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Location: Dublin, Republic of, Ireland

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Ooh...there's a sharp nip in the air. How the cold bites and pinches especially when we have been spoilt by the odd snatches of sunshine! The weatherman predicts frost and sleet tonight with snow tomorrow.
I think many people felt it worse on say, walking along places like the curvy Ha'Penny Bridge over the Liffey River. I saw one woman amongst many, bent over double with her red face huddled into her coat, to protect herself from the gale.
Still, I had a wonderful time. I have decided that what constitutes for my sense of wellbeing are the solitary pursuits I have often endeared myself to. The simple luxuries that cost hardly anything. The leisurely pavement strolls....the absorbing visits to bookshops...the long reads at my favourite cafes. I remember at one point this afternoon while I was gazing into a doll's shop with childlike admiration; feeling that catch of a sudden and familiar sense of belonging. But I have often found it easy to adjust myself in any big city and such an ability lends itself to a calmness that may represent a soothing therapy at the worst of times. It certainly keeps me in good spirits. Now I am ready to write again where I had suddenly stopped.
I picked up the newest literary journals - Eason on O'Connell St is wonderful for stocking the lot - that included the Literary Review (London), the New York Review of Books, the Writing Magazine and Waterstone's Books Quarterly. I bought a tiny book on philosophy. And I also bought a bunch of sunny yellow roses and a fizzy Rose chardonnay from Mark & Spencers.

Back to the drawing board for me, although I'm attending a stirring poetry-reading event tomorrow night.

I haven't been posting as enthusiastically as I should. My writing life took a downturn when I had some very disappointing news recently. Just before that, I had sprained my left shoulder. However, everything is well now.
I'm back to my cheery self and I just need to settle into the familiar routine that I had been thrown off, in the last few days.
This morning when I woke up, the sun shone brightly and had crept in boldly through the windows. Of course, it stays bitterly cold outside but I thought only of how beautiful my flowers looked on the ledge. The winds are strong and the news has warned to expect snowfalls. The Irish sea rages on.
I had wanted to make trips to the coast; I could take a train down south or up north and be facing the sea in a half hour. The wintry weather will last through the weekend. I am also planning another trip to Belfast.
But I want to write and send off some manuscripts before that - an area that has suffered greatly although I managed to finish a picture book.
I have been reading intensely though.
I have just finished listening to a cheerful ballet and will go downtown in a minute. It is a Thursday, a day of fun when the shops are all opened till very late.

(more later)

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

In these last days, I completed a children's storybook, except that it lacks the illustrations it definitely needs. I shall post if off to a few publishers this week and see what happens. I picked the story up from a raw manuscript and turned it into a picture book. I'd forgotten that I had it with me for safekeeping, for the longest time. I'd estimate the age group to be about 7 to 8 years old. I took about three days to re-shape the 40-page story.
I seem to have rekindled the enthusiasm that was evident in my 20s because this was the way I used to work; write one radio play, send it off, write another, send that off, write one short story, send that off etc.
The only difference was that at the time I was still in Malaysia, not yet a fashion journalist in Singapore and wanting desperately to broaden my horizons, to travel and to write in England.
Well...I'm writing in Europe now and have already met my dreams.
I'm planning to re-live another African safari either this May or June and before returning to Ireland, will stop for a bit in London as always. If I went to where nostalgia calls and hoteliers and tour guides still know me, it would have to be Tanzania.

Monday, 28 January 2008

I gave up drinking coffee just over a month ago, after having downed at least 8 to 10 cups a day, for 25 years. I'm in my 40s now. My addiction started before I turned 20. This turned out to be an accidental resolution as I decided to change my diet to include more fruits, vegetables and fish and very little of junk meals. I thought I'd have a go at letting up on the coffee as well.
It was the same with cigarettes. I was someone you'd call a chimney smoker and then one day, I stopped just like that. It's coming on to 10 years now and I've not yet missed that familiar puff. But you just never know.
It was tough at first with the coffee. My energy levels dropped drastically whereas before I used to feel perky first thing in the morning after a cup. For a fortnight, I suffered a terrible sluggishness that led to a feeling of foreboding and constant nightmares - this apparent even if I dozed for just 10 minutes - but I decided to keep on. Also, my energy levels would only pick up in the evenings. But I knew this was only temporary as my body had gone into shock.
I replaced the coffee with tea and halved that with water and fruit juices. Drinking tea often gave me an optimistic feeling. The benefits I discovered were the following:
All the dark rings under my eyes fled and I was rewarded with a fairer brighter countenance. I looked more vibrant then I had in a long while. And no, the dark rings have not been back since.
My spirit became incredibly calm and still is. I have never felt this encrichment in all my life.
I contemplate each thing carefully and think things through deeply. I don't tend to rush anymore. Before, I spotted a brittle energy and my thoughts often jumped from one anxiety to another.
I am almost always optimistic these days and hardly ever depressed. I have also become mellow when faced with emotional upheavals and am able to let go of things more easily.
I feel strangely peaceful and without the coffee, such a feeling becomes almost tangible to touch and hold. It is never vague.
I do intend to drink coffee eventually but not more than a mug a day, if I can help it. And this, maybe after a few months when I'm properly off it. A dependency on caffeine really was my only vice.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

I can't believe that I am writing and writing happily at that, in Ireland of all places. What fun! How precious, the fluency and accents of the English Language, spoken to me from babyhood and so exquisite a gift, it has promised never to leave me. I yearn to endear myself to its sophistication. I still feel I haven't yet walked the road to any hint of a deft mastery. All the time, I soak delicately like a fragile flower, in the poignancy of its classical beauty. Am I required to mould myself after the superficial stance of a legendary writer? No, I just need to be myself. Do I feel constrained and limited by writing in English at all? No, as a matter of fact, I feel wonderfully liberated. The language has helped me come into my own truths with trust and gladness.
But then I am blessed considering that I have never been parochial in my outlook of life. That alone helped me be the hedonistic traveller. My visions as an Asian or Malaysian writer, have never been myopic. Certainly, I would know of prejudices...the frowns of scoffers and the many asian writers who scorn the West, that is simply part of a global village. Hopefully, I may have been saved from such a curse when you think that I have accepted all of unhurried loves that have shrouded me from childhood, gently and gladly.


by Suzan Abrams

I am a clown
the majesty of my brevity,
in a battle, and
juggling the last freefall
of my destiny.
I may touch the ground
still mentally sound, or
be branded
mortally wounded for

Saturday, 26 January 2008

I am presently working on a writing project which I will tell you about once it's finished. Also, I sprained my left shoulder which has slowed things down a bit.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Heart of a traveller

Reading Beauvoir on the train and in a cafe, thinking of poetry and plays, shaken by the wind and smiles, and wrapped up in warmth and tea, I suddenly miss Africa. - suzan abrams

Dublin's Bookshop Maze

Why did I choose Dublin to write? It is too beautiful a city. Taste its spoils and it will haunt you, demanding your return. Luxurious, evocative, soft as a leopard's fur and slender as a designer's gown, the Liffey River from where I stand on the famous Ha'Penny Bridge, broods and smoulders with impatience, its mood bordering on a dangerous romance.
Snooty swans glide by showing-off a polished arrogance and offering the odd pose for a video cam. Noisy seagulls race with the wind.
And what a gale this January! How they howl and lash upon the rooftops at night! In the darkened trees looking up to a solitary full moon, one hears the faint twittering of birds, angry with this sudden gatecrash to their nightly shut-eye.
But the wind which fled to land from the raging Irish sea continues to play hookey and proclaims itself as Dublin's boisterous king this January. It tears at umbrellas; ripping them to shreds, messes up hair, and snatches at hats with gusto. From somewhere in the grey skies, it rustles up its wobbly belly for a merry laugh. I expect its sharp cold gusts would frighten even the stars but a glittering starry-eyed night persists!
Facing me, is the Winding Stair bookshop. If I walk a little way and turn left, I'll bump into Waterstone's on Jervis street. If I turn right, there's Eason's on O' Connells, ready to beckon with its generous display of Irish titles. If I walk further ahead, I'd come to Parnell Street, which houses Chapters, popular for its new titles and fabulous hardback bargains. They also exhibit some of the biggest displays for carefully-tended second-hand classics in the country. An onward saunter sees my next stop at the Writer's Museum, often visited for its quaint bookshop. For the moment, this is Dublin's northside but if I attempt to cross the bridge once more to the south, I'd first have to stroll past another bookshop with its splendid titles on Christian philosophy.
Directly across the road from the Christian bookshop in Middle Abbey Street is a sunny independent bookshop called Bookworms.
Now. away from the bridge I have to quickly escape from from the cool Temple Bar with its own favourite show of bookshops. Upstairs, downstairs, and in secret corners next to colourful alleys and pavements.
On the south side, I may stop to gaze with fervent longing at an independent vintage bookshop, called Books Upstairs, famous for avant-garde subjects on art, drama, poetry, alternative fiction and the latest literary and poetry journals out in London.
In five minutes, I'd be at Ireland's biggest bookstore on Grafton Street, which is Hodges & Figgis. It commands one the friendliest customer service staff bustling about. Directly behind the building, lies another independent bookshop called International Books and across the road from
Hodges is a large Waterstone's bookstore. Walk further on and you'll come to Reads which faces Trinity College. Walk a little further on and you'll come to more Reads. You may also spot another Eason branch. Walk a little further ahead and you'll spot yet another Eason's branch. And it goes on and on.
By the way, international titles are everywhere.
Such is the powerful reading culture in Ireland. Bookshops, cafes, fast food chains and designer boutiques all command pride of place with their loyal parades.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Today, I have to organize my work. I have a lot on my plate. One sobering thing I've realised is that I have to detach myself away from people and past situations that still awkwardly revolve around me. That is, if I am going to write seriously for hours. Or rather, to be no longer emotionally bound to them...no matter how faint or vague that apprehension, as I used to be in the past.
In this thought alone, I am excited at the possibilities that await.
I find myself having to consciously look back and wipe out memories that were destructive to my well-being. There have been too many infiltrations and influences from peoples' voices and I am someone who is happier when staying detached, rather then being emotionally bound to groups and cliques who have the power to sometimes sway your own real thoughts and destiny to what may be considered acceptable to them.
I need to be very selfish to be able to climb back into my own writing world without effort and to make time for me now, for a change. But such a situation is already happening in my life, irregardless of whether I have chosen the path. It feels like the mind has willed itself to clear away every clutter in the attic. :-)
Every bad thing or stale memory is going or must go.
My life is definitely undergoing a major transformation through no choice of my own. 2008 has so far shocked me.

I wonder that my recent return to extraordinary books did not have this sudden impact on me... :-)

Sunday, 20 January 2008

I feel a bit disorientated today for personal reasons. Everything is alright now - just a little upset to the day - and I am trying to slip back into my peaceful abode without too much trouble. I'm getting there.
Meanwhile, I am reading an entire e-book for a lovely American friend as I promised her the feedback she wanted. So far, I am enjoying my cautious foray - after a very long break - back into fantasy fiction. Through her colourful plot with its breathtaking twists and turns, she has simplified this quest for me. :-)
Presently, I am a little backdated with doing a few book reviews for this blog but those are soon coming. I am also trying to catch up with my backlog of emails and am answering each one as diligently and quickly as I can.
I also have letters to write.
I have stalled in these last couple of days on reading my favourite books and writing a creative piece of work, but no doubt, this is only a temporary measure.
I am slowly building up a library of good literature and my favourite music, which like my choice of reads, is vast.
Two days ago, I picked up 3 cd deluxe cases with 36 tracks on each one, featuring Italian arias, songs and the mandolin, another of a young Maria Callas singing her timeless opera and yet another of Spanish ballads and gregorian chants, the kinds that would have been heard somewhat prayerfully, in Medieval times. The cases also carried superb booklets with explanatory texts and rare photographs of the singers or operas.
Clearly, they were packaged as collectors' items.
And they were a right steal too. I bought my cds at Tower Records on O'Connell Street. You could choose a case for either 3.99 euros each or select 3 cases for a total of 10 euros. That would be roundabout 50 Malaysian ringgit.
Miraculously, there wasn't a single fault and the sounds plus intonation of the tracks are perfect so far.
I also have a growing collection of piano and jazz.
And the fireplace where I live, still works. Yes, I have my own pretty fireplace and hearth. An Irish neighbour told me this. He said I could light a fire every evening if I wanted to. When a gale shows up, a little old soot sometimes falls out with great spirit, from the chimney. But I am thrilled indeed.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

At first, in the many years of upheaval mixed with monumental bouts of joy, I used to be able to count my blessings. When for awhile my life became too trying, I thought I had lost my blessings altogether...that I had very few actually left about me. I used to say my Christian prayers as if my life depended upon it. And really, it did. Sometimes, I was so afraid I would wilt away. But I had a tremendous inner faith and used this quality to hold on to the little things that gave me joy and recalled with maternal kindness, the rest that may have slipped away.
For a long while, I simply waited in the wings and nothing happened. And then destiny did a roundabout turn without warning and suddenly, I regained without effort all that I had lost and more.
Now, I relish my contentment and my peace...I live in the moment and cherish every sliver of second on the hands of a clock. Sometimes like me, you have to taste a black darkness to see the sparkling light. Now when I think of my blessings, there are too many to count. The little ones grew into big ones, and the big ones then spread their wings.
Now I am simply thankful for my life and all in it. I see beauty in every cloud.
I am very happy but I work at my happiness every single moment. Yet, the spirit does this subconsciously through the appreciation of goodness that subtly crowd the realities of life.
If you are reading this at some point and you are passing through a crisis or darkness, I would say to you, don't give up. Hold on to your inner self with all your might and bliss will come to meet you when you least expect it on your road.
It may not happen at this very minute, tomorrow or next week but hold on and happiness will knock one day on your door, an overflowing bouquet of flowers in its hand and the shine of a sharp light on its face.

P.S: Back to books & writers tomorrow

Friday, 18 January 2008

The celebration of self-obsession

I'm literally living the alternative life... not of someone caught in the daily rat-race but of an unsure artist in the making. I do feel that as the hours flee, I am more intensely a wistful character portrayed through sing-song in a Faithfull ballad or a Joan Baez number. Or better still, Marianne Faithfull herself when in 1968, the long-haired and quiet blonde acted with Alain Delon in a short artistic film clip that was highly romantic and this; minus the tragedy involved. I tiptoe in silence, afraid to make a noise for so beautiful is the scene of my seasonal celebration, that I am afraid a whiff of blinding disillushionment may capture the scent in the air. I could be walking on roses, sleeping on air...that's how carefree a swinging heart feels.
My life is now revolved completely around my books, my writing, my letters, my long walks, my poetry, my planned trips to promenades and the cold Irish sea, my friends and other niceties. I can choose the colours to slot in my hours...the time to rise and then to sleep again in muted disbelief. I can choose when to party and when to dine, when to write and when to read. I have no commitments, no problems triumph and no shadows loom.
In short, I am the hippie who masquerades as the organised, well-showered and well-laundered individual. Everyday, I thrive on hugs and kisses. Shush! Do you spot my emblem of peace, the flowers in my hair or the beads that rub against my shoulders? Perhaps not, for they are secretly garlanded in my heart and walled in the protection of my spirituality.
When did the colour grey get pushed out the door? When did the days and hours ride the seasonal carousel of a heady celebration? I ask thoughtfully, receive no answers but regale only in my booming laughter.
Last evening, I walked into the sweet cold rush of a drizzle, a lone, gentle figure in the crowded streets of Dublin. How romantic the city lights, how cheerful its people, how evocative the atmosphere. The glistening pavements shone with the fiesty spirit of the blustery wind. I could have been resting somewhere in the burrows of Eden.
I think that perhaps it is all too good to be true... can a life be akin to so much treasure. I am afraid that I have inherited too much of the beautiful by mistake but maybe not.
Throw me confetti and I shall dance in the rain.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

I talked to a friend in Australia last night and it dawned on us both about how much I had accomplished once before. The radio plays and short stories also for radio, dramatics, the poetry overseas - at the time I was still in Malaysia - and heavy magazine-journalism work. To say nothing of the travelling years. And I also remembered with glee - I must admit - that I had once won a national song-writing competition. She was delighted and admonished me that when we had first met in Melbourne, I had only ventured, having sketched up a few children's stories before brushing everything off.

And it was now after 7 years, that she finally knew what I had actually done. Except for the occasional post like this one, the most I'd ever tell anyone is that I was a writer and traveller.

Even with the travels, I've learnt to shut-up. :-)

It's amazing how when you say to someone (applicable to many but not all) that you've travelled, you're immediately entertained to a lost list of the listener's own global adventures, drumming in your ear although it may have been a vague tour or university holiday from decades past and the world does change very quickly. Strightaway, that person wants to be seen as someone better than you. There is a tendency on your part in comparison, to feel totally at a loss. Especially if you had only mentioned say, Colombo in passing.

I've noticed this pattern time and time again so nowadays, I just say the two-word phrase 'I've travelled' and only when absolutely necessary like having to explain my lifestyle. Mostly, I'm too lazy to go into details.

After the conversation, I experienced a glorious sense of self-worth. Now here I am in Dublin, on a new phase of my life. When will I reach the sunset? Already, I have found so many rainbows. Is there yet another for me? I could leave the world at this moment and be properly contented. :-)

Now, I want to read a book like every book is my first. I want to visit a new land like every new land is my first. I want to write a story like every story is my first. Never resting on one's laurels, no matter how pleasing the time. But just striving on for a greater sense of elation and daring it to re-appear stronger and more powerfully than the one before.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

D taught me to appreciate the art of cooking some weeks ago. I had admired it from afar but never got down to the industrious diligence of peeling, chopping or slicing vegetables and fruit; baking and grilling. I now love it all.
Because of my avant-garde lifestyle with its heavy bohemian travelling for years, I had learnt to rely on hotel meals...mostly American breakfasts of course, restaurant lunches and teas, dinners with friends or the handy take-away.
I still enjoy my cafe experiences every other day with a good book in tow but I'm more careful with my menu now. Perhaps I'd settle for a sultana muffin instead of a rich slice of chocolate cake. Things like that.
I gave up cigarettes since July 1998 and thankfully have not yet picked up a stick though I can't say what will happen tomorrow. I gave up smoking cold turkey.
I'm now trying to cut down on my coffee - which really is my only other vice and rely more on teas or juices.
I enjoy cooking more and more everyday. My interest in the craft had already been subtly revived by the creative cooking show entertainment that British telly is famous for.
Now,I find it superbly calming to my spirit and therapeutic to my senses. I'm learning different kinds of recipes but starting out very simply with salads and vegetables. When I go to the butcher's I choose meat with care. After all, intuition becomes one' best friend on the subject of cookery.
Because I tend to always live in the moment, no matter what I'm doing... I like to have some good music on when I cook just as when I write. And a nice mug of tea, besides.
I still remember things I learnt in domestic science at school. Like washing up dirty utensils as you go along, so the dishes don't pile up. I find I apply all these things subconsciously. And where I couldn't before, I'm so glad now for all the things I was taught at school.
I find cooking, reading, writing and re-inventing my old art of letter-writing to be soothing and the true mainstay of my life at this moment as an artist. I also feel I've become calmer and more thoughtful in my contemplation of difficult decisions and subjects.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Today, an envelope came for me in the post and I had forgotten that I had made enquiries about publishing something on my own. I need to do it if only as a by-the-way thing. Perhaps I need it as a sound reminder that I'm still a writer after 6 years of not having written anything creatively. Perhaps I harbour an unnecessary inate guilt. I was writing poems for schoolfriends in the classroom since I was a little girl. And then there were the many aired radio plays, my printed poetry and my full-time career as a fashion journalist. So I couldn't not have been a writer.
My manuscripts will still go out to all the usual places but I feel that this is something I need to do for me just now...a confidence booster. Or a vitamin shot in my renewed writing life.
A part of me feels excited...another part is filled with fear. I still have old manuscripts on hand if I want to publish something straightaway. I'm still thinking about it but I'll have to make up my mind shortly. If in the event, I do have a book out on this route, I don't think I'd be laidback. I'm just not the sort. Two things that are really important for me are a wide awareness and distribution. I just need to figure a smooth plan there.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

News out today: Controversial writer Taslima Nasrin wins France's Simon de Beauvoir award

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

Controversial novelist Taslima Nasreen has won the prestigious Simon de Beauvoir award in recognition of her controvertible feminist writing. 2008 also spells Beauvoir's 100th birth anniversary. Unable to attend the function on January 9th, Nasreen who is in hiding, had bravely risked a personal message of thanks.

Baring the wiles of a steely strength and docile femininity in that order, the daring and defiant writer who once had to escape Bangladesh for a Swedish exile where she then moved to France before returning to India, was recently booted out of Kolkata for what was claimed to be her anti-Islamic writings.

Already, a winner of several international awards, she had in earlier years escaped Bangladesh for Sweden after receiving terrifying death threats. Because of continuing pressure, Nasreen has had to put another novel on hold. She is now believed to be at a secret location in Delhi.

In spite of the ongoing harassment, the torment of hostile receptions in her country and for reasons that may never fully justify the author's intended premises, Nasreen continues to stay remarkably true to herself with the real prospect of having moved ahead of her time.

Photography Credit: IndiaDaily


Birds in my Garden

This winter, beautiful birds continue to sing me songs in the back garden. It's not at all mistifying here in Ireland to hear excitable twitterings in the high branches - otherwise, drowned only by the lashings of a gale - as early as 2 am. In Malaysia, the swallows and sparrows prefer to stay restful and hushed come the sombre nightfall and any coaxing in the way of friendship at such an odd hour, would not be entertained.

Perhaps because it may be considered a relatively warm winter if not an unusually wet and stormy season, I woke up to see a strong ray of sunshine flitting in and various species of birds everywhere.

Crumbs had been scattered for them by a kind neighbour and there were, the big and small ones or even the coloured speckled or tiny grey ones. They nestled on treetops, amongst the mound of dead leaves on the grass, hopped about on a brick gate and partied on the rooftop of the garden shed. The usual home pigeons did not feel threatened and sacrificed a desire to be territorial. A busy snail strolled on, unperturbed.

One sharp-eyed dark bird with a sunny yellow beak even hopped on to my window ledge for a
discreet peek-in, if you will. I was filled with joy at this gift of life. Suddenly, I recalled rhymes and woodland tales of old that had so enraptured me as a little girl and tears flooded my eyes.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

A quick take on P.J. Brady

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

Last night I met the Irish actor P.J. Brady (pictured right) who is a friend of D's, over dinner. It was fabulous talking to Brady who has performed the life and works of the late famed Irish poet, Patrick Kavanagh, (see smaller picture), on stage for 25 years.
Brady is now writing his novel where he works "very well at nights" and considering his dream of building a library in his home, where "thankfully, the bookshelves have at last just arrived." The distinguished bearded actor observes that on overcoming ill-health and a 10-year old trying experience, that at 50, the world of books now await him like no other, that he finally has "all the time in the world to read."
Our conversation lasted hours.
We applauded books, poetry, the theatre and writing. Spritually, I thought my dialogues with Brady & D to be idyllic and with a glass of Californian Shiraz in my hand, felt properly contented. Brady is summoning up his own poems for a collection and explained to me the need to write and record his memoirs - loosely disguised in parts as fiction - and also mused over his extraordinary life on stage and the colourful experiences that had blanketed his years while playing Kavanagh. I asked him in detail, about the writing process and the fact that he was willing to engage in such a fine discourse on the novel, made me feel that I was immersed in an intellectually-stimulating cafe-culture intimacy. With keen eagerness, I have happily refused persuasions on dullness everytime and succeeded.

Photograph Credit: Famous Poets & Poetry


My Poem

A day ago, I wrote about my experiences at my first writers' group in Dublin. Just scroll two posts down or click on this link.

Here is the poem I read out that stunned people for its crushing darkness. I'm placing it in the centre simply because I think it looks neater and not for any show of a pretentious style.

My Melancholy

by Suzan Abrams

It is morning time,
A bad time, a sad time.
I lie limp like a rag doll,
curled into the solitude,
of my broken hand.
If you didn't know me, you
would think I was dead.
See the wires that crawl out of
my thumb and
the finger of a twisted bone.

My nails shine like mirrors,
manicured to spearlike polish,
ready to scratch words from a
sewer, and spouting rubbish
from the clumsy violin strings,
of my own silly heart.
Then too, blessed with a nice neat
parting from
its torn jagged rut.

I wear no haloes, only a
mismatched crown of foibles. I
carry the mother heart, an
artist's wand and sometimes, a
witch's broomstick... Perhaps,
my face is of a magician, that
I may play all three roles
at once, or none at all
to swim in my ocean of pink.

The colour of worry, the
rose scent of a delicous sorry.
Now uttered, now removed, now
lost forever to the song of wind.
And so I take my bow, a big fat
curtsey to leave my scene of pink.

It is morning time,
a bad time, a sad time, I am
curled like a baby, a soft
cracked pudding featuring
rubber ball skin,
that thinks and sings that
blinks and sinks,
that mummifies a compost
for the cryptic riddle I
stay unto myself.


Friday, 11 January 2008

Single-Paragraph Novel to be Published & Confirmation date for a new Rushdie hardback

Latest News: Faber (UK) today acquired a second novel by 21-year old Richard Milward titled 10-Storey Love Song, to be published in March 2009. The extraordinary flavour lies in the one unbroken paragraph that celebrates the novel in its completeness. The plot revolves around the adventures of Bobby the Artist in the London art world. Milward's first novel, Apple was published when he was just 19 and received rave reviews from Britain's top newspapers.

Photography Credit: The London Paper

Just confirmed today: June 3 finally marks the release of famed novelist, Salman Rushdie's new hardback novel called The Enchantress of Florence. Described as a dramatic departure from the usual fare, the 352-page historical novel based on seven years of research, is set in Renaissance Florence and the court of the Mughal empire. Says Will Murphy, Rushdie's editor at Random House, readers will tune in to a crossing between fantasy and reality. Expect an exotic concoction of political intrigue cleverly interwined with high drama, romance and magic.

In March, Random will release repackaged trade paper editions of three Rushdie books: Shame, The Satanic Verses and The Jaguar Smile

My Writer's Group Meeting in Dublin

How glorious the setting at my first writers' group in Dublin last night. Nine of us grouped around a long table in a stately room, with our scattered files, pens and poetry reflecting the bashful disposition that engulfs all new friendships with promised ease and pleasure.

Watchful watercolour landscapes from high cream walls overshadowed the congenial mood of goodwill and a hearty reawakening of spirits and why...may even have tut-tut-ed gamely, to the ballooning of new and fanciful ideas, that would be taken up by the reading and discussions on verse.

I appeared kindly caught in a Rosamund Pilcher storybook page, from where my time now seemed to have significantly dipped with a waterfall plunge into an opulence befitting of elegant men and stylish apple-cheeked women.

Caught upon the sudden romantic scene, a small party sitting tastefully in regal chairs while drinking port and discussing books by the fireplace in an aristocractic country manor, rose swiftly to mind. I remembered with relish, Pilcher's enduring bestseller, September.

I had trooped along with D and with no idea of what to take along, he told me to choose just one poem that I wanted to read aloud. I settled for My Melancholy, written in the usual dark mood that would so prevail everytime I put words to paper, no matter how high my laughter.

We had taxied our way out of the city in good time and later strolled along a mild winter's evening where a stream of stars that spilt out lavishly up and about the wide night sky, appeared to bless our bliss.

We rang the doorbell and was greeted by J, who would later hold me in a passionate dialogue at the pub down the road, about his great love for the ancient Greek and Latin classics. Sadly, he would deplore Sylvia Plath, whom I loved. "Her poetry bloody complicated the soul," he complained.

And so, there we were at last. The silver-haired elderly gentleman, W, complete with his hat, expensive waistcoat watch and hickory, turned out to be a professional playwright for the Dublin stage for several years. I was told this, only by chance and naturally, I beamed with joy, suddenly pondering on the haphazard snippets of my own half-written play with renewed interest.

There was Ja who organised everything for us and manouvered the discussion to new levels of thought and also a sanguine-faced and smiley gentleman, R. And not to forget, J. Of course, there was also D who I thought looked very handsome as he sat in the middle of everyone else. 3 beautiful, pleasant and softly-spoken women S, Ma & Ml, completed the angelic scene.

Each chosen poem displayed an inate sophistication that was wonderfully asute and englightening all at once. The many variations accorded to style, form and subject caused the serious session that was punctuated with occasional bouts of laughter and smiles, to be a splendid one. I also felt that each poem naughtily reflected the personality of the poet at hand. We talked, I gathered for more then 3 hours. All of us got on like a house on fire.

The air was reverential and emotions hushed to an even-tempered mellowness, as each of us took quiet turns to read aloud our poems. We read twice in a row. We would pass around copies of the discussed poem - thankfully, D had printed 10 of mine - to everyone else and Ja, the leader of the night would summarise everyone's notes to return afterwards, to the poet being discussed.

Each poet would also collect the copies that had been handed around. After the rendition and discussion of a poem, the rest of the group would then take turns to offer suggestions and comments.

Oh...the soft lilting Irish voice and accent with its extraordinary cadence, feeding eagerly on the poet's own landscape that lay huddled with secret idelogies and which met each composition... Surely, the cascading melody of deep reflection, stayed bewitching to the listening open hearts of poets at stake.

The playwright, W, offered an immediate affinity with my poem. He proclaimed it to be a puzzle and a maze, deliberately disfigured and mutilated, bizarre and grotesque...similar to the writings of Angela Carter. Everyone agreed that it would require thoughtful decoding and even as a mystery unravelled, another secret would endure. Because of this alone, they decided it held a unique flavour. I had apparently woven an intricate spider's web in my poem and this without realisation. I enjoyed the astonishing thoughts of others and found their interpretations to be pleasing to the ear. I determined to work seriously at my poetry from now.

Later, Ma who has published books and is an established poet in Ireland, passed around copies of new writer's competitions and workshops that had sprouted up. The graceful blonde also scribbled our numbers and contact details with industry. A few of us exchanged contacts at the same time although if the truth be told, we were all meeting for the next discussion on January 24th. A writer's discussion on prose was also scheduled for January 28th.

The common Irish tradition is to head down to the nearby pub afterwards. I forget the name now but was told by Ja who regaled us all with accounts of his travels to Zurich, that James Joyce had often drunk at the pub. It had proved one of his favourites. Another poet joined us there with his wife. T is an ardent golfer and is familiar with the beautiful, scenic courses in Scotland. I'm told that sometimes the writer's group boasts a large attendance indeed.

With the merry toasting of drinks, (wine for me), pints of lager & Guinness for the rest and coffee as well, we all engaged in a rollicking good time discussing the arts, current affairs and politics. After about an hour, everyone headed home a little light-headed and jolly, I must admit. I lost a black leather glove and soon we were all looking desperately for it. I felt embarassed. It was D who finally retrieved it from a most unlikely spot!

D and I went along to a fashionable club...a place that I could have sunk into with exhilaration for eternity - thanks to the contemporary jazz music - and later, we followed our spontaneous adventuring up with a disco that would close at half-two.

Once again, last night was magic which would explain why I'm all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning.

One wonderful fancy that the writer's group tickled me with, was was to invoke an immediate motivation and inspiration to write as much as I could, with an urgency that was electrifying.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

I am going to my first writer's group in Dublin this evening.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

News Out Today: Dr. Vincent Lam makes the tough shortlist for a US fiction prize

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

The award-winning Chinese writer and emergency physician, Dr. Vincent Lam is named as one of just 3 shortlisted short story writers, for a possible triumph in the Story Prize, an annual US book award valued at US$20,000 and offered for a winning short story collection, written in English and published in the States.

Lam who was born in Ontario, Canada and now resides in Toronto with his wife is shortlisted for his book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures which was published by famed novelist, Margaret Atwood. Lam first made his acquaintance with Atwood on an Artic cruise.

In his collection of tales, Lam who also won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize - considered to be Canada's most prestigious literary award - and US$40,000 draws on his experiences as a medical student and life in the emergency room.

He will compete against Jim Shephard's Like You'd Understand Anyway and British author, Tessa Hadley's Sunstroke and other stories for the prize which is to be announced on February 27.

Catch Dr. Vincent Lam's website here.
Sarah does a super review of Jim Shephard's short story collection in her blog, over here.
More about Tessa Hadley here

Photo Credit: Aaron Harris of Canadian Press

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Tuesday, 8 January 2008

A vital link for aspiring & established authors

If you intend to or have published books, do have a quick read.

Title: Three Mistakes Authors Make on the Web

Something about me (Part 3)

I'm thinking seriously of self-publishing a piece of work in the near future. I can afford to and thought that it would be an interesting experiment to gauge the other side of the coin while I'm waiting to hear from publishers in the usual way, on other manuscripts. That means I get to know both sides of a very tough but highly exciting industry.

The time for me is just right now.

Developing the idea represents a challenge in the interlude. Like a game with other players or a learning curve to better things. It doesn't matter if I fail. At least, I will appreciate how booksellers and distributors work and be thankful for their presence and not always as a writer, point the finger at retail trade or blame production ineptitude, simply because I failed to make sound decisions beforehand or understand completely the workings of the industry's infrastructure as a whole, internationally.

If I arrange to self-publish something, it would also be a bonus to have made up very quickly for not having written creatively for 6 years. Looking back, I feel too much time fled although I did broaden my horizons in a glorious fashion from having travelled to and lived in different countries.

I already have a substantial knowledge of the publishing industry both in the East and the West.
If I do engage in such a venture, I will follow the marketing discipline of the West. I have too much buoyant energy and dislike being laidback. Here, in Europe as compared to my country, publishing a book means facing fierce competition. But that is what makes life and its possibilities exhilarating. Challenges to strive for the best are dynamic and the playing field exciting if you have the gritty aptitude for it.

I find that in the West, writers promoting their work either singlehandedly or through publicity departments are in top form. They are just so full of zest. They're not moaners or whiners. They don't complain but just get on with things. I still remember the saying that it is always easy to be a big fish in a small pond but very hard to be a big fish in a big pond.

Here for both the amateur and professional, there are no excuses for mistakes, no resting on laurels, no foolish pleas for kindness. Everyone is on equal ground. I can't decide what I want to publish but I know what I want to send on to agents. This feels like a game although I'm aware my little adventure involves just as much blood, sweat and tears.

PS: I must add that from the recent Singapore Writer's Festival, I do feel very inspired by Singapore. Singaporean writers see themselves as developing internationally but never once feeling less-patriotic along the way. That is how things should be. The courage to spread one's wings and not to always insist on the clouding of thoughts in a protective insular mode...metaphorically speaking.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Latest News from Publishers Weekly - new trends to watch out for in 2008

I can't let this top news story go. It's just out today in the latest edition of Publishers Weekly.

Mike Shatzkin (pictured right), founder and CEO of the Idea Logical Company predicts today in Publishers Weekly, the newest publishing trends to watch out for in 2008.

If you're an internet-savvy author, this may just be your year. Shatzkin suggests that major changes to how new books are being published, have diligently and subtly been taking place.

To sum up the article, here's what Shatzkin says in point form:

  1. The acceptance and demand for e-books will increase. Shatzkin forecasts Amazon's Kindle leading the way. Meanwhile the Palm will stay highly popular and the Sony Reader will continue to sell well although Shatzkin predicts that Kindle will eventually outshine all by the end of the year. Kindle pricing will drive the market.
  2. Sale of books in electronic form to public libraries will continue to grow. See already Ingram’s, MyiLibrary, Follett, NetLibrary and Overdrive.
  3. This will be the Year of the Author. Initiatives like the speakers bureaus at HarperCollins and Random House, the Authonomy Web site now being developed by HarperCollins UK and Google’s Knols initiative to create an “authored” Wikipedia all reflect the growing understanding of what publishing “brands” really matter (and they aren’t HarperCollins or Random House).
  4. Publishers will acquire specialised web sites to advertise content for books, target specific audiences and heighten the value of a web site.
  5. Thanks to innovators like Apple and lulu.com, Christmas 2008 will see sales of customised books encouraged by the Internet and the Print-on-demand technology. Consumers will make enough purchases on author-generated books that are fast highlighting the consciousness, to provide a real challenge to mainstream publishing.
  6. Santzkin also predicts that Apple will team up with Ingram to turn the iPhone and iPod into a major e-book readership.
  7. XML will no longer be considered optional.
  8. B&N will provide the most effective sophistication to lengthen its lead over Borders and other booksellers.
  9. In America, the lack of a competitive supply-chain infrastructure will continue to hurt Borders in sales and profits. There will be a change of ownership control and a new plan to ressurect America's No.2 bookseller.
  10. There will be an increased activity of publishers selling to consumers directly from their web sites, particularly apparent for digital downloads with other combinations offere.
  11. With the growing need for literary agents to provide editing, marketing and detailed management, smaller agencies will no longer be able to incur costs and agents will start to experience the same kind of consolidation that has engulfed the publishing industry resulting in conglomerates.
  12. Publishers will rethink the traditional sales conference and move towards a more advanced approach.
  13. With a fast-growing ageing population, large-print titles will increase substantially and some publishers will produce a hardcover edition for paperbacks and a large-print title for every edition. There will even be sub-sections in bookstores specificallyl for these categories.
  14. Publishers will push harder to try to publicize books through the Internet and the print and broadcast media will start to suffer as a result of these; especially for specific subjects.
  15. Shatzkin also sees 2008 as the Year of Experimentation, where publishers will experience promoting books through different widgets and even cell phones.

Read the full article here.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Something about me (Part 2)

Today, I wrote again. Yes, I did. In the early hours of the morning although that really wasn't meant to be but finally...

I had not written anything creatively for six years after a break of having had radio plays aired and articles published about the place. Also, some poetry printed in small press magazines in England at the time of my radio plays being aired. Then I worked as a fashion journalist. This was followed by some world travelling and professional writing.

In 2006, I opened a blog for a renewed experimentation of story-writing. Later with a regained confidence, I felt the blog for that specific phase in my life had achieved its purpose and I closed it. Besides, for several severe months afterwards, I was drawn into resolving personal issues in Malaysia. There was no time or energy to travel, read or write anything.

Last September, I got my life back again, so to speak. I returned to Europe and recovered my long-lost love for reading. Now in Dublin, the way has been prepared for me again spiritually - if one may put it so congenially - to write and to perform this exhilarating occupation full-time.

A few days ago, after much dilly-dallying , I wrote and sent an article to a magazine editor after about a year and a half. Now, that was a big accomplishment for me. Yesterday, I recovered the material for a picture book manuscript I thought I had lost. That's how I operate unfortunately.

Today, I'm sending it off as well. This is how I used to be; the compulsion to write various things, measured against the forgetfulness of night and day. I'm glad that I've not lost the enthusiasm and ability. Because this says to me that I'm a writer first and a blogger second. And that I'm back in circulation...the long-lost writer found again.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

I have just finished reading this very book by Anton Chekhov; his 53-page slightly-tragic play titled Uncle Vanya. The 4 acts focussed solely on the intense interplay between the juggling of the terms, rest, work & indolence.
It results in some morbid introspection between ladies, hints at the dullness of routine chores, challenges the misinterpretation of injured emotions and summons up erratic neurotic behavior.
I so enjoyed reading this play in traditional print which felt a little more romantic than broaching it online.

With a view to reviews...

What joy the weekend brings with all the splendid essays that call for eager contemplation and which unfurls like a lengthy red carpet, from a blogroll of newspaper literary reviews in real life, its complimentary versions beaming online and stylish literary journals just out with fastidious aplomb.
In this vein, I've discovered the upmarket quarterly magazine called The Irish Book Review. It's nicely plumped-up with reviews settling on historical biographies and modern fiction, the short story, drama, interviews, literary criticism, essays, and reflections on poetry. I picked it up from the bookshop the day before and it's lying on my writing desk just now; this glorious autumn version just out for sale.
I'm also waiting for the London Review of Books magazine out next week after the holidays.
And how could a Saturday morning be complete without the chunky Guardian, Observer & The Times weekend newspapers.

Today, I picked up the Guardian from the shops with happy expectation after a long winter walk. It's very cold at the moment although the intrusive sun regaled us with a slight warmth early on. Still, the icy air promises a renewed spirit; it feels thoroughly clean and fresh and a good hardy walk is my idea of the perfect exercise after sitting at my laptop for hours. There are a fair bit of people cycling about on the wide tree-lined pavements with its scattering of dead leaves and quite often, the nosy dog on a long kind leash.
In the same way that I've learnt to love my street and suburb, I've just become drawn to the professional book review in a big way for reasons I currently fail to understand, myself.

At the moment, I'm not yet writing reviews with a serious fortitude. I am reading a lot to expand on ideas of critical thought and I also have another plan for my reviews, once I start to take them seriously.

This didn't work for me

Just finished reading Bitter Sweets by Roopa Farooki but while it appears to have enjoyed rave reviews elsewhere and was even shortlisted for the Orange Book Award for New Writers in 2007, I could barely stomach it.

This novel with all its melodrama and sensational scenes, did indeed leave a bitter taste in my mouth.

There was too much happening with young couples, middle-aged spouses and mismatched lovers; all rolled into one, that it felt a bit like teenage fiction...a bit Nisha Minhas-ish. The drama was clever, the initial comedy sparkled but the foregoing conclusions - the overly-neat tidying up of the plot, I regarded as silly and an insult to the imagination...in other words, what to the suspicious eye; would simply hint at the vague feeling of a copycat version of a Bollywood movie script.

To top it all, the classic deathbed confession thrives with the exception that the patient lives to tell. And so all ride happily ever after into the sunset.

I felt that in the author's desire to strike a bold impression, the long-drawn list of characters ensured a shallow detailing of personality traits.

If you treasure a Bollywood flick or the idyllic endings of a chick-lit, say Nisha Minhas, then you'll purchase this without a second thought.

Farooki did however, garner an impressive review in The New York Times.

(You may click on the links above to find out more about the multi-cultural novel and author.)

Friday, 4 January 2008

On striding back from a friend's home this morning at 2, I finally spotted the bashful icicles. Icicles sparkled watchfully from trees and rooftops like the gloss of a skating rink.
In the hushed night, it still felt like Christmas.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

A few thoughts on The Miniaturist by Kunal Basu

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

I don't have the time to do a book review which would include a fair bit of forethought, such is the scholarly aptitude that is demanded of The Miniaturist by Kunal Basu who has also published The Opium Clerk and Racists to successful British reviews in the recent past, however quietly done.

Because of the writing of my own fiction that now consumes time and energy, I can only offer to say how much I enjoyed this historical novel which I finished reading in 2 days; one that combined pomp and pagentry with the painful and darker issues of humanity, so thoughtfully exposed.

The plot encircles Bihzad, the son of the chief artist in Emperor Akhbar's court, set in 16th century North India, who on inheriting his father's talent, immediately becomes the much-coveted apple of the Emperor's eye.

However, Bihzad would carelessly bungle up this prized favour and to an added horror would create self-imposed punishments to stifle a dangerous restlessness and discover his new identity as a human being and lover. The most painful point is when the brilliant artist chooses to give up his art altogether.

I met Basu in Singapore during the recent Writer's Festival where he was invited to give a reading in just as luxurious a museum as the paintings and studios described in the novel. The Calcutta-born professor at Oxford, even dressed in full Mogul gear, with the hopeful desire to transform us his readers with a touch of magic, directly to the ancient Indian palaces of old.

"I love writing, am very prolific and for some reason was obsessed with this story to a point that I would do the required research at all hours and write furiously until I had finished everything in just a few months," he enthuses. "My agent was waiting for another fiction manuscript at the time but I put that on hold and finished this one very quickly instead. I felt completely consumed by my characters from start to end.

Indeed, it is one of the best novels I have read in a long time.

The alluring and sensuous story is made of a powerful characterisation and an excellently drawn-up plot featuring palaces, wastelands, harems and markeplaces with equal fervour; without relying on any kind of a sensational event or melodrama. Lavish episodes and lush descriptions are subtly played out. There is attention given to the detailing of human emotion in an expansive plot that also signals the hedonistic pleasures of carnal interludes with remarkable ease. Each character-feeling however significant or sullen, is carefully studied with apt psychological insight..no matter the minute declaration of any trifling or vanishing thought. The reader is left feeling mellow and satisfied at the end.

For excellent reviews of The Miniaturist, please read The Independent Online Edition & The Observer


Something About Me (Part I)

Belfast is beautiful and Dublin highly romantic in a different way. Ireland is magic although it's bitterly cold at the moment.

For the book-lover and writer, literature shouts its history, from over the shoulder. It brushes the dust off your collar...it urges you to view aspirations in a new light. Constant renewal is on the cards just like the changing moods of the Liffey River or maybe another, the River Boyne with its crowd of dancing ripples, up north, where glistening rays from a vague sunlight, shapes up the scene like a painting come alive.

The north of Ireland is picturesque with its outlying farmlands, church bells, fat Fresian cows and happy skippy lambs gambolling about the green fields, close to their mums. Twinkling Christmas trees still peep silently from tiny cottage windows far away. Picture too, the grandeur of rolling hills that charm you up the secluded highways or steep corners and the grey wintry skies with its threat of angry nimbus clouds, not yet having made up its mind if it should spill the rain or wait for a bit in the sly. With no walls to their palaces, the enormous clouds are showy.

When I was a little girl, I always wanted to see Belfast & London.

Then I was thousands of miles away. And now fate has brought me in an incredible way to Ireland where I could be in Belfast or London every other week if I wanted to. When I look back to my life as a 6 and 7 year old living in the small port town of Klang, Malaysia near the capital Kuala Lumpur and this with my host of picture books, a loving father, my friends next door and at school and a beloved servant; and remember how I harboured ambitious dreams even then, never wanting to be parochial in my thoughts and everyday living, but to travel and broaden horizons and challenge my own perceptions; destiny in spite of a few hiccups along the way, has silently paved that path for me. My favourite fairy tales and Toyland stories simply pushed my ideals along.

Today, I think as a Malaysian Indian writer who has been up and about the globe, for days or months or even years at a time and often by myself whenever the fancy would so strike me; that I am blessed. Indeed, I am blessed. Except for one or 2 heartfelt desires, all my childhood dreams have been granted me.

The buildings in Belfast are highly decorative, where attention is given to stylish detailing. It's people are very friendly and decidedly humble. The air of a quiet humility is evident. They're a beautiful people to watch. All of a sudden, I could have been back in England. The moods, culture and change of pace of the city are different to its sister Republic. Here in Belfast, I do miss the Gaelic language on signboards.

The currency notes in pounds are also minted differently to British sterling although coins and a fiver note looks the same. But of course, British sterling is straightaway accepted as the North of Ireland stays a part of the United Kingdom. The food's good too. You could pick up a frozen sandwich at a cafe and it tastes utterly delicious.

Like a willing sponge, my heart easily soaks up the beauty of a new land. Now I just want to write with a view to being published in print and for my work to be performed on stage or air - to return to the writing exhilaration which I had enjoyed in my 20s and to engage my thinking skills in the reading and writing of high literature.

At the time, I had dreamt of coming to Europe to fulfill expectations. I had not yet been. And now I am. I would also like to engage in a cafe culture, to join a book club, writers' groups and so forth. To be surrounded by the joys of artistic living. But one thing at a tme.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

I'm visiting Belfast today.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Hot off the Oven

On the Queen's New Year's Honours List, novelist, screenwriter, essayist and film-maker, Hanif Kureishi who first helped pioneer South Asian fiction into arresting realms on the global platform, receives a CBE for his services to literature and drama. Meanwhile, Britain's beloved children's author, Jacqueline Wilson is made a dame. Catch more information here.

A former home belonging to the late Pulitzer Prize winning poet Robert Frost (pictured left) in Vermont, USA, has been badly vandalised with furniture burnt and dozens of items destroyed. Police suspect the crime to lie in the hands of a wild underaged drinking party. Read more here
(CNN News 1 day ago)
HarperCollins is now reportedly rushing out a book by former Pakistani Prime Minister, the late Benazir Bhutto, according to her literary agent, the famed New Yorker, Andrew Wylie. Wylie who also represents Salman Rushdie, says the deal was sealed just a week before she was killed. The book was originally scheduled to be released next spring. You may read more here.

Credit for picture of Hanif Kureishi is CiFGuardianUK
Credit for picture of Robert Frost is America's Library
Credit for picture of Benazir Bhutto is BBC News
Credit for picture of Andrew Wylie is Guardian UK

Jung Chang at the Singapore Writer's Festival Dec 1-9, 2007

by Suzan Abrams in Dublin

It is no exaggeration to imagine that the illustrious Chinese-born and British non- fiction writer, Jung Chang holds glamorous court at any prominent cocktail or dinner party.

The distinguished scholar, famed for her bestselling autobiography Wild Swans, would have regaled her mesmerised audience, who may have stood to rapt attention. No fault of theirs mind, such as that which ensures the captivation of Jung Chang's smouldering beauty at 52.

And this being no exaggeration at all.

Meeting Jung Chang close-up at the Singapore Writer's Festival (Dec 1 to 9, 2007), one is immediately forgiven for the initial mix-up with a movie star.

Spotting a schooled elegance, jet-black hair and a short sparkly white dress, she moved with a regal beauty-queen poise and kept her audience in stitches. Of course, irregardless of a little devilment here and there, she looked amused by her own revelry, even if this partying relied on nothing more then an underlying wit and easy humour.

Her dialogues akin to a session of charmed storytelling, were peppered with the happy conjectures of a woman well-contented with her lot; of someone who has perhaps, long moved on from the bloodshed encountered by China from monumental catastrophies that signalled the Mao Revolution and which tragically clouded Chinese history, politics and culture.

In fact, Jung Chang's refined articulation belies the fact of one who may have felt at home with European culture all her life. Not so. The writer came late to Great Britain.

"The only foreigners I had met before coming to the West were some sailors," she remembers with a grin. In China, it was always customary to greet someone by asking, "Where are you going? Have you eaten?

"So in England I kept asking people the same thing and they thought I was crazy. "

With this, Jung Chang breaks into a bubbly laugh, a trademark, I suspect that so easily endears her to people.

Studying on a government scholarship in London and later at university in Yorkshire, meant a rare sweet freedom.

"In my first year there, I did many exciting things. Of course, this did not include my nervous visit to a Soho pub when with my girlfriends, we went to inspect the workings of one. I had never been to a pub in all my life and was warned by the old people in China that it was a very bad place, where all kinds of dark and evil things happened. I had to see for myself. Imagine...my acute disappointment when I finally entered one and saw a cantankerous old man bent over a pint. Just one old man in corner, in the entire pub. Of course, he was not amused by our giggles & he glowered. That ended my exciting pub adventure."

She's in the right mood now and offers other interesting details.

"I did publish a pamphlet on a Moscow agent before I wrote Wild Swans. At that time in 1986, I hardly did any research. I had met my husband Jon Halliday, fallen in love and was more keen to talk to him then to study, write or do research about anything at all.

"Did you know that Moscow kept Chiang Kai-Shek's son as a hostage during the period of 1934 to 1935? The father was desperate to get him back and so sacrificed his own ethics at governing China to do whatever Moscow wanted. In the end, his son was returned to him."

Here it must be explained, although one will find it all in the enormous biography MAO - The Unknown Story (Jonathan Cape, 25 pounds) published by Jung Chang and her husband in 2005; that Chiang Kai- Shek, son of a wine merchant and soldier, had ruled the Kuomintang, with the main aim of giving China a good sweep-up from any faint specks of communism, while using traditional Confucian values in the early and mid 20th century. During Chiang's tenure as leader, major financial reforms and improvements to the transportation and educational systems were carried out.

However, Chiang would later collaborate with Stalin who badly needed support for his dealings with Japan and so betray his own principals of defying a socialist state. A man of compromise, Chiang also freed imprisoned Reds and channelled the beleagured communists to rural provinces in the North, hoping to win favour with local warlords and to impress Stalin enough to free his son. Yet, if justication may prevail, a read of Chiang's autobiography, Summing Up at Seventy and published in 1957, may be in order.

In Jung Chang's book on MAO, the General and China's wartime leader is described as Mao' s stooge. Of course, as a little girl, Jung Chang may have been guilty of the fact herself.

"Mao was like our God when I was a child," she reflects. "We often sang this song at assembly, 'Father is close, Mother is close, But neither is close, As Chairman Mao.'

Little Jung Chang would also "swear to Chairman Mao" for any pact of undivided loyalty or when making an oath for a schoolgirl camaraderie. School rewards did nothing to help.

"If you do well in class, you will see Chairman Mao in Beijing," came the promise. Jung Chang remembers that she finally got her wish at 14, but all she remembered seeing was Mao's back. Largely infactuated with her leader, she desired then only to commit suicide.

On recognising Mao's violence, Jung Chang would later leave the Red Guards.

Together with her husband, Halliday, the couple spent 11 years researching the archives and speaking to political leaders worldwide, for the couple's collaboration on MAO - The Unknown Story. This undertaking included meetings with George Bush senior and Henry Kissinger in the United States.

She recalls with joviality, their 5-hour meeting with the flamboyant Imelda Marcos, widow of Ferdinand Marcos and former first lady of the Phillippines. "All that time, she kept battering her eyelids furiously at my husband Jon," she laughs. "Imelda remarked that Western men had failed to understand her but praised Jon and said that the biography on Mao would be the ideal combination of the Eastern heart and Western man."

Halliday then went on to ask Imelda if she knew of any Western man at all who did understand her. She paused for awhile before answering, "Richard Nixon."

Today, Jung Chang's mother visits Britain but still prefers her solace in China.

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