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 »

Interview: Tutu Dutta

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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 »

Interview: Stephani Soejono

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Stephani Soejono is an Indonesian freelance illustrator and creator of comics. She has lived in Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as Canada where she went to university and majored in animation.

In her own words, ‘I am a little disappointed to have to come back [from Canada] for various reasons, but mainly [the lack of] Female Health Empowerment and Religious Freedom [in Indonesia]. On the other hand, Indonesian food, lol.’

Soejono recently published Tale of the Bidadari with Maple Comics. You can read my review here.

The following Q&A was done over email and Twitter. For more of Soejono, follow her on Twitter and on Tumblr.Read More »

Interview: Zen Cho

This interview was first published on the now deleted local blog on 2nd January, 2015

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Zen Cho is the author of Spirits Abroad, published by Fixi NOVO, and editor of the imprint’s upcoming Cyberpunk anthology. She is also the self-published author ofThe Perilous Life of Jade Yeo.

This Q&A with Cho was carried out via email and was in danger of going on indefinitely as her answers raised even more questions and also gave me plenty of food for thought …Read More »

Interview: Shi-Li Kow

shih-li2This interview was first published on 11th July, 2014 on the now deleted ‘local’ blog.

Shih-Li Kow is a Malaysian writer published by Silverfish Books. In  2009 her short story anthologyRipples and Other Stories was shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

Previously, Kow’s stories had appeared in News from Home, a collection with two other Silverfish writers Rumaizah Abu Bakar and Chua Kok Yee.

This year, Silverfish published Kow’s first novel, The Sum of Our Follies. In the following Q&A, Kow talks to local about growing up in a small town, what needs to happen for Malaysian fiction to be more widely read, getting edited, and whyFollies isn’t ‘really a novel’.Read More »

Interview: Isa Kamari

First published on 14th January, 2014 in The Star

isa-kamariIN mid-2013, Silverfish Books published three books by Singaporean author Isa Kamari. These novels, A Song of the WindRawa and 1819, were originally written and published in Malay (Memeluk Gerhana, Rawa and Duka Tuan Bertakhta), and the Silverfish editions were translated by editor and publisher Raman Krishnan (Song, co-translated with Sukmawati Sirat).

All three books are set in Singapore: 1819, which focuses on the relationship between Sir Stadford Raffles and the Muslim saint Habib Nuh, depicts the island at a time usually described (in much less lively and colourful detail) in text books; while readers under 50 would find it hard to picture the Singapore (of the 1950s, 60s and 70s) portrayed in Song and Rawa.Read More »

Interview: Bernice Chauly, on ‘Growing Up with Ghosts’

A shorter version of this interview was first published on 22nd November, 2011 in The Star

bcWHAT stands out for me when I think of Bernice Chauly’s book Growing Up with Ghosts – A Memoir, is the story of her father’s death. It is where the book begins and Chauly’s dreamlike and poetic description of how her three-year-old self deals with the sudden loss of a beloved parent is, for me, the most heartbreaking and compelling thing in this book.

Later, when introduced to the young Bernard – the curious, adventurous trainee teacher, the passionate young lover, the idealistic newly wed – it is my initial vision of him as a loving, devoted father that fixes my attention and makes me want to learn more about him.

His death affected Chauly powerfully, but it was just one of many losses her extended family had to endure. Deep in the heart of the book is the family curse that Chauly seeks to understand. Its almost gothic details, including a pilgrimage to India to visit an ancient snake temple, imbue the book with a sense of mystery and deep, devastating horror.

In our interview (conducted via email), Chauly said the real reason for writing the book was to find ‘the root of the curse’, and understand why all the men in her family died. ‘I grew up haunted by grief, and my grief became a ghost, I had to confront it and finally let it go, she said.

She went on to say that she used ‘ghosts’ as a metaphor ‘for many things – for untold histories, for the voices who lived through difficult times, who were never  heard; for things that scare you, and things that come back to haunt you, for the dead whom I mourned, for the dead that my ancestors mourned, the dead who became ghosts, who were forgotten, who never told their stories and who were never heard, and who never got a chance to exorcise their grief.’

Writing the book, Chauly says, was ‘cathartic in every way’, an exorcism of sorts that allowed her to make peace with the ‘ghosts’ and with herself. The author uses the voices of her grandparents and her parents to tell a story of struggle and of hardship, of hope and of love. Chauly’s own narrative binds the different voices together and represents the link between the past and the present.Read More »

Interview: Deborah Ahenkorah

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First published on 11th October, 2011 in StarMag

AFRICAN children have something in common with Malaysian children. They have limited choice when it comes to books that reflect their lives. Although the continent has produced many great novelists who have achieved international recognition through their powerful accounts of life in the various African nations they hail from, there are no African children’s authors of similar stature.

Twenty-four-year-old Deborah Ahenkorah, co-founder and executive director of the Golden Baobab Prize, grew up in Ghana reading Nancy Drew, the Famous Five and The Babysitters Club. She says, “I didn’t really realise the absence of African stories in my reading diet until I went to college in the United States on scholarship and I realized that I couldn’t answer any questions on Africa because I didn’t know Africa. I wanted to talk about America and Europe all the time, I knew those places … through my books.”

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Interview: Emily Gravett

First published on 23 April, 2010 in Star2

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EMILY GRAVETT must be the most prolific picture book creator in existence. In five years, the 37-year-old Brighton-native has produced 10 books – nine wholly by her, the 10th, a collaboration with Julia Donaldson (author of The Gruffalo and many other much-beloved picture books).

But when I speak to her on the phone, Gravett frets about being unproductive: ‘I don’t think I’ve published that many books,’ she said from Singapore, the final leg of her recent Asian tour to promote Cave Baby, her collaboration with Donaldson. ‘I could be publishing more – I feel a little uneasy whenever I’m between books.’

Gravett is inspired by everyday situations, conversations on the radio, things she overhears in shops and on the bus. She claims to work in a ‘very chaotic’ way.

‘I have a sketch book and I mess about with ideas. A book usually comes together in a bit of a mess. There’s a lot of reorganisation and sorting things out.’

Gravett’s books are either deceptively simple (like Orange Pear Apple Bear, The Odd Egg or Blue Chameleon) or extremely complex, full of subtle jokes, witty asides, and visual gags.

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Interview: Shaun Tan

A shorter version of this interview was first published on 27th September, 2009 in The Star.Shaun_Tan_portrait300px

MOST PEOPLE tend to associate picture books with simple stories, illustrated with simple, brightly coloured pictures. Of course, those with a more intimate knowledge of this medium of storytelling know that there is more to picture books than just pretty pictures that simply offer a visual description of a straightforward, basic text.

Picture books may deal with complex and difficult themes and subject matter, and this may be reflected in either the text or the art, or both.

Shaun Tan is a picture book artist whose work is definitely more complex than what the average person might expect to find in a alphabet or counting book. I know people who started collecting picture books after they read one of Tan’s. The Melbourne-based 35-year-old started his career drawing for science fiction and horror novels. His art appears in picture books written by John Marsden (The Rabbits) and Gary Crew (The Viewer and Memorial) and he also illustrates his own books (The Red Tree, The Arrival, The Lost Thing, Tales from Outer Suburbia).

 

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