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Monday 20 July 2009

Continuing the Interview with Malaysian Novelist Zaipah Ibrahim, author of The Gift in the USA

by Suzan Abrams

Here, I continue an interview I wrote up earlier on Malaysia’s debut novelist Zaipah Ibrahim who recently published a contemporary romance novel, The Gift, in America.

The earlier interview is over here or you could simply scroll down the page to read it. This is the first author photograph of the very cordial, pleasant and obliging Zaipah Ibrahim, on the web. The snap was shot at her school with her students in tow.

What stays special is that here she is standing tall among a stellar list of international writers. The Gift published by Muslim Writers Publishing USA, winds in philosophical ramifications with Islamic ideals. It may be purchased from several international online booksellers.

Perhaps Zaipah's unique accomplishment is that in the face of a stern competition among several hundreds of other aspiring Muslim authors internationally - and all bent on the same slice of the cake - Zaipah was accepted and published by a small press in the States even while she was already back home in Malaysia, during the peak of the recession last March.

Zaipah who has studied in the United States of America, is herself a qualified English Lecturer and is presently dedicated to teaching Malaysian children English. The writer runs a tutorial centre in her homestate of Trengganu; famed for its extraordinary array of cultural assortments, fascinating cuisine and scenic beachspots. The state is situated on Malaysia’s beautiful East Coast. The book cover excellently captures a similar scenery.

The Gift.
Zaipah Ibrahim
ISBN 978-0-9793577-7-0
Muslim Writers Publishing, USA
Paperback 292 Pages
Price: US$14.95

A previous article which introduces the novel is here.
The first part of the interview is here.

And now the rest of the interview.

Could you explain to other aspiring authors who may find you an inspiration, how you got published by Muslim Writers Publishing?

"Search for publishers that publish a genre you're familiar with. I found MuslimWriters America while surfing the net and later met some wonderful other writers of the Islamic faith. . Linda who is better known as Wihad, was the founder. It was only later that my manuscript was accepted by MuslimWritersPublishing."

Did you enjoy the working relationship with your publisher?

"Yes. I liked dealing with the publisher, Linda(Widad) and also the in-house editor, Debora McNichol. They are both efficient in their work and I was more then happy with the quality of the production."

Tell us a little about your tutorial centre.

"It's not the normal tutorial centre that offers all kinds of school subjects. Fajr Library is mainly for book publishing. I set it up when I self-published "Islamic Word Games". Then by chance, friends asked me to tutor their kids. So, I decided to offer English classes as part of activities under Fajr Library.

"Now I have about 40 students enrolled in both primary and secondary school English classes. Each class is made up of about 8-10 students. My main interest is teaching the primary school kids aged 8 and 9 years old. I do activities and play language games with them. I emphasize writing English sentences in fun ways. They enjoy learning English this way. Not all students have these activities at their schools due to large classes while some schools focus too much on exams, thus lots of exam practices!"

What do you find obviously different between the two careers of teaching and writing?

"Teaching is clearly more of helping the kids since English is the biggest problem among many Malay students in Malaysia. On the other hand, my passion for writing means sharing life's experiences and the perceptions gained from wide observations and happenings around me."

Could you tell us about your next book, The Gift II?

"I've always wanted to read (and watch a drama/movie) about AIDS/HIV victims from the perspective of Islam and Muslims - and in a positive way!

"I get bored of reading/watching the negative responses towards them. I wondered how a true muslim is supposed to face such an ordeal. So, I decided to write The Gift II (still a working title) which is the story of a young woman and her determined dream to become a journalist. However, life gives her more than what she bargains for.

"Through her eyes I want readers to follow the roads of life, love and loss as solely regards the disease. This, especially from the perspective of Islam as well. So much I learned from writing this novel in terms of knowlegde about the disease and the pain and the struggle to live with it among the people you love.

"Knowledge is power that gives you the strength when dealing with AIDS/HIV. Doing a research on AIDS/HIV while completing my M.A at SIU-C was unforgettable. The librarians were cooperative but I received some funny stares every time I checked out books from the Carbondale public library in America ....just imagine a woman wearing a hijab/veil and all she read was AIDS/HIV related books. :)"

When did you begin to write this?

"I think it all started at the end of 1997 but I completed the research by the end of spring 1998. The writing was done after I came home to Malaysia. At the time, due to a busy teaching schedule at the college, I couldn't focus on the manuscript. When I resigned in 2001, I put more hours into writing it."

Who is publishing your second novel?

"Telaga Biru - a local Malaysian publisher - will publish it. At the moment I'm waiting for the final letter of confirmation from them. They liked the manuscript the first time they read it but hesitated to publish it (due to the language being in English) until they saw the published version of The Gift. I was eager to send them a copy as requested and this paid off. Sometimes from wishful thinking, I do wonder if they would like me to translate the novel to the Malay language."

How do you feel about it all and where do you find the time for your promotions?

"Oh dear... I am too busy these days with teaching, so I just can't manage the time to do promotions of The Gift in Malaysia. At the moment, my promotions are all online. And yes, I'm still getting used to that idea. Whenever people ask for my signature, I feel strange and smile before signing the book. I can't help myself."

What are some of your favourite things?

"Due to a food allergy, I am selective of what I eat but I like trying non-Malay cookings as long as the food is halal. Right now Indian and Korean cooking are my favourites. I love the colours yellow, pink and turquoise. And as for flowers, they just have to be pink and red roses. At the moment, my hobbies are reading, writing, travelling and internet-surfing."

What do you love about Terengganu?

"The coasts! Only one word to describe them. Magnificent! It's one of Allah's greatest works of art! I become speechless everytime I sit on the beach waiting for the sun to rise. I watch a universal change happening right before my eyes! No matter where I go, I just cannot forget these beautiful natural view. Once upon a time, I loved jogging very early in the morning and would wait for the sun to rise. Nowadays, I don't get to jog much though I still try to catch a sunrise whenever possible."

The book cover features a lone figure of a Malay woman walking on the coast. Who designed it ?

"Linda/Widad told me the idea and I liked it. She had it designed and showed it to me."

And what about your family?

"I'm not married. I love spending time with my family esp. with my two little nephews."

How do you spend your writing days currently?

"I'm not writing much these days...still sifting through my many little notes but I'm planning to write more soon. Also, I'm writing some Islamic romance short stories at the moment. I have finished a few so far. Also, since my two novels The Gift and the other soon-to-published The Gift II feature serious and weighty themes, I plan to introduce elements of fun and laughter from the notes I mentioned."

Do you intend to visit America again?

"InshaAllah!" (God Willing)

Do you have any golden rule for aspiring Malaysian writers who have plans to publish abroad?

"Be honest and love what you write. Never give up and keep searching for the publishers. I believe there is one for each writer out there."

Do you have a favourite old Malay poem or folklore?

"I don't have one. The young Zaipah was such a big fan of mysteries and adventures. Even romance novels came much much later in her life." :)

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