Thursday, February 08, 2007

Texts Alive!

We won't get more than about 30 people, I told Pang as we arranged a semi-circle of chairs in an intimate semi-circle for our Night of the Living Texts event. Fifty, tops. This was all fixed up so late, we haven't had a whole lot of publicity out, and that mainly on blogs and e-groups.

Besides, I thought, how many people will turn up mid-week for a literary gathering?

An awful lot as it turned out! I didn't take a head count, but probably around 100 people turned up, the numbers swelled even more when the Philosphy class that Hishamuddin Rais was teaching next door ended.

Many of the usual "readings" crowd (our bohemian beatnik chic Saturday afternoon arty-farties) showed up. Others were blogfriends - some materialising into physical form for the first time including Fei and Joshua. Still others were drawn in by the link with the British Council Reading across Cultures: Teaching English Through Literature conference.

Bernice Chauly (who set up the whole "readings" thing) was there, and I felt so happy to see her.

It was a very huggy kissy start to the evening, interspersed by moments of logistical panic.

And so on to the "show":

Roger Robinson was just the best opening act we could have hoped for, and he set a standard (particularly in terms of dramatising his work!). He read a very funny prose piece in which there was a character called Sharon, also known as Virgin Island (so of course, this Sharon now has a new nickname). Would have loved the opportunity to hear more and vow to track down Roger at a reading when I'm back in London.

Roger's Trinadadian accent just melts me, reminding me of old friends I miss so much ...

John McRae introduced our second speaker, and I appreciated his words very much. John was involved in the launch of the Skoob Pacifica series (a very important imprint which really launched local writing), and said that at the time of publication there was little interest in South-East Asian writing in Europe. And now the situation has totally changed and Malaysian writers are being published in the UK. Case in point ...

... Tan Twan Eng, whose immensely readable first novel (I know'cos I couldn't put it down!) The Gift of Rain, set in Penang, is out in hardback on March 8th, and paperback May 20th. This was Twan's first public reading. He choose the opening pages of the novel which hint at great mysteries to be unravelled. This audience should be hooked enough to buy it!

Louise Doughty read from her short story Doikitsa which appeared in New Writing 13, (also, I think she said, part of her Novel Fires in the Dark about the European Roma ) in which an elderly woman lies dying in her wagon.

Our second Malaysian author of the evening, Kam Raslan, read a couple of naughty passages from Confessions of an Old Boy and created a lot of laugher.

We took a break then, and folks wandered down to the Bau-Bau cafe which had opened specially for the night to sell us drinks. Much literary networking happening in the meantime.

Then Dina Zaman was up to read from I Am Muslim. Post-David Frost experience perhaps, this is a much more confident Dina than I've seen read before. Enjoyed the voices in her pieces, especially the piece was the possessed masseuse.

Isagani Cruz read a condensed version of one of his plays - a monologue about a zarzuela (traditional Filippino music theatre) performer. Very nice indeed! And I particularly loved the way his character has a little gossip about a certain writer called Isagani! (And we were talking only the other day about writers who put themselves into their fiction.)

Taiwanese poet Ke Hua Chen ended the evening for us with a poem in Mandarin with English translation. (And we finally got a chance to hear his version of the poem as song lyrics on CD when Pang came back from talking to friends outside to press the right button!)

To all who read, to all who came, to Pang for all his help, to the British Council for lending us their writers, to young Nic for letting himself be bullied into a whole lot of jobs, the biggest possible THANK YOU!!!!

Central Market turned out to be a great location and I am beginning to have lots of ideas about how we can make use of that space for other events of this kind ...


Do go and read Jordan's post too. Ruby Ahmad says she had a great time and has some great pics of everyone ... except me. *sob*. BP doesn't want anyone to sell him a book ... and is the third person I've come across with a story to tell of the gents loo. (At least he only found someone smoking in there, Jordan and Nic had much worse ... or better, depending on which way you look at things.) And if you read Chinese, you can tell me what Fei and Joshua have written!


Jordan said...

We had to duck out a the intermission, but we really enjoyed the readings up to that point. Congrats for presiding over such a cool event. It was very well done. Will definitely be blogging about it later, after work and lots more coffee.

Jordan said...

"Of course that should read at the intermission," said the English teacher, cursing his careless fingers. Maybe I can blame it on the keyboard, he thought. And so he did just that.

lil ms d said...

dear sharon and everyone,

thank you for inviting me. my sister, liza had a lot of fun and made new friends (liza's shy and quiet). we both enjoyed the night very much.

Ted Mahsun said...

I think Roger Robinson stole the show. Have already put "Adventures in 3D" in my Amazon Wishlist.

I look forward to reading Tan Twan Eng's book in March.

It was a really good evening. Too bad I had to leave early. Isagani Cruz and Ke Hua Chen sounds like they were fun.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks jordan - fnigres do get tnggaled up, don't they? it was lovely to see you both

ms d - didn't get to meet liza! so many people to talk to ... anyway thanks and well done

bibliobibuli said...

ted - wasn't roger just lovely? i bought his poetry book and am enjoying snacking on it

animah said...

It was a great evening. Only Bau Bau was disappointing. Roger performed his story brilliantly. Which book was he reading? I want it now! Tan Twan Eng's book sounds intriguing and I wished he'd read further into the story. I want his book now! Kam was hillarious. I want his book now!
I want to see Louise's and Isigani's plays now!
What incredible talent.
Ted, you were there? Where? I didn't see a cute cow.
Congrats Sharon Virgin Island on organising such a wonderful evening.

Janet said...

Thanks for organizing the event, Sharon! Was there and had a great time. Never knew that readings were 'performed' as well as read (naively thought one merely 'read' at a 'reading'). Gives me new insight on how to write as well - if it sounds good aloud, you're probably on the right track! Wanted to meet you but there were too many people. Perhaps next time.

Chet said...

Animah - you were there?

Can we wear name tags next time?

I sat next to Janet who had shared a "foot in mouth" moment with me over the Jenny Sinclair article, and was introduced to her but didn't realise it was THE Janet until the drive home when Sharon said something that made the connection in my feeble brain.

BTW, Janet, if you're reading this - mine was a bigger case of "foot in mouth".

I enjoyed the evening very much and was glad I was there. Ke Hua Chan's reading touched me the most, partly because of its bilingual beauty, but also on a deeper, more personal level, which I might write about when I can face writing it.

bibliobibuli said...

animah - know exactly how you feel about wanting everything now. we could do 'the gift of rain' in our book club when the paperback edition is out later in the year

janet - i missed meeting you???? am so sad. we must meet for coffee one of these days

bibliobibuli said...

chet - i would love to read that post, hope you do write it

never mind the feet in the mouth ... i was being a bit of a bossy school ma'am wasn't i? hard habit to kick.

sympozium said...

Fantastic evening, Sharon. You did a great job! A PJK for you, I say! :-)

Burhan said...

pjk: pendidikan jasmani dan kesihatan? oh, 'pingat jasa kebesaran'!

excellent excellent readings. kam raslan stole the title of the memoir i plan to write when i'm really an old boy. mckk seem to turn up everywhere when i'm at these readings.

btw, glad to solve the mystery of the cunninglinguist's identity.

lil ms d said...

hey we writers should get togetehr and meet. i only see kam et al at readings only!

Janet said...

Hi Chet, I also only realised when I got home last night! It was nice to meet you. Not sure why I didn't make the connection either! Think there were just too many people and too many names. ;)
I'm sure we'll meet again very soon, Sharon! Thanks again for the lovely evening.

Natasya said...

Sharon, in hip-hop speak: You are the bomb! Excellent night. Can't really complain about the cheap 'drinks' sold at the Bau-Bau. Kudos to everyone.

animah said...

Let's get this straight. Half of Sharon's blog readers were there last night, and we all didn't know each other. Yes Chet, we should wear nametags.
Will propose it for the next Virgin Island organised event.
Burhan, I didn't see you. Where were you hiding?
What does Ted look like? And the wicked Sympozium?

Joshua said...

Sharon, congrates for organizing such an interesting and fun event. It really did open up my eyes on how books can be "read", and sometimes writers are good actors too aren't they?

XMOCHA! said...

Sharon, I really enjoyed myself.. more please!

And we can have an early dinner at Precious Old China first.. :-)


Madcap Machinist said...

I did a head count. There were about 70-80 people, some leaving early and some arriving late.

Really enjoyed last night!

Chet said...

And which one were you, Mr Machinist?

I think I'll contribute some labels at the next event for everyone to write their names and paste on the front of their shirts / blouses / dresses.

Anna Akhmatova said...

Bravo and well done,Sharon aka Virgin Island.

That was a brilliant event!All the writers were excellent,Roger(this guy can read, his "pee-in-the-pants" humour was extremely contagious,Kam and his "old Dato" and Dina and her "bomoh" were highly entertaining too!Fabulous evening! I thorougly enjoyed myself!

p.s. The Renaissance music, you like?

dreamer idiot said...

Even from the sidelines, reading and sadly missing all the action, I get a sense of something evolving and developing here. Though the wonderful turnout may be discounted as a one-off-thing, I think there is a 'hidden' and yet to be fully tapped hunger for such literary events and activities. In fact, I would like to think that this 'phenomenon' is not just isolated and restricted to the literary alone, and is instead part of a wider cultural ‘need’, if you will, that is slowly gathering and growing within urban centres like KL. I am thinking here of what I hear about the underground music scene, the growing interest for the performative arts like theatre and dance, as well as the more widely reported independent film scene, and perhaps worth including too, in a more oblique sense, the various forms of ground-level political ‘activism’. Political scientists or historians may want to point here to the stage or age of the country’s post-independence national development, or social democratisation, in lieu of the openness of the globalising economy, but there may just be something in the air that seems to suggest a kind of ‘participatory mood’ (for want of a better term), of people wanting to become actively engaged in joining in or producing such cultural activities.

The time may be almost 'masak' (ripe) for something good in the local literary community, and I think you can be at the avant garde of it. :)

Madcap Machinist said...

Chet, I'm usually an invisible fly on the wall...but I'm sure we'll meet some day. It's only the second time I've been to a Reading but I'm hooked.

Since Sharon is refuting my count, I have to admit that I couldn't see past the wall where I noticed some people milling about. I also counted the number of lights...

I invited a couple of friends along who have never been to a Reading and they were very impressed. They didn't even know the writing scene existed and is so alive here in KL (sorry Ted)... "unlike in the UK where you get flyers given out in clubs (the clubs themselves being the venues)" my friend said to me. I suspect the funky flyer Ruhayat came up with also gave a good first impression.

Admittedly my friends aren't lit-freaks but they think that it's a great alternative to the usual nightlife; nights when a mamak just doesn't cut it, a bar is just too indulgent, and theater too stuffy (and pricey!). All it takes is an invite. "More please!"

bibliobibuli said...

anna - the music is spot on - howd'ya guess i love this kind of thing???? many thanks for your kindness

dreamer idiot - i think you're right about a wider participatory mood here and exciting things happening in other art forms too. (others who drop by here are more qualified to talk about this) and i hope you will

don't think there was anything fluky about the large crowd since the same thing happened when francesca beard was reading with the troubagangers at la bodega - there wasn't room for a single human body ... and that was also mid-week

anyway, soon you will be over here to play a part in all this ... let's get some poetry events going with the others. WE will be at the front of new exciting good stuff on the literary scene ... and that WE will grow like a snowball rolling downhill. like ruhayat x, i long for eventual redundancy. wanna pass the baton on to the young and enthusiastic ...

machinist - yeah i prefer a nice round 100 to your 70-80. we put out 60+ chairs and a whole lot of people were standing ... but you could be right

yes, readings should be a fun night out - that is happening in the UK certainly at venues like cherry jam.

i also like jasmine low's idea of mixing in a little music and other things like artists drawing to the music etc. making it a little more multi-media.

we have a lot of talent here, for sure, much of it very young ... and that gives me a ton of hope.

ruhayat's poster was superb (though i nearly died when i saw his first version done like a horror film bill - okay for the seksan crowd, not so good for a crowd of visiting academics). he did it as a favour so i guess now i owe him one. louise doughty and roger robinson begged copies of it because the "cunninglinguists" line made them laugh so much! (mr. x you are bad. i don't get the joke)

Leon Wing said...

Great evening I had, Sharon. And it was good to see some long-lost faces too, like Chet. I like when the evening had a bonus of a mini-play by Cruz. Great work organising this!

Ruhayat X said...

Hard to believe you haven't come across "cunning linguist" before, Sharon. It's pretty common. It even popped up in a Bond movie.

It's also the name of the first lit mag I made. Photocopied pamphlet, really. Must have been 10 years ago now. Pang's poetry was in each issue. We were in this group called The Young Writers Club (advertising writers, though). Those were the days.

ruby ahmad said...

Hi Sharon,

Thanks for leaving some kind words on my blog. Yes, I certainly enjoyed myself at the 'readings' and thank you for organising such a lovely evening.

I have decided to post the photo I took of you during your welcoming speech but as you can see, I did not handle the camera quite well...*chuckle in shame* But now that we have said hello to each other on the blog, I think it's cute to post the photo even though it's rather blur..*smile*


bibliobibuli said...

i am blur anyway ruby so the pic is probably quite accurate!!!

Joshua said...

Fei and I posted something on THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING TEXT on our reading blog:

Yeah you would have guessed it's written in Chinese :) We do hope that the Chinese-reading readers could share the wonderful experience too.