Tuesday, 31 October 2006

NaNoWriMo 2006 - Shifting Into Gear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 30 October 2006

The Great Singaporean Novel.

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

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

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

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

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

Via the Literary Saloon.

Sunday, 29 October 2006

Is there anything WD-40 cannot do?

Ah! So WD-40 does the trick!

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

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

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

Saturday, 28 October 2006

My Ipoh Childhood.

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

Hilarity ensues! Check out the fun:

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

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

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

Friday, 20 October 2006


Well, I'm off for Raya.

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

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

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

Happy Deepavali and Selamat Hari Raya, folks. Out.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Never Enough Murakami...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

An Ipoh Ghost Story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I had to get rid of the book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo nicked without permission from Ghost-Mysteries.com

Thursday, 12 October 2006

Orhan Pamuk is Nobel Laureate for 2006.

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

Darker City.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Her Loss is a Win.

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

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

Hermione Lee comments,

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

Let the cheers and jeers commence.

The Blog in Bangsar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Nobel Prize in Literature.

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

Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Vetri Nichayam.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

Reading List Update.

I am currently reading:

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

I have recently finished:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Ubud with Love (and Literary Pretensions).

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 2 October 2006

Eat Your Heart Out, Ebooks!

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

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

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

Rushdie Profile.

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

Sunday, 1 October 2006

Young, Smart – and Published.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Currently Available E-Books

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Available from: Amazon | Smashwords | iTunes | Google Play | Nook