It's nice to have a prince as a pal who comes round to tea (!), and Halim is the youngest son of Tunku Abdullah of the Negri Sembilan royal family. He told me that it is his grandfather's portrait (did I get that right?) on the front of all the ringgit notes. He now lives with his wife and children in Tasmania, but we've been lucky enough to see him back in KL a couple of times this year. He's yet another Malaysian lawyer turned author, writes full-time now, but also deals in real estate.
What Halim says this about the needs of our local writing community really strikes a chord with me:
I talked in a blog entry way back about how I would love to see a writers' centre set up here, half wistful thinking, half manifesto. A while back, my friend Jean sent me a poster showing all the activities for writers in Perth ... courses, workshops, meet-ups, talks ... and I felt sick with jealousy! We so badly need this here.
"There is a vibrant writing culture where I live. ... There is a writing centre that organises talks for budding writers on how to write and to get published. There is a lot of sharing and encouragement. The community spirit is strong, which is important as writing can be a lonely activity, and yet the fruits of writing depend on others’ notice to thrive."
He feels that Malaysian writers could benefit from a stronger writing community to support them. He suggests the formation of a “writers society”. “Through such a society, ideas and skills can be exchanged. It will be supportive of local writers and their writings. The society can, once established, also offer writing courses to members.”
Halim feels that a variety of writing courses should be offered. “Not just a standard creative writing course. How about offering courses for the short story, the novel, non-fiction, poetry, popular fiction, plays?”
He laments the fact that in Malaysia, budding writers don’t really have much to aspire to. “Their work gets scant publicity,” he says. “Unlike fine art and theatre, local writers and their books seem to be hidden in the background. When was the last time a local writer gave a talk at a school near you?”
Halim remembers entering a writing competition organised by the New Straits Times and Shell. “I didn’t win but it was exactly the spur I needed to get writing. Young writers need incentives like that.” (The competition ran for several years but is now defunct.)
As for already published authors, Halim suggests a “best book of the year award, from a recognised body, even if it’s only at a municipal level, for example, the local library.”
He also believes in mentorship. “It would be good for experienced writers to work with those who are just starting out,” he says, adding that local publishers may be able to act as “networking vehicles for all writers”, putting published and experienced writers in touch with those who are still aspiring to the craft.
He is willing to help other authors in any way he can and has set up a blog, Write lah! expressly to share writing and publishing tips with younger, less experienced writers – specifically Malaysian writers, as the blog’s subtitle is “Writing for Malaysians”.
One can never predict which way the discussion in the comments should go, but I think those in the book trade (publishers, booksellers and distributors) should take a look at the conversation that resulted from this post. Your feedback to the comments very much welcomed, because there are some serious issues to address! (And c'mon lah, I KNOW you read me!)