Yang-May revealed some very useful stuff about writing on Saturday. I was scribbling some notes but every time things got really interesting my pen stopped moving. Forgive me, then, for the lapses.
She said that she was in love with English from an early age relishing new words from the dictionary and going around using expressions like "You pucillanimous little freak!".
She became a thriller writer because she likes to read a book that's entertaining, but had to master the very masculine style of the genre in order to write her two novels The Flame Tree and Mindgame.
She was interested in how the description of landscape could be used mirror state of mind and add texture to the novel, as it does in The Flame Tree. Jasmine's story, and how she slowly becomes her own person also parallels the wider story of Malaysia developing as a nation.
She urges local writers to tackle contemporary fiction reflecting the Malaysia of today. She talked about her great hero Thomas Hardy who wrote about Britain at a transition point in its history - when mechanisation began to change the lives of ordinary rural folks. Hardy used things that happened in the news in his novels - including the blood dripping through the ceiling incident in Tess of the D'urbervilles.
She used newspaper reports when she was writing her novels. Reports of landslides in the press here gave her the pivotal scene of The Flame Tree and she used it to mirror the effect of her character's overriding ambition.
When asked how much of herself she puts into her novels, Yang-May said "I am Jasmine, but also all the other characters" and confided that your fiction is a great place to put the dark-side of yourself - and admitting that she enjoyed writing the gangsters!
Talking about how she puts bits of herself into her writing she gives the example of the flame tree itself, which she used as a symbol of enduring love and hope in her first novel. How can someone plant a flame tree, she asks, knowing that they won't see it flower for another 20 years? "What Mrs. Foong says in the novel was exactly what mum said to me."
Yang-May finds blogging different - very immediate and exciting. She reckons that putting some of your writing online and for free is a good move, as good material in the public domain can only enhance your reputation.
She also said much else about getting published and finding an agent, but I'm going to write about that in a separate post and add to it some of the insights Tan Twan Eng gave me when I interviewed him. So you'll have to keep reading!!