The first event was of course MPH's Breakfast Club bash at the Bangsar Village 2 branch. There was a very good turn out to meet authors Tan Twan Eng and D. Devika Bai.
A somewhat shy Twan Eng invited questions from the audience about The Gift of Rain, and got some thoughtful ones thrown in his direction.
One perennial question* came up: why are so many Malaysian novels set in the past, and set during the war rather than in present day Malaysia?
Twan answered that wartime is a period of great upheaval and gives the author plenty of conflict to write about. He also wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible - the Japanese occupation of Malaya being of course of great interest to an overseas audience as well.
Someone asked if he plotted the novel step-by-step and he answered that he knew where it began and ended but the journey between those points was uncharted.
D. Devika Bai was a school administrator in Rawang when she first started writing. she began with articles and then began her family saga The Flight of Swans which took her eight years to write. She says she tried to find a Malaysian publisher but was unable to.
She then sent the novel out to publishers overseas, side-stepping the conventional route of going via an agent. Whilst most publishers do not accept unsolicited manuscripts, she was pleasantly surprised to receive helpful feedback from David Davidar at Penguin Books Canada.
The novel was finally published by Monsoon Books in Singapore.
A chapter of the book was published in one chapter was published in Dimsun (later relaunced as the Asian Literary Review) edited by Nury Vittachi. The novel was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers Prize.
She is currently working on a novel called Like the Lion Be (I heard it first as Like the Lion Bee and wondered what kind of creature that was!) which is about slavery in SE Asia and told through the eyes of an Indian "gypsy" girl.
One point she made which I feel needs to be kicked around a bit (but wasn't at the time):
You can't tell it like it is in Malaysia.My thought here is: you can't, or you won't because you are afraid to? And how will any novelist know what those limits are if no-one is prepared to challenge them? (But can we in fairness expect authors to stick their necks out when the renumeration for writing a novel is so scant?)
We broke for sandwiches and snacks and lots of lots of chat and photos and friendship. I do enjoy these mornings!
*Note: You may remember that this issue came up so often on my and other blogs (it really seems to be an issue that that gnaws at the Malaysian reading public!) that Twan actually wrote a post about it for this blog some time back.