The second of Saturday's literary events was of course, "Readings" at Seksan's. And for me the event was all about ... what is an authentic Malaysian voice?
Yang-May Ooi read first, and poor thing had to compete a little against the rain. Thank goodness we're amplified now.
She decided to use her slot for an experiment. She had brought along a passage from the novel she is currently working on, Tianming Traviata, and she read the same piece written in two slightly different voices. The first very standard English, the second in identifiably Malaysian English. I enjoyed both versions, though the second sounded more natural to me and all but Eric Forbes seemed to agree when we took a vote afterwards.
I told Yang-May later that Shirley Lim had talked about having the same problem when she wrote Sister Swing, and it really is a big deal for local writers. (I do so badly want to write at length on this but haven't yet got round to it.)
Talking about capturing voice, Datuk Shan does a great job of getting Indian voices down to the page and playing with them for comic effect as in the story about Mrs. Sarjit Singh getting teased for her terrible mispronunciations.
Zhang Su Li read us several appetite-whetting short pieces from her travel book A Backpack and a Bit of Luck. I loved the first piece she read about the time she worked in an opticians in Britain and gave a lecture to an old man about the correct way to put on glasses - only to realise that he only had one hand having lost the other in the war. This being Britain, a cup of tea while he told his story put things right. Su Li managed a very creditable northern accent!
Patricia Low is a very talented young lady. My first encounter with her work was with The Oral Stage's Rojak, last year. Two of my favourite pieces were penned by her and she was one of the directors. I sadly missed TOS second production, 59 Minutes, so it was nice that Pat read us a monologue from it - a wonderfully funny satire about the building of a durian tower in a shopping mall. But as I say, Malaysia constantly satirises itself! The scary thing about the piece was that it all seemed just too possible!
I loved the natural way that the voice in the story moved between English and Malay ... this is the reality of voice in the local context, the constant dipping between languages. For convenience. For emphasis. For humour.
Haris Zalkapli (and now I have his name spelt right!) writes columns on pop culture and politics and the interface between. I knew nothing about him before the reading since I had enlisted Raja Ahmad's help in finding good Malay writers, and I am very happy to have "discovered" Haris. He's clearly a writer who has found his niche - his pieces are entertaining and the arguments nicely developed. He read two columns The Stones and the Great Firewall, about The Rolling Stones tour of China and A Lesson in Coolness about Condoleza Rice and other politicians employing pop culture as a campaigning tool.
This was the second time that Eileen Lui has read at "Readings". Her stories have appeared in Silverfish collections, including the book I edited, Collateral Damage. She read a moving piece about a friendship ... which should have been more than a friendship ... about the best friends who became "better friends", but never quite made the transition to becoming lovers.
Thank goodness not everyone is like this couple, or Eileen would be out of a day-job!
Was very happy to see poet Wong Phui Nam in the audience and I think he was very pleased to see so many people interested in writing. I have invited him to read next time!
Many thanks (and you know the litany by now!) all who read and all who turned up to support them. To Seksan for the space. To La Bodega for the lovely wines. To Reza for help with the sound. To all who helped get set up and to Zedeck for washing glasses. Sorry I was so bossy.
I've decided not to hold "Readings" next month as the KL Litfest is on at the end of March and it's better that everyone supports that. But watch this space for April announcements.