Archive for the ‘Malaysian Fiction’ 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:

The Last Chapter by Alicia Loh

by Susan Abraham

Recently, I read and finished with a long cool breath and mind you, while still not yet missing my coffee; 13 year old *Alicia Loh‘s ambitious 70-page novella called The Last Chapter.

This silent reading episode of course, taking place one blissful morning  while still in bed in my hotel room.  I remember being at peace with all the world, even as the book would dutifully outline a series of melancholy events that stoutly failed to rouse me into grief.   This, surrounding the day-to-day events of a confused protagonist.

What compels us to buy what we do? I was attracted to The Last Chapter initially for the vibrant blue that stood out on the rack. The soft shimmers projected silky threads of shades in-waiting like something beautiful, ready to be picked up, gazed upon and caressed.

I had wanted to talk about The Last Chapter then but preoccupied with the rushed notion of flying to  Singapore, had allowed thoughts to be shelved on the back-burner.

The plot rests with a promising swimmer and hopeful Harvard student, 17 year old Piper, who much to her own amazement is promptly disowned by a seemingly scornful mum when she fails to qualify for the Olympics.  Piper flees to a river where deluged by mournful thoughts of failure, tries to end her life by drowning.

She is stopped in the nick of time from an elegiac notion of  self-proclaimed tragedy, by a young  strange man, described in a way that a reader could only perceive to be nothing short of handsome.  Far from a supposed romance, the story delightfully plods its way into a dark mystery involving a series of broken family connections .  Cryptic clues made up of notes, letters and a locket, hint at Piper’s mother’s shocking if not churlish behaviour. Each unravels a different secret.

I enjoyed Loh’s studied composition and  skilled if not painstaking dialogue of events.  She also sketched out a thoughtful  characterization where personalities shone to supplement a story that flowed with the same direct smoothness through the pages  in a similar pattern of the river Loh describes so vividly, and which acts as a brilliant central theme .   At just 13, Loh’s prose is already flawless and fluent.

Still  at 13, when perceptions, emotions and introspections  are likely to  rely heavily on idealism, I feel that Loh has rested on a fair bit of English romanticism – something that I sometimes come across in a few other local works of Malaysian fiction by adult authors these days – there seems to be a current conflict as an author wrestles with trying to personify a distinct Malaysian sophistication but resting finally on  specific English adjectives borrowed from Britain’s popular modern classics or even that odd whiff of Blyton, if you may, where measured against the Malaysian-ness of something, leaves a story slightly jagged and jarred.

This would be risky venture certainly as flavours and moods that may account for  a present atmosphere instantly vanishes as an interested reader reluctantly abandons the present tale to remember another story from a different place.

Or perhaps it is simply someone like me, a neutral Malaysian reader from abroad, and one who constantly has her eye on regional literature, who  will be astute enough to spot the struggle of two different cultures on a single page of prose.  This, as is evident in parts, in Loh’s  novella.    Letters, lockets, trunks and other common clues found in Western mysteries or predictable British romances find their way into Loh’s inspirations.

The setting is not Malaysian. As a reader, I had to figure this out somehow which added to confusion as well.

In the same vein, I must say that I enjoyed Loh’s very clear and  definitive ideas and talent for suspense; a trait I hope she eagerly develops. Alicia Loh would make a superb mystery writer. She is also excellent at characterization and could easily pen scripts or plays.

In The Last Chapter, there  lay something all the more genuinely Nancy Drew-ish about each hapless and confusing event that spiralled Piper into an eternal whirlpool of distress.

In fact, the mysterious caring lad who invites Piper to take refuge at his home is credibly drawn out. His name is Jaeson and both he and his hostile sister, Autumn will lead Loh through deeper journeys into the unknown. I really enjoyed Loh’s natural flair for suspense.

At the end though, I found the last pages rushed and vague.  The conclusion proved too abrupt for me to derive any further excitement.

Still, a splendid show from Loh for her competent writing, an initially fascinating story and certainly an ingenious structure, which kept me happily hooked to the end.  I very much look forward to her next book.

Further reading & viewing of photographs:
*Alicia Loh suffers from the incurable Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 2 which results in the weakening of muscles. Her novella was sponsored and published by MPH Publishing Malaysia. Here are some information/photos of Loh’s recent book launch. Each book costs 15 Malaysian ringgit and all proceeds will go towards Loh’s medical fund. International readers could place an order with MPH

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.