week.

I'm still preparing for the worst though, so I can't get too cocky now. The art gallery I work for is planning a huge (HUGE!) exhibition launch this month and my wife's office deems it fit to make it compulsory for husbands to attend their family day, also happening later this month. I foresee these two events threatening to derail my NaNoWriMo efforts so I'll have to take some precautionary measures if I want to make sure my word count is good enough.

Lastly, FUCK YOU PJH Corporation for forcing husbands to come to your stupid family day. (But thanks for the generous medical coverage.)

Monday, 3 November 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008: Day One, Two and Three.

NaNoWriMo is here again! I would've blogged earlier but somehow the Internet keeps acting up everytime I want to log into Blogger.

So anyway! To catch up, there was a book launch party on October 31st, and by the time I got home at about midnight, the last thing I wanted to work on was a 50,000 word novel. (What I did was fire up Thief: Deadly Shadows. Have you played it? It's awesome.) When I did finally start writing – at 8pm on 1st November – I only managed to crank out 670 words.

This is something new for me. Usually with every NaNoWriMo I've taken part in, I start writing furiously, fueled by enthusiasm and ambition. This year, even though I've got a story I want to put down on paper and have the basic outline in my head, I don't really seem too excited by it. Not like previous years anyway. This seems to be reflected in my miserable wordcount.

(Talking about my wordcount, the NaNoWriMo site seems to be having its annual early hiccup, wherein the their servers NEVER work for the first few days of November. This means that I cannot post up the magic wordcount updater on my blog, which is a bit of a downer. I'll have to be patient and wait.)

I thought about this on the drive to work today and I think this could be the effect of completing last year's NaNoWriMo challenge of reaching 50,000 words but not actually finishing the novel itself. The novel I wrote last year is still being worked on; sadly, at a pace slower than your grandma's driving (sometimes even slower than Streamyx). I still want to finish that novel, but it will have to wait until after November, when I'm done with this year's novel...or at least 50,000 words worth of it anyway.

So with that in mind, could it be I feel less excited about the novel I'm currently writing because my enthusiasm is spread over two ideas for books? Perhaps.

Or maybe I'm just lazy. But then again the potential of having two unfinished novels by the end of 2008 is something to look forward to! One finished novel is better than two unfinished novels, but two unfinished novels is better than saying "I'm going to write a novel one day" every time you go to a literary meet.

That concludes my first NaNoWriMo stream-of-consciousness rant.

If anyone's interested, right now I'm up to 1636 words. Only about 3400 words behind schedule. No biggie. I can catch up ... I hope.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Haruki Murakami: "Something's wrong with this town."

Finally! Something new about Haruki Murakami I can feast my brains on!

He was in Berkley to receive the inaugural Berkley Japan Prize (wtf? I have a feeling they created this one specially for him...) and was kind enough to have a reading and a conversation with the many fans who attended. (The session sold out fast.)

Ben Dooley of The Millions was there and reported back a lot of interesting stuff I still didn't know about the writer, such as Murakami's likening of writing to playing video games: "Writing a story for me is just like playing a video game. I start with a word or idea, then I stick out my hand to catch what's coming next. I'm a player, and at the same time, I'm a programmer. It's kind of like playing chess by yourself. When you're the white player, you don't think about the black player. It's possible, but it's hard. It's kind of schizophrenic."

He also says he doesn't dream the conventional way: "I don't dream. I use my dreams when I write. I dream when I'm awake. That's the job of a novelist. You can dream a dream intentionally. When you're sleeping and you have a nice dream, you're eating or with a woman, you might wake up at the best part. I get to keep dreaming. It's great."

He also drops a small hint of his next novel which might take a long while to reach English readers due to its overwhelming size: "I hope you're not a commuter... The new novel is in the third person, from beginning to end. I need that room, because the story is getting more complicated. I need many perspectives."

Lots more good Murakami trivia when you click the link, like finding out that South of the Border, West of the Sun was born out of a rejected part of the Wind-up Bird Chronicles. Neat.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Fadli Al-Akiti in The Sun.

My pal, Fadz, who had his second SF novel published earlier this year is featured in The Sun. Congratulations Fadz, and major props to Bissme for writing about a very much disregarded genre in local writing.

As for the novel itself, Saga Horizon is set in a post-apocalyptic world where humans struggle to survive against a never-ending rampaging hoard of robot soldiers. (Think Terminator.)

Haven't finished reading it yet, but so far it's quite an okay read...albeit a little too depressing for me to stomach at the moment. Am in the mood for light and happy lit right now. So sorry Fadz, your review will have to wait :p

Monday, 13 October 2008

MPH-Alliance Bank National Short Story Prize 2009.

Pretty good news for Malaysian writers writing in English!

From Eric:
(27 October 2008 - 31 March 2009)
In Support of Malaysian Writing in English

MPH Group of Companies has collaborated with Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd as our main sponsor and the Malay Mail as our official media partner to create a national short story prize in support of the arts and to encourage Malaysian writers to showcase their literary talents. The Prize is also supported by the Reader’s Digest, Seventeen Malaysia, Discovery Channel Magazine, The British Council, the National Library of Malaysia and the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.

We aim to promote the following objectives through the administering of the Prize:
  • To encourage reading and writing in the English language;
  • To recognise new writers and give them increased confidence to pursue writing as a career;
  • To make more widely known the work of rising literary talents;
  • To encourage more people to write about their lives in Malaysia; and
  • To highlight a diversity of cultures, voices and viewpoints
We hope that the creation and administration of a short story competition with substantial prizes, courtesy of Alliance Bank, will help foster talented Malaysian writers to move on to publishing books of their own. It is also a platform to encourage Malaysians to write about their lives in Malaysia, overcoming ethnic, linguistic and cultural differences through the common language of English.

The competition is divided into two categories: adults and teens. There is no specific theme for the adults category; for teens, the theme is ‘Staying and Leaving.’ The Prize is open to Malaysian nationals and residents only. The word count for the adults category is from 2,500 to 7,000 words and 2,000 to 4,000 for the teens category. Stories must be previously unpublished and each writer is only allowed to submit a maximum of two entries.

MPH as administrators of the Prize will select a longlist from the entries received, from which the judges will select a shortlist of six stories. The winner of the adult category will receive RM5,000 cash, a laptop and magazine subscriptions; the other five shortlisted entries will each receive a laptop and magazine subscriptions. The winner of the teens category will receive RM2,000 cash, a subnotebook and magazine subscriptions; the other five shortlisted entries will each receive a subnotebook and magazine subscriptions.

Entry forms are available at all MPH outlets and in MPH Quill and can be downloaded from www.mphonline.com. The competition is free for MRC members and Alliance Bank cardholders; otherwise, a minimum purchase of RM10 from any MPH bookstores is required. Entries are to be sent by post to MPH Group (M) Sdn Bhd or dropped off at collection boxes in selected MPH outlets. Emailed entries are not accepted.

For full terms and conditions, please log on to:

www.mphonline.com

For other information, please contact:

Ms. Kuah Sze Mei
MPH Group (M) Sdn Bhd
Lot 1, 1st Floor, Bangunan TH
No. 5, Jalan Bersatu, Section 13/4
Petaling Jaya, Selangor
MALAYSIA
E: szemei@mph.com.my
T: 03-7960 7334

Mr. Eric Forbes
MPH Group Publishing Sdn Bhd
E: mphpublishing@mph.com.my
T: 03-7960 7334

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Blip.

Am having net problems, so won't be blogging until my ISP gets its priorities right.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Design a Cover for Lydia Teh!

Lydia Teh, author of Honk! If You're Malaysian and Life's Like That is having a book cover design contest for her new book, Do You Wear Suspenders? – The Wordy Tales Eh Poh Nim, a collection of her vocabularistic column in The Star.

Check it out! You could win a RM100 worth of book vouchers which I assume can be used at MPH Bookstores.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

My feet are killing me.

The Gallery had a buka puasa cum launch event yesterday so I left later than usual from work. Even stopped by Kinokuniya to pick up a copy of Murakami's Running Book.

But if I had left like usual, I probably would have been on one of the trains involved in the collision near the Bukit Jalil station on the Ampang LRT line yesterday. The time and place of the accident is right about the time and place I would have been on the train if I hadn't gone home late. That is a very scary thought. (But not as scary as the thought that the Ampang Line has been becoming less and less reliable ever since RapidKL took over 4 years ago.)

It was a really unusual scene when I got on the platform at Masjid Jamek around 10pm. I was expecting it to be more or less devoid of people, but what greeted me was a scene equal to rush hour at 6pm! Had to wait for the train for ages, and it only went on till Tasik Selatan. From there there was a temporary feeder bus service to ferry passengers to the remaining stations.

You'd expect RapidKL to provide these feeder bus services for free to make up for the inconvenience, but no! passengers had to pay an extra RM1 to get on. What a bunch of lowlife scammers.

Anyways, all the while I was standing and now my feet hurt like heck, which doesn't give me the right mood in which I can read Murakami's Running Book. Sigh.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Shoulda just bought it instead.

There was some confusion with Kinokuniya (and maybe even The Star) and I won't be reviewing Murakami's Running Book. They gave the review copy to someone else instead. Ah well. Alea jacta est and all that.

Wish they could have told me earlier because then I could have just bought the book and read it already instead of having to twiddle my thumbs.

In the meantime I'm reading an ARC of The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb which MPH kindly gave me. So far so good, although the protagonist is getting to be a little too flawed for my liking.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

rip

Feeling a little sad. No. Scratch that. A lot sad. My iPod Shuffle just died.

It's a first gen Shuffle so it looks like a stick of gum rather than a silly clip-on. I bought it right after launch and has served me well for the past 3 or so years. I guess it was time. The headphone socket had been having problems recently with the audio dying out on one side of the 'phones, and then switching to the other for no reason at all.

But even then I loved using it as a general-use thumbdrive. When not using it as a music device, just plug it in and it becomes a spare backup drive. Very useful, unlike the 2nd gen clip-on Shuffle, which you have to plug into a dock before you can connect it to a computer.

I'll miss you 1st gen iPod Shuffle! *sniff*

On the upside! The new shuffle doesn't cost more than RM200 while I bought my old 1GB Shuffle for RM500. (It was right before CNY and my old company had recently given out a bonus). These days you could get a Nano with 8 times the memory AND a screen with that kind of money.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

New Hitchhiker Book in the Making.

Young Adult author Eoin Colfer has been chosen to write the sixth book in Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker Trilogy (yes, yes you read that right).

But why?

I have never read any of Colfer's books and I'm sure he must be a good writer but I doubt anybody could match up to Adams' wit and talent. The Hitchhiker series isn't even remembered for its story more than its jokes and clever wordplay so why bother continuing it?

I just hope Eoin Colfer is an atheist. Only an atheist can properly write another Hitchhiker novel!

Monday, 15 September 2008

Can't find the right word...

Don't you hate it when you're seeking le mots juste but the damn word just keeps being elusive? What's ironic about this is while I cannot find the word I'm looking for I can however remember an uncommon phrase like "le mots juste". The mind boggles.

On Apologising.

Okay! Moving on.

After all the brouhaha about Ahmad Ismail's unwelcome commentary, as well as the subsequent illogical actions, I found it heartwarming to read Amitabh Bachchan's quote on apologising:
Bachchan, 66, had asked for "forgiveness" for his wife's remarks, saying they were without "malice."


When asked whether he felt it demeaning for a star of his standing being forced to apologise to a political group, he told reporters in New Delhi, "by apologising no one becomes small".
(Emphasis mine.)

I've always wondered my Malaysian politicians have always found it hard to apologise even though it's very clear to everyone with half a mind that they're in the wrong. After all, no one becomes small.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

I am a Dork. In a National Newspaper.

Okay, so I'm in The Star again! Not as a book reviewer though, but in a Roald Dahl profile written by Rouwen Lin.

As evident in the article, I am a dork. Seriously. Look at this photo:


Haha!

Anyways, thanks Rouwen, for giving me my fifteen minutes of fame.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Happy Roald Dahl Day!

It's Roald Dahl Day again and this year I haven't forgotten! (Thanks to Blogger's scheduled publishing feature.)

So last Roald Dahl Day, I showed you pictures of my autographed first edition copy of Rhyme Stew and the previous year I told you my experience at the book signing. This year let me show you a photo of the book signing.


Look at that! My glasses are the same colour as Roald Dahl's!

So this Roald Dahl fellow? What's so awesome about him anyway?

Let me tell you!

Roald Dahl's works appeal to me because there's always a sense of childish craftiness or mischievousness in the writing, as if he's letting the reader in on a secret joke. It's like Roald Dahl was this good-hearted prankster who never really grew up, and he threw all his good ideas for pranks into the books he wrote.

Add to that his silly and funny made-up words, is it any wonder he won many a child's heart?

In a way, he never really did grow up. I remember watching an interview with him on television when I was little, and he said he preferred the company of children rather than adults.

My favourite Dahl book has changed a few times since my childhood. It used to be I loved The BFG, and then later, it was the Willy Wonka books, and then when I was a little older and when I managed to find a copy of My Uncle Oswald after a long search, that became my favourite. But I think nowadays I've settled on his autobiographies, Boy and it's sequel, Going Solo. It's the only two books of his I keep returning to every year.

The reasons I love Boy and Going Solo is that in those two books, you come to realise why exactly he turned out to be the writer he was.

Boy chronicles the years of his life from when he was born until near the end of his school days; his life as a prankster schoolboy makes for very good reading. Going Solo picks up right after Boy, and follows his young adult life, initially as an employee with Shell in East Africa, and then as a fighter pilot for the RAF in the Second World War.

In both books, the events he writes about are made more interesting because its true, but knowing Roald Dahl, I suspect the stories were embellished with extra details to make them more interesting, exciting or even funny.

I was introduced to Roald Dahl when I was first able to read, probably at the age of 6. My father was studying in England then so I was sent to an English school. The teachers encouraged the pupils to read Roald Dahl, and they even read to us aloud his books after classes had finished and before our parents came to take us home. I don't remember the teachers reading anything other than Roald Dahl; it was always a book of his one after another. Probably the first Roald Dahl book a teacher read to me was The Magic Finger.

I'm not sure what impact Roald Dahl had on me, to be honest. This sounds entirely cheesy, but in my childhood, his books were my greatest friends. When you're a kid, adults are always the baddies, and in Dahl's books the children always triumphs against the machinations of the adults. I read and reread the books to comfort myself especially in times when I felt the adults were being unfair to me. Maybe the biggest impact was that Roald Dahl made me a rebel?

I have read (and own) all his children's books but only some of his adults' books. I think I'm missing one adult novel, which is rare and disowned by the author anyway, and his earliest short story book, which I keep meaning to read but having delayed it because his early writings were a bit dry. He hadn't found his voice yet at the time.

There are some differences between his children's and adult books. The first thing you'll notice is that all his children's stories are novels but all his adult ones are short stories, save for one novel, My Uncle Oswald. The second thing you'll notice is that while Dahl maintains his trademark prankster tomfoolery intact in his adult stories, the jokes tend to be much more sinister, and more often than not it involves various naughty bits a person in his or her right mind would never allow a child to read.

This is most evident in My Uncle Oswald, which is about a team of conmen who go around stealing the sperm of famous personalities worldwide, and in Switch Bitch, the book that compiles the short stories he wrote for Playboy Magazine.

The other thing is, the adult short stories always, always have a brilliant twist ending. Roald Dahl is the man who mastered the twist ending. Somehow this talent was never really brought over into his children's books as they concentrate more on telling jokes and evoking a child's sense of wonder.

Which is all right by me.

Friday, 12 September 2008

More About Roald Dahl in More About Boy.

Just in time for Roald Dahl Day on the 13th, Puffin has published an "extended" version of Roald Dahl's boyhood memoir, Boy, called More About Boy.

From the Amazon UK page:
What were Roald Dahl's first words? Read his account of going to football matches with Joss Spivvis, the gardener. This new edition of a favourite book contains a wealth of new photos, facts and writings about Roald Dahl and his childhood, together with the original text and illustrations from his much-loved memoir. With lots of little-known details, this is a must-have for all Dahl fans!
I checked with Kinokuniya but they don't have it yet. Faster, Kino!

I guess we can expect More About Going Solo in the future? And then it won't take long before they start releasing More About Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator or More About The Magic Finger or More About The Vicar of Nibbleswicke or... okay, I'll stop here.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Thoughts on Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I was writing an essay earlier this month and in it I quoted a children's poem which I knew since childhood composed by Robert Louis Stevenson. This made me realise that despite the fact that I knew the existence of R.L. Stevenson's works since I was very young I have never really read a novel by him.

Never read his famous pirate book, Treasure Island, nor The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and My Hyde and certainly not Kidnapped. The former two books are familiar to me thanks to the wonders of film and television (not to mention pop-cultural references) but I've never really known the story that moves Kidnapped.

Seeing as I've owned a copy of Kidnapped almost as long as I've known the poem I mentioned earlier, I thought I'd put this problem to a halt.

Having done so, I found Kidnapped to be an intriguing adventure story, filled with deception, sword fights and nasty, snarling men. This is also a very, very boyish adventure, due to the lack of prominent female characters; in fact, at one point in the story, there is a girl who provides an important role in the story, but unfortunately she was not even honoured with a name. Definitely not a book to pass the Bechdel Test then.

The story concerns young David Balfour, with parents newly deceased, and the farmhouse his father rented given to another tenant. He is told to seek his paternal uncle and as with stories like these, and with uncles named Ebenezer (for that is the name of David's uncle), he turns out to be a bit of a miser and a crankpot to boot.

Uncle Ebenezer soon reveals himself to be a mean plotter of schemes, of which one of them involves sending David on a Staircase Climb of Death. David, however, is equipped with a wit usually not found in characters in stories like these, and so manages to escape Certain Death.

However, his wits don't work all the time as soon the machinations of his uncle allow David to be kidnapped onto a ship bound for the American colonies where he is destined to be a slave.

This is where the story truly begins, and David soon meets Alan Breck, a Scot highlander who is on the side of the French in the currently ongoing France-Scotland war (and incidentally a real person in life). When David finally manages to escape the clutches of his kidnappers with the aid of Alan Breck, they are then reluctantly embroiled in a political assassination which leads them to fleeing for their lives across the Scottish countryside.

Modern writers are told not to use slang in their novels and for good reason. Slang is difficult to read and most often it annoys the reader rather than allowing them to absorb themselves into the story. One good example of this is Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn which contain liberal amounts of slang which prove too much of a pain to stumble through, at least for me.

Kidnapped is also a novel that uses liberal amounts of slang (this time, Scottish) in dialogue but somehow it doesn't get in the way of the story. In fact R.L. Stevenson's use of language is beautiful and rhythmic in the way only an archaic, Victorian use of the English language can be.

I really enjoyed reading Kidnapped and am a little surprised why it took me so long to get round to reading it (twenty-one years, to be precise, judging from the ancient receipt I found in my copy). Perhaps I shall try reading Treasure Island next. Ho ho ho and a bottle of rum!

Sponsored Links: Get these books from Amazon.com:
1. Kidnapped (Penguin Classics)
2. Treasure Island (Puffin Classics)

And now there's the Dahl Prize!

From The Guardian:
Roald Dahl never won a children's book prize in his lifetime, but today he has gone one better, as the shortlists for a literary prize bearing his name are announced.


Founded by the children's laureate Michael Rosen, the Roald Dahl Funny prize celebrates honours the most hilarious children's authors. The inaugural winners will receive £2,500 - a slightly more serious prize than the Gloucester Old Spot pig handed over to winners of the Wodehouse prize for adult comic fiction.


Rosen founded the prize to boost the profile of humorous books as part of his campaign to put the fun back into children's reading.

"I have sat on judging panels before and what happens is that the funny books get squeezed out, because somehow or other they don't tackle big issues in the proper way," he explained. "They'll get through to the last four or five books, and then historical fiction, or something about death or slavery or new technology will win out. I think it's a great shame, because actually when I think about the books I remember from childhood they are the funny books."
If you're wondering why there's suddenly an increase of Roald Dahl-related news on the interwebs, it's probably because Roald Dahl Day is around the corner.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Sold out?!?

I just came back from Kinokuniya where I talked with one of the merchandising peeps and she told me they actually had Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running in the store the other day but it sold out.

Sold out?! Already? Seriously, who stalks Kinokuniya for Haruki Murakami and buys up every new book of his? (Don't answer that.)

Anyways, Kinokuniya is only bringing in more stock in next week which is hopefully when I receive my review copy. Yes!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Google Chrome.

Okay. Google Chrome? Total awesome. After using Chrome, using Firefox 3 is like driving a lorry after driving a Lotus Elise. Too bad the EULA isn't very writer-friendly.

Update:
Looks like Google is fixing that EULA snafu. Now if only they'd release a Mac version, I'll be ready to sell my soul to Google. Oh wait I already did. (I heart Google Reader.)

Update 2:
I forgot to include this, and I really should, because it's a comic by Scott McCloud. Yes, the very same Scott McCloud of Understand Comics!). The comic explains the whys and hows of Google Chrome and is a very good primer on understanding the reasoning behind the design decisions in the new browser.)

Update 3:
They've updated the EULA, so everything's peachy now. Well, except for the bugs I've been noticing. Doesn't work so well with Facebook.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Dahl... Roald Dahl.

I've always known Dahl was a ladies' man (and even called upon his talents for writing his stories) and I knew he was somewhat of a spy (as we learn in Going Solo) but I never knew he used his manly charms in his work as a spy:
Drawing on previously unpublished letters and other documents, American journalist Jennet Conant has written about Dahl's numerous sexual conquests.


They include Millicent Rogers, the heiress to a Standard Oil fortune, and Clare Boothe Luce, a right-wing congresswoman and the wife of the publisher of Time magazine.


Boothe Luce proved so frisky, Dahl later claimed to have begged his superiors to take him off the assignment, only to be told to get back into the bedroom.


Conant writes: "Dahl's superiors watched his rake's progress with grudging admiration.


"A certain amount of hank-panky was condoned, especially when it was for a good cause."
Such a rogue!

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Malaysiakini Publishes Science Fiction.


I logged into Malaysiakini this afternoon to see if anything was wrong in the country, and instead of the news I was presented with a nice little science fiction story by Lim Teck Ghee:
It is Merdeka Day 2057. The Supremacist Alliance is in power. Having successfully re-engineered (and renamed) itself several times over, it has the record of being the longest-staying political party in power in the world.


Interviewed over Mal-Jibberish, the sole media agency (all other printed and electronic news media had lost their licences in the great media purge of 2020 or had been swallowed up by the national media Goliath) the Supreme Minister (SM) proclaimed that the Supremacist Alliance looked forward to another hundred years of ruling the country based on its past record of successfully managing the multi-racial society.
And you thought he only dabbled in political science!

Link might be for paid subscribers only. If you're not a paying subscriber to Malaysiakini then allow me to knock you on the head. *knocks reader on head* There.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Fellow Traveller by Hari Kunzru.

The Guardian is celebrating the Beijing Olympics by publishing short stories, and the first one is a hilarious one written by Hari Kunzru, and it features pandas. It also reminds me of Chet. :D

Thursday, 21 August 2008

First is the Worst, Second is the Best, Third is the one with the hairy chest.

So the literary corner of the interwebs is abuzz with the latest news that the number one of the 50 best-loved authors is Enid Blyton. And people have since come out to say that they too like Enid Blyton, warts and all.

To say I'm dismayed is an understatement. I hate Blyton. Always have, always will. This may have happened because I was introduced to Roald Dahl first and only to Enid Blyton a few years later. If that have happened the other way round maybe my feelings for her books would be a lot different. But since we do not have the benefit of a time machine or a device capable of peeking into parallel worlds, who knows?

But I'm not here to complain about people liking Enid Blyton. For what it's worth, she was responsible for instilling the love of reading into at least a couple of generations so that's okay by me. Also, if it weren't for Enid Blyton, I would have never known what a Gollywog is. Ho ho!

As for the rest of the list, I think it's spiff that eight (EIGHT!) SF writers made it to the list.

Isaac Asimov, H.G.Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, George Orwell, Iain Banks, Arthur Conan Doyle, J.G. Ballard and Ray Bradbury.

All worth reading.

Okay, so Sir A.C. Doyle is a bit pushing it, but remember, he did write The Lost World, which inspired a lot of SF dinosaur stories afterwards, the most notable one being Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park.

To be filed in "You-should-have-done-it-earlier".

In the first time he's actually done something I'm impressed with since he became Prime Minister, Pak Lah took a ride on the city's LRT:
He said the existing services were not systematic, there were not enough coaches and coverage was not comprehensive, leaving many areas not serviced.


"I just saw the plight of people using the trains to get to work every morning. They were jostling to get on board every time a train arrived. There appeared to be no system.


"I'm not happy with this because the people are not getting satisfaction from riding the trains. This we must fix," he said.


"I found the trains really packed with so many passengers. Some had waited for three trains and yet could not board.


"There's no queue. People push their way in, women with children and old people are pushed aside," he added.
I'm glad you've finally noticed, Mr Prime Minister, even if it has taken you four bleeding years to realise it. If only you'd done something like this before you raised the petrol price.

Not everything's about boats you know!

Monday, 18 August 2008

Miscellaneous.

My brother-in-law got married yesterday and I was the best man.

Let me tell you something.

If you ever get the chance to become a best man at someone's wedding, at that wedding happens to be a Malay wedding and takes place in Johor, then I suggest you don't do it.

It's pure madness I tell you! And don't come to me crying afterwards. It'll be too late by then. I'll spare you the told-you-sos.

I have never seen such uncivilised behaviour at a wedding. Is that what the Malays call adat? Count me out of service, out of Johor, I wouldn't hang about.

But I'm one for talk aren't I? Should I be talking about barbarism in Johor when I will be seeing Wall-e tonight in IOI Puchong? You think the Goths and the Vikings were barbaric. Hah! I say you wouldn't know barbarism before you have had a chance to see a movie in IOI Puchong.

Also if anyone finds my syntax atrocious, please feel free to resyntax this post.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

The Creative Process.

Leon has started up a new blog called the Malaysian Poetic Chronicles which he promises will be a place to house your poetry or short shorts. He's open for submissions now.

The first two posts are a poem by Leon, and a short story from yours truly, which you have already read here.

However! My short story over there has something extra: a write-up of my creative process while writing the story. If you're interested, go take a look.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

SHORT STORY: Untitled.

I wrote this short story for a contest but then I got waaaay over the word limit, so I had to scrap it and start over again. I wrote another short story and sent that one in instead.

The abandoned short story is as follows. Tell me what you think.
It was already a week into the month of Ramadan but all Afiq could find in the dark corners of the sprawling town built on the back of the humongous beast, Buraq, was water to break his fast every evening. The water, whenever it was found, was not clean, and Afiq often had to lick it off the most repugnant of surfaces, such as the walls of an abandoned hut, rotting away, as was walls made from the skins of long ago deceased tics were wont to do after a brief period of time; or in huge acrid beads of sweat in between the the beast’s fur, where ever he could find it growing–sometimes in between buildings, other times in between blades of the beast’s fur, growing like tall blades of grass in patches very much like small fields, on the outskirts of the vast decaying Town.

It was the beads of sweat that kept Afiq going on. He had no doubt the odious and vile liquid excreted from underneath the beast’s back contained some vitamins and minerals–though perhaps limited, it was enough to keep his body alive. His, and other food scavengers as well.

The problem with the fur patches outside town was that it was getting harder and harder every day of Ramadan to find a big enough bead of beast sweat to last until the next breaking of fast. Competition was stiff. Fights often broke out amongst the scavengers and the militant Jayshists. Afiq had no intention of getting himself mixed in any of these squabbles. He knew that in his weak state, he would most probably die if ever he got into a fight. That was why he kept his searches mostly within the confines of the Town.

But that was before he stumbled into the house of the Imam. In his stupor, brought on by his extreme hunger, he had clumsily dragged himself into a district of the Town where he had not gone before. In this part of town, the houses and buildings were made of a different material, something more rugged and longer-lasting than the skins of tics. He did not know what it was but as he slid his palms on the walls while walking between the buildings, the walls felt coarse and slightly elastic, very much unlike the brittle and smooth qualities of tic skins. Even the ground felt different. In other parts of the Town, the ground was soft and springy, as a Buraq’s back should be. But here it was solid and hard and shiny.

The musty stench in the air quickly gave way to a fragrant aroma, something Afiq’s nostrils had not had the luxury of smelling before. His nose clearly could not cope with this new sensation. Small streams of blood flowed out his nostrils. He wiped the blood with his grimy wrist and licked it. His mouth started watering. He quickly swallowed the saliva produced. He was not one to waste moisture. He followed the aroma to an open doorway. Inside he saw a sparse room, decorated only with a table and two accompanying chairs, as well as a small black stove in the far corner. On top of the stove, there was a wok, and it was being used to deep-fry something. Attending to the wok, was a tall man wearing a white skullcap. This was the Imam.

The Imam turned around and saw the skinny figure of Afiq standing in the doorway. If the Imam had any change of expression, he did not reveal it. Afiq expected the Imam to burst into a rage, a reaction he was used to getting whenever he appeared in strange doorways. But the Imam did no such thing. He turned his back once again to Afiq and resumed giving his full attention to the wok.
Yes, yes. It's unfinished. Probably might stay that way for a long time too.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Excerpt From New Book On Mervyn Peake.

Read an excerpt from Michael Moorcock's latest book, LOVERS: Mervyn and Maeve Peake. A Personal Memoir over at Enter the Octopus.

Murakami Review, Ten Things You Should Know About Him, and Fangirling.

The Guardian has one of the first reviews for Haruki Murakami's latest, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, up online and is written by Alastair Campbell.

The Times meanwhile, has helpfully put up an article telling us the Top Ten things we need to know about Murakami, for those who haven't already.

MG Harris, owes her published book to reading Haruki Murakami...and is now all fangirl about him:
...I do know what reading Murakami did for me and it’s nothing less than this: it enabled me to write a publishable novel.


I’ve written before about the day I met several publishers who were interested in acquiring ‘The Joshua Files’. And one of them commented “We can’t believe this is your first novel!” to which I replied (laughing) - “Well it’s not - it’s my first publishable novel. I’ve written three before this.” “So what happened,” they asked, “between writing the other three and writing Joshua Files?”


So I told them the truth. In the meantime I’d read almost all of the works of Haruki Murakami.


Backtrack a little. There I was with two manuscripts written in 6 months and both getting essentially rejected by agents. Actually the second ms was getting some interest but it wasn’t quite making the grade. And I understood this: without a quantum leap, my writing was not going to be good enough to be published. Something had to change; something major. I had maybe 50% of what was needed. The rest of the 50% was going to have to come with hard study, graft and experience. Or a bolt from the blue.


I couldn’t be bothered to do it the hard way. Crumbs, I was almost 40 years old! I didn’t have too much time left to get a writing career off the ground whilst I was still young enough to enjoy it (both my parents died aged 46 - that gives you a sense of urgency…).


So I began actively to search for the bolt from the blue.


I read a book on how to structure stories for screenplays, even wrote a screenplay for practice. And meantime, I read all the works of an author until then unknown to me - Haruki Murakami.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Friday, 11 July 2008

Again.

Not that there's any surprise in it but Midnight's Children is Booker of Bookers. Again. I approve. If you haven't read it yet, do so and you may not regret it. And if you haven't finished it, why not?

(btw, I read Satanic Verses last month and it was over-rated.)

Monday, 7 July 2008

RIP, Thomas M Disch.

Was a bit surprised to hear that Tom Disch killed himself on the Fourth of July.


For those not in the know, Disch was a reknowned SF writer but he was most often overlooked and under-read. Even I haven't read his acclaimed books, Camp Concentration and The Genocides, mostly because they're hard to find. But I did read his non-fiction book about SF, The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of and it was a blast.

Ironically, he's just had a book out, The Word of God, in which Disch writes as God. I guess embracing divinity was just too much for him.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Apple Sighting.

Warning! I'm revealing the tech-side of my geekiness today.


I find it interesting Anwar is a Macbook Pro man. Why does he use an Apple laptop when every other Malaysian politician I see uses a Windows machine? Was it on the recommendation of his pal, Al Gore (who happens to be on Apple's board of directors)?

Maybe we can expect him to present some mind-blowing presentations using Keynote in the future. That is, if they don't throw him in jail that is.

Again.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Quick! How do you know when a new Murakami book is coming out?

When it's excerpted in The Guardian of course! Woohoo!
I don't think most people would like my personality. There might be a few - very few, I would imagine - who are impressed by it, but only rarely would anyone like it. Who in the world could possibly have warm feelings for a person who doesn't compromise, who instead, whenever a problem crops up, locks himself away alone in a closet? But is it ever possible for a professional writer to be liked by people? For me, at least, being disliked by someone, hated and despised, somehow seems more natural. Not that I'm relieved when that happens. Even I'm not happy when someone dislikes me.

STICKY: Kata-Suara June 08



KATA-SUARA

featuring

The Launching of Mustapa Haji Ibrahim's Poetry Book, Gemuruh Alam.

which will be launched by
Y. Bhg. Dato' A. Samad Said
National Laureate

Mustapa Haji Ibrahim was one of the artists who was directly involved in the formation of the 'Anak Alam' group, a seminal group of cutting-edge artists, poets, theater activists, dancers and various artistic personalities in the 70s.

and not forgetting these fine writers and musicians:

Mustapa Hj Ibrahim
Siti Zainon Ismail
Raja Ahmad Aminullah
Dr Iqbal
Chuah Guat Eng
Rahman Shaari
Nisah Haron

Date: Saturday, 7th June 2008
Time: 5pm
Venue: RA Fine Arts, 6 Jalan Aman off Jalan Tun Razak

Food and Drinks Provided. Admission Free.

Directions:


View Larger Map

Or if you choose to take the LRT, take the Kelana Jaya line (Putra line), and drop off at the Ampang Park station. Coming out of the ticket turnstiles, turn right and take the escalators up to get to the Ampang Park shopping mall. Go round Ampang Park and walk across the pedestrian bridge over Jalan Tun Razak to get to City Square. Walk past City Square and Empire Tower beside it to get to Jalan Aman, which is a small road by the side of Empire Tower. RA Fine Arts Gallery is the white bungalow house on the corner of the road with the number 6. You can't miss it.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Less Book-Buying For Now.

Seeing as my country's government sees fit that me and wife starve to death, I don't think I will be buying more books in the near future.

We were amongst the crazy people stuck in last night's crazy jam and spent an hour and half in the car in what usually is a five minute journey to the local petrol pump.

Government says that they'll be reviewing the petrol price again next month. Not looking forward to going through that crazy rush to the pump again. Maybe next time I'll just resign myself and sit at home while muttering how cruel our PM is. Or read a good book. Or both.

Anyway it all boils down to having less money to spend on books. Which makes me sad.

For those curious, I am currently reading:
  • Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses (interesting at first, but gets a bit tedious towards the end. Surprisingly I like the parts with Mahound more...I guess that might reflect something in me?)
  • Jorge Luis Borges's Ficciones (very, very good; but not something to read in the LRT in the mornings...it's too heavy. His writing I mean, not the book. The book is light and easy to carry around.)
  • Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita (I had grown a little bored with Satanic Verses so I wanted to read something different...and I picked this up. I was reminded what irony was when I discovered that this had been the inspiration for Satanic Verses. It's still a good book though but maybe I will try to pick up a Murakami or an SF book if I want something totally different.)

Friday, 30 May 2008

Doctor Who and the Infinite Library.

(Those who don't follow Doctor Who can just skip this post, thanks.)

Woohoo! I am totally stoked about tomorrow's episode of Doctor Who, mostly because it features an infinite library! Shades of Borges anyone?

While I'm on that note, I think Donna Noble is excellent as a companion. Who would've thought? I found her absolutely annoying in that one Christmas Special, and before the current season started, would have preferred Kylie Minogue staying on as companion. Alas! It was not to be.

I don't have any opinions about Martha Jones because after Rose left, I was left very upset and decided to boycott the show...only for The Master (played by that cool bloke from Life on Mars!!!) to return in that season's finalé! So yes, I regret that now.

Nvm!

I just hope the Doctor's daughter returns in style.

(If I was bothered to update my twitter account, I would probably type in: "is humming the original synthesized Doctor Who theme.")

Haruki Murakami Interview in the Mainichi Daily.

It used to be that Haruki Murakami was very shy with the press, especially the Japanese press. But in recent years that shyness must have cast off a little. It looks like he's in the news every other month now.

While I won't be surprised if he gave a comprehensive interview to a foreign newspaper (it's outside the shores of Japan where he's celebrated as a literary sensation, while he's seen as more of a hack within), it does surprise me that Murakami would give such a long and interesting review to a Japanese paper–the interview spans 5 webpages over 5 days. (Personally I've been hopping with glee with all this Murakami news pouring in!)

I guess times must have changed?

There's a lot of new and interesting nuggets spilled by Murakami in the interview, which discusses his work translating English classics into Japanese, his next novel(an epic worthy of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle!), how English literature and translating English literature influences his writing, and his writing process.

It's a great read, especially if you're a big Murakami fan like me.

Here are the links:
  1. Haruki Murakami opens up about translating America's literary giants
  2. Murakami says American contemporary classics 'really significant' for his writing
  3. Murakami's next epic poised to become his biggest ever
  4. 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' helped inspire Murakami to write for his daily bread
  5. Murakami aims to find harmonious balance between globalism and regionalism
Enjoy!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Gift of Rain Reviewed by Complete Review.

Finally! Link.

Sponsored Link:
Get Tan Twan Eng's Gift of Rain from Amazon.com!

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

I Voted For Swifty. (A Chicken Rice Mystery Post)

Fellow blogger and pal, Swifty, has had his short film, Chicken Rice Mystery, become one of the finalists in the BMW Shorties 2008 competition.

I've seen it and I think it's an enjoyable watch. Combining elements of noir and several bits of comedy, which to me is very reminiscent of Chow Sing Chi's work in the Nineties, Chicken Rice Mystery is about a boy whose mother used to make really good chicken rice, a dish that everyone in the family remembers with great fondness.

But ever since he was born, his mother stopped cooking it and now his father has grown to miss that particular chicken rice. But then there's that issue of his mother not really being able to cook very well... So how is it that his mother was able to cook this magnificent dish that everyone seems to praise?

He then takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of why his mother doesn't make her particular brand of chicken rice anymore.

The movie is only about ten minutes long but totally worth loading the BMW Shorties website to watch, even if the site is full of crappy Flash. (Ad agencies! There's something awesome called AJAX and CSS! It's totally better than flash! Look into it, you fools!)

There's also a cameo by Suanie who the other blogs seem to make a big brouhaha about. I don't read Suanie's blog so I don't really know her or even care. But you might!

Don't forget to vote for the movie when you've watched it! There's still one day left!

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

KLAB Haul.

Before I get my new hard drive though let me show off my haul from the KLAB.
  1. 10x10 : 100 Minutes to Change the World - The Winning Plays of the Kakiscript Playwriting Competition (free, but had to fill in survey form and give up my private and personal details)
  2. Colonel Sun by Robert Markham (a pseudonym of Kingsley Amis; free, but obtained via Bookcrossing so will have to pass it on when I'm done reading)
  3. Cerpen-cerpen Terkemuka Akutagawa (free, but obtained via Bookcrossing so will have to pass it on when I'm done reading, but at least I can say I read Akutagawa in the original Malay)
  4. Vox by Nicholson Baker (free, but obtained via Bookcrossing so will have to pass it on when I'm done reading)
  5. Ask the Dust by John Fante (free, but obtained via Bookcrossing so will have to pass it on when I'm done reading
  6. Bruce Chatwin by Nicholas Shakespeare (free, no strings attached)
  7. The Malay Peoples of Malaysia and Their Languages by Asmah Haji Omar (free, no strings attached)
  8. Generation (hardcover and autographed by two of the writers) by Amir Muhammad, Kam Raslan and Sheryll Stothard (free, no strings attached)
  9. Work In Progress, a chapbook by Patricia Low (RM5)
  10. Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet (RM5)
  11. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (RM5)
  12. Mencari Jalan Pulang by Kassim Ahmad (RM35)
  13. Keganasan, Penipuan dan Internet by Isham Rais (RM25)
So all in all RM75 for thirteen books. Not bad, considering most of the books I got for free!

Monday, 5 May 2008

KLAB Teaser.

So even a blogpost needs a teaser? Naw... it's just that I took a lot of photos and even several videos of the KL Alternative Bookfest that I'd like to upload and post on the blog but I seem to have run out of space on my hard drive. Only 300megs left!

I'm going out to buy a new drive tomorrow so I'll blog about KLAB then.

Other things to get tomorrow: a Mawi haircut. All this long hair is driving me crazy!

Friday, 2 May 2008

Prophets in Battlestar Galactica.

I've only recently jumped on the Battlestar Galactica bandwagon. Until recently, I didn't watch a lot of TV and due to recent changes in my life I finally got round to watching some good TV shows (What? Watch them on terrestrial TV? You must be joking!) thanks to the internets.

One of the shows I finally got round to watching is the very much acclaimed new version of Battlestar Galactica. I've watched the first four episodes of season 4 already and so far, I like what I see! (I haven't got round to downloading the rest of the episodes but will do so once I get a new hard disk drive for the PowerMac.)

The story so far, as I understand it, includes a certain very interesting character by the name of Gaius Baltar. Throughout the series he's been a politician (namely the President of New Caprica), and now, he's becoming some sort of prophet promoting a monotheistic religion, very much in contrast with the more popular polytheistic religion of worshipping Roman-style gods (Apollo, Zeus and gang).

There's been speculation that Gaius Baltar is an allegory of Jesus, and there's even talk of him being actually an allegory of Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.

Personally I see more parallels with a much closer prophet, one who I am well acquainted with, but cannot mention due to fear of having the wrath of fundamentalists, terrorists and Malays (among other people) directed towards me.

But I'm sure you know to whom I am referring to.

For context, let me just copy-and-paste from the blog I just referred you to:
Jesus was the Son of God. Gaius, like Joseph Smith, is just a regular person and not divine himself. Joseph Smith was visited by the angel Moroni on numerous occasions (or so he claimed). Gaius is visited regularly by some supernatural entity that reveals itself as a Cylon model Number Six. Or maybe Gaius is just insane, but the Number Six in Gaius’ head is supposed to represent the angel Moroni who visited Joseph Smith. Just as Joseph Smith received religious instructions from Moroni, Gaius receives religious instruction from Number Six.

Joseph Smith and Gaius were both politicians. Joseph Smith was the mayor of the town of Nauvoo, and he announced his candidacy for president of the United States in 1844. Gaius Baltar ran for president of the colonies (and won too). See the similarities?

Unlike Jesus, who was convicted at a trial and sentenced to death, both Joseph Smith and Baltar managed to evade any serious jail time at their trials. Joseph Smith was killed by a mob, and not by the law. It seems to me that the writers of BSG are also setting up Gaius Baltar to be killed by a mob. Every time he's out in public, the mob wants to kill him.

Of course, the biggest similarity between the prophet Joseph Smith and Gaius Baltar is the polygamy! Joseph Smith had two dozen or more wives. Gaius has a harem of female followers. Jesus never had any wife at all.

Thus we see that Gaius is Joseph Smith and not Jesus.
The constant mob attacks, the supernatural entity, the harem... dude! sounds more Prophet M than Joseph Smith to me!

Running Hot.

Yesterday was hotter than I thought it was.

When I came home from work yesterday--yes, I was working on Labour Day; we had an exhibition launch at the gallery--the studio room where I house my computers and book library was like a greenhouse.

This has happened before of course and I've never had problems with my two computers overheating or anything like that before. The only things overheating were the puny humans inside.

I'm lucky the PowerMac has smart internal fans that rev up when they sense the CPU is above a certain temperature, usually 60˚c. With the Windows PC, I wasn't all that concerned about it overheating either because the huge noisy internal fans are blasting away all the time anyway.

And yet a strange thing happened yesterday. I had some extra time on my hands yesterday, so I took it upon myself to install the new SP3 update for Windows XP on the PC. The install went smoothly. And then it asked for a reboot. One reboot later, and Windows booted up into SP3, with no visible issues. Or so I thought.

As I was confirming that SP3 was properly installed, the internal speaker suddenly gave out a siren call and the computer shut itself down.

Uh oh.

My first diagnosis was that SP3 fucked up my system. Okay, no biggie, I guess I'd have to reinstall Windows and NOT install SP3 (thanks for nothing Microsoft!). But even when I tried to boot into the Windows Setup CD, the same thing happened. The siren call, then pop, the computer shuts off.

So a few hours later and after many head-scratchings I finally thought of checking the BIOS settings for the PC Health status...and there I saw the CPU temperature was at 90+˚c!!! Yikes. No wonder the computer was shutting down. Something was wrong with the computer's cooling system, so I had to unplug everything and open up the computer to check its innards.

An initial glance saw that all fans were properly working. A more thorough check finally revealed the problem. The CPU heatsink (it was VERY VERY hot, by the way), was not covered, but totally caked and enveloped with dust.

For the benefit of people who don't know what a heatsink is, here's a picture of something similar that's in my PC:


Okay, so you see those grooves in the shiny metal part right? Those are the fins of the heatsink. Air is supposed to travel through those fins to cool the heatsink, which in turn, will cool, the CPU which sits below the heatsink. So like I was saying, my particular heatsink didn't just have dust covering it, the space between the fins were practically filled with dust; there was no space in between them. And when there's no space for the air to move between them, the heatsink doesn't cool, and the CPU doesn't cool either.

I wish I could have taken a picture of the dust. But I was too busy dusting and coughing from the huge amounts of dust clouds being thrown about. I have never seen dust packed in that tight before.

I've cleaned it out now, so the CPU should run okay even during the hottest temperatures in the studio. At least until the next time the heatsink traps that much dust. Which will probably be in the next four years's time.

Right now my main worry is when the same will happen to the PowerMac. It's a little harder disassembling the PowerMac internal fans. Hopefully that won't happen for a while yet at least.

So in the end, it had nothing to do with the SP3 install and so it's not Microsoft's fault for ruining my PC. Hurray!

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