Archive for the ‘Contemporary Novels on Malaysia’ Category

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.



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.

Book Cover Design – The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka

by Susan Abraham

The first books blog to post this:

Here is the book cover design for The Japanese Lover, authored by London-based Malaysian novelist, Rani Manicka and to be published by Sceptre, Hodder & Stoughton in the UK on May 13, 2010.

More information to the novel’s romantic plot which projects its fictional setting in Malaya during the Second World War; plus the novelist herself, are to be had here:

A Few Thoughts from Amanda Sington-Williams

by Susan Abraham

Well…I flew into Singapore early this morning and will fly out once more tonight as I leave this weekend for Australia. To follow those famous lyrics from Leaving on a Jetplane, it’s a case of  ‘All my bags are packed and I’m ready to go…”

I’m off to explore Arab & Bagdad Streets and Singapore’s Chinatown for the moment.  I am engulfed now only with vague memories at the most of  these particular locations; it’s been a few good years and way too long for Singapore to once more reach out her hand to me, while armed with her breathy  hint of seduction for an assortment of quaint nooks and alleys, not often seen to the eye.

However, I have heard from Amanda Sington-Williams (pictured here) this morning – she authors an exciting  historical novel,  The Eloquence of Desire  – so will not go off without leaving you a few poignant thoughts on how she views her new book  to be published shortly by Sparkling Books  in the UK.  Her romantic plot focusses on a slice of old Malaya and you may read much more from my first blog post on the subject over Here. – susan abraham

Below, Amanda Sington-Williams (AMS) explains why she  set The Eloquence of Desire in old Malaysia.

“Before I embarked on my novel, I wrote a short story called ‘The Carving’ which was set in Malaysia during the 1930s. This was shortlisted for The Asham Award and I thought I would take the three central characters and transform them into a novel. But I decided to move them on a bit time-wise as I’ve always had a fascination for the 1950s, the fashions and how the nuclear family were presented as perfect, how any flaws were concealed during that period. Books and films set during that period also influenced my decision to set it then. Also I wanted to set the novel before independence but during the Emergency which lasted twelve years.” – AMS

…and on her connections with Malaysia…

“My grandparents lived in Malaysia for twenty two years and my mother and aunt both spent their childhoods there. I grew up with anecdotes of life there and I’ve spent long periods of time in Malaysia. This was a huge influence on my decision to set the novel there. I found old family photographs of my grandparent’s colonial house as well as pictures of the landscape and I was able to see the clothes people wore. My characters live in the houses that my family occupied, though my imagination played a large part too. When I was researching for the novel I came across a journal that a relative called Derrick Sington had written when he was a foreign correspondent for The Manchester Guardian in 1955. It had lots of information about the Emergency and that settled the date in which to set the novel – 1955, the year before independence.” – AMS

Amanda’s book, The Eloquence of Desire will be published by Sparkling Books on June 14th 2010.

For more information on Amanda Sington-Williams, you may click on her Website.
For added information on The Eloquence of Desire, you may click on Sparkling Books.


The Eloquence of Desire by Amanda Sington-Williams

by Susan Abraham

Forthcoming Fiction on Old Malaya

Where internationally-published fiction on Malaysia is concerned in these coming months, the world can expect to be treated first of all to Malaysian award-winning novelist Rani Manicka‘s historical novel called The Japanese Lover – please do see my earlier post here slated to be released in London on May 13, 2010.

Then readers if you love a touch of literary flair that so kindly befits the Far East, do mark your bookshop or Amazon browse dates again because I have just stumbled onto the nicest surprise. The British novelist, poet and short story writer Amanda Sington-Williams is to have her novel, set in 1950’s colonial Malaysia, published a month later on June 14, in London by Sparkling Books.

The Eloquence of Desire is based largely on the story of  a scandalous Englishman George who is packed off to the tropics as penance for adultery. He arrives with his  reluctant wife  Dorothy while his daughter  Susan, is dismissed to boarding school.  A host of complicated relationships  accompanied by clandestine visits are wound into the more painful reality of Malaya’s Communist Insurgency. The synopsis warns that George subsequently takes on a lover, Dorothy turns a hermit and Susan resorts to self-harm. For some reason that exudes the plot’s flavour and atmosphere, I’m recalling smouldering dinner jacket scenes  and that, often moulded into tragic encounters, from 1972’s The Whiteoaks of Jalna.

Brighton resident Williams has travelled the world and worked in a variety of interesting occupations. Her personality appears to soar off her website with an irrepressible vibrance and her rich portfolio of writings are clearly eclectic.

The Japanese Lover by Rani Manicka

by Susan Abraham

Malaysia’s first internationally-acclaimed novelist, Rani Manicka who authored the highly-successful The Rice Mother in London in September 2002, comes out with her third hardback (£17.99)/paperback (£12.99) in the UK on May 13, 2010, called The Japanese Lover and to be published by Hodder & Stoughton (ISBN: 1444700316).

The story will once more detail a romantic family history based on the lives of a Sri Lankan family in old war-torn Malaya, that matches closely with a loose theme bearing on her famous saga of the past.

The cover art is not yet available. The photograph above belongs to my personal records.

Further Reading: Vaani, the voice of Asian Women Writers.

The book cover design was slotted into this post on February 27, 2010.