Business of Writing, Writing

Jumping on the Patreon bandwagon

I’ve set up a Patreon!

If you haven’t heard of Patreon, the concept behind it is that you can be like the kings of old who funded scholars and jesters and artists at their courts so they had someone on hand to tell them jokes and play them soothing music and dance a jig for them at all times. What it means for the scholar/jester/artist (viz me) is that I can build an income stream that is independent of the vagaries of large corporate publishers.

I’m doing this as part of a long-term strategy to build a sustainable writing career: I want to diversify my income streams and learn to use a platform that offers an opportunity to people to make a living from their creative work. Also I want an excuse to write, essentially, boliao blog posts and share embarrassing excerpts of unpublished writing with people.

You can find out more about Patreon, and what content I’m offering, here.

To be honest, setting this up is as much about my “coming to the end of a project and really wanting to start on something new instead of doing all the necessary tidying up of the old” energy as anything else. (Hopefully I’ll be able to announce said project soon! It is really good, if I say so myself; I just want a break from it now, having been immersed in it for the best part of a year.)

As part of my current ferment, I’ve got lots of ideas for things I want to do, one of which is updating this website. It works OKish, especially as a first contact point for people who want to email me (just use the contact form, if that’s you), but it is kind of held together with spit and tape, and I want it to look nicer in mobile. If you have any favourite author websites in terms of appearance/functionality, and/or know of any website designers you’d recommend, let me know! I run the site via WordPress so it would have to be someone who is good at WordPress, but to be honest it would not be hard to be better at WordPress than me.

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Publishing Journey, The True Queen, Writing Process

My publishing journey: How to write second book?

I am really nervous, sitting down to write this — almost more nervous than I am about the fact that The True Queen is out today. (You can buy it! Please do!) But I promised myself I’d do this once the long nightmare was over, because it’s helped me when other writers have talked about the hard parts.

Second book syndrome

I had second book syndrome in spades. Two things contributed to this. The revision process for my first novel Sorcerer to the Crown had been extensive and emotionally challenging. Now, I have absolutely no doubt it improved the book, and it also developed writing muscles I hadn’t even known existed. But by the time I was done with the book — or by the time it was done with me, which is more how it felt — I had spent so long considering external feedback, working in a way that I found quite counter-intuitive, that it was very hard to find my way back to the inner voice that tells you what you want in your writing, what you are trying to achieve.

The second thing was the attention. Sorcerer wasn’t a huge bestseller or anything like that, but it did receive a measure of buzz and it led to far more people reading my work than ever before. This was great and what I’d been working towards, of course, but it was also stressful. Suddenly I had to contend with the pressure of reader expectations. I really, really wanted to get the second book right. I was terrified of putting a foot wrong, and that’s death to creativity.

What happened

I started writing the second book in January 2015, right after turning in final edits on Sorcerer. I’d originally written Sorcerer as a standalone and we sold it as the first in a loose trilogy — the next two books were to be standalones set in the same world but focusing on different main characters.

I slogged through the first draft, trying to avoid googling “how to write second book???” more than once a day. I never really got to grips with my new protagonist, but I kept working, hoping this would remedy itself in the next draft. (It often takes me a whole draft to work out what a book should be about.) I completed a 120,000-word “this is not for showing ANYONE ever” zero draft in June 2015, then started revising.

As I revised, though, I started to worry. I still didn’t know my protagonist and that didn’t seem right — I had felt very sure of Sorcerer‘s Zacharias and Prunella from the start. I spoke with my editor, who suggested among other things that readers would want to see Zacharias and Prunella again.

All right, I thought. This draft and protagonist clearly aren’t working. Maybe the answer is to go back to the characters I — and my readers — already know and love.

So I decided to put my 120,000-word MS in the bin. It was painful, but I hoped I’d got all the wrong words out of the way, so I could write a good book now. I outlined a completely new version, with a new plot. This time it was a more traditional sequel, focusing on Zacharias and Prunella’s further adventures.

Between October 2015 and March 2016 I produced a new draft. I turned it in, keenly conscious that it was more holes than cheese, but hoping I’d be able to work it up into something decent with my editor’s help.

A couple of weeks later, my editor was let go.

I was passed on to my (great!) current editor, but before my former editor left the company, she very kindly sent me her notes on my MS. They required a significant rewrite of the book, but I’d known that was coming and it was a relief to have specific feedback after spending so long flailing in the dark with my draft. Sure, I was in for a lot of hard work and the publication date would need to be pushed back, but at least I had a place to start from and an idea of what to fix. Apprehensive but determined, I dived into the revision.

In total the rewrite took six months; I turned the revised MS in in August 2016. The draft clocked in at just short of 124,000 words. I told myself that it was all right that the draft felt terrible. It probably wasn’t as bad as I thought, and they could help me make it better, right?

In September 2016, my agent rang and told me that the revised MS I’d turned in was not publishable.

What it felt like

I felt like my head had been kicked in. I felt like I was failing over and over again, with no end in sight. I felt like a total loser.

At some point during the almost 4 years when I was working on this book (these books? they were not really the same book), I asked an author who’d published a trilogy what it had been like writing her second book. She said, “Have you watched The Night Manager?”

I had not. She said, “There’s a scene where someone gets beaten up, a torture scene, and it’s really brutal, really gritty. This person gets absolutely battered, and it just goes on and on and on. That’s what it felt like.”

We’ve got to go through it

After some discussion my publisher agreed to grant me yet another extension to allow me to start again from scratch.

There was something freeing in having been broken down so completely. This time I tried something I hadn’t done before, that I hadn’t quite dared to do. I stepped outside Regency England. I started from home — from Janda Baik, a fictional island in the Straits of Melaka, the stretch of water along which my family has lived and died since our forebears left China for Malaya. And I started with a protagonist with no memories and no magic, embarking on a perilous journey.

In the course of 2017 I wrote the book that would eventually become The True Queen. In 2018 I edited it and now, in 2019, it has been published and the thing is done.

The True Queen felt better than the previous versions from the outset, but that didn’t mean the process of writing it was not painful, full of stops and starts, clouded by doubt and uncertainty. At least once I had a screaming meltdown and had to be talked out of emailing my agent to say I couldn’t do it, I had to pull out of the contract.

But somehow I made it to the end. My feeling for the book now is like my feeling for its ordinary, long-suffering, well-meaning protagonist — Muna, who must leave her home and almost everything she cares for to set off on an adventure with an uncertain end.

I tried my hardest with the book; its aims are worthwhile aims. Whether the book achieves those aims is for readers to decide now. I hope they find in it what I always try to put in my stories — entertainment, reassurance and heart.

The True Queen is out today from Penguin Random House in the US. It’s due out on 21 March in the UK and Commonwealth, published by Pan Macmillan.

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My Stories

Sequel to “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”

Towards the end of last year I wrote a short story as a coda to my novelette about a failboat imugi striving to be a dragon, which was sent out to subscribers to my new release mailing list. I’ve now posted it to my website and you can read it here!

Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon by Zen Cho

Also I hear Hugo awards nominations are now open for 2018 publications! If you enjoyed If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, I’d be thrilled if you’d consider nominating it in the Best Novelette category. (My dream is to have a Hugo nomination in a year I’m actually likely to make it to Worldcon, so I have an excuse to bring a fancy outfit plus get to attend the Hugo Losers Party. But of course you must nominate as your heart directs, unswayed by my dreams of frivolity!)

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My Stories, SFF, Sorcerer to the Crown, The True Queen

Site update: THE TRUE QUEEN and a new novelette!

I’ve let this website go to pot somewhat while I was busy finishing my book, but I’ve now updated it!

The follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown is in the bag and will be published in March 2019. The True Queen is a standalone novel set two years after Sorcerer, about a young woman from the Malayan isle of Janda Baik who goes on a quest to break a curse and save her sister — and becomes enmeshed in intrigue in England and Fairyland along the way. It’s about sisterhood and magic and growing into yourself, and also Hijinks with Dragons (my brand). It follows new characters and explores the world beyond England, but readers of Sorcerer will recognise a number of familiar faces. You can find out more — and preorder a copy! — here:

The True Queen.

Speaking of Hijinks with Dragons, I’ve got a new novelette up at the B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog, called If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again:

A hapless imugi is determined to attain the form of a full-fledged dragon and gain entry to the gates of heaven. For a long time, things don’t go well. Then, it meets a girl.

It’s about dragons and failure and what happens when life doesn’t go to plan. It’s also my only awards eligible publication this year because I write and publish at the approximate pace of a distractible snail _(┐「ε:)_ Read it here!

And I’ve been finding it hard to make the time for blogging, but whenever I do manage a ramble, it goes out to my Cakap Angin newsletter. You can check out past newsletters here: Cakap Angin archive. For alerts about new fiction, though — including the occasional free short story sent right to your inbox — you’ll want to stick to my new release mailing list.

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My Stories

Fiction: Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon

A sequel to If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, published on The B&N Sci-fi & Fantasy Blog on 29 November 2018 and included in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 13, ed. Jonathan Strahan.

Head of a Snake, Tail of a Dragon
by Zen Cho

There was a dragon outside Jin-dae’s cave.
 
Fortunately Jin-dae saw it before it saw her. She slithered hastily into a copse to hide herself.
 
“Why’ve you stopped?” said the human in her mouth.
 
“Shurrup!” said Jin-dae.
 
She was starting to regret picking up the human. But it wasn’t like she had any other option. In the days of her youth – the fat days – Jin-dae had feasted on elks, bison and the occasional grizzly bear. As the forests shrank and pickings grew slim, she’d adapted to a diet of birds and squirrels.
 
These days even birds and squirrels were hard to obtain in the quantities needed to sustain a mid-sized imugi. Jin-dae had had to resort to eating anything she could find, even including snakes – and she hated eating snakes. It wasn’t like one had lots of peers as an imugi. In fact, Jin-dae didn’t have any friends. She was used to it, but it made the loneliness worse to prey on small versions of herself.
 
Humans were infinitely preferable to snakes as dinner, but the disadvantage of eating humans was how personally they took it. You couldn’t eat many before they came after you with guns. And then you had to move again …
 
Frankly, it was tiresome.
 
But beggars couldn’t be choosers. Jin-dae had fasted as long as she could, but finally hunger had overcome her. She’d popped by the nearest human settlement to grab a bite.
 
It was just her luck that she should have grabbed an amateur herpetologist.
 
“Do you live in that cave? Is that where you brumate when it gets cold? Are you eating me so you can tank up for the winter?” said the human, twisting around in her mouth. “Oh my God, is that a dragon? Sick!”

“Shhh!” said Jin-dae. “And sh’op ‘aking notesh!”
 
It was too late. Dragons have extremely sharp hearing. The dragon raised its head and looked directly at her.
 
“Les – ” It coughed. “There you are!”
 
It looked delighted to see her. Jin-dae did not reciprocate the sentiment.
 
“Do I know you?” Jin-dae said suspiciously.
 
“Oh no, no, no,” said the dragon. “No, we have no prior acquaintance in this life or any other. Ha ha, what a ridiculous idea! My name is Aspire to Heaven and I am a complete stranger. I was flying above your cave when I noticed you and was struck by the nobility of your bearing. I have come to be your mentor and instruct you in the Way, so that you may ascend to the glorious status of dragonhoo – wait, is that a human in your mouth?”
 
“No,” said Jin-dae through her mouthful of human.
 
“Everyone’s gonna freak when they see my Instagram holo-story,” said her dinner.
 
“He’s a teenager?” said the dragon. “You can’t eat a teenager! That’ll delay your ascension by centuries! It’s bad enough eating adult humans, but teenagers haven’t even had the chance to grow out of being obnoxious.”
 
“Hey, who asked you?” said Jin-dae’s dinner.
 
“‘ankyu ‘or your adwice,” said Jin-dae with dignity. She edged past the dragon into her cave, dumping her dinner on the ground. She cleared her throat. “But I don’t want to become a dragon, so you can return to heaven.”
 
“What do you mean, you don’t want to become a dragon?” said Aspire to Heaven.
 
“Yeah, you can’t not want to be a dragon,” the human piped up. “It’s part of the imugi life cycle. Look, I can show you the Wikipedia article.”
 
“Shut up!” said Jin-dae. To the dragon she said, “I mean what I said. I like being an imugi.”
 
“But,” sputtered Aspire to Heaven, “you can’t like being an imugi. Nobody likes being an imugi.”
 
Jin-dae was starting to get annoyed. Besides, she was starving.
 
“Can’t I?” she said. “Watch me!”
 
She reared up over the human and opened her jaws wide.


 When Jin-dae woke up, the dragon was outside her cave again.
 
“What the hell?” said Jin-dae. “Have you been outside the entire time I’ve been sleeping?”
 
Aspire to Heaven gave Jin-dae a strange look, as though she was the one acting weirdly. “No. You napped for three years.”
 
“Really?” It felt like just yesterday that she’d had her altercation with the dragon. She’d gone to sleep afterwards, worn out by the exertion.”That was a good nap,” said Jin-dae, pleased.
 
But then she remembered she was mad.
 
“You have some nerve coming here after what you did,” she said.”What happened to my dinner anyway?”
 
“You mean Tyrone?” said Aspire to Heaven. “He’s doing very well. He got into UPenn, he’s planning to major in physics.” It gave Jin-dae a hopeful look. “Aren’t you glad I stopped you from eating him?”
 
Jin-dae’s stomach grumbled.
 
“No,” she said sadly. She glided past the dragon.
 
“Wait!” cried Aspire to Heaven. “Where are you going?”
 
“To get a snack. Stop following me!”
 
“But I brought you texts,” said Aspire to Heaven.
 
Glancing back at the dragon, Jin-dae noticed for the first time that it was laden with scrolls.
 
“It’s the latest research on galaxies,” said Aspire to Heaven. “I got some celestial fairies to copy it off JSTOR, since you haven’t got Internet.”
 
“What?” said Jin-dae. “What did you bring me texts for?”
 
Aspire to Heaven blinked. “So you can study them and become a dragon.”
 
“I told you,” said Jin-dae, raising her voice. “I don’t want to study or become a dragon!”
 
The dragon drew its head back, like a frightened tortoise. It said in a small voice:

“I don’t understand. You’re the one who taught me not to give up on my dreams. Why are you being like this?”
 
“Why are you being like this?” Jin-dae began. Then the significance of the dragon’s words dawned upon her. “Hold on. Did you know me in a past life?”
 
“No!” said Aspire to Heaven. “No, no, what makes you think that?I didn’t know you in a past life. Personally, I’ve only been born once. And I’d never knowingly approach anyone whom I’d known in their past life. That would be a breach of the laws of heaven, and a true dragon would never do that.”
 
Jin-dae had only suspected it before, but now she was certain.
 
“You did know me in a past life,” she said. “That’s why you talk like a human and make bizarro assumptions!”
 
“I don’t – what assumptions?”
 
Jin-dae opened her mouth to hector Aspire to Heaven some more, before she recalled who she was talking to. It would be unwise to antagonise a dragon.Besides, Aspire to Heaven looked so distressed Jin-dae was starting to feel sorry for it.
 
“Look,” she said, as gently as she could, “whatever past me was like, present me is happy with where she is. I appreciate your – er – interest in my career, but I don’t need the help. I’m already doing what I want to do.”
 
The dragon looked crestfallen. After a moment it said, “I understand.”
 
“Good.”
 
“Take the texts,” said Aspire to Heaven, before Jin-dae could move off. “You can read them in the evenings when you get bored.”
 
Jin-dae looked at the small mountain of scrolls. She couldn’t imagine anything less interesting.

“It’s OK,” she said politely. “You can take your texts back to this Jae Store.”
 
Aspire to Heaven looked bewildered and hurt. “But you love texts.”
 
Jin-dae’s patience snapped.
 
“No, I don’t!” she said. “Maybe whoever you knew back then loved texts. But I like naps and good meals and drifting on the river of life like a twig borne along by the current. And you are interfering with all of those things!”
 
The dragon wilted under her glare.
 
“OK,” faltered Aspire to Heaven. “I guess … I guess I’d better go?”
 
Jin-dae ignored the piteous look the dragon gave her. “What do you think?”
 
“OK,” said Aspire to Heaven. “OK.” It shot a last sorrowful glance out of the corner of its eyes at Jin-dae, before lifting off.
 
If the dragon looked back as it flew up towards the skies, Jin-dae didn’t see it. She turned her face from heaven and plunged into a stream.
 
Otter, she thought. It was like a prayer. Beaver, eel, trout … She wouldn’t say no to a human angler either.


Aspire to Heaven was hanging around the cave mouth when Jin-dae returned. 

Jin-dae had a full stomach for once, having eaten a whole moose – an uncommon indulgence. But she came to an abrupt stop, her good mood fizzling out.
 
“Don’t be mad,” said the dragon. “I didn’t come to teach you.”
 
It had something in its mouth. It dropped this on the ground and nudged it towards Jin-dae.
 
It was a shining red cord. One end was tied around the smallest claw on Aspire to Heaven’s left fore-foot. Looking down, Jin-dae saw that the other end was looped around her own tail.
 
“Oh,” said Jin-dae.
 
“It’s our fate,” said Aspire to Heaven. “I asked the grandmother who arranges these matters to let me show you.
 
“I’m sorry I made bizarro assumptions,” said the dragon. “I shouldn’t have acted as though I knew you, or what you wanted. I just – I missed you. I mean, I missed who you used to be.” Aspire to Heaven bowed its head, a crystal tear running down its snout. The skies turned grey and a gentle drizzle began to fall.

After a moment Aspire to Heaven sniffed and looked up, squaring its shoulders. The skies cleared, a ray of sun illuminating the bump on the dragon’s forehead.
 
“But you’re someone new and you get to be yourself,” it said. “I should have respected that.”
 
Jin-dae stared at the red string binding them together, evidence that heaven had ordained that their destinies be entwined. “Why are you showing me this?”
 
“I wanted to make amends,” said Aspire to Heaven. “I didn’t know what I could give you – but then I thought of this. If you snap the thread, we won’t have to meet again, and I won’t bother you anymore.”
 
“You don’t – ” have to do that, Jin-dae was about to say.

She stopped herself, surprised. Why did she want to give the dragon a chance? It had been utterly obnoxious. The fact that it was cute, with its jewelled eyes and jade-green scales, was quite besides the point.
 
“Thanks,” she said stiffly. She lowered her head to gnaw through the cord, but then a thought struck her. “Won’t I get in trouble with heaven if I do this?”
 
“Oh right,” said the dragon, starting. It snatched the thread up. “It would break the laws of heaven. Sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking!”
 
“It’s fine,” said Jin-dae.
 
Oddly, she felt relieved. For a moment she gazed into Aspire to Heaven’s eyes. They were like rubies under handsome beetling brows, and their expression was totally sincere.
 
“I guess I’ll see you around then,” Jin-dae was saying, when the dragon put out a gold-tipped claw and sliced the thread in two.
 
“There!” said Aspire to Heaven. “Now you’re free, and I’ll be the one punished by heaven if they find out.”
 
“Why did you do that?” Jin-dae almost squawked, but she managed to swallow the protest. All that came out was an “Erp!”

“I beg your pardon?” said Aspire to Heaven.
 
Jin-dae coughed. “Nothing. It’s nothing. Great. Thank you.”
 
“You’re welcome,” said the dragon. It fixed Jin-dae with a long look,as though it was trying to imprint her on its memory. “Take care of yourself. I hope you’re very happy.”
 
It rose into the air, the red string dangling from its claw.
 
“Wait!” shouted Jin-dae.
 
Aspire to Heaven looked back.
 
Jin-dae hadn’t known she was going to speak until she heard herself shouting. Now that she had the dragon’s attention again, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say.
 
“What did you call me, back then?” said Jin-dae. “When we knew each other, I mean.”
 
The dragon descended to the ground. “Do you really want to know?”
 
“No,” said Jin-dae, after a moment.
 
“I didn’t think so.” Aspire to Heaven gave Jin-dae a wistful look, but shook its head. “That’s all in the past. Don’t worry about it. Just be who you are now.” The dragon turned away.
 
Jin-dae hesitated, but if she didn’t speak now, she wouldn’t get another chance. The thread was broken. She could spend the next hundred years all by herself, as alone as she’d been for the last hundred years.

“Don’t you want to find out who that is?” she said.
 
Aspire to Heaven paused. “What?”
 
“I’m not … whoever it was you knew,” said Jin-dae. “But you could get to know me. As I am now.”
 
The dragon looked at her, then down at the red string knotted around its claw. “But you’re free. You don’t have to have anything to do with me.”
 
“I don’t have to do anything,” agreed Jin-dae. “Except what I want. That’s what’s so great about being a bad imugi.”

“You’re not a bad imugi!” said Aspire to Heaven indignantly, in direct contradiction of all available evidence. Then the dragon registered what Jin-dae meant. “You want me to get to know you?”
 
“Only if you want,” said Jin-dae. “It’s no big deal if you don’t.” The dragon probably had lots of friends in heaven. No long empty days making shadow animals on cave walls with its tail for Aspire to Heaven.
 
But Aspire to Heaven said softly, “I would like that very much.”
 
“Great,” said Jin-dae. “Great.”
 
They looked at each other until Jin-dae started to feel awkward. She hadn’t done social interaction in a while.

To be accurate, she hadn’t done it ever. Talking to humans you subsequently ate didn’t really count as socialising.

To break the silence, she said, “And I could get to know you. Right?”

“If you want,” said Aspire to Heaven cautiously.
 
Jin-dae felt reassured.

“I think that would be nice,” she said. “Why don’t you tell me about yourself?”
 
“OK,” said Aspire to Heaven. It settled itself in a tidy coil, close enough to talk comfortably, but leaving a polite distance between it and the cave mouth.
 
“Once upon a time,” said the dragon, “my name was Byam.”

Thanks to Perrin Lu for the story idea and Hana Lee for Leslie’s name in her new life as a bad imugi.

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Personal, Writing

Cakap Angin, a newsletter

In my last email to new release mailing list subscribers, I asked people to email me if they’d be interested in a chattier newsletter — like a blog post, but sent direct to their inbox. (I only send out emails about new releases to the new release mailing list and given what an enormously long time it takes me to write anything decent and get it published, it does not get a huge amount of action … )

It turns out when you ask people to email you, often they do! There was enough interest that I’ve set up a new mailing list for anyone who’d like to receive a longer newsletter, with general life, writing and other updates. I’m calling it Cakap Angin, which literally means “talk wind” and is a Malay idiom meaning “idle talk”, and the newsletter will do what it says on the tin. (I was really tempted to call it Omong Kosong, but I felt that was even more self-deprecating even though it means the same thing, and then I thought of calling it Omong Penuh but that seemed too up myself.)

I’ll still have a separate new release mailing list, so that’s the one you want if you only want updates on new fiction I’ve published. Cakap Angin is for other stuff, at irregular intervals. You might ask, “Why don’t you start updating your blog again instead of setting up this newsletter you refuse to commit to updating regularly, ZEN” but I would just look vague and refuse to answer, so you might as well reconcile yourself to the existence of the newsletter. And sign up if it sounds interesting!



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Food

Recipe: Fake posh seafood spaghetti

I usually have a pretty good idea of how tasty something I’m making will turn out to be, but this took me aback with how well it turned out. It was totally beyond expectations and also pretends to be fancy, even though it’s essentially a store cupboard recipe. It’d be a good one to serve friends at a dinner party, with a bottle of Mediterranean wine.

To give you an idea of how easy this was, I based it on a John West tinned sardines recipe.

Perhaps not beautiful, but it WAS good

Ingredients
Spaghetti
Extra virgin olive oil
Chilli flakes
3-4 cloves of garlic
1 onion (optional — we just have a lot of onions at the moment)
1 aubergine
Tinned sardines in olive oil, 120g (I guess you could use the tomatoey kind but it might confuse the flavours)
Tinned squid, ~100g (I used this which I picked up in Waitrose on a whim — they sell it in fake squid ink and olive oil)
Mozzarella pearls, ~100-200g

Method

  1. Slice aubergine cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick rounds. Brush each side with olive oil and grill for about 8 minutes, turning once. (I fried the aubergine but next time I’d try grilling — frying meant I went overboard with the oil and there’s oil in the other ingredients, so it turned out a bit aglio olio-y.)
  2. Cook spaghetti according to instructions on packet.
  3. Chop onions and garlic finely. Saute until the onions are soft and clear and the garlic doesn’t smell sharp anymore.
  4. Add sardines and squid, along with as much of the oil/sauce as you think best. I held all the oil from the sardine tin (see above re oil), but chucked in all the salsa negra from the squid tin. Heat through.
  5. Add aubergine whenever it’s ready.
  6. Stir in spaghetti, mozzarella pearls and a generous pinch of chilli flakes. Toss until mozzarella begins to melt and becomes stringy. (I don’t have the upper body strength to toss our wok so I just stir things around.)
  7. Season with salt and pepper if you like. Upon tasting I found that it didn’t need any more flavour but it’s up to you.
  8. Eat! It’s super tasty!

I suspect what makes the difference in this recipe is the quality of the tinned sardines and squid. Not that I’m any expert, but if there is a range available, I’d get the stuff that seems better. Obviously you can make the recipe just with tinned sardines if you can’t get squid or don’t like it, though I do think the squid makes it more special.

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Apparitions

What I’m up to in 2017: appearances up to July

Despite this update I’m not actually hiding in my room working on my novel for the whole of this year! Here’s a bunch of appearances I’ll be doing in the coming months:

London Book Fair (14-16 March)

I’ll be hanging around at the Fixi London booth at London Book Fair this year — konon being helpful, sebenarnya sibuk je. In particular I’m hoping to make it for the launch of LITTLE BASKET 2017: NEW MALAYSIAN WRITING on Wednesday 15 March (event is free but must register at the link).

I also really want to make the screening of various short films adapted from noir short stories published by Buku Fixi, including BREAKING POINT by my very own brother We Jun, adapted from a KL NOIR: YELLOW story: Crime Short Films Adapted from Short Stories (Tuesday 14 March).

I don’t want to spoiler you by linking to the actual films, but you can watch an interview with my brother here! As well as talking about BREAKING POINT, he discusses his film education and why he always makes shows about cops and gangsters.

As part of London Book and Screen Week I’ve been invited to do a writers in conversation event with Polish SF author Jacek Dukaj, moderated by Anna James. Really looking forward to this. Majulah World SF!

English PEN presents IMAGINING FUTURES with Jacek Dukaj and Zen Cho
Thursday 16 March, 6:30-8:00 pm
Admission fee: £6
Waterstones Gower Street

Dutch Comic Con (25-26 March)

I’ll be at Dutch Comic Con in Utrecht along with friends and fellow Pan Mac authors Vic James and Laura Lam! Details on the programme to follow.

Women in Fantasy at Waterstones Piccadilly (Wednesday, 12 April)

I’ll be on an evening panel discussing women in fantasy with fabulous authors and friends Aliette de Bodard (THE HOUSE OF BINDING THORNS, Gollancz) and Vic James (GILDED CAGE, Pan Macmillan) at Waterstones Piccadilly!

Women in Fantasy with Aliette de Bodard, Vic James and Zen Cho
Wednesday 12 April, 19:30-21:00
Venue: Waterstones Piccadilly
Admission: £8, redeemable against a copy of an author’s book (£6 for Waterstones card-holders)

Lancaster Words (6-8 July)

I’m really excited to be part of Lancaster Words, a 3-day celebration of words run by Lancaster University’s English and Creative Writing department. I’m super impressed at myself for being part of such an amazing line-up. PJ Harvey leh! :O

I’ll be doing a reading and a panel on messing with language on the Saturday, both at Waterstones on King Street. Details and links to register below.

READING
British Fantasy Award and Crawford Award winner Zen Cho will be reading from her historical fantasy novel, Sorcerer to the Crown.
Saturday 8 July, 13:00-14:00
Venue: Waterstones, 2-8 King Street, Lancaster, LA1 1JN

PANEL: Breaking the language: shameless multilingual authors
A group of authors will discuss the (ab)use they inflect upon language. Sometimes, grammatical rules cannot accommodate the variety and richness of our multicultural world, and that is why these authors are shamelessly mixing up vocabularies and structures to show complex and unique characters to their readers. They will share their experience of living surrounded by different languages and how this has affected their creative process. They will also discuss how their original use of language challenges many of the cultural stereotypes associated with genre.
Panelists: Zen Cho, Oscar Delgado, Ines Gregori Labarta, and Qen Mai
Saturday 8 July, 12:00-13:00
Venue: Waterstones, 2-8 King Street, Lancaster, LA1 1JN

Book free tickets now!

Edge Lit 6 (15 July)

I haven’t been able to make it to Derby’s well-known SFFH event Edge Lit before, but delighted to say I’ll be there this year! You can book tickets now for £30 (which covers admission to all events and a goody bag). Details of programming to follow.

After this … still got leh! But I’ll post about those events closer to the time.

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