Sunday, November 25, 2007

Twan Eng and Devika Bai and Little Egg Sandwiches

So yesterday the Saturday literary marathon in Bangsar, and I managed to last the distance. (Just!)

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.


Emphbone said...

omg she's my english teacher back in my high school days..
cikgu devika bai..
she's an author now.. cool.

bibliobibuli said...

she's been an author for a while already. you have to buy her book now!

Elizabeth said...

"My thought her 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?)"

Interesting! And I agree with you -it's obviously harder to write about something that not many have done before. I don't think that we as readers can't *expect* writers themselves to push the limits of convention, but we should definitely encourage it!

Greenbottle said...

speaking about malaysian novels set in the past, there is an interesting post by my favorite blogger grumpy old bookman

friday 23 nov about two books/memoirs by 2 british guys' experience during that period...


- "The Fight for Malaya" chronicles that period, and is subtitled 'The Jungle War of Maurice Cotterill'...

and- Dr Holder's memoir of the same period and place, "Eleven Months in Malaya". This has been warmly welcomed by many old Malaya hands....

Woofie said...

haiz... not again... 2nd time that TTE going south to Singapore and I'm not in town. Happened in Jun, and again now - Dec 2. Darn.. I will only be back on Dec 3. Wondering any more appearance beside the 2 on Dec 2??


animah said...

"you can't tell it like it is".

One of the thrills I have about writing, is exactly because of that. The provocative side of me that likes to cucuk and watch everyone react in horror.

Malaysia is such an amazing sensitive nation - yes it really makes it fun to write. And those of us who read or watch daring writing huddle gleefully and wish we could do the same.

To substantially paraphrase Jo K, more of us should write about the big elephant that dances in our midst but everyone pretends doesn't exist.

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle - many thanks. thought grumpy old bookman had stopped blogging!! may blog this

woofie - damn sad, isn't it? my sympathies. sure you will catch up with him later but haven't heard of any other appearances in singapore this trip

Woofie said...

i guess I have to wait for the next round when he is down south again. too bad for my friends, they will receive non-autographed copies of the book as their xmas presents.. hahaha

if he is still around town on dec 3, i'm game to treat him to chilli crab.. hahaha

Anonymous said...

Thanks for highlighting this Sharon!
Woofie, sorry about missing meeting you.
Tan Twan Eng

Anonymous said...

Now that's more like it, haven't had a proper cucumber sandwich for ages.

Heh animah... and then you can write about the big elephant that doesn't exist but lots of people say it does ? :)

Woofie said...


No worries... the chilli crab dinner offer stands. Let me know the next time you are in town, and you can cash it out.