Welcome! Selamat Datang! Bien Venue!

Dedicated to all those who are interested in world folklore, culture and nature. Comments and constructive criticisms are welcome!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

TRUANCY - Issue 1


Table of Contents
Editorial by Nin Harris
I Growled” by Joyce Chng
Cold Eyes” by Shada Bokir*
The Devouring Night” by Mary Anne Mohanraj
The Piscine Gifts” by Stace Dumoski**
It is Important to be Polite”: The Subtle Artistry of Karen Nunis
The Pala Tree and the Sundal Tree” by Tutu Dutta
Cover Illustration: “Sedna” by Kirsty Greenwood
*Trigger Warning: This is a story about Mental Illness.
**Trigger Warning: Some body-shaming language is used in this fable.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

B is for Bamboo Flute / PHOENIX SONG

Pre-order from

The theme behind the story:

Phoenix Song is set in an imaginary town in Malaysia called Sighing Bamboo Hill; named after a mysterious hill which is believed to be haunted because of the sound of rustling bamboo leaves wafting from the hill. Although the setting is fictitious, not very long ago there were many villages and towns in Malaysia, with similar stories of haunted hills, rivers and lakes; wild places which were the domain of spirits, faeries or demons…

Magical elements play an important role in Phoenix Song, but the main theme is the importance of family as seen through the eyes of the main character, an eight-year old boy called Arohan. His mixed ethnicity - part Indian and part Chinese - reflects the cultural diversity of Malaysia; a country with at least a dozen ethnic groups. He also has a grandmother who is a Nyonya – a small community of Straits-born Chinese whose ancestors came to Malaysia in the Treasure Ships of the great Ming Dynasty explorer, Admiral Zheng He. The Nyonyas practice a culture which is a fusion of Malay and Chinese traditions.

Pheonix Song draws upon two separate folktales:

The first one is the Malay folktale of Buluh Perindu (literally yearning or sighing bamboo). The bamboo grove represents nature in the story. In traditional Malay culture, nature was so revered that a child is taught to ask for permission before even plucking a single flower. In the original story, three brothers were given the task of bringing back a bamboo cutting from a hill which was haunted or cursed. The two elder brothers ignored the advice of an old man they met on the way, and were turned to stone. The story was a fragment and also referred to the old belief not to respond or look back when one hears one's name being called in wild and lonely places... The youngest brother, who showed respect for the old man and followed his counsel, managed to obtain a piece of the magical buluh perindu. He fashioned a flute out of the bamboo and succeeded in reversing the curse on his brothers, just by playing the flute.

The story also draws upon the Chinese legend of the scholarly woodsman who was such a supernaturally gifted musician, he could tame wild animals and even summon the phoenix whenever he played the xiao (a Chinese bamboo flute). The phoenix in our story is Cendrawasih or Fenghuang, a symbol of Spring, longevity and the renewal of life.

I came across the story of Buluh Perindu some years ago but felt that there was something missing. Although the bamboo flute produced beautiful music, there were no other stories about its power to break curses; apart from Mozart’s The Magic Flute :)

I later came across the Chinese folktale of the wild musician and the two stories seemed to fit. If any magical creature could break a curse, it would be the phoenix. In addition, there were other East Asian folktales linking the music of the bamboo flute to the phoenix. In one, a phoenix appears to advise a pining Persian king to make a bamboo flute in order to win the heart of a Chinese princess…

When Alice Curry from Lantana Publishing (UK) contacted me about the possibility of writing a story for a children’s picture book, I immediately thought of Buluh Perindu. The story lent itself easily to a contemporary setting, with younger characters and the focus shifting to family and sibling rivalry. To make the story even more immediate, the narrative is told in a series of dialogues, between Arohan and his extended family and sometimes with himself :) The book also serves to remind us of  the deep reverence (and fear) for nature, we once had...

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A is for Arohan/ PHOENIX SONG

Pre-order from
The story behind the book:

When Alice Curry, the Founder/Director of Lantana Publishing (UK), contacted me by email on 12 November 2014 about the possibility of writing a children's picture book, I didn't quite believe her. I mean it was too much of a good thing - whoever heard of a publisher actually asking you to write a book for them?  It's usually an endless round of submissions... 

I asked her how she found out about me and she said that it was through my blogpost on The Jugra Chronicles . 
Wow! So all those stories were true - you can get a book contract from a blog!!!

I googled Alice Curry and found out that she was with the Commonwealth Children's Book Trust, among other things. The brief was a contemporary story for a children's picture book in 500 - 1,500 words, drawing on traditional Asian folklore. 

A week or two of research, followed by a proposal and finally a draft manuscript, entitled The Singing Bamboo Flute, and the contract was eventually signed - all by email. 

But it wasn't all that easy. The original manuscript had 2,000 words - far too long. I went through every sentence, deleting as many words as I could until the mss was down to 1,500 words. If you think this is easy I dare you to take out 500 words from a 2,000 words story - without changing the story line. But even at 1,500 words, the mss was still too long. So I had to remove a chunk of the story. The sub-plot which had to be removed, was about the Penunggu - the Guardian of the Bamboo Grove. The story was now down to about 1,000 words and the title was changed to Phoenix Song.

I named the main protagonist, Arohan; an 8-year-old Malaysian boy of mixed parentage. I had no idea why, it just seemed like the right name for him. Apparently, Deepika Mukherjee's (a Facebook friend) son is also called Arohan. The real surprise behind this name later.

Original cover of Phoenix Song
Once the manuscript was finalised, illustrator Martina Peluso came on board. Her illustration style uses bold simple lines and figures tend to be smooth and rounded. Martina's paintings remind me of modern art and sculpture with their almost 3-D effect. 

I wasn't expecting any more changes to the text at this stage, but I was wrong. When the sketches came, some pages were crammed with text and others were empty! How could this be? As Alice Curry explained, sometimes the illustrator can take the story in an entirely different direction... so more text had to be deleted in certain parts and entirely new text written for other parts. I didn't really mind because I knew in a picture book, (ideally) 50% of the story is told through the text and 50% through the illustrations. The colour palette for Phoenix Song is vibrant and jewel like, and really suits the tropical Malaysian setting. 

Since someone asked me this question about the book, I think I should explain : in a picture book, royalty is split 50 - 50 between the author and the illustrator. The other point is that, the publisher chooses the illustrator, the author doesn't really have a say. In fact, I never communicated directly with Martina; I always went through the publisher (for fear of riling anyone up ;) )

But the real surprise about Arohan, came from Facebook friend, Nadine Gregory. According to Nadine, the name Arohan or Aarohan actually refers to the ascending scale of a raga (Indian classical music scale), while Avarohan refers to the descending scale! I was genuinely surprised. It's possible that I may have come across this term while researching on the Internet but forgot about it completely.

The synopsis:

Arohan is desperate for a guitar. What eight year old boy isn’t? So when Arohan’s grandmother gives him a plain old bamboo flute for his birthday, he is understandably a little upset. But the xiao is no ordinary flute. An instrument steeped in the myths and legends of China, the xiao has its own special magic, as Arohan is soon to discover. When his brothers go missing on the slopes of the hill behind their home in Malaysia, Arohan embarks on a fantastic journey to ensure that they return safe and sound. But does he have what it takes to placate the guardian of the bamboo grove and summon the mythical phoenix? A touching and courageous story of a young boy’s love for his family and the magical things that can happen when you listen to your heart.