Kafez

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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Monday, 31 December 2007

Just Me

I am excited by life and its possibilities and this is the first New Year, I'm looking forward to in a long time, after a lull caused by a few excruciating circumstances in Malaysia. Thankfully, both issues have long passed and I have this strange gift of moving on from any negativity quite speedily, in spite of myself.
As I walk along the streets of Dublin, I feel serene and contented. I feel shrouded by the restfulness of this European city...one amongst a few that spiritually beckons and also, a place where the cleanliness of an environment and the efficiency of its carefully-tailored harmony, is keyed-up so beautifully, the residents need concentrate only on the tasks at hand.
It was a mild winter's day and a family one... many getting on with their shopping since the country closes for its holiday tomorrow.
Always last-minute in my endeavours, I chose a much-needed filofax/organiser the colour of camel skin and while strolling along the pavements, thought about 2008.
I suppose I just want to pursue my reading, writing & thinking skills and strengthen promising camaraderies made enthusiastically in 2007. I want to restore my vibrance that was somewhat lost.
I've had so much wine today. In fact, I'm having a glass of wine right now, this evening. Earlier, I had been to lunch at the Reader's Cafe in Waterstone's on Dublin's south side. It's a stylish cafe boasting a tall menu of lavish teas and lunches. I chose a thick beetroot soup, a chicken quiche & accompanying salad and followed this up with a Shiraz. The meal was delightful.
Then I popped into HodgesFiggis bookstore across the road to pick up 2 more boooks; a new novel, The Bastard of Istanbul - it received fantastic reviews in Britain and also a book on literary criticism featuring Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. I had meant to purchase them earlier but had to hurry that time, to meet a friend. My book tokens are fast piling up. :-)
I thought I'd do a study on one piece of adult fiction and another on children's each month. So I'll start January with the Greek plays I bought 2 days ago and Carroll's Alice...
Later, I bought some music...crooners and jazz.
I also had a very pleasant chai, (Indian spiced tea) at the quaint Barney's tearoom in Eason near Temple Bar. It was the first time I had tasted the yummy beverage and here I sat for a long while, writing cards and feeling at peace with the world.

Sunday, 30 December 2007

And I Bought More Books

Pictured (left) Euripides

I have been a little slow with my blog as I have been up and about a fair bit lately. I have so much to write about but little time to say it all. The keen attempt to indulge in some serious creative writing has also been mind-boggling as there is a lot going on in my head. I need to publish something. I have procrastinated greatly in this area and also to work on some freelance journalism.
Lured by what I would deem as a fantastic sale, I stepped in at Hodges Figgis bookstore on Dawson Street the other day, with trepidation.
There is this overwhelming feeling as it is that there are simply too many playgrounds of books to count and it didn't help that one may feel like playing the swings all day.
Besides, you don't often find sales in bookstores. Prices had stepped down by a good 10 or even 6 euros to what the same books had cost just a few weeks before.
The ambience was perfect. Top-class staff when you think of their friendly assistance and efficient service together with the prospect of generous book tokens from purchases.
The other book-browsers seemed as pleased as me. Women appeared inclined to chat. Children tiptoed or ran around the vast picture book displays, fancying the visual exhibition as a tempting carousel.
I did not buy anything randomly but chose my reads purposefully.
After a great deal of thought, I settled for another Mrs. Gaskell called Ruth, the true epitome of a British classic and Anton Chekhov's play titled Uncle Vanya.
I love Mrs. Gaskell as she always appears to hush up a bleak winter spell with plots that remind me of warm socks, fireplaces and steaming tea. :-) Ruth deals with a fictitious orphaned seamstress and devoted single mother, whose hard-earned tranquility is threatened by a blackmailer.
I also bought an ancient Greek classic - and this may just help put my new year resolution on a good footing - it's called Orestes and Other Plays, written by the Greek playwright and tragedian, Euripides, and featuring a detailed commentary and scholarly essays, dealing with classical Athens. I hope to take my reading journey a step further into adventure by doing a private study on this. Oh...I have more on my list...Irish fairy tales, folklore and the newest contemporary fiction titles.
At the moment, I'm reading Kunal Basu's The Miniaturist.

Book Review: Nirvana Bites by Debi Alper

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin.

A well-rounded fast-paced novel, not often seen in a debut work of fiction.

London-based novelist, Debi Alper sketches up a snazzy comic thriller, Nirvana Bites that cleverly acquaints the gaiety of colourful S&M bondage sessions complete with complicated gender identities and impressive leather, with the lethal combination of clownish misfits and sobering misfortunes, in a South London housing co-op.

Think the brilliant mix of whips with the hushed-up secrets of aquariums, bungling crooks famed for their clumsy topples, dashing to safety from an axe-welding lady, a spy for a shop so keen on his masquerade as a Big Issue salesman he forgets his intended surveillance, the kind and sweet dominatrix and real friendships conceived in that astonishing way from unconventional situations.

With the clear nuances of pulp fiction easily evident and the accented dialogue reminiscent of a film noir clip, think too, a high-level crime drama profiling intriguing episodes in this diligent work of lighter fiction; one that also signals hometruths featuring the marginalised.

Appropriately christened Nirvana, the housing estate with its troubled lifestyles, is Eden to half-a-dozen motley individuals who capsule up a ready-made family derived from a neighbourhood that specialises in different personality traits ranging from the violent coarseness of a tigress fury and the goddess of common sense to meditative silences and a self-imposed spirituality.

Throw in too, the chimney smoking middle-aged shopkeeper, Mrs. V, with breasts as long as a spaniel's ears for an added eccentricity.

One gets the impression of a one-for-all and all-for-one motto as they meet for regular meetings, observe BBC's Hustle style plans and occasionally embrace a fair bit of loving.

The resounding smoothness of a hardy plot, sardonic wit and fine characterisation, are all rolled into one, in Nirvana Bites where Alper takes her main heroine, Jenny into a regretful meeting with Stanley Highshore, - better know as Stapled Stan - quite by accident as the latter attempts to commit suicide in what might be termed as following a slightly cartoonish if not devious plan even as Jenny innocently attempts a job interview but must now be called upon to save the day.

This decision sees her coaxing Stan back to Nirvana - a decision she later regrets - where the wealthy executive with a dark past, attempts to reconcile with the rest of the gang who seem less than impressed with his wads of cash and the real possibility that Stan is hounded by crooks who want his head on the chopping block.

A series of unfortunate crises ranging from frights to sarcastic quips, sprout up in Nirvana as invisible crooks warn the gang to lay off. Jen is herself threatened and bashed but gamely takes it in her stride.

Jenny's character flourishes as it pulsates from strength to strength; here a comic half-crazed lady - but never once lacking in her ironical wit - to a determined steely woman with a darker sexual past, stemming from childhood in the shape of a hated father.

Interesting contrasts on life's kinder moments are served up the unexpected. Yes, the dominitrax has a heart if not some well slapped up humour and women appear to rule the roost.

All of the other characters are smartly placed as they command apt roles in the book.

However, Stan for whom the engaging plot rolled out, in the first place seems undeveloped and left largely in the shadows. Appearing simply as a piece of unpleasant bait to the others, his redeeming qualities are never seen or allowed to shine from start to finish and the rest of the characters easily overpower Stapled Stan's fictitious role with vibrant anecdotes of their own; all of which sadly suggested an uneven balance.

Another section that made empathy difficult for this reader was when one of the gang Nick is killed. His head is found rolling in the garden next door, having been mistaken for a football by Mrs. V's dog. The police later find his body on railway tracks nearby.

The fact that Robin, one of the gang had known Nick since he was 11 and had grown anxious over his friend's earlier disappearance but had shown no further attempt at mourning, seemed bewildering. No too, did the others. Jenny was worried they would blame her for dragging them all into this slice of crime that did their friend in.

Instead, no one blames Jenny and they all gather to herald support for another friend's death. Alper's serious effort at demonstrating a solid camaraderie seemed slightly contrived, considering that a murder in the family would appear to have stayed nothing more than a calm acceptance with only Jenny sobbing at a graveside.

But this hardly matters in the greater scheme of things when you think of how Alper has shouldered a brilliant wit and a sharply-drawn plot to give her novel a tight polished finish with the whiff of a chill at the end.

Alper's talent makes sure that the reader chuckles aloud at the high comedy that's nothing short of a classy affair and this clearly structured, with no room for boredom.

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Friday, 28 December 2007

There is this constant feeling that the older one gets, the lesser the freedom of reads that stretch ahead. Suddenly, the seasons turn shorter, the nights quicker and the perseverance of dreams are met with greater urgency, lesser aplomb but endorsed with a mightier mettle.
And so it is with me.
In the happy struggle to draw up a rough reading list for 2008, I realise that an adventurous spirit will surely beckon. The desire to engage in hardier thinking skills to seek enlightenment with the present world's revolvement around its ideologies, is overwhelming.
I'd like to dabble with the new - delve into fantasy and a more sharply-tuned awareness of world literature.
That's the beauty of online reading.
You can pounce on the thoroughly obscure with relish although here in Dublin, Hodges Figgis bookstore on Dawson Street, is famed for a generous floor space honouring the ancient classics. Then there are the more exploratory non-fiction, drama, modern contemporary fiction, philosophy categories and...it's baffling to consider where it all ends when emotions are topped with a glorious exhilaration.
My soul will always be anchored in the British classics and its accompanying modern fiction.
One thing I have made up my mind on is to muse over reads that interest me or arouse curiosity.
Not the ones that leave me wrestling with a vague apprehension and this, derived from intuition.
More fun to make a list I'd imagine than to copy someone else's.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Bookshops, fairies & things

All my favourite shops will be opened in Dublin tomorrow. Already, the tram and buses have started their run. It's St. Stephen's day today and Dublin feels reverential. It's still a quiet time.
Nostalgic for Melbourne in that sudden fleeting way, I pictured the sunny city celebrating an excitable chatter of scattering crowds on a classic Boxing Day sale. The annual buzz signals a heralded moment deemed sacred for the bargain enthusiast and window-shopping addict, where expensive objects can be had for a steal.
Think prized electronic gadgets for one.
Here in Ireland, I was frazzled with the last-minute rush on Christmas Eve and observed how dificult it was for bookshops to contemplate an early drawing of blinds.
Dozens of a robust crowd thronged the doors to pick up small stacks of novels, biographies and picture-books, as last-minute gifts for family and friends. It proved a gratifying ascertainment for me, the reader and writer, just to spy on the swelling crowds that had laboriously built up in the last fortnight.
I thought how auspicious indeed for any hopeful author who may have commanded pride of place in the front displays, either on shelves or tables. A closer inspection of book jackets - no matter the colours or graphics - would definitely have been on the cards for the keen browser.
I suspect the average Irish bookseller, to have drummed up satisfactory monetary gains to provoke a seasonal cheer for keeps.
At Eason, the cleverly stored literature on Irish folklore, fairy tales, leprechaun stories, peasant tales and myths and legends had promptly vanished. Angela Carter's applauded fairy tales, were nowhere to be found.
On the contrary, the otherwise popular series of spooky Irish ghosts and hauntings proved a sorry leftover in its lone, mismatched fashion. Not the time of year surely I presumed when people desired an icy chill or the Snow Queen abductor, secretly huddled, in their Christmas stockings.

For extra reading, the link to 'fairy tales' draws a colouful observation on the bizarre implication of ancient folklore in a careful study, essayed by Elizabeth Lowry in The Times Literary Supplement, London

Monday, 24 December 2007

Thank you, D... !

Although my good times have only just started - say, from a few months ago - after a long spell of not-so-good times, it has been a wonderful end to a year with an unexpected turn to my destiny. It's a heady feeling, being on the playing field again when for so long, I subdued my art and stayed in the shadows.

  • I never suspected I would at this moment live in Ireland with visits to London just round the corner.
  • I never thought I would fit into Dublin like a hand to a glove. But circumstances would will such a glorious thing to happen.
  • I have a comfy little place of my own...where I can finally lay my dangerously-growing book collection to rest in any awkward display I may so choose. Or perhaps, they'd like a say. :-)
  • I have a generous writing/work table.
  • I now own the Irish broadband for my laptop. Only just. My laptop bought in Melbourne - and which has finally been rehabilitated into a splendid condition after a near-breakdown crisis - has travelled quite a way with me. It's back to the leisurely reading of obscure online classics, world literature and the Icelandic sagas. All these came to a sudden halt early this year.
  • Technology is highly advanced here in Ireland. I'd say, tops.
  • My dvd player is also working perfectly.
  • British newspapers with accompanying Irish editions are easily available even in tiny shops.
  • I am able to write full-time. Not possible before & one of destiny's kindest gifts so far.
  • Temple Bar is a 10-minute bus ride away.
  • Bookshops, boutiques and cafes are everywhere in this picturesque city.
  • Christmas feels properly festive here without the feeling of overwhelming crowds.
  • Transportation in Dublin is excellent. I like the Luas - which is a fast light-rail train system.
  • etc. etc.
On my present reading list these hols:

Nirwana Bites...a novel by Debi Alper*Writing a Play*The Saffron Kitchen...a novel by Yasmin Crowther*The Miniaturist by Kunal Basu*Writers' & Artists' Yearbook 2008*Staying Alive...poetry by Neil Astley*Poetry Ireland Review*The London Review of Books*the January 2008 issue of Vanity Fair magazine....

I'll be happy with another armful of reads from the city today. Ireland stores a vast literature on folklore, fairy tales and stories of ancient peasantry. I am fortunate that this enchanting magic continues to shroud me like a moonbeam. And on my list too, stay a few world films. Ingmar Bergman, maybe.

By the way, my attempts at domesticity have not been fruitful. I've just burnt the eggs and ruined a saucepan.


Sunday, 23 December 2007

Penned in an old-fashioned style

My dear readers,

"Lest it be said that Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop turned my spirit into joyous cartwheels with its fluid beauty and intricately rich expressions, with which to form a delicate grace, I was somewhat disappointed that the author's brilliance would allow a careless end; namely too many open-ended conclusions, loosely bound and abandoned to the imagination.

One is left disillusioned if not a little stunned, by the premature retreat of character and plot even as one marvels at Carter's command over the purity of language.

It was with this puzzlement that I soon found myself in Chapters on Parnell Street, ready to be seduced by a new story in the true festive spirit of the season.

Dropping temperatures threatened to freeze the tender skin but decorative city lights soothed and smiled and caressed the creased frowns of subdued shoppers as frantic families complete with prams, babies and balloons, struggled to stay congenial in merry old Dublin.

Couples kissed on street corners and children demanding dolls, toys, books and a fascinating amount of lollies, geared for a bright red stocking, threw furious tantrums at dangerous street-crossings. There was no Santa to appease the weary mum, only an army of youths with empty pails, collecting coins for the homeless. A large tent had been gaily set up outside the Post Office on O'Connell Street as if to prove a point. Here a group of boys with tired feet, slouched spiritedly and with relief, while recounting their bashful efforts.

Not to be outdone for a noisy celebration, little Christmas markets sprouted up from nowhere and behind Middle Abbey Street, close to Debenham's, one would soon be astounded by an assortment of delightful tinsel, feather boas, scents, christmas wrapping, santa hats, candy and toffees amongst many others..

The winter solistice had just fled and a host of people in the darkening evening sky bumped into each other with an efficient precision at clumsiness if there could be such a contradiction; their arms laden with gifts, fat meat joints and thick puddings. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, pardon, excuse me, and so on and so on..." were the phrases of the day.


At the independent bookshop, I with many others were lured by rushing piano keys that lulled its way into a wistful classical tune. Dazed, I was drawn to the section on historical biographies, cinema and art instantly making a decision to alert and educate my simple mind to a wider reading journey.

So celebratory were my resolutions I wanted to do a waltz. And what more than a romantic classical period...a slice of intimate European history if I would so dare.


I settled for Rembrandt's Whore , written by French actress and writer, Sylvie Matton whose husband had filmed the tragic artist's life. Matton's efforts were translated into English by Tamsin Black. Shunned and judged by the hypocrisy of a puritanical township over the artist's decision to keep a common-law wife while his own, Saskia had long died Rembrandt was also besieged with financial woe.

The higher tragic consequence alighted from the misfortune that Rembrandt was sued by a former jealous servant over a breach of promise for marriage which Rembrandt so sadly denied. The quiet thinker and brave demonstrative lover was a placid kind soul not given to slapping matches and shouting scenes.

This dutch courage - aptly put since Rembrandt would turn to gin and beer - subjected the artist to a scandal from which his painting commissions would suffer a complete loss and his dutch mistress Hendrickje, subjected to a terrifying abuse of snobbery from the Christian townsfolk.

How taunting the ending...how unbearably sad for the real-life characters at play and yet because the plot was sketched masterfully by Matton, there was no finger-pointing at any hint of melodrama.

Sadness spun from the beauty of art and love, lingered throughout the book but would reach its torrent only on the last page; unexpectedly and frighteningly so.

True love, pleaded and narrated by the voice of the mistress employs such tut-tut matter-of-fact tones and this arrayed with a philosophical wisdom, one could only feel that here was love explored in a brand-new fasshion once more as it had never been explored before.

I finished the 200-page book in one sitting and so reached my point of contentment as to the experimentation of new reads that promise to fare me well."

faithfully yours,
suzan abrams

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Saturday, 22 December 2007

The Old House & Other Stories by Chuah Guat Eng

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

Malaysian writer Chuah Guat Eng, who is also a veteran of the advertising industry and one of the country's more popular academics, displays her second book and a first collection of short stories called, The Old House & Other Stories.

Her first novel, a sharp-nosed intriguing thriller, Echoes of Silence was published I believe, more then a decade ago.

As a fellow-writer, I stay excited for her newest accomplishment as I would in the vein of others whose easy sophisticated command of the English Language, have always brushed away any false notions I may have had of reading local writers honing mind-probing works of fiction and otherwise, in earlier years.

In this vein, I salute Rehman Rashid, Karim Raslan, Antares/Kit Leee, Kee Thuan Chye, the occasional telling childhood play by actor, bookshop owner, columnist and writer, Thor Kar Hoong or even a monologue by playwright, Sabera Shaikh amongst many others.

However, this is Chuah's glorious moment and in a time when writers have faithfully accumulated colourful flamboyant stories to spin; one not to be missed.

Sadly, having read the announcement just yesterday, I know nothing of the contents itself - and to this, how I wish the publicity had been drawn much earlier - but if a picture could paint a 1000 words, I would say to expect haunting poignant tales complete with enriching skeletons in the closet.

The design suggests a faint mix of seduction and a thoughtful pensiveness and this in spite of the many works of multicultural fiction that prevail. In other words, the book jacket appears a refreshing cultural antidote for its haloed vision.

From my long-term observation of bookshops, considering I am often in one myself, the cover will certainly catch the interest of European & Australian book-enthusiasts, if the author persists with ambitious book-selling efforts.

I also like the way, Chuah employs innovative ideas for her publications...a book is after all very much the writer's child and should be given the best care at all counts.

In a much smaller writing scene in Malaysia - when you think of the magnitude of bigger regions - confidence is sometimes preferred from a mushrooming camaraderie as opposed to a daring solitude featuring individuality. In this aspect, one gets the impression that Chuah appears to stay in a league of her own rather than follow the whims of an agreeable crowd.

So though I may have no hint of tales to come, I can say that with Chuah, no matter the meandering turns that may form the themes of these new stories, you can hope at the very least, for a language that's world-class, a fine storytelling form and a no-nonsense style to match.

Now if you can untangle those crossed fingers for a moment, email info@hologramspublishing.com

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Friday, 21 December 2007

I have removed this post but thank you, Addy Farmer for your good Christmas wishes.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Postscript

I haven't had time to write about myself but I will tomorrow.
At the moment, I'm reading Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop, just to enjoy the warm loving breath of the English Language, so beautifully displayed in her prose.
The cottage didn't work out so I'm back in the city.
I realise I'm a true townie.
Anyway, could any of you really see me isolated in a cottage to start with? :-)
I'm enjoying writing out my own stories and most of all, sitting at cafes with my coffee and sandwiches, soaking up the mood and reading my novel.
The Christmas lights add a romantic atmosphere everywhere.
The bookshops in Dublin are filled with customers buying books as presents for friends and children.
And yet, the crowds are anything but suffocating.
Ladies are shopping furiously at supermarkets - my favourite is Mark & Spencers (Jarvis Street).
And all the puddings, toffee, chocolate and chicken that abound. In fact, I've got decorative sweets right now hidden in my pocket. :-)
More tomorrow.

Singapore Writer's Festival (Dec1-9) Rainbows in Braille launched.


by Suzan Abrams in Dublin
The serene if not sometimes tearful heart of Sri Lanka is held lovingly captive by pilot trainer and author, Capt. Elmo Jayawardena as he cradles its history and people in a tight rhythmic collection comprising 19 short stories and poignantly titled Rainbows in Braille.
Jayawardena who earlier authored two award-winning longer works of fiction called Sam's Story and The Last Kingdom of Sinhalay, plunges his pen with a whimsical air, into the deep collective emotions that may have swelled old Ceylon's heart and wounded it by turns, from a once painful government and history. Then there is also the catastrophe of the tsunami.
The stories may in fact, act as a soothing catalyst for a long torn bandage over its sad and angry people, still harbouring open sentiments from a time of strife and remembering all, as if the sun had set on their troubles only the day before.
With a distinct style in dialogue that is raw, distinctive and touching at the edges - think, " ...she has that look Beatrice, what to do, I'll keep her till I can find someone else..." Jaywawardena, captures conversations with the right mix of black comedy, in everyday scenes that may even masquerade slander and crime, and stay famous most of all, for its use of accented expressions that are familiar to most Asians.
Stories like The Bicycle Man, The Detergent Salesman, the Bread Man, motor men & Van Uncle - delicious homey titles, adopted from names where as children we used to give to appropriate passers-by, tinkers or hawker-men, are carefully and cleverly piled one on top of the other; to tingle the senses with the right mix for a reader's hearty appetitle and to be immediately identified with the common man for a nostalgic intimacy; and this coupled with Jayawardena's dark wit in making important social statements using only the lightest and simplest of lines.
Besides a strong touch of poetic prose for descriptions of scenic landscapes, Jayawardena also hones an easy talent for describing everyday culinary dishes with a delicious escapade and uses food themes to sort out the interplay of romances and social injustices with the skillful dexterity afforded to a smoothly-dealt pack of cards.
Once more, expressions like "...pausing to flavour it with a marzipan smile, no conversation, just ate, drank and ran when the bus started, Nescafeying, she's been cutting cucumbers for the Madam's salad breakfast, or my favourite..."..she was now cuddling in Green Cabin and eating lamprais and drinking extra sweet milkshakes at Cream House with the Ceylinico Man...." all add necessary smiles to tales that will sometimes seem unberably sad.
In fact, it is the sad resignation of acceptance that winds up most of the stories and the reader may be left with disturbing thoughts that make for the tragic brunt of knowledge, mostly derived from everyday newspaper reports. There is also a well-detailed ghost story, written out without fuss and guaranteed to add on the shivers.
Rainbows in Braille costs 10 Singapore dollars or 500 Sri Lankan rupees. For more details or purchase information, please contact the author directly on elmojay@sltnet.lk or aflac_admin@sltnet.lk
ALFAC International is founded by Capt. Elmo Jayawardena in Sri Lanka and now boasts 20 worldwide branches. It's main focus is in assisting cancer patients and in being engaged with the task of diminishing various aspects of poverty. Destitute families hold priority and proceeds from the sale of Rainbows in Braille will go mostly to ALFAC.
All quotes in italics, are taken from Rainbows in Braille and penned by Capt. Elmo Jayawardena. Copyright for quotes belongs to Capt. Elmo Jayawardena.

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Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Man Booker news

The Man Booker Prize's customary newsletter arrives in my mailbox. So there it is. Britain' most coveted prize event celebrates 40 years in the business. For the first time, readers can expect film adaptations of former Booker & Man Booker wins in London, view a current exhibition being held at the Victoria & Albert museum and wait with expectant news for the British Council's efforts at creating an online portal for contemporary British Literature i.e. featuring e-books and this to include those prestigious winning stories.
On other news, Anne Enright whose novel, The Gathering won the Man Booker Prize in October, prepares for a gruelling world tour as requests flood in and foreign rights are sold in 31 countries.
Also Michael Portillo will chair the Man Booker panel for 2008 and you may read details of the other judges here.
To save you a longer ramble, catch everything here.

Chinese writer detained in Beijing. This is sad.

Singapore Writer's Festival (Dec 1-9) A quick take on Anita Nair

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

It may indeed come as a surprise and kindly if not given to acidic overtones that the vivacious Anita Nair, famous for such probing fiction as Ladies Coupe and Mistress notwitstanding the fact that she is stunning to watch and interesting to hear, may be somewhat shy.

And bashfully reticent too at that. Never mind that the desire to retreat into an idyllic distance may claim its hardy appeal.

A thrilling contradiction and fascinating indeed as observed during the novelist and essayist's recent talk and book reading at the Singapore Writer's Festival.

Maybe the Keralite-born Nair is not a peoples' person - and one cannot be blamed for who they are - even as her fiction on the secret yearnings of Indian women reach out to you in solidarity and camaraderie, wishing only for the reader's enlightenment and understanding and even as her maternal endearment for her homeland is obvious.

Today, Nair resides in Bangalore although she stays one of the fewer novelists whose books may be found easily in the major regions of the world including the UK and Australia.

"All the characters in my fiction are shaped from the imagination and are strictly not autobiographical," she enthuses.

"That was a decision I took long ago...that I knew my life would come under immediate public scrutiny and I did not wish to answer questions about myself so I created plots away from that aspect." This would explain why although meticulously researched, none of her fiction holds a candle to the easier autobiography or discreetly-disguised memoir.

Seated with her literary agent who is also a personal friend - they have worked with each other for several years, Nair pays her tribute.

"An agent may be the best friend you could ever have," she tells us gaily, meeting the audience's eyes and yet not quite...
"You will end up telling her secrets...your agent has to know everything about you so as to protect you. You may share stories the kind that no friend knows except your lawyer or doctor."

And if such a point had to be stressed, it was clear that the serious-faced Nair relied heavily on her agent to answer difficult questions from the crowd and indeed, there appeared a cantankerous man, critical of the way Indian novelists spoke English universally...determined too, that they would display an identity that came from India and nowhere else.

Naturally, such a volatile individual merits no polish and the fact that he would give Nair a hard time, was only to be expected.

The author smiled and was gracious if not a little dumbfounded and it was here that the agent stepped in to quietly shoo-shoo him out of the way even as employing a strict businesslike appearance, she would delegate attention elsewhere with the sophisticated swiftness of a typhoon.

As Nair read from a series of personal essays to be published in the coming year, she talked of several authors' nervousness at book launches and how the fear that nobody would turn up constantly hovered in the venue, till someone did show.

"Whatever happens in my life, as far as possible as I can make it, if someone I know, invites me to a book launch, I will try my best to go. No matter the weather or the circumstances.

"Because I remembered how it was like for me in the early days, constantly worried that no one would turn up."

However, delicately picked out from episodes in the distant past, this obligation may no longer hold.

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Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Essay: The Reading of Fiction

A self-evolvement that stays a perfect antidote to the primal condition of the wounded human psyche. For me, such a journey as an individual had to mould its path from storybooks.

I'm often amazed when many say they don't read fiction.

That such a thought is limited to the physical realms of a Mills 'n Boons or the general thriller is the classic deception. That it makes the growing executive sound less clever. And that they would rather dabble with non-fiction pieces that tell you how to be a millionaire and such.

An Asian and a philosophy almost unheard of, I eventually became part of the circle of the thousands who read avidly in trains, cafes, waiting rooms and departure lounges in Australia and England. New worlds for the traveller like me transformed itself into newer worlds.

I suppose in the West as comparable to the East, where the pursuit of materialism had already sealed its boundaries, many readers chose instead to develop their minds with a glorious infusion of the Arts. They sought a new open-mindedness as a liberation from parochial settings and conservatism; the kind that often encourage a rigidity to thought and opinion.

Although I wouldn't dismiss anything with the label popularity on it, there must be other ways besides materialistic pursuits, to expand the mind with which to receive its inner appeasement even as the outer consciousness would seek its satisfaction.

Cultural trends, & fads all serve their purpose though I don't feel involved with them. I have to admit that even these things once led me to where I stand now and to the future that is set before me, which no longer involves popular commercial draws.

I found and learnt from my travels, that reading fiction and other creative material like the political biography or philosophy also exalted its reader with generous gifts, especially with regards to the rapid fluency of any kind of argument or debate that would ensure. From practice, one would be forced to deal with articulation, eloquence and lucid thinking.

It was interesting that with something which even Nehru may not have anticipated involved the one-time scramble of thousands of Indian emigrants to South East Asia, that stetched on into the late 40s, 50s and 60s. Many of the older men brought along their libraries. The well-loved English classics came through cargo and followed dream-seekers on their voyages into the new East.

This was obvious especially with the Malayalee community (Kerala). In modest homes all over Malaysia, slightly-damaged books - but still beautiful to the eye - grabbed their fair share of space in attics and cluttered little study rooms.

These old books together with the avid fervour their stories commanded were handed down to the children. The classics and poems which were all derived from the humble picture book, became my stalwart in the years when things began to go wrong and I needed a lifebelt to renew visions.

In this way alone, I was blessed to have become a daughter of my country, Malaysia, and my time.


Can literature and philosophy or the dawning of a sudden intellectual disposition ever come to look for someone, so unexpectedly when its passion makes you drop everything else for a time of reflection, study and meditation?
Yes, it did for me when world literature came once more to hold me in its deep embrace. And slowly, the faint memory of my picture books and love for the novel helped me back safely into my old dreams, vibrance and new ambitions.

Sometimes, I still hope that stories will once again co-operate to draw me into a new exhilaration...a time when once more I would discover many authors to turn my life dramatically around. So far, that time has not come. And though I wait in anticipation, I fear it never might.


Literary fiction, philosophy, essays etc all make fine teachers for the thinker. There are many roads to Dante and Plato and who says, we cannot walk them easily and cleverly. If only for the fact that life's lessons should have counted for something valuable. Just don't dismiss the reading of fiction as a time-waster. It probably holds one of the greatest keys to the renewal of the mind and to the polished art of self-discovery.

This evening, I shall begin my move to the cottage to write and live simply for awhile.
At least for a few weeks, while I can get some work out to publishers and magazines.
It's been a very long time since I sent work out to strangers, so it all feels quite fun and exciting. Yes, even the thought of rejection slips coming my way.
At least, it signals that I'm on the playing field once again.
I've always loved competition and have never been afraid to plunge into the thick of things. The Writer's & Artist's Yearbook 2008 is a life-saver. Considering, I already have updated information on publishing in the West, the directory masquerades the playground for a variety of writing work. The question is, where does one start. Besides the usual, there are also generous lists of extras like literature festivals, e-book publishers, website design companies and self-publishing ventures.
I'd settle for the fact that the directory's publishers are extremely broad-minded individuals who won't bypass any kind of promising opportunity for the hopeful writer in 2008.
I think I am someone happiest working with both print and online markets and not just settling for one media. So today and finally, where do I start? :-)

Monday, 17 December 2007

I'm in Dublin today and the city is unusually crowded with Christmas shoppers.
I'm running across Temple Bar to catch sight of the gulls. The sun is shining; it is not as cold and I am pleased because my friend Des, found my missing leather gloves. He also had my spoilt laptop fixed. I first bought it in Melbourne a few years ago and my computer holds a deep sentimental value. It still works very well indeed.
It also feels like I have come home to roost. But then I feel exactly the same about other cities like London, Melbourne and Sydney which encapsulates my heart so perfectly, no matter the season or the moment.
I went to a poetry reading this afternoon at Chapters bookstore on Middle Abbey Street to listen to the poet Noel O' Briain read from his new collection of poems called Scattering Day. He is a wonderful performer and I find his poetry deeply insightful, sadly real and highly poignant in its present form. I was thrilled when he recognised me from the open mic readings.
Later, I stopped at Eason and finally picked up the Writer's & Artist's Yearbook 2008.
Oh...it is quite a daunting thought to go back to creative writing and freelance journalism with fervour. There are several submissions to send out. But still... exciting at the same time.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

So powerful is the compulsion to finish my theatre play that I am considering staging it myself.
I have just purchased a hardy manual on writing one in the teach-yourself series, at the Waterstone's bookstore in Piccadilly. A number of books on the subject lined the shelf in the Reference department but a copy that combines the nuts and bolts of an entertaining dialogue script together with a section on the essentials of production, is no easy find.
Published earlier this year, it also lists a directory of theatre agents, publishers, playwriting competitions, festivals and repertory theatres and those in the West End.
The practical handbook offers a thrilling bonus with the writing of pantomimes and musicals, the submission of proposals, outlines and treatments and is industrious in tutoring the aspiring playwright from start to finish
Makes me think of Broadway.
Still, the book's author considers that the enthusiast must display a purposeful verve and energy beforehand, failing which the entire venture may collapse. I do feel that my copy, simply entitled "Writing a Play", serves up as an appropriate mentor behind the scenes. An unseen guiding voice from behind the curtain, is always comforting. Even the Writer's & Artist's Yearbook 2008 advises the playwright to stage a show in the event of rejections.
An agent or publisher in Great Britain will only look at a play with a view to representing or publishing the playwright, if the authority concerned observes a favourable newspaper/magazine review in the event of a one-act amateur production or recognizes that a full-length play (at least 80 minutes long) has been professionally produced.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Growing up in Trengganu (GuiT) by Awang Goneng

Highly recommended for a winter read!
by Suzan Abrams in London
Growing up in Trengganu by Awang Goneng is surely the artistic venture for Malay recipe suggestions with a difference when you think that the content may discreetly whet the literary appetite to a higher measure of demand for a longer read, and this of course; bustled into a quiet interlude.

One must surely honour the blissful past carefully wound into the stories of a kampong era in Trengganu on Peninsular Malaysia's east coast...a state otherwise famous for its beaches, turtles, old puppetry and kite-flying fancies, colourful markets and the romantic intimacy attributed to an exclusive Malay culture.
No doubt, each short tale may fuel introspection and reflective observations, long after the last page is turned.

In this book, a concoction of blog posts lovingly cooks up the persuasive yarns that shapes old-fashioned storytelling with delicious spoonfuls of tastes and flavours laid out decoratively, for the mind and heart. All of which create an exotic mystery that serves up intrigue for a young boy in his childhood years.

It doesn't matter if Goneng silently chuckles at the delightful way in which a creamy Ovaltine beverage was served, armed with a classic condensed milk or perhaps, crackers, coconuts and scrumptious rice dishes to match the hungry stomach. It doesn't matter if fish odour filled the air when walking back from school, the author as a little boy, was met with the pungent smell of dried shrimps mixed with sea-salt and it also doesn't matter if dried tamarind paste soaked in cold water was dutifully pasted on an unsuspecting invalid's forehead to remove a fever. Never mind, that the patient may have jumped in fright.

The carefully-published paperback is guaranteed to earn the Malaysian raconteur more than his fair share of a campfire audience.

Think instead the mesmerised mellowed crowd while the tales are recited, some sitting, some lingering about with hands in pockets and many others, slouched over for a closer listen. And as in every kampung, one must surely hear the whistling of insects from ancient trees nearby.

Mirrored after a hearty bout of nostalgia that delves into a blissful kampung past. Awang Goneng (please click on blog above) is the pen-name of illustrious and popular Malaysian journalist Wan A. Hulaimi, who having resided in London for more than 2 decades, recalls tales of his Trengganu childhood with a forlorn longing and yet too, a serene acceptance of things, people and places long gone.
The author rustles up several carefully-researched subjects dwelling into history and juxtaposed with current social situations.
Goneng recalls the unsung occupations of provision shop owners, coffee-shop waiters, hawkers, tailors, herbalists, breadmen, news vendors, magazine stall owners and several other forgotten asian personalities who touched his family's life comprising various uncles, aunts and cousins, with their quiet skills and tenacious industry.
Through a vivid narration of personal episodes, he also discusses accents, dialects, ghosts, sultanates, the cultural arts, folklore and informal titles referred to different heads of the family.
In between the tales, the reader will come across fascinating b/w photographs that include rows of men with songkoks on their heads, Goneng's father displaying his overly-wide trousers that was all the trend, elaborate cultural weddings, lost scenic landscapes and that of the author himself as a tiny lad.
Painstakingly complete in its exquisite detailing plus the employment of a well-humoured style, if not too, the odd dramatic moment, the regular posts were interesting enough in its literary discourse to summon the attention of british publisher Philip Tatham of Monsoon Books Singapore.
This promptly resulted in the book's launch at the recent Singapore Writer's Festival.
The elaborate work of non-fiction never wavers in its mellowed tone and in its subtle remembrances, perhaps the strongest emotions are that of poignancy and a compelling tenderness.
Goneng commands a masculine style that is restful to the spirit even on a weary day and this trait reminiscent surely of the patient writer. One imagines that he took his time writing each word and line, without worrying about the hour of its completion. He has a kind voice and his methodical arrangement of structure and form for the sequence of the stories in neat category divisions are thoughtful, clever and sophisticated.
The memoir stands out as a former blog when Goneng pays tribute to his faithful commentators and talks about his personal feelings, writing for them as a blogger. He also peppers his stories with their generous and eager anecdotes. It is also easy to see that a passionate love for his homeland would have been the initial discipline that spurred the author on.
Here is the writer who writes for the reader and a coffee table book which lends itself lavishly to the imagination. It is so light, you can lug it about on a crowded train. You may after all, be in the mood to read about how the author's friend once spotted bits of a Malay castle in a car-boot sale! Oh go on... :-)

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I was to have visited Belfast for a few days before returning to Dublin. I've always wanted to spend time in both Belfast & its neighbour city, Londonderry, a good 70 miles away.
But I've decided to return to Dublin straightaway as I am cajoled back into my private writing world - writing my play and fiction; both have been neglected for too long. You just know when the heart and spirit calls not to delay any longer.
In a way, I dispute this.
Perhaps the feeling is one of pure guilt. I learnt and agreed with many authors at the recent Singapore Writer's Festival that the time when an author feels he/she is ready to write, simply never arrives.
There'll always be something to pull you away, a present circumstance, some commitment or a new plan. At best, the writer would have encountered a long delay of time wasted.
"You have to discipline yourself," offers Tash Aw, bestselling Malaysian novelist of The Harmony Silk Factory in the UK. His debut work of literary fiction was also longlisted for the Man Booker prize 2005. He added that writing steadily everyday felt like going to the office to do a job. At the risk of feeling miserable, one still had to do it, he stressed.
With this in mind, I'll put Belfast on hold as a treat once my work is properly underway. The first thing I have to do in Dublin is to pick up the newest edition of AC Black's famous Writers' & Artists' Yearbook. It will serve as an excellent teacher, guide and even mentor.
I didn't buy one earlier as it proves a chunky read to lug around.
No doubt, Barry Turner's The Writer's Handbook is just as good. It's a few years old and tailored exactly after AC Black's title. But The Writer's Handbook doesn't transfer electronically asAC Black's does. You can find its world directory of literary agents and publishers on the web although it's still running this year's edition.
The W&A Yearbook is the excellent bible if you're the aspiring author who really wants to keep abreast with updated information on the publishing, media and entertainment industries in the major regions of the world.
There are separate editions for aspiring actors and also childrens' book authors. I'm buying the one pictured above. It represents complete details on directories featuring the global newspapers & magazines, book clubs, prizes, syndicated picture agencies, television & cinematic production studios, repertory theatres, literary agents, poetry magazines/publishers, the smaller independent presses, childrens' book markets and book publishers for literary and commmercial fiction with major emphasis on main players like the UK, US, India & Europe.
This wonderful writer's bible features lengthy helpful and in-depth essays on the poetry, publishing and literary agency scenes around the world and suggests careful submission guidelines for manuscripts, synopses and query letters. The reader is educated on current happenings and publishing predictions for the coming year.
At least, I won't make any mistakes on submitting my own play and fiction. And if I wasn't sure that I really was a writer, I do know it now.


Friday, 14 December 2007

There is a soft slow ache inside me to write my play. It is the raw sweetness of a lover who misses something once loved, with an infinite sadness.
I felt a strong compulsion to finish my stage play even while everyone else seemed to talk books and poetry at a recent writer's festival.
But I knew even then as I do now that it could happen only when I returned to Dublin. I first started off my writing life with newspaper articles and childrens' & adult radio plays that were aired over Radio Malaysia - at least 9 in all if I'm not mistaken.
I haven't written a play for years.
But a seed once sown, never dies.
Now I have reached a space of peace with my writing and it feels to me like a soft warm carpet on which I presently lie, soaked in its melody.
I had placed a rental deposit on a cottage which I was to share with another American playwright in Dublin.
Now, it's time for me to write again.
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The Importance of Book Design - How to Lure A Reader by a Book Cover.

Information gathered from the recent symposium at the Singapore Writer's Festival 2007.
Thanks especially to the staff of Page One, Singapore.

by Suzan Abrams in London
  • A good cover design is always about seduction as akin to meeting someone and forming first impressions.
  • An excellent idea, concept, composition and execution is what makes for a sophisticated book jacket.
  • The job of a cover is to seduce, provoke, convince and intrigue the reader. For instance, the picture of a strawberry has a more dramatic effect if not made obvious, but instead presented in a suggestive mood.
  • Consider the business aspect. Art and commerce must meet on the book jacket. It must appeal to the senses and sell at the same time.
  • A book design should never be complicated.
  • A unique cover design is essential in helping difficult titles to sell especially when relying on scholarly subjects.

  • A book's designer is to act as a book's architect. Make a workable floor plan.
  • Consider important factors before drawing up a design.
  • Who are the readers?
  • Size and form of a book.
  • Material used.
  • Binding quality.
  • The user-friendliness of a font.

  • When the book designer holds up a book, does it feel good?
  • At an international book fair, the book designer may have just 5 minutes at the most to present a book. The publisher must instantly be drawn to it.
  • Understand the contents of the book you have chosen to design.
  • If a book designer fails to read the appropriate manuscript beforehand, the cover will turn out to be superficially beautiful at the most.
  • Always identify your audience.
  • The author must always be prepared for the direction its publishing house chooses to venture in. The book jacket has to fit in with the aspirations and image of the desired publishing house.

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Thursday, 13 December 2007

Diary

Very cold today.
Went to Windsor for lunch.
Grilled halibut with mashed potatoes at a turkish restaurant - no belly dancing today, pity - and how I begged for spice, if they would so please.... and thank goodness, they did.
Lashing of pepper.
Milk pudding with vanilla and cinnamon.
Red wine topped up with a turkish brew. So nice.
An excellent hostess.
Outside...
Winding cobblestone pavements and a watchful castle.
And so there I was in a quaint hammock, rocked by the city's rhythmic buzz.

The Lies that Build a Marriage by Suchen Christine Lim

by Suzan Abrams in London.
In The Lies That Build A Marriage, a paperback fiction and new title published by Monsoon Books Singapore, one straightaway senses that Suchen Christine Lim's efforts at writing and compiling a series of short stories, have been subtly designed to haunt and provoke a straitlaced but thoughtful Singapore with restless, stirring themes that hover like a dark cloud, over the classic immeasurable pain cradled by marginalised communities.
Be warned that such a book acts like a mini-dynamite...it steps into your life on tippy-toes and suddenly embraces you with the giant squeeze of a bearhug from where you failed to look. You may never again be the same.
A page, a paragraph, a word and all fast rising to a steady flame as your eyes scan the pages. Be warned of Lim's sound talent at exploiting the dark and hidden and in bringing to light, the old and unsaid.
You'll dwell on the explosive revelations that garlands traditional Singapore life, while armed with all of its walled sophistication, colourful taboos and superstitions. And here amidst the old quiet streets, flanked by unsuspecting ancient flats and modern apartment blocks, are where dangerous secrets lie.
For the surprised but adventurous reader, the passionate thinker and one who may look to a courageous author, Lim's tales waste no time in winding powerful messages into the tender if not sometimes stubborn heart.
Lim, one of Singapore's foremost prized writers, draws on her vast writing experience to create bold but loving debates on the open secrets of homosexuality, measured immorality and even the dire consequences of racism.
A mother's reconciliation with her son's hesitating confession that indeed, he had been gay for a long time.."since I was 9 or 10..." he offers hopefully, a daughter ashamed at her two uneducated mothers - traditional Chinese amahs, whom she discovers to her horror to be contented lesbians and both of them, her doting servants, whom she learns to appreciate only after their death.
Then there are the roles of suffering mistresses and wives caught on the jagged edge of society...the named women who will eventually be redeemed as haloed angels or damned as dominant shrews.
Picture for instance, the rude fights of a mother and daughter-in-law that results in unfairly punished sons and a high maid turnover. Sounds interesting? But there's more to woo the spirit.
Lim's strength lies in her excellent execution of dialect and accents featuring a cruder version of Singapore-dialogue. The rough strains of the English Language, deliberately spoken and written, if you like, with a twitch and tickle. Intensity moulds itself eagerly into harried conversations.
Perhaps it would be best after all, to settle on a skilled dark comedy or studied emotional discourse.
Lim also successfully ends each questioning story on the play of a sharp poignant note that will hound the reader with subdued reflections. A thinker's book surely.
In the event too, that more is sought to whet the appetite, Lim regales the reader with true-life anecdotes on the unexpected reception of her book in Singapore amongst nuns, pastors and congregations. On a parting note, the author employs a pleading and intimate voice for understanding and acceptance of the extraordinary from the ordinary.
For ordering details, please click on Monsoon Books, Singapore.

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Wednesday, 12 December 2007

SuChen Christine Lim at the Singapore Writer's Festival

"The thing is today, at this launch, my friends are here but where is my speech? What happened to my speech? And where is my handbag?" - SuChen Christine Lim.

On realising at the mike that her speech was missing these lines were recited to high amusement from the crowd, by SuChen Christine Lim, one of Singapore's best-loved and prominent authors as she launched The Lies That Build A Marriage at the Earshot restaurant, during the recent Singapore Writer's Festival.

Her slim paperback is made up of collected stories that amongst other issues; explores a mother's pain on discovering her son is gay. Published by Monsoon Books Singappore, it was originally meant to be a 20-minute story, requested by traditional church pastors as a Christmas Day read. According to SuChen, they had confidently asked to be surprised beforehand."

They said, no need to show us the content, just surprise us....so I did!"

Let it be said that SuChen may not be as adaptable to a muse. She may conspire with inspiration now and then but likens the art of writing to playing the piano. "It's like practising your scale, something is bound to happen everyday. "Everytime I go to my pages, they're blank...there are simply no words. And yet at the end of the writing session, I've filled page after page, much to my surprise."

At which she'd insist, "if you have to write, follow your heart and scribble something everyday.

For someone small and delicate in appearance if not a little tomboyish, her voice is unsusually loud and enthusiastic and her ebullient manner, peppered with a smile irregardless of any eventual response.

As she read excerpts from her newest book at the launch, I remember feeling that I was seated to a live performance at the theatre and pondered on how excellent the author would have been at delivering one-woman monologues. I was disappointed that she appeared to have finished reading all too quickly.

SuChen, a former teacher said she became a writer by chance, mostly out of boredom and a chaotic life at the time. Her early experience with creative writing began, in an exam hall when she had to conduct an invigilation for three hours. Pacing up and down a hushed room soon bred restlessness. Su-Chen started doodling and the sketches quickly turned into words. This would later form the first page of Rice Bowl, which turned into a national bestseller. It would be published by Times Books International in 1984.

As her life persisted with its chaos, she found to her relief that writing offered a certain amount of control. Rice Bowl which described a scene of university students, passionate with the nation's political discourses in the sixties, was at first meant to be a childrens' tale. As her story slipped into a growing sophistication, she thought that perhaps it would pander to the average teenager. That was hardly the case.

SuChen comes from a family that doesn't value book-writing. Yet in the early days, she stayed determined. My brother said, "A bit of fame but no money."

At that time of an initial excitement and having set out as an aspiring author, SuChen fostered her literary ambitions on a hardy mechanical typewriter with yellow-coloured paper being her favourite sheets. "At first, I was like a woman stumbling in the dark," she remembers. In the end, I produced 4 whole novels. My writing was so intense at the time that I just plodded along. No writing course could have helped me at that point."

During the time of writing Rice Bowl, the novelist experienced a strange thing. "Everytime I closed my eyes, I would see a woman...and I couldn't recognise her...painting furiously. It happened only during the time I was writing Rice Bowl, my first book.

"Finally, I showed the initial pages to a friend who expressed shock because she said the story sounded powerful. I became suddenly scared. Scared of the unknown painter lady and my friend's own sense of shock from what she had assumed to be the power in my story. In the end, I locked my unfinished story away in a drawer and promptly forgot about it."

SuChen would begin her second novel and pick up the first one with lesser apprehension only three years later.

Not the kind of writer who gets her plots meticulously ready beforehand, SuChen describes her writing as masquerading the exact form of weaving. Different scattered events and characterisation, slowly come together like the co-existing harmony of different coloured threads, all at once. After a while like a pattern that emerges, the writer is bound to witness the birth of a complete plot. Practise and persevere, persist and be patient, she smiles.

(This writer claims sole copyright to the reportage from information gathered at the Singapore Writer's Festival 2007).


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Exhaustion has finally caught up with me but kindly. I've been on a whirl of activity since I took that flight to Frankfurt from Dublin several days ago. I think I even by-passed jetlag in my excitement. Oh...what fun! How my destiny has changed from the last few years and I've been enjoying myself so much. There's nothing like a culmination of passions, strung together to steadily follow the heart...as life is showing me now, and in my case, mostly through the literary.
By the way, it wasn't always like this. I had many hardships, a couple too severe to deal with and many times, thought I wouldn't make it. But I prayed and fought my way through, to preserve my visions and dreams. I had to do this for some years but finally triumphed in a major way.
I reached my favourite hotel at about 8.30pm.
The staff know me well so I felt I had come home to friends. I had landed much earlier but met with Gorilla Bananas, that kindly ape from the Congo, you may sometimes see in the comments box. Everything went smoothly at Heathrow and for once, my bag on the conveyor belt, was one of the first ones out. GB and I caught up with coffee and a chat and he/she was also kind enough to help me with my luggage as we wheeled it out to the bus-stop together and waited for a shuttle bus that I had become so familiar with.
I felt slightly light-headed at reception and remembered that I had drunk 4 glasses of wine on the plane. Wine always keeps me relaxed because I can't sleep on planes and neither did I sleep on my last night in Singapore - I left for Changi, in the early hours of Tuesday.
So now, I was ready to fall.
I tried to watch some telly, managed to eat some crisps but halfway through a Gordon Ramsay show, fell instantly asleep. I woke up at 5.00 am, went down to use the internet, had an early English breakfast at 6.30am, went back up to my room, collapsed on the bed and fell asleep again. I woke at 1 in the afternoon.
I'm in the city now, still feeling drowzy, but enjoying myself, just soaking in a few of my favourite haunts. I'm reading SuChen Christine Lim's The Lies That Build A Marriage, a novel I had picked up in Singapore.
I was reading it in the tube and later at a cafe, where even the service staff are old acquaintances. I had my wonderful hot chocolate but my favourite roast chicken bake puff had been sold out. By the way, I'm convinced that no one in any of the places I went to, can make hot chocolate as perfectly as the Brits or the Irish (which is always richer).
I'm thinking about my writing now. I must find out how to go about staging a play in London because I'm about to finish mine and may send it out to theatres or otherwise, try to produce it myself. I may do this somewhere in England or Ireland. I feel equally at home in both countries.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

I'm just going to drop notes as I go along, here in London.

At 74, Britain's favourite celebrity chef, cookbook author and actress Madhur Jaffrey (pictured left), who now resides in New York city, proved the perfect inspiration I needed at the recent Singapore Writer's Festival, with which to rekindle my scattered writing ambitions to an eternal burning enthusiasm.

Stilll, every bit the sophisticated dame, the actress once famed for studied roles as in 1965's Shakespeare Wallah with Shashi Kapoor, talked of her life and her 2-year printed memoirs, patiently cajoled into publication by her british publisher and aptly titled Climbing the Mango Trees; with an engaging sardonic humour, topped up by a straight-laced no-nonsense approach to her outlook on life.
One got the impression of a school teacher with a sharp tone of voice, guaranteed to make a student listen with attention.

Never one to tire of working in a career compiling kitchens and studios, and this fuelled by an unexpected passion discovered only in her 20s, Jaffrey had outlined her plans for next year which sees a strenuous filming schedule in Texas, several more television appearances in the UK and another cookbook to line the shelves. Jaffrey, who cited her love for serious art and alternative cinema, had also listed the Indian director Aparna Sen, as one of her favourite film-makers.
My heritage:
It makes me feel slightly abashed at the thought of story plots, drumming in my head, still not written.
But it was Madhur Jaffrey's talk of food that reminded me in a thrilling way, of my heritage. My mother is Sikh and my father a Malayalee from Kerala. It lies at the tip of South India. I am Malaysian by nationality. My father stills hold a faithful Indian citizenship. Although maternal Malaysia cradles my baby heart, I do not feel linked to my mother's land, the Punjab as I would feel exceptionally close to my father, his family and homeland in spirit, no matter where I am.
Jaffrey had said that the Keralites are extremely fond of pepper. She stressed that from ancient times, they eagerly punctured their recipes with a generous outpouring of pepper. It appears that today, the Malayalee Indians need pepper in most of their dishes to feel a complete satisfaction over a meal. I never realised this, thinking that it was always coconut.
I was fascinated as in later years, I had myself begun to develop an avid passion for the condiment.
Once I even smuggled a little bottle in my handbag to take to restaurants and cafes everywhere, determined that the food I ate would not be tasty unless I measured a secret dashing on the side.
I love any recipe that's called Black Pepper this or that...particularly chicken. I adore the taste.
One of Borneo's favourite export produce is pepper and I remembered buying a lot of it while I was there.
This morning at a favourite London hotel, while sprinkling pepper lavishly all over my scrambled eggs, I suddenly remembered.
How strange that I am much closer to my father's homeland, its history and his people, than I realise.

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I'm back in London now.
More a little later.

Monday, 10 December 2007

A touch of colour with self-publishing


Singapore Writers' Festival 2007: I discovered that Singaporeans are a sophisticated people when it comes to the art of self-publishing. They excel at a job, painstakingly cut out for them.

Their books whether a children's picture one or an adult novel, are professionally produced and tinkled with a fine polish, that you'd be forgiven for thinking, they were snapped up from the window display of a European bookshop. It's no exaggeration to say that one gets the impression of a tight classy finish.

"Don't get into it," warned my lovely new friend, the author, Shamini Mahadevan-Flint, "...not unless you can afford the time for marketing and publicity. There's a lot of work involved. Like, a lot..."

Flint, 36, a former law lecturer and barrister-at-law with an international legal firm, gave up her career to write and produce books and also act as a stay-at-home mum to her 2 children, aged 5 and 3. She is married to an expatriate.

The recent Singapore Writer's Festival saw the launch of Flint's first paperback thriller (for which she has planned an Asian crime series) called Partners in Crime. It borders on a murder mystery conducted in the vein of a British sleuth's sly questioning and is reminiscent of Flint's own passion for wit and subtle comedy.
Several fans/friends from Singapore's expatriate community turned up for the evening at the Earshot Restaurant in the Arts House on Old Parliament Lane last Saturday. It was a pleasant few hours with Flint being very much in demand for signings and conversations and aside from the entertainment produced by a well-humoured speech, the books were quickly sold out.

In the coming days, I'll be featuring a question-and-answer interview with Shamini Flint on the pro's and con's of self-publishing. At the moment, she appears to delight in her new venture, promising to start her second thriller on New Year's day as a resolution.

Flint formed Sunbear Publishing to publish her own children's books. One of the newest hardbacks talks about a cheeky dinosaur called T-Rex who eats up a little boy's homework. Beautifully illustrated by Sally Heinrich, it appears to be suitable for toddlers and children up to 5.

Another delightful hardback title is Ben's Friends from the Rainforest, written by wildlife lover Adeline Foo. Foo who loves rambles in parks and rainforests with her 2 children, aims her funny sunny story on the educational aspects of a monkey, at older children. The tale is accompanied by a series of comic pictures, illustrated by Miel.
All books are available on Amazon Books UK.

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Saturday, 8 December 2007

In this article on my Wordpress site,
Su-Chen Christine Lim, Singapore's bestselling novelist, offers a few more tips for aspiring authors, in her thoughts on writing. (Information from the Singapore Writer's Festival 2007).
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I am the hippie artist and eccentric. I remember a time when I collected handbags for a hobby and now, I don't carry one unless I'm forced to. Most of the time, I'm in jeans. The Singapore Writer's Festival closes today. This morning, I stopped in my tracks and wondered what I was doing, strolling along Orchard Road when I felt I should now be somewhere else. The festival was after all a glorious interlude. I was surprised that the momentum for Singapore has wound down extraordinarily quickly for me. And now I must move on and do other things.
Yet, this is one of the more progressive journeys I've been on.
It's quite funny because I tend to think that most people live 'ordinary lives' like mine but it isn't really, is it. It is the life of the bohemian traveller...haphazard and erratic, for better or for worse.
I went to just one event today and decided to call it a day. I didn't even see anyone I knew. I think most of us had already enjoyed it to a hilt by now.
It's been raining heavily today - a vibrant thunderstorm in the tropics if you like. I haven't been reading because my mind was so taken up with all the information I was soaking in, on the workings of the world publishing industry. I was surprised to see how many call cards I had collected.
Everyone I met in Singapore at the festival, has a call card, even aspiring authors.
I'm going to go back to my reading now. I want to read a book at a sidewalk cafe in Singapore on a rainy day like today.

Tips from David Davidar of Penguin Books Canada, for the aspiring author

Singapore Writers' Festival - Symposium
Essential tips from David Davidar, for the aspiring author, given at the symposium.
David Davidar is President & Publisher of Penguin Books Canada. He is also the bestselling author of the sweeping narrative The House of Blue Mangoes and his newest novel, The Solitude of Emperors, published last September is already threading along the first book's trail.
Penguin Canada does not read unsolicited manuscripts except those referred to by a literary agent. Yet, they are always looking for fresh voices and they believe that the literary agent is a good judge of this.
  • Always remember that the dos' and don'ts of other writers may not appear vital to you at all. An individual's writing journey may be totally different.
  • There are no short-cuts to writing a work of good fiction, no easy way out.
  • Many first-time writers tend to make the common mistake of trying to second-guess the market. Writers sometimes deliberately imitate the plot of the current Man Booker Prize win.
  • Write for yourself and stay in solitude while doing this, if you have to.
  • There is an old saying that everyone has a book in them, says Davidar. But he adds that if your structure is poor, the book goes nowhere. Any aspiring author of fiction should read the great novels. Study comprehensively with an eagle-eye, the various forms and structures of these books.
  • Doubts will definitely come upon the writer during the process of writing, re-writing and editing a story. Would anyone at all be interested in what you have to say, for instance? Just know that there will be good and bad days. Preservere.
  • Nothing works on a first attempt. Keep writing and strive to find your voice.
  • Commit enough preparation for your manuscript beforehand because if it's a rushed job and far from ready, the feedback is definitely going to be bad.
  • Revision is essential. While the world is looking for new stories, as a writer it helps to be practical and strategic at the same time.
  • Davidar's view of the internet, is that showing off mansucripts online can prove a problem. Who is going to read an unknown, even if you have paid for your story to be shown online together with a host of other unknown writers? The chances of being read are poor.
  • Many e-books are amateur, observes Davidar. Editors are essential to act as a filter.
  • Finding a literary agent and publisher is tough work, he adds. But if you have talent and commitment, you will make it.
  • Most first works are autobiographical but unless you've had interesting and harrowing experiences, our real lives are not as valid for novel-writing as we like to think. So only take it so far. Fictionalise a lot.
  • If you're writing a novel, remember that it's not a journal. It's about fiction, structure and plot.
  • Seek an audience in your head. You can do this if you know the kind of book you want to write.
  • Find a tiny circle of people who are brutally honest with your stories. Find a referee as you progress with your work to read and comment, when you feel there is a need to. But stick to a small number.