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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Timeless Tales of Malaysia by Tutu Dutta

A version of this piece was first published in The Star in 2009.

Timeless TalesTimeless Tales of Malaysia is a collection of 11 folktales, retold by Tutu Dutta. Born in India, Dutta grew up in Malaysia. However, she now spends much of her time away from the country as she’s married to a Malaysian diplomat whose next posting is to Cuba!

Dutta has always been interested in folktales, legends and myths, which, she says are “little capsules of culture, history and also human nature”. She read and researched a great many stories before selecting those that appear in Timeless Tales. Some of them were tales Dutta remembered from her childhood; others she had read on the Internet and discussion forums; a few were from travel articles and also from published collections. The final selection was based solely on what appealed to Dutta most. “First of all, they had to have an interesting plot and the possibility of character development,” she explained to me via email, adding that she also favoured stories that end with twist. Most importantly, the stories had to “speak” to her.

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Interview: Shih-Li Kow, on ‘Ripples’

First published on 5th July, 2009 in The Star

shih-liIN 2007, Silverfish Books published News from Home, a collection of short stories by three Malaysians, Chua Kok Yee, Rumaizah Abu Bakar, and Shih-Li Kow.

The writers were participants of the Silverfish Writing Programme, and had been chosen to contribute to the anthology because they showed promise and commitment. Each had a different style of storytelling, but Kow’s stories stood out as the most original and interesting, and also because her voice was the most confident and natural of the three.

A year later, Kow published Ripples and Other Stories, a collection of her own, to critical acclaim locally. On Monday, that acclaim became international when Ripples was shortlisted for the world’s richest short story prize, the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

The winner of the £35,000 (RM175,000) prize will be announced on Sept 30, at the culmination of the annual Frank O’Connor International Short Story Festival in Cork, Ireland, which begins on Sept 16.

The other titles shortlisted are An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah; Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower; Love Begins in Winter by Simon Van Booy;Singularity by Charlotte Grimshaw; and The Pleasant Light of Day by Philip Ó Ceallaigh.Read More »

Interview: Bernice Chauly, on ‘The Book of Sins’

An edited, shorter version of this interview was first published on 31 August, 2008 in The Star


bernice 2By DAPHNE LEE

SOME of her poems make me feel uncomfortable,’ said a friend of mine to whom I’d given Bernice Chauly’s poetry collection, Book of Sins.

She didn’t mean that the poems were bad, simply that she felt that they revealed things about her – secret, painful things that she never thought any one else would share let alone understand.

Chauly’s poems are deeply personal. They may or may not be autobiographical in detail, but the stories they tell feel like they were shaped by real, not simply imagined emotions, and of course memories. They are Chauly’s emotions, memories and stories, but they also speak to and for women the world over. They are familiar tales, but, filtered through the voice of an individual, they defy the cliches of everyday experience and become significant, compelling and unique.Read More »

Interview: Sufian Abas

sufian-abas1First published on 30th March, 2008 in The Star

SUFIAN Abas is a sulky young man who smells like freshly-pressed laundry. He takes stunning photographs … but (it is said) they are nothing compared to his beautiful, detailed work in cross-stitch.

He tap dances. He enjoys skinny-dipping. And climbing trees. He loves horses, especially unicorns. He dislikes children, but thinks they might be delicious curried, or roasted and served with carrots and potatoes.

Sufian claims that he was once nearly murdered by a witch.Read More »

Interview: Qiu Xiaolong

This interview was first published on 27th May 2007 in The Star

qiu-xialongBy DAPHNE LEE

LAST year, The Wall Street Journal published its list of five best political novels. In first place was Anthony Trollope’s The Prime Minister. At number three was Qiu Xiaolong’s Death of a Red Heroine.

The book, published in 2000, was the debut novel of Qiu, and the first in what was to become a detective series set in present-day Shanghai featuring Chief Inspector Chen, a police officer with a love for food and poetry.

“It was not my intention to write a political novel, or a series for that matter – that was my publisher’s idea,” says Qiu during a recent interview conducted while in transit in Kuala Lumpur, on his way to a book festival in Shanghai. Read More »

Interview: Randa Abdel-Fattah

RandaFirst published on 8th April 2007, in StarMag.


IN Does My Head Look Big in This?, Randa Abdel-Fattah describes the experiences of a young Muslim Palestinian-Australian after she decides to wear the hijab (veil).

Randa, a Palestinian-Egyptian who was born in Australia, was in Kuala Lumpur recently for the Kuala Lumpur International Literary Festival (Klif07, March 28-30). In an interview squeezed into a busy day meeting the press, visiting schools and making author appearances at bookshops, she said that she started writing the book when she was a teenager and can’t bear to look at her first draft.

“Reading it makes me cringe,” she laughed.Read More »

Interview: Robert Sabuda & Matthew Reinhart

sabuda & reinhartFirst published on 22nd October, 2006 in StarMag

A FEW years ago when my son was in hospital for surgery, I went shopping for books to cheer him up with. I decided that lift-the-flap and pop-up books would do a great job of distracting him from the pain of his surgical wound and other related woes.

I found some good ones at Kinokuniya Bookstore, including one about butterflies (A Young Naturalist’s Pop-Up Handbook: Butterflies). This was really beautiful and detailed, with pop-up butterflies that looked like they might lift off from the page and fly off in a blur of iridescent wings. At the time, I was not familiar with pop-up books and did not recognise the names on the cover: Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart, whom I now know are two of the most highly respected pop-up book artists (also known as paper engineers) in the world.

Butterflies: A Young Naturalist’s Handbook

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