An Interview with novelist Amanda Sington-Williams

Sa 3by Susan Abraham

The novelist, poet and short story writer, Amanda Sington-Williams, will have her debut novel, The Eloquence of Desire, released in the UK on June 14 by Sparkling Books.

The exotic romance with its set of English characters, features a setting in 1950’s Colonial Malaysia in the distant Far East, otherwise known  as ‘the tropics’.

An Interview:

You once mentioned in an interview that books and films from the 1950s period greatly influenced the Malaysian setting for your novel. Can you tell us more?

“I read Graham Greene from a very early age and books like The Quiet American and The End of the Affair, gave me an insight into the rules of social behavior during the 1950s which hold a fascination for me. Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Daphne Du Maurier, were amongst other writers which I read.

“Although slightly earlier than 1950, I think the film which stayed with me is Brief Encounter but films like Rebel Without a Cause, also had a great impact on me.”

Do name a few of your favourite memories of Malaysia.

“I really like the mix of different cultures and religions. On the surface, everyone appears to get on really well, though of course I don’t know if the reality is different. But everyone is really friendly and will go out of their way to help.

“There is such a variety of landscape in Malaysia from the tea plantations of the Cameron Mountains to the jungles of Sabah, and the food is tasty. I also recall an impressive tropical storm and fantastic sunsets. I remember one sunset, when everyone, tourists and locals, crowded on a beach and watched the sky change from blue to pink/red to gold.”

What is the one endearing thing you remember about your grandmother?

“She was a very genteel woman who used to sing when she was in the kitchen. She got malaria in Malaysia and I believe this affected her heart. So every afternoon she would, clutching a hot water bottle, trot up to bed for two hours.”

What is the one endearing thing you remember about your grandfather?

“He died when I was ten, so I don’t remember much about him. But I have a clear memory of him sitting in a fold-up chair by Lake Crummock in the Lake District with a big smile of contentment, while he puffed on his pipe. It was a huge family holiday and he was surrounded by family. I must have been about nine.”

Would you visit Malaysia again?

“There is still so much I haven’t seen. Maybe I’ll go back next year.

What is it in particular about Malaysia that fascinates you?

“The mix of people with so many different cultures and religions, in a relatively small geographical area.”

Which regions would you like to look up?

“I’d like to go to Malacca, Port Dickson and the east coast.  And I love visiting temples and mosques.”

Which turned up as your favourite character in The Eloquence of Desire and why?

“I have a soft spot for George because of his enduring love for Emma.”

Did writing your novel bring out the best of your creative nature?

“I think writing any novel or short story brings out the best in me as a creative artist.”

Did your characters offer a satisfying thrill in having observed their eventual development?

“Yes. I don’t think I would want to write if the development of my characters didn’t excite me especially as very  often I don’t always know what they are going to do. I think it is the not-knowing that keeps me writing.”

How did you happen upon the plot?

“That is a very hard question to answer as I would say that the characters happened upon the plot. But I wrote a short story called The Carving which was set in Malaysia and was shortlisted for the Asham Award. The Eloquence of Desire grew from this short story.”

Do these characters still live with you or have you let them go?

“The characters will always be with me, but they take second place to the ones I’m writing now.”

How did you get on with research for The Eloquence of Desire?

“I used my grandparents’ photographs. I visited the British Library and used the Library at Sussex University.  I re-read Somerset Maugham’s short stories set in Malaysia as well as other novels set in South-East Asia. I re-read a project I’d written when I was studying for a Diploma in Health and Social Welfare on women who self-harm.

“I listened to 1950s music. I asked my mother and aunt to recall their time in Colonial Malaya and I used a report on The Emergency, written by Derrick Sington (a cousin) when he worked as a journalist for The Manchester Guardian.

“There was  a more than this – too much to list. But I really like undertaking research, and apart from making my work more accurate and believable, I learn a lot, even if I don’t use all of the research in the novel I’m working on.”

How did you get on with the writing process?

“It took me two years to write The Eloquence of Desire.  Countless drafts and re-writing.  I deleted the first 17,000 words I wrote, and started again at another point in the narrative. I am quite brutal with my writing because I want to get it right.”

Do tell us a little about your writing life.

“I like to write new work in the mornings.  I always switch the Broadband Connection off when I write. On the wall opposite my desk, there is a Salvadore Dali print of  a ‘Woman at Window’ and to my left, I can look out on our garden where I’ll look when I’m thinking.

“Behind me, is an overflowing book shelf. Editing is reserved for the afternoons.  But if I’m away from home, I use my laptop anywhere. Strangely, I don’t need quiet, just no interruptions.”

How did you happen upon a publisher?

“I am a member of New Writing South and an article about Sparkling Books that appeared in The Bookseller, was posted on one of their weekly newsletters.”

What is the one thing you hope readers would take out of your novel?

“That they don’t want my narrative to finish and that my characters live on when they come to the end of the book.”

Could you tell us a little about your second novel?

“It is a contemporary novel, set in the UK and Ethopia.  The main characters are a newly-arrived Ethopian refugee, Solomon, his sister, Hana, an agony aunt, Marianne, and one of her problem page readers, Charlotte.”

Do you nurse an ambition to write a special story, not yet written but one  that you would like to attempt?”

“I’ve been thinking about my third novel which has been on my mind for a while. A story which touches on the psyche on sibling jealousy and its repercussions on other people’s lives.”

What are you currently reading?

“The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.”

What images does an exotic foreign land, conjure up for you?

“I love the smell of the tropics, that wall of humidity that hits, as soon as you step out of the plane.  The bright colours, noise and the general chaos so absent from Western cultures.”

Are there a few famous historical explorers and adventurers who travelled to foreign lands which you admire, and if so, who would these be?

“Ernest Shackleton 1874-1922, the Antartic explorer because I’m amazed that he wanted to explore a part of the world that is so very cold and inhospitable.  Captain James Cook 1728-1779 because he seemed to have an inate desire, to find out what lay beyond.

Amanda Sington-William’s The Eloquence of Desire will be published in Hardback  (£14.99) by Sparkling Books UK on 14th June, 2010. ISBN. 978-1-907230-11-0.



I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced – Book Review

by Susan Abraham

Captions: Picture of a child bride in Saudi Arabia, carrying a bouquet & dressed in white is courtesy of CloudDragonWordpress.Com,

Picture of 10 year old Nujood Ali with her mother Shuaieh, from EyeontheUn.Org

Nujood’s father, Ali Muhammad al-Ahdal, carries one of his 16 children from 2 wives, all of whom once begged for a living. Picture courtesy of Bored Melo.Wordpress

Picture of a child bride with a new husband many years her senior,  courtesy of Danish Affairs The original source of this copyright cannot presently be ascertained as the photograph has been replayed in various media.

Picture from Getty Images  courtesy of shows Nujood Ali with Shada Nasser in New York after being awarded Glamour’s Women of the Year Award in 2008, a prestigous title shared only by Nicole Kidman, Senator Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice among others. Shada Nasser is a famous Yemeni human rights lawyer.

The following is a book review only, of I am Nujood Age 10 and Divorced.  For further reading of the socialogical structure, impact and damage on the subject attributed to child brides in Yemen, please click on accompanying links or view suggestions at the end of the article.


Clearly, a Yemeni memoir designed to flaunt its striking title to a hilt with little Nujood Ali’s portrait studiously positioned to gaze down at the customer from a wall calendar height of a tall store shelf, signalling a note of impish triumph!

Published by Random House Australia as part of an intriguing March catalogue,  I would myself happily fall victim to the courageous  child bride’s charms.  Vivid photographs on the web  reveal an apple-cheeked, cherubic little girl, shyly masquerading  adult eyes behind a momentarily statued doll-like demeanour.

All at once, there springs an immediate maternal desire to hold this adorable elfin thing close, to hug her once pained body and to ruffle her hair, hopefully not trapped in that moment of playfulness, by a thick veil.

Instead I consoled myself by settling for the paperback I am Nujood Age 10 and Divorced bought with keen interest, from Dymocks on Collins Street in Melbourne, Australia when I visited last month.

Yet, as the classic saying warns, never judge a book by its cover.

In a naive effort to annul her lawless marriage, the gentle Nujood would nurture an iron will soldiered from a dogged determination,  indomitable spirit and fearful sensibility with which to hurriedly thumb down  a  runaway taxi-ride to the courthouse one unlikely morning.

A dangerous decision of course as Yemeni girls and women are disallowed the liberty of solitary rides in  vehicles helmed by men.  As luck would have it,  thanks to the kindly presence of three renowned judges sitting that morning in the courtroom, justice would quickly lay its reviving gladdening hands on Nujood  and with such a tonic grandeur that Nujood would in turn,  clasp her golden age in a firm handshake as a series of  worldwide accomplishments not known by a common rule of thumb would swiftly spiral her quivering ambitions to fame.

Yet at the tender fleeting period of either eight, nine or 10  years old – no one knows for sure  as born in Khardji, an isolated Yemeni village, holding just five lone houses, a river, host of jerry cans and some useful cattle where only seasoned mules dared thread the winding stony patches – Nujood’s birthday was never recorded.

Often bogged down by the little girl’s persistent queries,  her  benovelent mother  whom Nujood called Omma, would hold true to an old memory that measured the counting of fingers and seasonal sunrises.  This insisted Omma to an impatient Nujood,  matched a total of 10 long years.

Despite the invisibility of running water, electricity cables, confectionary and toy shops in the child’s earlier years, life had regaled itself to a humble gaiety as she played indulgent games with her siblings  and daydreamed happily by the river.

Sadly, even this temporal destiny fades as her family is soon dragged into a neighbourhood scandal involving two of Nujood’s older sisters. One is raped.  Grudging disbelieving villagers blame Nujood’s father her aba and  an unfortunate farmer, for soiling the village’s honour. Blades are drawn. The debacle ends when Nujood’s family agrees to leave in less than 24 hours, taking nothing with them.

Nujood’s father ferries his two wives and their many children to the capital’s slums. Unable to work from a subsequent nasty habit of chewing khat – a drug of abuse – all day long with newfound acquaintances, Nujood’s brothers resort to a life of begging to make paltry ends meet.  Her mother sells sentimental possessions. However, Nujood manages a brief season in school and even makes a best friend. A splendid preliminary achievement considering that 70% of Yemeni women are currently illiterate.

One day, to prevent a further debt from his already meagre existence, Nujood is  pulled out of school, bought for a necessary dowry by strangers and  wed in haste minus the accompanying celebrations, to a   short stocky delivery man three times her senior.  All this in the blink of an eye.  To make matters worse, she is  sent back to live in the forsaken and somewhat barren Khardji land, with her new husband.

Her horrors begin when a rackety car is sent to pick her up and she sees her husband clearly for the first time. After a risky and sulky ride with a couple of  female in-laws in tow,  she  reaches her new home only to be greeted with surliness by a  mother-in-law missing two front teeth and wearing feathery skin…the unwelcoming matriach.

Later, despite screaming and running helter-skelter in a frienzied attempt to escape, Nujood’s virginity is violently snatched from her. Her husband’s  initial feeble promise to her family not to engage in sex until his gullible bride experienced her first menstruation, flies out the window.

Nujood is forced   to engage in  unnatural sexual encounters by night together with a sorry kitchen life by day, at the behest of a wrinkled mother-in-law and  unsympathetic womenfolk that count for family; who with sadistic relish pull at her hair and beat her with a stick when childlike sobs taunt them  with a yearning for the old life, now viewed as a distant memory in a faraway town.

In fact, Nujood will lend herself to crying fits every night until to chasten her, her husband finally resorts to beatings with a stick. “Beat her harder, that will teach her,” egged on her mother-in-law.

One day to placate her continued tears and with forced reluctance, Nujood’s husband takes her home for a few days.  Her woes fall on deaf ears and her parents urge her to return to her husband.  Shocked at the unsympathetic reaction and  hingeing on a  reckless whim winged by faith, Nujood devises a plan. She collects her mother’s bread money coins entrusted to her for a morning errand and steals a ride to the courthouse  in a wild attempt to plead her case. A judge one of three popular ones, spots her sitting alone, demands a curious puzzled dialogue and Nujood’s life is thus, changed forever.

One judge later invites the relieved trusting Nujood home to live out the long holy weekend with his wife and daughter. The spent girl is showered with toys, dolls, delicious meals, baths and genuine affection.  Eventually, a few telephone calls placed by the judges result in  Shada Nasser, a famous  Yemeni human rights lawyer being engaged for Nujood’s case.  Nasser is simply too startled and admirable for words.  The media is soon informed and the whole world rushes in to support Nujood with open arms. An Iraqi woman tries to give her gold, others bring toys, dolls and bundles of currency

However, according to Yemeni law, Nujood’s husband must escape prosecution. Of course, much to Nujood’s consternation, he denies all accusations of ill-treatment and swears he thought she was 13. On the contrary, he is paid back a fraction of the dowry price as compensation. Nasser herself donates the money so Nujood would be granted her divorce without hassle.

Meanwhile, there are minor turmoils surrounding the family courtesy of the older siblings, but nothing so severe that can’t eventually be sorted out.

Sadly, I nursed mixed feeling about the memoir.

It failed to arouse in me, the essential compassion necessitated from threading through the disturbing agonizing events. My personal conjecture settled on the fact that the narration itself while beautifully absorbing and picturesque in several parts,  failed to  live up to the powerful clamour conveyed by the title; a liner I fear, may have been  sensationalised, with a plot toppling in expectations. It resulted in unease and me questioning the troubling fact that I may have so easily resorted to being the cold reader.

To my relief, on the night, I was to leave Melbourne, I read a review in The Weekend Age.  The  critic although pleasant and empathic towards the premise of the story, making sure all the while to praise the narration also hinted broadly  that ‘I am Nujood Age 10 and Divorced’  had failed to engage him emotionally. This disappointing reflection echoed my conclusion to the short review; not of Nujood’s drama but of the tricky approach to the memoir’s voice.

The cover states that the memoir was written by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui. The reader is treated to the first person, the tale of Nujood’s short life being told as a little girl would turn raconteur – one with kindergarten education – in  her own voice. One gets the niggling suspicion that it isn’t Nujood’s voice at all. I am of the conclusion that a fair bit of creative licence has gone into Nujood’s adult  and sophisticated reasoning of her entire situation.

Once the capital was behind us, the highway became a black ribbon snaking along among mountains and valleys…

To block out everything around me, I decided to observe the smallest details of the landscape.. “there were old fortresses in ruins perched on promontories; …”

I’m sorry but the above isn’t the voice of Nujood at all. It doesn’t project the simple raw tones of a trembling wee girl who at the time knew just how to count to a hundred,  write her name in Arabic and  memorize the Quran. The sophisticated vocabulary and sharp scenic observations hints of an articulate foreign speech & that of silent thought…one totally alien I’m certain, to anything even closely resembling a fraction of what may have proved Nujood’s own mismatched or rather, disjointed descriptions. And so the heavily laden prose went on and on.

Clearly, a rarity for me…when I watched a memoir struggle with identity. It is a tortured form of storytelling when one narrator  from a dissimilar culture would clamber into another narrator’s soul to speak. As a reader, you are led to believe that it is the latter’s voice when the personality reflects that of the former. What is missing is a Yemeni mood, dialect, accent, style of speech oh…what is missing is the speech of a little girl.

How excellently the story would have read if Minoui had simply condensed this work of non-fiction as a case study for students eager to devour the subject of child brides or one of literary analysis while speaking to Nujood for interviews and descriptive encounters on the tragic Yemeni tribalism so clearly buried in  primitive ritual and tradition.

Then there would have been room for a cultured ‘Westernised’ vocabulary.

Another sore point.

I was born and grew up in Malaysia, a moderate Islamic country. Every suburb owned a mosque which would duly ring out the daily azan call to prayer.  Many classmates were Malay and hence, Muslim. While a Christian and living life very closely in the Western sense imbued of course, by my own Indian roots, the Islamic faith floated about me like restful swirling waves  all through my childhood and early adulthood. Today, I consider that memory a rare alluring gift. It opened my mind to surprise reckonings.  I embraced the possibility of a personal democracy, so lovingly adminstered by my country and  one that would permanently shape my libertarian views.

Naturally, I couldn’t agee with reasonings, explanations and philosophies often supposedly told in Nurul’s own voice…the robust undercurrents throughout the book that hinted of how women engulfed in modernism,  donning bright colourful headscarves for instance and who engaged in cool pastimes like cafe cultures were the original intelligent heroines and that in contrast to this, all women who wore niqabs were submissive, frightened, oppressive and living in depressive surroundings. But Nujood was cheerful once, born into and living in a household of veils!

Or perhaps then, the clear indication of how rural men encased in tribal folklore were portrayed as ogres, selfish or uncaring – you picked up that impression after a bit  -while modern men strolling about with their high education in tow, were haloed in goodness because these were the gentlemen who helped Nujood whereas villagers merely bullied or ignored her.

Women were also portrayed as pained but triumphant heroines…men, the clear losers. For example, Nujood’s elder brother, the daring one, Fares with an inate love for materialism,  flees to Saudi Arabia a Dick Whittington in which to try his fortunes.

It is the remembrance of his bravery that wills Nujood to hail a taxi for the courthouse. Later, he returns home, shattered and poor whereas Nujood succeeds in turning her life around. These events are carefully portrayed in close paragraphs that stand dangerously parallel to each other…here is Nujood, the heroine and Fares the sad loser.

So much characterisation was prone to a sweeping stereotyped speculation and a matured Westerner’s point of view  towards the Islamic faith in general.  Extremism or fanaticism don’t seem to appear separately but as a condensed version of what the Islamic faith as a whole, may represent and not always for the greater good.

I also recognised techniques used for fiction-writing. Subtle comparisons for example of how Nujood on her ugly wedding night would with sobs, remember her grandfather Jad, an ancient hero who cradled her in his lap while her father aba was mean-spirited to have married her off so cruelly.  Good measured against the bad in adjoing paragraphs.

I recall too, the blurb on the back book jacket. As she guides us from the magical, fragrant streets of the Old Street of Sana to the cement block slums and rural villages…

Sana is Yemen’s capital and Nujood lived  in the capital’s cheaper, dirty streets,. Whereas the cement block slums and rural villages are to be associated with Nujood’s marriage and so the displeasure or dark depression is heightened to create the appropriate stormy mood. But in reality, before they were chased out by disgruntled villagers, Nujood did live in the insular rural region and she was happy.

While on  a swing, after her divorce, Nujood  would remove her veil and let her hair tumble over…the dismissal of the veil as a sure metaphor for liberation in that few minutes…a celebration for the divorce, so to speak the narrator in this case ‘Nujood being careful to tell us that she was now ‘free’.

I’d settle for brilliant if not contrived writing techniques. As a memoir, Minoui offers the reader a case of tell-and-not-show. She reminds us constantly of what goes on with the plot.  She may be seen to preach the politically-correct way to think, feel and act. Alongside, Nujood’s story, I pictured myself at a college lecture.

Once I’d settled with the thought that I would finish the read feeling peace, only if I accepted the notion that with the now familiar employment of psychological and manipulative writing tricks, I could do well to playact this as important fiction, I began to slide in and out of some scenes with joy; beguiled at the romantic descriptions, that successfully lightened Nujood’s story.

Here the description of Nujood’s wedding bedroom.

“…it smelled like home…a musty smell with a hint of resinous incense..  A long woven mat was lying on the floor: my bed. Beside it was an old oil lamp that cast the shadow of its flame on the wall…”

or of her favourite haunt, the rows of colourful bazaars in Bab al-Yemen, close to Sana: “I would stand on tiptoe to better appreciate the goods laid out in stalls… but whose bounty lay heaped up as far as the eye could see: silver daggers (jambias),embroidered shawls, rugs, sugared doughnuts, henna and dresses for little girls my age..”

I also adored Nujood’s use of smells to design her memory bank… “she suddenly loved her father despite the nasty smell of khat… in Bab al-Yemen, “Nujood would have fun trying to sniff out the different smells of cumin, cinnamon, cloves, nuts, raisins – all the scents wafting from the street booths.” and in the courthouse, Nujood loved Shada Nasser’s perfume that always smelled strongly of jasmine.

In all goodness, the story is a fastidious clever arrangement for the uninitiated…and its symmetrical harmony relating to pace and structure is perfect.

Still it was in finally coursing old newspaper reports, that I was filled with an overwhelming indignation of all Nujood had been through. If pictures could speak a 1000 words, I was suddenly flooded with compassion for Nujood’s wounded innocence. Sometimes, there is nothing like a blunt  newspaper report to uphold truth in all of its brutal glory.

Further Reading:

Yemeni Child Bride Dies in Labour, Sept 2009
Divisions Among Yemeni Women Over Child Brides, March 28, 2010
Youth Leadership Development Foundation

An interview with the Novelist Chandru Bhojwani


by Susan Abraham

The prolific Lagos-based Sindhi novelist Chandru Bhojwani who authored the  philosophical novel, The Journey of Om, is also a prize-winning short story writer and a magazine columnist for Beyond Sindh. He is currently working on his next two fiction titles. Bhojwani has lived in London, Mumbai and New York and continues to travel widely. He is represented by the Sherna Khambatta Literary Agency and published by Cedar Books India.

How has public response been towards The Journey of Om?

“Many who have picked up the book haven’t been able to put it down and have read through it in a matter of days, some in hours. Readers have expressed that when they read The Journey of Om, they felt as though they were reading their own words. The overall feedback has been fantastic and knowing that people relate to the characters at some level, leaves me with a warm feeling of satisfaction since that was what I hoped to achieve when I wrote The Journey of Om.”

How has The Journey of Om has a published work changed you as an individual?

“There isn’t any major change but I am eager to get more of my work out there and to continue writing my column for Beyond Sindh magazine, while improving my craft.”

What proved the most enjoyable part about writing The Journey of Om?

“Truth be told, I never set out to write a book. The Journey of Om started as a 12-page story and over time, I kept on with the additions.  After a couple of years, I arrived at the  point where I was about to start writing the final few chapters and I think that was the best part for me. I wasn’t sure just where The Journey of Om would be heading after that but to complete the book was a great accomplishment.”

What turned up as your worst struggle in writing The Journey of Om?

“The worst part was when I had written half of the novel and wasn’t able to add much more to it. I found myself writing chapter after chapter only to delete each one. During that period, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever finish the novel. However, after taking some time away from it, I showed a couple of friends the manuscript and the feedback I received assured me that I had something worth sharing. That was what inspired me to return to writing and to completing The Journey of Om.”

Do you like being a writer and if so, why?

“I still find it somewhat surreal to consider myself a writer and always have. Even when my articles were being published in Beyond Sindh and I received fan mail, I struggled to refer to myself as a writer. But now, when I look at my book sitting on the bookstore shelves and readers send me messages with their thoughts and reviews posted on websites, I feel like I’m living a dream.

“In addition, knowing that my work has touched and entertained so many, feels me with an indescribable sense of joy and pride.”

What singular message do you aspire to send out to readers through your writings?

“I don’t compartmentalize myself as a writer since I feel that will only serve to restrict my art. My portfolio so far includes a variety of genres from topical articles and film reviews to short stories and spiritual reflections.

“There isn’t a solitary message I hope to convey as each piece serves its own purpose. It could be to entertain, inform, leave the reader either pondering or simply smiling.”

Could you name your pastimes?

“One is playing and watching basketball. It’s been the most enjoyable sport since my teens, hence the reference to the scene in the book. I’m also a movie buff. I thoroughly enjoy sitting in the theatre with my bucket of butter popcorn and root beer and thus, escaping to the magic of the silver screen. When I get the time, I enjoy winding with a video game and I always need music, especially when I’m driving.”

How about favourite authors?

“Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. I also quite enjoyed Conn Iggulden’s Wolf of the Plains,  John Burdett’s Bangkok 8 and most of Michael Crichton’s work.  On the spiritual side, there is Dr Brian Weiss’ Many Lives Many Masters and Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People which changed my perspective on life.

What are you reading now?

“Unfortunately, I haven’t had time of late to read much but I’m hoping to read Bangkok Tattoo, Lords of the Bow and Human Trace.

Do you like being a writer in Nigeria?

“If in the right frame of mind and with an uninterrupted focus, I could write almost anywhere. Nigeria has its own stories to tell, most of which I find amusing and hope to insert into a future piece.”

How about a Nigerian tale?

“There is one that makes me chuckle all the time I relate it which is often. It loses its charm without the Nigerian accent but here goes:

I was driving to work when I received a phone call on my mobile.

Upon answering I noted there was a Nigerian on the other end of the line.

With a loud, deep and gruff voice he said.


‘Hello?’ I responded.

‘ELLO! I want to speak to Mista Ademola’


‘ELLO! I want to speak to Mista Ademola!’

‘Sorry you have the wrong number.’

‘THE WRONG NUMBA?’ he seemed shocked at the notion.

‘Yes. There is nobody by that name at this number.’

‘Mista Ademola No de?’ he felt he had to confirm.

No, this is the wrong number!’ I stressed.

A moment of silence passed as he pondered what I was saying and then he responded with.

‘Ahhhh, ok.

So, what is the right numba?’

You travel widely and could relocate anywhere. Why choose Nigeria?

“I moved back to Lagos from New York to be closer to my parents. My education in the UK meant growing up away from them and I felt I needed to spend time with them especially that they’re now getting older.”

Has Nigerian literature influenced your writing?

“Unfortunately, I haven’t had the pleasure of reading any Nigerian literature yet but hopefully, that will change in the coming years.”

Where in Lagos do you live?

“Victoria Island. It was once a serene and pleasant residential neighbourhood until the banks moved there and now the rush hour traffic rivals that of Bangkok! Lagos has its charms but I wouldn’t say it’s my favourite place. I’m more inclined to the US and Bombay.”

Do you enjoy Nigerian cinema?

“I haven’t watched any local films but I do enjoy the posters plastered around the city. The one that sticks in my mind is The Virgin Prostitute 2. I wondered what could have happened in the first half of the film that caused her to be a virgin prostitute in the sequel. However, I wasn’t tempted to watch it.”

Nollywood posters

What inner gifts imbue your life as a writer in Nigeria?

“I do believe that my experience has equipped me with the tools to provide a new style and vision as a writer but I don’t attribute that solely to my time in Nigeria. I feel that my exposure to different cities, cultures and people everywhere has been instrumental in moulding me into the writer I am today. These experiences have birthed my spiritual side and allowed it to evolve. Like others, I learn and grow.

“I credit my family and good friends that have helped me become the person I am.”

Are you protective about The Journey of Om?

“Currently, the title is available only in India and on Amazon Kindle. I look forward to the day that it’s available globally. I don’t have additional attachments but I look forward to reader opinions.”

When is your best writing time?

“I write when I’m in The Zone. That said, I think it happens more frequently in the evenings.”

How did you approach the process of novel writing?

“Once I was halfway through, I shared it with my agent, Sherna Khambatta and a dear friend. I completed it with feedback and assistance. It was created ‘on the go’ I suppose.  After that, I made changed as when it was deemed necessary. I guess you could look at it as drafts or as I do, which is a foundation that was built on and detailed.”

Do you write by longhand or on the computer?

“I write on a laptop. I guess The Journey of Om has seen several over the years.”

Are you a cafe-watching writer?

“I don’t consider myself one but The Journey of Om does imitate life and the experiences of many.  I guess you could call it ‘fiction based on reality.’  As opposed to sitting in a cafe and watching people, I travel the globe, watch and interact with many and use those stories as inspiration. I suppose the world is my cafe.”

Do you carry a notebook for ideas?

“I don’t carry notebooks but if I stumble on an idea, I make a note of it in my laptop and refer to it at a later date. Often times, the idea of a good short story such as The Love Letter and The Darkness have turned up in the shower.

How long did it take you to finish The Journey of Om?

“The truth is I sort of stumbled into my writing profession. My novel was originally to have been a short story for a friend. But I was moved by the spirit and added to it and two years later, I had a stack of pages.

“It was then that I started to push forward and once I overcame a few obstacles and mental blocks, it was done. All in all, I’d say four years.”

How did you find a publisher?

“A friend connected me to my agent, Sherna Khambatta who read the manuscript and provided a lot of positive feedback. She did the legwork and contacted publishers. If it wasn’t for Sherna, I think The Journey of Om would still be an unfinished story languishing on the hard drive and read only by a handful of friends.”

Who is your favourite character in The Journey of Om?

“A lot of readers loved Mona for the connection. Mine would probably be Jim. His character is layered with subtleties and a balanced attitude that is as simple as it is genius. His life is practically problem free as he chooses to live it on his own terms for enjoyment. He also provides a much needed, brash, comic release for Om and the readers which I found quite entertaining.”

Being newly-married, do you still find time to write your second novel?

“I think I’ll have to wake up in the early hours while my wife sleeps and type away in the shadows.  All joking aside, my wife is aware of my passion for writing and has been very supportive. Once the dust settles, I hope to set time aside to write. I am presently about 30 pages into Bombay Pure, my second manuscript.”

Do you have a favourite writing place?

“A large chunk of the manuscript for my novel was written while in bed in Mumbai. I would type away into the late hours.”

How did you settle for the themes & plots as regards the two writing projects you’re working on?

Bombay Pure was an idea that seemed interesting and I discussed it with Sherna. It revolves around the story of a 30-year old Non Indian Resident who becomes an overnight millionaire in New York. He visits his home in Bombai hoping to reconnect with lost childhood roots only to be taken back into the reality of the city.

Whereas Bollywood Hero spawned out of a conversation with a producer and we thought it a good idea for a tv show. I find the idea amusing but am still just two chapters into the story. “

How about a favourite writing genre?

“I’m still experimenting with different genres from the paranoramal with my short story Saya to a romance with The Love Letter, both of which are available on my website. That said, I’d like to dabble a little more in the comedy/drama niche since I enjoy writing about subjects that people can relate to.

Sweet Offerings a first novel by Chan Ling Yap (Malaysian Fiction in the UK)

by Susan Abraham

As a fellow Malaysian writer in Ireland, I was thrilled to discover on the web – and only just – that former Malaysian lecturer at the University of Malaya Chan Ling Yap who later became a food specialist in Rome and is now resident in England, has published her first work of fiction called Sweet Offerings (ISBN  978-1906710989  £8.99)  by Pen Press Partnership Publishing UK.

Better still, Chan’s debut novel is featured at this year’s London Book Fair.

Below is a short synopsis of the historical work of fiction, aptly described by Pen Press which offers a complete publishing service at their offices in Brighton. As a commissioned publishing service, Chan couldn’t be in better hands:

Set in the late 1930s and 1960s, this is the tale of Mei Yin, a young Chinese girl from an impoverished family. Her destiny is shaped when she is sent to Kuala Lumpar to become the ward and companion of the tyrannical and bitter Su Hei who is looking for a suitable wife for her son Ming Kong… and ultimately a grandson and heir to the family dynasty.

“Sweet Offerings” is not just a fictional story of the events that ripped one family apart, but a taste of Malaysia’s historical political and cultural changes during its transition from colonial rule to independence and beyond.

On her website, Chan explains that the title of her novel was taken from the dish lin qi kung meaning a light syrup with lotus seeds and too, a fruit longan with which to sweeten, soothe and balance the yin and yang (energy harmony) of the body. Chan goes on to describe the priceless value of a traditional tea  infused and sweeten with the same ingredients so as to subdue suffering or bitterness.

Chan Ling Yap is holder of a PhD in Economics. She worked at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome for 19 years. In the past, Chan has also written technical books, academic and professional papers. Sweet Offerings is her first work of fiction.

The rose-coloured porcelain bowl on the book cover triggers tender memories of open air coffeeshops in Malaysia – famous roadside stalls – with aromas of curries, soups and fried noodles wafting about while noisy patrons sat  on wooden stools, eager  to dive into those tasty dishes with their clicking chopsticks.  Porcelain bowls, plates and spoons claimed a special novelty all their own before plastic cutlery was later introduced.

My hunch at first glance is that Chan’s story will stay nothing short of alluring.

Read some flattering Amazon reviews Here.

Catch a few paragraphs of Sweet Offering Here.

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi

by Susan Abraham

The Patience Stone turns up a  small intriguing  novella and is the first of the many creative works I have been introduced  to so far, belonging to 48 year old Atiq Rahimi an *award-recipient Parisian novelist and film and documentary maker.   Since his emigration to France in  1984; the winner of the 2008 Prix Goncourt holds both Afghan and French nationality and his stories  are recognised as highly significant.

Yet without resorting to Rahimi’s stellar portfolio, cheerfully heralded in the British and French media, I stay firmly bound to the glorious if not beguiling quality of the novelist’s taciturn style and daring talent for dark detailing, that shapes his newest work.

This  of course while bearing nothing short of a meditative study and careful structure wound around womanly tolerance or dutiful love however one may care to look at it.

Complex emotions stay roped together married without hesitation, to   desperation and a seething anger as a frightened, abandoned wife nurses her comatose husband against the odds, in a broken ruined house where only a room, passage and cellar suffice and the woman’s stout weariness prevails like a shifting torch in the dark.

From chapter to chapter, I  stayed totally gripped to the starched melodrama  that featured in equal turns, a generous play of lamentations and the bizarre where time is measured not by an hour or a day but through the anxious cycle count of prayer beads and the erratic speed of breath.

It didn’t matter if the Taliban war had been won or lost. Here  we are introduced to a nameless Afghan woman who has inherited the  misfortune of a bombed neighbourhood.

Hers is a rural village chosen as a frontline for fighting-factions.  She has two little daughters who seem  strangely unpertubed by anything at all, with the exception of their playful cherubic natures,  held common to a  middle-class surburban childhood holding little grief.  Their only worry is in laying puzzlement at a sleeping father. For most of the plot, they pop in and out only briefly and finally vanish altogether when they are sent to stay with an aunt, who readers will learn later, carries her own share of  scandalous secrets.

Meanwhile, the protagonist was married off young by an unsympathetic father, bent on a hopeless addiction to quail fights and finally to settle off a debt on having lost an expensive quail game.  Thus, she  is appropriately bundled off into a family where the men turn warriors and the mother-in-law hates her.

One day, because of a spat insult, a jihadist shoots her husband in the neck. He slips into a coma and this is how readers discover him on the first page.

No longer interested in the lifelong burden of a ‘useless’ son and brother and fearing for their lives, the  woman’s in-laws pack up hurriedly and leave the troubled region.  With this illustration, one of many, the reader is gently led to a realisation that normalcy can flee at any instance in Afghanistan; that someone  one knows forever may just vanish or die without fair warning.

Overnight, the young resilient woman is abandoned.

The rest of the plot shapes the wife  and her embrace of a bleak if not isolated indoor world as she spills out a  strange convoluted life story to a disinterested husband who represents more the unshaved mannequin than a confidante.  Yet, no matter the occasional explosion or night-time invasion by thieving rebels, she clings with painful hope to her worry beads   feeds him loyally through a tube with sugar-salt solutions, sponges, bathes and cleans him daily with watchful skill; a rare nobility likely to be bestowed on a dedicated missionary nurse.

The woman’s confessions are fascinating and while poignant and hysteric by turns, will reflect a series of complicated emotions disguised in the masquerade of both saint and demon as she pours out her anger and frustration on her once insensitive and selfish husband. Rahimi himself  eagerly volunteers to the eager banishment of a decisive self-censorship in accordance with a heroine’s  usual saintly discomfiture; the moment he writes in French and fights shy of a Persian composition.

In a well-conceived agenda for her lone self-imposed protection, she is also devious and cunning.  For instance, she will playact her menstrual blood for the loss of virginity or lie to a passing jihadist that she is in fact a whore with which to guard herself from a rape.  On hearing of her ‘impurity’, he spits and flees while she rejoices.

The brain-dead character is compared to The Patience Stone, a black stone in Persian mythology that soaks the troubles and distress of all who confess to it and where the Stone itself may create an Apocalypse once it can no longer hold counsel.  The same mythology may be wound into a blurred confusion – I will keep it mysterious to stop a spoiler alert – that creates fantastical and idealistic images.

Reading the story may also provoke the reader to imagine astonishing cinematic effects, almost as if the mind and emotions may follow a film reel or be stranded in a theatre hall, watching an enigmatic play in three acts. Often I myself felt the guilty observer in a spartan room where colour, shade and layers of shadow are taken into serious consideration or where the woman’s  numerous expressions, dress and personality are held as royal court. On reading The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi, I may have well stepped with unseen caution into a still-life if not disturbing painting.

Further Reading:

Atiq Rahimi featured in The Independent, UK &
Pierre’s Middle-East Issues Blog.

Credit: Image of Atiq Rahimi, courtesy of Random House UK

Launch of Asian writers’ group in Britain

Vaani, a vibrant writer’s group that supports Asian writers while based in Ilford, England will hold its official launch on April 30, in conjunction with the London borough of Redbridge Book & Media Festival (April 8-May 17, 2010). There promises to be a lively discussion among established novelists (please click on its website for more information).  Paid membership is also being accepted where budding asian women writers will receive numerous creative opportunities in which to showcase their talents.

More on the very exciting Festival.  Think Fatima Bhutto and Urdu Poetry.

Here is the longlist just out, for Australia’s prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award 2010.

Peter Carey’s on it.

Longlist for Miles Franklin Literary Award 2010