Thursday, 31 January 2008

Two Authors: How to Write a Novel

Jeff Vandermeer, author of City of Saints and Madmen and Veniss Underground, on how to write a novel in two months:
Make sure you support your efforts with sound lifestyle choices. I have to admit I exercised less and drank more during the two months than is normal for me. However, I still managed to exercise intensely for two-to-three hours three to four times a week and limited the drinking to a couple of drinks a day most of the time. Eating healthy also helped keep my energy level up. This is important, because you’re doing a lot more typing and longhand writing per day than you normally would, and you have to make it count more, as well.
He should know since he just finished his marathon writing session of a Predator novel.

But if you want your novel-writing experience to be a little more relaxed, take some advice from David Louis Edelman, author of InfoQuake and Multireal:
Persevere. Many young writers get the idea in college that the Muse is supposed to beam you perfectly formed sentences that will just flow from your fingertips in a demonic burst of inspiration at 2 a.m. And this does happen, sometimes. But the Muse doesn’t parse out these perfectly formed sentences often, and she expects you to fill in the gaps yourself.

One of the most important skills every writer has to learn is the ability to keep writing even when you don’t feel that tingle of inspiration. Sometimes you just need to plod through, get from point A to B. There are a lot of footsteps between the Shire and Mount Doom, and occasionally you’re going to just trip or stumble along. Often you’ll find that after you’ve trudged for a while, you’ll stumble on a sudden idea or inspiration that will make that passage light on its feet. Other times, you just have to keep trudging.

Monday, 28 January 2008

He read a whole book! Like, totally!

Those crazy Americans! One of them recently attempted to read a book and actually finished it:
Meyer, who never once jumped ahead to see what would happen and avoided skimming large passages of text in search of pictures, first began his oddball feat a week ago. Three days later, the eccentric Midwesterner was still at it, completing chapter after chapter, seemingly of his own free will.

"The whole thing was really engrossing," said Meyer, referring not to a movie, video game, or competitive sports match, but rather a full-length, 288-page novel filled entirely with words. "There were days when I had a hard time putting it down."

Even more bizarre, Meyer is believed to have done most of his reading during his spare time—time when the outwardly healthy and stable resident could have literally been doing anything else, be it aimlessly surfing the Internet, taking a nap, or simply just staring at his bedroom wall.

"It'd be nice to read it again at some point," Meyer continued, as if that were a perfectly natural thing to say.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Readings@Seksan's January 2008.

This month's edition of Readings was special because it was its third birthday since Bernice Chauly started the first session at NoBlackTie.

First to read was Shih-Li Kow, reading the title story in Silverfish's latest short story compilation, News From Home.

Then Tunku Halim took the mic and read a story from The Gravedigger's Kiss and Other Stories. Notice how he looks creepy in the photo below. Look at how Sharon Bakar shivers at his very presence! (And he wasn't even wearing his fedora!)

Bernice Chauly read several poems from her latest book, Book of Sins, which incidentally was launched at the same event.

During the break, Sharon and Bernice blew the candles on the birthday cake. Happy Birthday, Readings! Lepas itu, kita makan kek sesama diri!

After the break, Chuah Kok Yee proceeded to read his version of "The Three Little Pigs" which was also published in News From Home.

Chuah Guat Eng read excerpts from three of her short stories, which are featured in her also newly released book, The Old House and Other Stories. One of the things that clued me in that I was listening to a very experienced writer was the way she read. Very impressive! I look forward to reading her book, which I have now added to my TBR pile.

The final reader of the day was Gerald Chuah who shared with the audience his love for the Rocky movie series and his undoubtedly Rocky-like moments on getting his book In the Eye of the Tiger published. In the Eye of the Tiger sounds interesting; it seems to be a sort of a self-help book which gleans inspirational life lessons from Sylvester Stallone's movies. I found the cover a little odd though, but I guess it fits with the book's theme?

And this is Tunku Halim in a fedora! Argh! Scary!

Also! Who is that strapping young man in that yellow shirt? Swoon!

More pics in my flickr.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Third Anniversary for Readings@Seksan's

Kata-Suara January 08

A bit late on this, I know, but crazy things have been happening in my life lately, and it didn't just include my honourable prime minister announcing another day of holiday especially for me. Wow! He must've known how tired and ragged I've been feeling!

So! Last Saturday, RA Fine Arts Gallery held a spoken word event of their own, called "Kata-Suara", which is a neat riff on "spoken word".

First to read was Fazli Ibrahim, who read a travelogue of his which was published in a 2006 anthology of writing, KataHati.

Then Pat Low took the mic and read a poem, as well as a monologue, The Tallest Durian Tower in the World (or something like that, I didn't take any notes). But if you've heard her read at Seksan's, you've heard the monologue before. But previous knowledge of the monologue did not hurt my enjoyability of it; I still found it funny and meaningful.

Next up was poet extraordinaire, Rahmat Haron, who proceeded to surprise the audience with his singing of his poetry.

Awang Goneng, of Growing Up in Trengganu fame, was initially asked to read an excerpt from his book but he had other commitments.

There was a short break with before Haris Zalkapli read two articles he wrote, one in Malay, the other in English.

And then it was this handsome young man's turn. He looks like me, sounds like me! Ted Mahsun (cough cough) read a short story entitled Pak Sudin's Bicycle.

Tan Sei Hon performed two really neat songs, which had the crowd tapping their feet. Actually, no, I don't know. But I did, at least.

And then it was national laureate Pak Samad's turn at the mic. He took the chance to criticise the decision of the Ministry of Education not to include any works by a Malaysian national laureate. One of the reasons this was done was because such classic works were considered "too hard" for students, to which Pak Samad responded that in his time he had to learn Shakespeare and other English classics; those weren't easy reading either.

I'd have to agree. Reading and studying Salina (for example) wouldn't be as mindcrashing as it is with say, King Lear. Finally, he read a poem from his self-titled anthology of poems. A video of Pak Samad's speech can be found on Firdaus Ariff's blog.

On the whole, a pretty good experience! Also, free food. And the chance to rub shoulders with Pak Samad. As well as other interesting people and bloggers. Awesome.

More nitty gritty in today's Utusan. You'd have to switch on your Malay-reading skills, ya.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Hey people! Come hear me read something.



SN A. Samad Said
Rahmat Haron
Ted Mahsun
Tan Sei Hon
Haris Zulkapli
Patricia Low
Nazmi Yaakob

Date: Saturday, 19th January 2008
Time: 3pm
Venue: RA Fine Arts, 6 Jalan Aman off Jalan Tun Razak (Google Map link), (wikimapia link)

Food and Drinks Provided. Admission Free.

UPDATE: Have changed the map link to Google Maps which is more reliable.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Greatest British Writers Since 1945

The Times recently announced their list of 50 greatest British writers since 1945. I'm putting the list here to check how many I've read, heard of, or have their books lying around but not read.


Read: In Bold
Heard of: In Italic
Own their books, but unread: In Red

1. Philip Larkin

2. George Orwell

3. William Golding

4. Ted Hughes

5. Doris Lessing

6. J. R. R. Tolkien

7. V. S. Naipaul

8. Muriel Spark

9. Kingsley Amis

10. Angela Carter

11. C. S. Lewis

12. Iris Murdoch

13. Salman Rusdie

14. Ian Fleming

15. Jan Morris

16. Roald Dahl

17. Anthony Burgess

18. Mervyn Peake

19. Martin Amis

20. Anthony Powell

21. Alan Sillitoe

22. John Le Carré

23. Penelope Fitzgerald

24. Philippa Pearce

25. Barbara Pym

26. Beryl Bainbridge

27. J. G. Ballard

28. Alan Garner

29. Alasdair Gray

30. John Fowles

31. Derek Walcott

32. Kazuo Ishiguro

33. Anita Brookner

34. A. S. Byatt

35. Ian McEwan

36. Geoffrey Hill

37. Hanif Kureshi

38. Iain Banks

39. George Mackay Brown

40. A. J. P. Taylor

41. Isaiah Berlin

42. J. K. Rowling

43. Philip Pullman

44. Julian Barnes

45. Colin Thubron

46. Bruce Chatwin

47. Alice Oswald

48. Benjamin Zephaniah

49. Rosemary Sutcliff

50. Michael Moorcock

Man. There are HUGE holes in my reading, woolly mammoths could fall in them. I have read only fourteen of these authors and another six left unread!

*feels ashamed*

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Stories for Men.

YES. This is what stories for men SHOULD BE.

Thoughts on J.G. Ballard's Wind From Nowhere.

The Malaysian sf lover must consider Payless a godsend. I know I do. Enter any branch and most likely there's a good selection of classic sf for fantastically cheap prices. The better ones (my personal faves are the ones at 1U1, Summit USJ and Amcorp Mall) might even harbour some rare classics. So it was that I when I was digging around in the sf section of the Payless in Summit USJ, I chanced upon J.G. Ballard's Wind From Nowhere.

There's an interesting story behind this book. It's actually Ballard's first published novel, but you'd never know that from the officially endorsed bibliographies or even the interviews with him. Written in a scant two weeks (take that Nanowrimo!), The Wind From Nowhere was his attempt to become a published writer. It succeeded and he soon followed it with his now classic, The Drowned World. Since then however, Ballard has disowned it, calling it a mere hackjob.

I did not know this before I read it. I only knew of Ballard from his short stories (I like his earlier ones), from BLDGBLOG (of which I'm a very huge fan) and from David Cronenberg's movie, Crash, based on Ballard's novel of the same name (very weird is all I can say). I have not read any of his novels as yet2, so I thought The Wind from Nowhere could make for interesting reading.

The novel concerns itself about a ravaging super-hurricane that blows and wreaks destruction over the entire world. Beginning from when the wind is starting to pick up speed (gaining 5mph each day) and aeroplanes have been grounded, we follow a vast array of characters, most notably Dr. Maitland, who is luckily drafted into the government disaster team.

The plot itself isn't memorable and only begins to pick up about half-way into the book and by that time the super-hurricane had about blown away every last trace of human civilisation, leaving an eccentric tycoon, Hardoon, to play antagonist to the novel's characters. Seeing the government in scatters, Hardoon takes the reins on determining humanity's next step in this destroyed world. He builds a pyramid, a monument to humanity's ability to challenge the wrath of nature.

But before all that happens, we are treated to a long, sometimes tedious, introduction that spans the first half of the book. The large assemble of characters Ballard throws out, from a submarine captain to a henchman villain worthy of SPECTRE, are mostly cardboard cut-outs, a parody of action movie stereotypes of the 60s, the book's era. Characterisation is sparse, sometimes not even existent. When a character dies having been caught by the wind and thrown into a building, we have hardly begun to know her and are consequently indifferent to her death.

I would say that Ballard's writing is not bad in The Wind from Nowhere. In fact, there were times I marvelled at it. Consider this line: "Remember, it's not enough to make history -- you've got to arrange someone to record it for you."

In terms of structure and characterisation, it's awfully clear that this is a first novel. However, I wouldn't go far enough to call it a bad one, at least not bad enough to justify it being disowned. It's obviously not perfect, but there were moments where I could not help but enjoy the story so much, I had to turn the page to find out what would happen next. And as far as I'm concerned that's enough to make a book a good read.

Overall, not bad for something I picked up for five bucks.

UPDATE: Hey! I forgot I mentioned The Wind from Nowhere in a previous post.

Eh, what's that? OU, not 1U? What the hell are you talking about?!

2 Apart from his short stories, I did read the first page of Ballard's latest novel, Kingdom Come, of which I'm not sure if I want to continue reading. It looks to be boring but maybe I should give it a chance. The premise certainly piques my interest.

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