Welcome! Selamat Datang! Bien Venue!
Thursday, October 27, 2022
Friday, September 23, 2022
For those of you who missed my talk, I would like to share with you some of the slides taken from my presentation (the first few slides were mostly rants, which I'm going to omit, because rants can be boring!
Tuesday, September 20, 2022
I had the privilege of being invited as a guest Plenary Speaker at the IBBY 38th International Congress at Putrajaya yesterday on 5 Sept 2022 with Sharifah Osman and Heidi Shamsuddin.
Of course, there were at least 50 other speakers and delegates from 40 countries from around the world, including the winners of the Hans Christian Anderson Award.
I was quite nervous before my talk 'A Writers Journey Through Asian Folklore' and wondered if I had the energy to talk for 20 minutes... and then found that I didn't have enough time! Will post a more detailed write-up of my presentation on the next blogpost.Met some interesting people - book sellers (who want to sell my books!), members of IBBY Korea, literary agents, an academic from the US who recommends books...
Thursday, April 1, 2021
The story of the Princess of Mount Ledang holds an enduring fascination among Malaysian writers and there have been a number of retellings and reimaginings of her story in the last decade or so. Writers who have published stories about the Princess of Mount Ledang, each added their own perspective.
|1. The Principal Girl - Edited by Sharifah A Osman and Tutu Dutta|
2. Bright Landscapes by Daphne Lee
3. Eight Jewels of the Phoenix retold by Tutu Dutta
As for the princess, according to legend, "To this day, the princess is said to reside in a magical cave in Gunung Ledang, where she transforms from a beautiful young girl in the morning to an old hag at night." (parts in quotation came from an article by Joane le Roux, In pursuit of a were-tiger, which appeared in the Nov 2, 2014 issue of the New Sunday Times.)
Friday, November 27, 2020
Bright Landscapes by Daphne Lee. This is a collection of short stories by the celebrated former columnist for The Star. Lee is widely regarded as an authority on Children's Literature in English in the region; however this collection is adult fiction. Although Lee has published two other books as an Editor, this is her first book as an author. This slim volume of 150 pages contain 10 dark tales, most of which were entertaining but a few not quite fleshed out. What she succeeded in doing was to create contemporary stories with the hybrid/fusion of culture and folklore which is Malaysia.
I've noticed that Malaysian writers who write stories set in Malaysia tend to stick to their own cultural milieu, i.e. Chinese Malaysian writers tend to write stories set within Chinese community and culture, Malay Malaysians write about characters in their own community, Indian Malaysian writers write stories based on Indian culture, with Sri Lankans narrowing this down even further and so forth. When characters of different races appear in the stories, they tend to be token representations. Well Lee has actually broken this mold - her contemporary stories feature characters from the diverse communities which make up our country who take on the cultural tropes from different cultural traditions to produce their own unique hybrid culture.
Common threads which run through these stories include children and family, marriage, births and deaths, and oddly enough tigers.
My favourites were: After The Funeral, All Was Still and On Jugra Hill. After The Funeral is a chilling tale of abuse and abandonment perpetuated by the patriarch of a traditional Chinese family, told from the point of view of the teenaged granddaughter. The supernatural entity, created by the grandfather, who 'gave away' a severely handicapped child, is from Malay folklore. After the death of the grandfather, the creature is set lose and starts to haunt the family. The granddaughter searches for a way to put the creature ton rest and finds it in her own Chinese traditions. It should be noted that the story is so indirect and subtle, one has to connect the dots. But this is a matter of style.
All Was Still is an evocative and haunting tale, again featuring a female protagonist from a Chinese family (I think;) however the story draws on Malay folklore. It features at least three tiger spirits, and I felt grief and outrage at the acts of human cruelty which created them. It is beautifully written and I love the descriptions of the little girl in the story. As with After The Funeral, one has to connect the dots to piece the narrative together; the story also has an ambiguous ending which nevertheless will leave you feeling bereft.
On Jugra Hill is a hair-raising black comedy which has the potential to be developed into a lock door murder mystery. Fans of detective fiction will recognise the setting - a group of people stranded in a posh house in the middle of nowhere with a storm brewing in the horizon - although there is no dead body in this story. The characters have oddly familiar names of people in real life; I only wish they were more likeable. As for the plot, for some reason, I completely missed the clues the writer dropped and had a 'what just happened here?' jaw dropping moment! Still the story will carry you along on a wild ride and was hair raising fun!
The stories which didn't work for me were: Orang Minyak - can a woman be more lacking in agency and commonsense? I would have expected her maternal or survival instinct to kick in if only to save herself. Perhaps She is another story which I failed to understand, it seemed to be about a woman who abandoned her family and life in general, and had nightmares of being buried or being reborn by the earth. The third story called The Dead, was a woman who presumably died during childbirth and could not accept her fate; which was understandable enough.
The stories which could have done with a bit of tweaking were: The Pontianak, Princess, and The Tiger Bridegroom. In Pontianak, the narrator tells her two dinner guests the story of her uncle who married a pontianak. One gathers that the uncle had an affair with a bar maid, who may have died in childbirth. Two things bothered me about the story - one is the fact that the dinner guests, a gay couple, were so unlikeable but more importantly did not seem to serve any real purpose in the story. In settings like this, usually one or both guests knew something the narrator wanted to unearth, or trap them into admitting.
The second thing which bothered me were the errors in folklore. In the story, the uncle trapped the pontianak with a needle and red thread, in the purple heart of a banana tree. In traditional folklore, the pontianak is associated with the sundal harum malam (possibly the champaca or the pala tree) and not the banana grove; it is the orang minyak who haunts the banana grove. Also, traditionally, the pontianak does not feed on the body parts of men, she looks for the placenta of the newborn and also the fresh blood spilled during childbirth. The story would have been a lot more suspenseful, with more 'showing' and less 'telling.'
Princess is told in the style of a folktale crossed with a steamy romance novel. Although I was shocked at the fate which befell Nakhoda Ragam, my favourite character in all of Malay folklore, the story was intriguing and seemed to be another piece of the puzzle in the story of the legendary Princess of Mount Ledang. If you are interested in following the journey of the Princess, The Principal Girl has two tales relating to her: Girl on a Mountain by Preeta Samarasan and The Princess of Mount Ledang by Leela Chakrabarty. You can follow the trials and tribulation of Nakhoda Ragam in these three books of mine: Eight Treasures of the Dragon, Eight Fortunes of the Qilin and Eight Jewels of the Phoenix.
The Tiger Bridegroom is also told in the style of a folktale, and is quite an amusing and entertaining story. My only complaint is that the characters appeared to be caricatures, but that is a matter of personal preference.
The last story, Endless Night, is a story I've read before. And it is still as powerful and evocative as ever, on rereading.
Thursday, April 30, 2020
Raja Ong Maha Perita Deria was a historical personage from 12th Century Kedah, who could have been the world’s first vampire. His story first appeared in the Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, also known as the Kedah Annals. This is a Malay literary work recounting the founding, history and fantastical tales of Kedah, a state in north of the Malay Peninsula. The work thought to have been written in the late 18th century or early 19th century, contained details of the Kedah royal geneology. Interestingly, it mentioned that Raja Perita Deria was also known as Raja Bersiong.
The story is based on the Bujang Valley civilisation, which recent studies indicate could be the oldest archeological site in Southeast Asia. The setting is the Kingdom of Langkasuka, which was under the suzerainty of the Sri Vijayan Empire. Historians speculated on the existence of Sri Vijaya for a long time, but could not pin down its exact location. This was because Sri Vijaya was a thalassocracy - an empire at sea, and it was difficult to ascertain where its capital was.
|A Sri Vijayan perahu depicted on the walls of Borobudur. Source: Wikipedia|
|Map showing location of Sri Vijaya and Langkasuka. Source: Wikipedia|
As the story is based on a historical personage, Raja Bersiong, widely known in Malay folklore, the book should generate interest in Malaysia and Singapore, especially among readers who favour dark tales. The fact that it incorporates ancient Langkasuka myths and fierce supernatural entities from Indian and Orang Asli folklore, including a Queen who is half Yakshi (faerie-like being from Indian folklore,) should also generate interest in other English-speaking countries - India, the UK, US, Canada and Australia. I have also researched the subject of vampires in folklore and literature in some detail, so there are many fascinating things to write and talk about.
The two Beta Readers (one is a young adult in her twenties, while the other is an anonymous Editor) who read the manuscript have described it as 'quite chilling,' but 'well paced and plotted, with well developed characters... and written with near native speaker fluency;' and 'the writer has breathed life into the story and given it an original twist.'
|Dancers from the period could have dressed like this. Illustration from Pinterest.|
The Synopsis:Raja Perita Deria, is a carefree and arrogant seventeen-year-old; and his story begins with a seemingly ordinary night out with his close friends - Chula, Yala and Satra - three highborn young noblemen, a close knit group of friends who were fiercely loyal to the prince. That night they dined at an elegant Chinese tea house on the outskirts of Kota Aur, the royal city of Langkasuka. However, later in the night, a chance encounter with a dark beauty in an abandoned temple, almost ends Raja Perita's life and changes him irrevocably.
|Ruins of temples such as this, are found all over the Bujang Valley and also in Sumatra. Source: Wikipedia|
|A Sri Vijayan Princess could have dressed like this. Pin from Pinterest.|
Despite the fact that the cook and Raja Perita's friends have been sworn to secrecy by his mother, news of the prince's strange appetite slowly leaks into the countryside and create mistrust among the people towards the palace. Could the killer be one of the prince’s beloved friends or perhaps Raja Perita himself?
Friday, April 17, 2020
A manuscript I started researching while in Zagreb, Croatia in 2013 may have found a home at last. Huge sigh of relief after a writing journey which involved six revisions and five rejections 😫 There is even an advance! 😜 I'm so grateful the manuscript will now be a published book 😊
The story was first written for the Calistro Prize, when I came across the call for submissions on the Malaysian Writers Community page on Facebook. Living in Croatia, a central European country where vampire myths are rife (Rumania is just a few hundred kilometers away) I decided to write a story based on the legend of Raja Bersiong, Malaysia's very own vampire.
As the rules were fairly vague, asking for manuscripts which were 6,000+ words, I submitted a 12,000 words manuscript. Sadly, it was not even shortlisted. I later revised it and added another 20,000 words and submitted this to MPH Publishing and Hachette India, but this was also rejected. Another round of revision and an additional 5,000 words later, a submission to Gerakbudaya resulted in a positive preliminary review! I was under the impression that they would publish the manuscript but the trial went cold... But still the review assured me that I was not barking up the wrong tree, so another round of revision followed. I understand the reluctance of Gerakbudaya to publish this book since they are known mainly for non-fiction and I am grateful to them and to the anonymous Editor who did the preliminary review, otherwise I might have abandoned the manuscript at that stage. It should be apparent by now, that I'm a short story writer and my novellas are usually short stories which have been stretched a lot, with sub-plots added!
After the last revision, I made a submission to Tor.com, the publisher famous for all things Science Fiction & Fantasy. Sadly (in hindsight, fortunately) The Blood Prince of Langkasuka was rejected. I wasn't all that devastated because they usually publish digital books and I still prefer physical books. I mean, you can't show people a Kindle and proclaim, 'This is my new book!' Meanwhile, Nights of the Dark Moon, a collection of dark folktales from Asia and Africa, was published by Marshall Cavendish in November 2017. And in 2019, Gerakbudaya published The Principal Girl, an anthology of feminist tales from Asia, edited by Sharifah Aishah Osman and I. We were delighted that The Principal Girl turned out to be quite a hit with Malaysians readers.
In 2018, there was a lot of publicity around Penguin Random House setting up an office in Southeast Asia and the fact that they were looking for manuscripts. So, it seemed logical to make a submission in 2019. It took eight months for them to reply, but I'm delighted! Many thanks to Nora Abu Bakar, the Associate Publisher, for picking up the manuscript.
Nov 2019 Reimagining the legendary Raja Bersiong (the Fanged King) - as an angst ridden 12th Century Sri Vijayan prince. Perhaps the first vampire in recorded history, as the name is mentioned in ancient Kedah genealogy. The Blood Prince of Langkasuka is dark folklore fantasy and a chilling crime story... and yes, I'm writing as the 'other' #asianvampires #asianfolklore #thebloodprince #vampires
Cracking the emoticon code: The Blood Prince of Langkasuka will be published by Penguin Random House SEA. For me, an achievement unlocked 😅. Many thanks to the publisher for accepting the manuscript and to Singapore children's writer, Don Bosco, for pointing us in the right direction. #asianvampires #asianfolklore #vampires #thebloodprince
Someone on Twitter asked for the reason behind the title of our books. So the reasons for choosing this particularly long winded title were:
1. Refers to the term Prince du Sang/Prince of the Blood - a person legitimately descended in dynastic line from a realm's hereditary rulers. The term has a slightly different meaning in French, but I'm using it as meaning 'a prince from a royal bloodline.'
2. The 'Blood Prince' also implies that the Prince in the story is a vampire.
Apologies to a few old friends for cancelling lunch and failing to follow up. Revisions were completed at 6pm on 30 Jan 2020 and emailed on the same day.
Feb 2020 Update: The Blood Prince of Langkasuka. The manuscript went through two revisions with the Development Editor - including expansion of critical moments in the story i.e. slowing down the pace to create more tension; restructuring one chapter and an entirely new ending! I probably added another 4,000 words to the manuscript; now in the hands of the Copy Editor who will look at grammar and syntax 🤔 #bloodprince #bloodprinceoflangkasuka #asianvampires #asianfolklore #langkasuka
The secong stage, Copy Editing, was completed in March 2020. Apart from fixing a minor plot hole, most of the changes at this stage involved getting the manuscript publishing ready in the #penguinsea house style. Apparently, Penguin uses single inverted commas and not double inverted commas, which I thought was the standard. however, according to Editor/writers such as Martin Bradley and Leon Wing (find them on Facebook!), single inverted commas are actually the British standard.
I was also impressed by the fact that both the Development Editor and the Copy Editor were unfazed by the many Malay words such as gulai bayam and Tok Batin, and a sprinkling of Sanskrit words used in the manuscript. In fact, the Copy Editor corrected the spelling of Vidhyadhara Torana, which I hadn't realised was misspelt!
#bloodprinceoflangkasuka #bloodprince #asianvampires #asianfolklore #malayfolklore — in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.