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
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!