The panel discusion. The question before us:
What is the direction of the local industry based on current developments? Is this where we want to head, or should we collectively shift the course of things to come?A whopping big question. Janet Tay (above, far right) chaired the discussion. The rest of us grabbed a bit of the elephant to describe.
Nisah Haron (below, holding the mic) talked about the problem of lack of promotion of especially for Malay writers and the need for an "Oprah Bookclub" on TV. Nafisah Ahamad of the National Library (in blue below) gave some good news about the development of 425 rural libraries, and said that 14,000 titles had been published locally so far this year.
I talked a bit too long and I'm not sure how interested everyone was in my tuppence worth because I wanted to focus more on fiction. (A genre not much talked about at these kind of events.)
I talked about the need to develop and encourage new writing talent while raising critical standards. (Hobby horse lah!)
I also wagged a stern finger school-marmishly at those who put out work which is badly edited and proofread, and told 'em that that their competitors were not the other authors in the room, but also every author from overseas whose books hit the shelves. You have to be as good as: not merely good enough for the local market, I said. And I had to slip in something about the overseas published novelists (and also Kam, published locally) raising the bar too. (Wonder if local authors wanted to hear any of this??)
Datuk Ng Tieh Chuan CEO of MPH (above centre) gave a very interesting speech. We don't have a direction, he said, we are quite lost and writers are too left to fend for themselves.
Nevertheless he said, we are ready for the global market. MPH is planning to set up an export division to make available the work of local writers regionally and globally. He also talked of the need to form a guild for local writers to provide advice and practical support.
Then there was a Q&A. Antares talked about US protectionism; CEan about the high cost of postage on books from Malaysia (there needs to be a books postal rate!); an author called Rozita (?) had more to say about the shops not promoting her book and not reordering when stock ran out. Several more authors made observations or asked questions, but the discussion slipped away from the big picture to the small one: the me-and-my-book. Understandable. The big picture is so big that it would merit a conference to thrash out issues properly.
Datuk Mohd. Zaid Ibrahim, (MP for Kota Bharu) who has just launched his new book In Good Faith said a few words before rushing off to his next appointment, and then Datuk Ng invited Rehman Rashid to say a few words. He told the story of the publication of A Malaysian Journey, and the way it continues to resonate with the Malaysian public.
Then the formal part was over. Authors posed for group photos. Hugs were exchanged, curry puffs were eaten, photos snapped.
Here's one I love, of Nisah and baby. We're friends who have met through blogs and by e-mail but never in the real world before. I also met Choong Kwee Kim, another online friend who materialised in the flesh!
Rehman (the handsome one), Lydia Teh (the little one) and me (the one with the inane grin) with Gerald Chuah (the one who looks like Rocky) in the background.
Thanks MPH for inviting me.