A young man runs away from home after a harsh childhood and migrates to America in search of a better life. He eventually becomes an English teacher and finds himself telling stories of his life to his students - to entertain and inspire them. Eventually it dawns on him that perhaps he should write the stories down.
Sorry if I labour the parallels between Stephen Ling's story and Frank McCourt's in my piece published in Starmag today ... but it strikes me that in some ways their stories are so similar.
Ling's memoir For My Hands Only (reviewed in Star Two a few weeks ago) was published by a small publisher in Seattle earlier this year. When I was passed a copy just a couple of days before the interview, I realised that the book was a gem - a very evocative account of growing up poor in the Perak town of Sitiawan, and giving voice to the kind of people - impoverished and uneducated Chinese smallholders who don't feature very prominently in Malaysian history books. Ling's memoir is an important sociological document and wouldn't be too out of place among this year's crop of "misery memoirs", but it also happens to be a well-paced and entertaining read.
The book is available at the moment on Amazon and through Borders and Kinokuniya who bring in copies from the US.
This should be published here, I said, taking off my efficient interviewer hat and putting on my literary busybody one. There's such a shortage of good, locally written books, and people would want definitely to read this ...
And now the good news is that Stephen has now found a publisher here (am I allowed to say any more?) and the book will be out next year in a slightly re-edited version.
Re-edited because ... sorry to say this but Ling's first publisher really should have taken more time and trouble to get the manuscript up to standard! The proofreading isn't great, and more paragraphs in places would make the text less dense. These are simple things that any halfway decent editor should have put right for him. The white cover too lacks impact and looks more like a self-published effort. Frankly, this book deserves better.
Having made the journey home for the first time in 45 years, Stephen says that he will be back in Malaysia when the new edition comes out to publicise it.
He also has plans for further books based on his very colourful life - he certainly has plenty of material, judging by the stream of very entertaining anecdotes that emerge that evening. (His account of his journey to America by cargo ship is hilarious and I do hope it gets written.)
I really do wish him luck and hope that it isn't too long before the book is widely read in this part of the world. As it deserves to be.