Interview: Dee Char

mr-low-and-the-magic-of-borneoDee Char is the author of Mr Low and the Magic of Borneo, a children’s book set in the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. It is an adventure story as well as the coming-of-age tale of Bibi, a Dusun child who must learn to deal with the unique gift she possesses as well as the changes and threats that her community is facing.

Dee (who is based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah) and I met on Zoom as fellow writers and committee members of the Malaysian Writers Society. From our subsequent text- and video-conversations, it’s been evident how interested and passionate she is about Kadazandusun (the unification term and the collective name for more than 40 sub-tribes who are the native speakers of Dusunic languages and some non-Dusunic speaking tribes who call themselves Dusun or Kadazan) culture, and traditional arts and skills.

I interviewed Dee recently via email, about the experience of writing and publishing her first book, and how she hopes to write more stories that feature indigenous lore.Read More »

The Blood Prince of Langkasuka by Tutu Dutta

Blood PrinceIf you’re a Malaysian who reads fantasy fiction and enjoys those that draw on Celtic, Norse or Greek mythology, you may have longed for stories based on the myths and legends of our land. True that we are probably better acquainted with dwarves and elves than with pelesit and bunian, but this is precisely why we need more fiction that links us to these old tales, our own old tales.

I have been a fan of Tutu Dutta since I reviewed Timeless Tales of Malaysia, her collection of eleven folk stories, published by Marshall Cavendish in 2009. Before I read this book, I had only a sketchy idea of the stories in it, and Timeless Tales was the first really decent (English language) collection I’d come across.

Dutta has since published other folktale collections, as well as novels for young readers and a picture book. She has also co-edited an anthology of short stories inspired by local folktales.Read More »

Re-read: Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Picture by Carlos Cram on Unsplash

The next time someone who has never read high fantasy asks me to recommend a book to start with, I shall point them in the direction of Dark Lord of Derkholm. It’s a parody of the genre, but also a good example of a high fantasy novel.

It is also packed with irony (a joke in itself considering the effect iron has on magic and how magic is the backbone of high fantasy), is delightfully subtle, and lacks the tedious self-importance  that plagues most of these works.

Derkholm is set in a world that is practically enslaved to host fantasy adventures for tour groups from another world (which sounds like ours). These organised adventures are practically all that the inhabitants of the world do; it’s being going on for years; and they’ve just about reached their limit.

A decision is made to put a stop to the tours and two oracles are consulted as to how to go about doing so. The book recounts what follows.

DLoDIt’s genius how DWJ hides the main tropes and themes of high fantasy (like the reluctant hero and the battle between good and evil) behind the sham situation that is the plot of Derkholm. Nothing is quite what it seems as every character is playing a double role in the story, and fulfilling meta roles too.

As with all DWJ’s books, the moment everything clicks into place is so hugely satisfying that you can almost hear your bones and brain sighing in contentment. I’ve heard that the author had once mentioned that she wrote her novels without much planning, but simply by letting the story flow out of her. Sounds like magic to me.

This re-read was done via audiobook (using Scribd), published by HarperCollins UK Audio and narrated by Jonathan Broadbent.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Picture by Sandy Millar in Unsplash.

I read this book when I was a teenager and had never re-read it until some weeks ago. I chose to listen to the audio book and realised that I did not remember anything about it. This wasn’t so surprising — my memory isn’t the greatest and first reads tend to be skim-reads, so details usually escape me.

These days, I notice that my attention wanders when I read (a symptom of our difficult situation or just me?), and listening to audio books works much better as I’m not tempted to skip sections when someone is reading me the story (I usually listen while I cook or when I’m working on my miniatures.)

I admit I was daunted by the length of the book — 25hrs — but it hardly felt that long. The chapters are short and the pace is brisk. Wilkie Collins first published this novel in installments, from 1859 to 1860, in All the Year Round, a magazine that belonged to his close friend Charles Dickens magazine (and also in Harper’s Weekly in America), and he knew how to keep his readers in suspense and wanting to know what would happen next!

Read More »

Desert Island Ahoy!

I saw this take on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs on Calmgrove‘s site and thought it’d be fun to do. Who doesn’t love the radio programme? With books, it’s just up my alley, but in my version I’m doing books and music. Is this cheating? Well, it’s all a fantasy anyway, so …

So, here’s what’s allowed if you’re stuck on a remote island with no hope of rescue: 

i. eight books: The ones you want are, by some miracle, growing on the mango trees in the well-stocked forest that spreads lush and green over a large part of the island.

ii. eight pieces of music: Snap your fingers and they are played on shuffle, pouring out of the morning glory blooms that grow on the island.

iii. a podcast, TV show or movie – for when you really wish to take a break from reading and listening to music.

iv. one luxury you can’t do without — let’s just say the island has plumbing OK? I don’t want to waste my luxury on a flushing toilet. Read More »

Re-read: Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones

DEEP SECRET

By Diana Wynne Jones

Publisher: TOR Books

Back in 2016, I started a re-read of Diana Wynne Jones’s books, but did not get at all far. All I managed was Hexwood, Fire and Hemlock and The Time of the Ghost. I think it’s time I admit that I can’t do reading challenges if it involves listing specific titles ahead of time. I can only read what I want to read right then and there. I guess that’s fine.

deeep-secretA couple of weeks ago, I happened to want to re-read Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones. This is a book that has been one of my Top Ten favourites by Diana Wynne Jones for the longest time, and a year or two ago, I bought a Tor Books first edition to replace my ratty, abridged Starscape paperback.

When I say ‘abridged’, I really mean censored. This was my first read of the ‘original’ Deep Secret and it’s only now that I know what got cut.

Thing is, Deep Secret is one of DWJ’s adult fantasies so I have no idea why the need for censorship. Most of what is snipped is to do with sex, but none of it is explicit. ‘Orgy’ is removed twice, but they are just mentions of such an event, not detailed descriptions people having wild sex. There is also the deletion of a description of someone’s face after it’s been shot off, but it’s a one liner and hardly dripping with blood and gore.

There is one sentence that made me sit up and gag a little, but more about that later.Read More »

The Dark is Rising

A book club I belong to is reading Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising Sequence next. We spent the last six months reading The Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner and so, having immersed ourselves in the world of Attolian politics, diplomacy and intrigue, we will now be entering a world of Celtic magic and mythology and lingering there a while.

WhatsApp Image 2021-07-07 at 15.43.43The books in The Dark is Rising Sequence are Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree. I will try to blog about the books as I re-read them. I used to read the sequence every year but I haven’t done that in a while. After all this time, the thought of reading them again is still giving me a thrill. I first encountered the books back in 1988 (the Penguin Omnibus edition in the picture is the very book I found, in one of the secondhand bookstores on Bras Basah Road) and I remember reading them over a rainy weekend when I was between lodgings and staying at Singapore YWCA. The YWCA was not, then, the modern building you see these days on Fort Canning Road. I can hardly remember what it was like back in the 80s except that it was old, worn, with creaky floorboards and peeling paint. If I’d had a smart phone then, I’m sure I’d have taken countless photos. As it is, I can’t even picture the building (was it blue and white?), nor the dormitory where I slept. However, the old house and the rainy weather must have fit well with Cooper’s magical world and the old battle between the light and dark that she brought so vividly to life. I read all five books in that weekend. I can’t wait to re-read them, starting with Over Sea, Under Stone. The challenge will be not to read the whole sequence in one weekend.

Interview: Tutu Dutta

TutuDutta1

Tutu Dutta retells Malaysian folktales and also creates original stories based on the myths and legends of the region and beyond. Her latest book is The Blood Prince of Langkasuka (Penguin Random House SEA), inspired by the Malaysian legend of the fanged king of the Bujang Valley. The following Q&A was done over email. For more of Tutu, visit her blog Betel, Banyan, Basil & Bamboo.Read More »

Overview: Mr Low and the Magic of Borneo by Dee Char

I enjoyed reading this tale set in Borneo, specifically the foothills of Mount Kinabalu. The focus is on an indigenous (the Kadazan-Dusun) community and the story is told from the perspective of a young Dusun girl called Bibi. It is 1851 and changes are coming to Borneo, with strangers threatening to disrupt the old ways of life.

Like me, you may be surprised to discover who ‘Mr Low’ refers to! I certainly didn’t expect it, but I enjoyed the way the author works this character into the tale.

I also like how the story provides a window into Kadazan-Dusun cultural and spiritual practices and beliefs. As the author is part Kadazan-Dusun, it is fitting that she has chosen to preserve these details by weaving them into an engaging story that will appeal to readers of all ages.

Book Review: Iban Woman

ibanwomanThis review first appeared in Goodreads on 24th November, 2020.

As is always the case with books by Golda Mowe, I like how Iban culture and customs, beliefs and superstitions are described in a straightforward, matter-of-fact manner, without exotification.

The details Mowe provides of weaving, hunting, building and other aspects of Iban life, including ritual practices, are riveting to me. Some readers would probably prefer more action than description, but that’s personal preference. I was rather relieved that the battle scenes were brief. When Ratai harvests her first head, I felt pity for the victim because Ratai observes he’s a young boy. I feel this was an interesting way to remind the reader that Ratai is aware of herself and hasn’t been swept away by the excitement of the moment. However, although she feels compassion, her priorities (the well being of her people as well as her pride as a warrior) don’t allow her to give in to it.

Another thing I found interesting was the slave whose life was spared during the battle and his eventual fate. This plot strand raises questions that I must present to the author. So very interesting.

On the whole, I love the way the story unfolded and the intense exploration of Ratai’s struggles to balance her femininity, what was expected of her as an Iban woman and her natural inclinations and talents.

The inter-weaving of Iban folk beliefs and dreams of gods and goddesses with life, and the way the supernatural aspects of the story manifest themselves in the characters’ real-life is quite beautiful, and presented so naturally that there is no question of not accepting the part played by the divine in the affairs of humans.

This is definitely my favourite of the Iban Trilogy. However, as much as I love the happy ending, I wish to know more about Ratai’s life and hope Mowe will write another book in this series.