Sunday, December 02, 2007

Local Writers Sometimes Do Suck! Sorry Jamil!

A response by Md Jamil Abdullah to the interview with MPH editor Eric Forbes last week in Starmag. The letter misses the point so badly that one wonders why it was published in the first place. Indeed, one wonders if Encik Jamil had actually read the interview!
MPH Group Publishing should encourage local writers rather than make such sweeping statements which will mislead readers into thinking that local writers suck.
Well, dear, they try to. But it's hard to find something worth investing the money in among all the substandard stuff. Some local writers succeed brilliantly, both here and overseas, and Eric (who by the way has read all those books Jamil listed, and a great deal more!) did give praise where praise is due. Others (and I know because I also see many manuscripts) certainly do suck, sometimes spectacularly.

And the worst part of it is they don't listen when people like Eric try to give them advice that might make all the difference to getting published.

This is the very lack of understanding that keeps those wannabes in the slush pile. I wonder if Encik Jamil is there himself? He exhibits all the humpfy attitude so typical of the long-term frustatti.


janet said...

Haha, well said Sharon. It's always very disheartening to see/read/hear of Malaysian writers who make pathetic excuses for themselves when they fail to write something decent enough to be published or even write at all! I was also very surprised that the letter was published. But you know what, at the end of the day, I think it's a good thing if people like Jamil DON'T send in their manuscripts because he thinks "[the] publishing world is already in trouble as no writer would dare to submit their manuscripts to [Eric]" because writing is about having courage to do it in the first place and the strength to put up with lots of rejections before succeeding, if at all. People who don't "dare" to submit manuscripts, shouldn't.

Anonymous said...

I am truly inspired by the way Janet describes writing as having "the courage to do it in the first place and the strength to put up with lots of rejections before succeeding, if at all. People who don't 'dare' to submit manuscripts, shouldn't." Writing is indeed about passion!

Joe Public said...

a lot of local PUBLISHED writers suck too. a rather famous friend and i had a conversation about local published writers and came to the conclusion that 90% of them can't write.

i have just read an online piece by this published local author, a piece that was all grammatical and proper, but is pointless, a personal wank, and an ego stroke, nothing more. pathetic. i shall not name the author. better to let some sweat it out wondering if it's them.

i think it's time local writers, both published and in the slush pile, realise that writing isn't just about getting the right punctuation in the right places. it has to say something, mean something.

where are we heading, when even some of our published writers write garbage?

Anonymous said...

Nice comment on the letter, Sharon.

Some Malaysians seem to think you can't criticize *anything* coming out of Malaysia (writers, politicians, spacemen, food, orang utans) because you know, that means you're being too harsh and judgmental and unpatriotic and you should just go and live in another country, then, how dare you call yourself a Malaysian, bla bla bla, etc.

It gets tiresome, really.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous number 2 -- I agree, but I also think this is true of unthinking patriots everywhere. In other words, you could substitute "Some Americans" or "Some Indians" for "Some Malaysians" in your comment above, and it would still be true. And people are particularly prickly about criticism when it comes to something like writing, which is so personal and so subjective that it's possible for thoroughly mediocre writers to believe they're geniuses. Often they associate only with other mediocre writers, and they all pat each other's backs and tell each other they're geniuses, and nothing ever happens to challenge that belief. I'm sorry, that probably sounds quite mean, but that's how it goes.

Honestly, I think Eric's advice to read, read, read -- and by all means read widely, but make sure to include the classics, the Nobel Prize winners, the Booker winners -- is spot-on. Nothing else will teach you to recognise clichés and melodrama (how are you supposed to recognise something as a cliché if it's the first time you're seeing it?!?), and nothing else will teach you to appreciate language for its own sake.

-- Preeta

John Ling said...

Excellent points, all around.

Having visited Eric's blog, I get the sense that he receives heaps of manuscripts with bad formatting, terrible grammar, and no sense of structure. It may be safe to say that up to 90% of manuscripts are like this. Perhaps even 99%.

It can be terribly insulting; so many people treating Eric like a lottery ticket.

John Ling said...

joe public,

I do agree with you.

Unfortunately, publishing is a business, and its goal is to turn a profit. So editors often seek to appeal to the widest possible audience.

If Malaysians want to read self-help manuals and ditzy memoirs, such material will continue to be published. And published. And published.

I have seen so-called 'authors' being interviewed on Malaysian television programmes, and holding lavish book launches with invited VIPs. And all they write is insubstantial fluff.

I'm as unhappy with this situation as you are, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

In writing, money is incidental. Money is not THE reason great writers write. Most successful writers write for reasons other than money. It is important that potential writers understand this and write with this in mind.

bibliobibuli said...

anon - john was talking about the goal of publishing, not the reason writers write!

publishing has to turn a profit ... unless the publisher sees their venture as a kind of charity (and there are publishers here who are prepared to take a risk on new voices simply because they believe it needs to be done)

Anonymous said...

How do you define a ‘Malaysian’ novel? We must be mindful of the fact that ‘Malaysian’ novels like Preeta Samarasan’s Evening Is the Whole Day (2008), Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of Rain (2007), Tash Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory (2005), Vyvyane Loh’s Breaking the Tongue (2004), Rani Manicka’s The Rice Mother (2002) and Touching Earth (2004), Yang-May Ooi’s The Flame Tree (1998) and Mindgame (2000), and Beth Yahp’s The Crocodile Fury (1992), were all published in the U.K. or the U.S. (or in both countries), and are therefore, technically speaking, not considered ‘Malaysian’ books, though subject-wise they are. Isn’t a ‘Malaysian’ book one written by a ‘Malaysian’ (or non-Malaysian) writer and published by a publisher based in Malaysia, such as the novels written by Khoo Keng-Hor? By the way, winning the IMPAC Dublin Literary Prize is a big deal; however, being ‘nominated’ for the IMPAC Prize is no big deal. Any book can get nominated for the IMPAC. Getting shortlisted for the IMPAC is a big deal. Your novel will of course have to be made of sterner stuff to be considered for shortlisting. The National Library of Malaysia tends to nominate the only ‘Malaysian’ novel published in a given year because there are not many Malaysian novels published in English to choose from.

bibliobibuli said...

why use such a horribly narrow definition? it certainly isn't mine.

is beth yahp or tash or twan or preeta for eg any less malaysian for having been published overseas? absolutely not.

("are ... not considered"? by which great omnipotent power that i should bow to? a decree in parliament? the joint consensus of the entire academic community in the country? the viewpoint of all malaysian readers whom you have carefully polled? please don't hide behind that passive verb and claim and authority that simply doesn't exist!)

is there any point in arguing this anyway because honestly ... does it really matter?

within this country there just hasn't been the machinery or scale of readership to make publishing really viable. i sense that things are beginning (just) to change now.

agree with you about the IMPAC though. actually the library is supposed to choose the best novel of the year (by anyone), full stop.

Anonymous said...

"is there any point in arguing this anyway because honestly ... does it really matter?"

In the long run, we are all dead, so does ANYTHING matter ? :)

Probably not. But what else does a writer do for entertainment anyway ? :)

Bile said...

Sorry but this may be a bit off tangent - but I heard that the National Library has been assigned to buy a few hundreds or thousands of books from local authors.

Anyone know anything about it? How does the author/book get chosen in the first place?

bibliobibuli said...

authors need an isbn number from nat library and deposits 3 copies of the book with the library so i guess from there they make their selection

or just contact them and ask!