Monthly Archives: December 2013

New Year’s resolution: catch up on my reading of Malaysian writers in English

I have decided that next year must be the year I catch up with my reading of Malaysian writers in English. My focus will be on novels — preferably ones I can find easily in the UK to start with (though I’ll try to pick up any I can’t find here on my trip home). I won’t bind myself to reading all the books listed below, but I’ll read at least one book per author.

Recommendations welcome! My list not many Malay authors lor, ‘cos most of the ones I can think of off the top of my head write in Malay rather than English. But obvs I’d be happy to add more.

Read

Yangsze Choo, The Ghost Bride

Preeta Samarasan, Evening is the Whole Day

Shamini Flint, Inspector Singh series (two books, anyway! Aiya counted la.)

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How writing long fiction differs from short fiction

pendrecarc: How is writing long fiction different from short fiction?

Oh, long fiction is just more complicated! For me, anyway. I am still figuring it out, to be honest — I’ve only written one novel I can regard with any complacency. (I wrote two lurching horrors before that one, which I may rip up and do over one of these days, but in their current form they barely merit being called novels.) Maybe ask me again in 5-10 years, when I will hopefully have written more than one novel I am satisfied with!

But long fiction can also be more satisfying. I enjoy doing short fiction, and there is a focus and economy about the form that is very rewarding, so I don’t mean to imply that it’s a lesser form than the novel. But the things I’m really interested in as a reader and writer are things that are probably better developed within the larger scope of a novel. I’m interested in people and the dynamics between people, and for spending time with characters and getting to know them there is nothing to beat a book or series of books. I am also a big fan of the carefully chosen superfluous detail — the paragraph or six about someone’s dress or meal that helps immerse the reader in the world of the story — and there’s more space for that sort of thing in longer fiction.

On the complications, the main thing I’ve noticed is how difficult it is to pull >80,000 words into a continuous, coherent story! Firstly it’s hard to keep the story on track when you are only working on it for, say, an hour on average every day for several months. And then when you finally somehow manage to reach the end (keenly conscious that you have completely forgotten about several minor characters on the way, you haven’t wrapped up at least one key subplot, and your protagonist has undergone extraordinary unsupported transformations in her characterisation), you have to fix the mess. And every time you pick one bit of story to fix, you pull up a whole string of connected things you also have to fix. It’s like playing Jenga or something. /o\

I am hoping this will be less of a messy process once I have figured out how to outline before starting a novel. But I suspect it is always going to be quite iterative and involve me suddenly thinking, months after I have written the first draft, “Oh! That’s why Character X did that thing in Chapter 3!” and rushing around looking for a pen and piece of paper.

Linguistic imperialism and teaching English as a foreign language

Reproducing the anonymous comment requesting this topic in full:

your thoughts on linguistic imperialism and people teaching english abroad, and people in asian countries learning english as a school subject – that sort of muddle
i have a lot of mixed feelings about it (i think it’s possible to teach english abroad in a respectful manner and have a lot of professors that i love who did so, but then again participating in the leftover effects of linguistic imperialism??) and would love to hear your thoughts on it :OOO

I am pragmatic about this, TBH. I have taught English as a second language in Asian countries myself, so it’s not something I’m likely to get too het up about, though I am conscious of the privileges that allowed me to do so. But that’s kind of the point, I guess. In the world we live in right now, being fluent in English gives you power. Being able to speak English that sounds “accentless” to “native speakers”, or that has the right kind of accent, is a privilege.

My parents chose to bring up their kids speaking English for a reason, and I can trace a lot of the benefits and privileges I enjoy in my life directly to being good at English. So yeah, to a certain extent teaching English to people in majority non-English-speaking countries is participating in a messed up system — the whole reason English is there in the first place is because of Western hegemony, right? But most of us don’t have the option of opting out of this system. It is the system we live in. We have to figure out how to make a living and look after our families within this system. So there are two things I think are the right things to do in the circumstances:

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How the Lord of the Rings movies influenced me

vi asked about formative movies.

There are three movies I can think of, and they are (surprise, surprise) the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I read the book when I was 12 – I distinctly remember it because it was in the joyous days after UPSR, and a classmate put me onto it. (I wonder who she was? I can’t remember her at all now.) And half a lifetime later, it seemed at the time – but only three years in actual fact! – the movies started coming out, reigniting my enthusiasm for the book.

The movies aren’t my Lord of the Rings – they’re too OTT and focused on fight/battle scenes, and the elves are too pretty, and the dwarves are not taken seriously enough (at least something The Hobbit movies are remedying, though The Hobbit movies are still not really worth it), and I will hold a grudge against Sean Astin for his overacting on the slopes of Mount Doom forever. But I like the movies for what they are, and they played a big role in my life.

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Favourite comfort reads and a new favourite recipe

Anonymous asked about favorite comfort reads, or favorite recipes.

Favourite comfort reads (a non-comprehensive list)

I’m going to specify titles ‘cos it’s interesting to think about which specific books by these authors I like best for comfort reading, but in most cases the authors’ entire oeuvres fall under the heading of “comfort reading” for me.

  • L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. LMM is probably my #1 comfort read of all time actually. OF ALL TIME!
  • Patrick O’Brian, HMS Surprise
  • Georgette Heyer, Cotillion
  • Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
  • Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes
  • Jean Webster, Dear Enemy
  • Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
  • P. G. Wodehouse, Psmith books (cheating and naming all of them because I can’t remember which instalment is my favourite)

Oddly enough I don’t feel Terry Pratchett really belongs on the list, though I rate him higher than several of these authors in certain respects. I feel like Discworld really shaped my worldview, and showed me that it was possible for books to be genre and silly and fun but also serious and clever – but for whatever reason I don’t seem to have that deep emotional attachment to the books anymore. I still like and value them, but it’s like I’ve taken from them what I need, and don’t need them anymore.

Well, I say that, but if I were to embark upon a reread doubtless the feelings would return!

Incidentally nearly all the books/authors I name above I came to at around age 10-12, which is probably why they have stuck with me. The only two exceptions are O’Brian and Heyer, whom I discovered at around 16-18.

A favourite recipe

DIY chilli “pan mee”

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Why I love White Boots by Noel Streatfeild

skygiants: books from your childhood that made you happier when you reread them as an adult!

I think probably what you mean is books that I like even better as an adult than I did as a kid, and I am not sure the book I am going to talk about is a correct answer, because I absolutely loved Noel Streatfeild’s White Boots as a kid. But it was the first book to come to mind, so I am going to talk about it anyway!

White Boots is about Harriet Johnson, a quiet kid from a poor, boisterous family who picks up skating to strengthen her “cotton woolish” legs after an illness. She meets Lalla Moore, whose figure skater celebrity parents died when she was a baby, and who is being brought up by an ambitious aunt to be a skating champion. Lalla gives Harriet a chance to skate, but Harriet and her family give Lalla a chance to be an ordinary kid.

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