It was a huge turnout for Readings@Seksan yesterday despite the other exciting things going on in town (KLue's Urbanscapes, and the poetry slam later the same evening at KLPAC) and despite serious traffic disruptions caused by the trimming of trees in the area.
As you can see - our readers shared quite a number of literary awards between them!
Sri Lankan author Elmo Jayawardena started us off reading a (very) short extract from Sam's Story - his Graetian Prize winning novel told from the viewpoint of a mentally-retarded young man who came to work in Elmo's household. He had to hurry away after the reading to get back to the airport where he is training pilots on the flight simulator!
Most of us know Lydia Teh as a non-fiction writer, and indeed she recently won the Star-Popular award in that category for her hilarious take on Malaysian life Honk If You're Malaysian. But today she read a short story she had written, a very beautiful and magical tale called Moon Scars which was originally published in Yellow Post.
Award-winning journalist Jacqueline Ann Surin read from her new collection of her columns Shape of a Pocket, one of several opinion pieces that had been "spiked" i.e rejected by her editor for being too controversial.
The piece opens with a personal story about how she has to argue to get the words "No religion" on her MyKad, in a country where all citizens are expected to be neatly pigeonholed by religious belief and race. She then goes on to talk about the difficulties faced by Muslim Malaysians in changing their religion if they so wish, taking in, along the way, of course, the famous Lina Joy case.
The second half of the afternoon was nicely bracketed with some traditional music with attitude from the lads of Dewangga Sakti. Was it only me who wanted to get up and joget?
I really would like musical interludes like this to become a regular feature, so if you are a (good!) musician and would like to play for us, unplugged, get in touch with me.
I was so glad that Shahriza Hussein felt well enough to come along. I've just started reading his historical novel Legacy and am greatly impressed with its ability to transport me back to (19th Perak. The research is impeccable and the writing very good indeed. (Will let you know more about it when I'm further along.) Shahriza did correct me with a twinkle in his eye when I said (based on the press coverage so far) that this was a novel partly based on his own family history. It is entirely fiction, he declares. Which is fine because we really only need to enjoy the book!
(I still have some copies for sale for just RM30 - let me know if you want one.)
Koo Yew Lie did the reading for Shahriza as he had a bad cough. She read an extract from the beginning where British Resident J.W.W. Birch and his party are taking a break (complete with china teapot!) on a journey up the Perak River in a small flotilla of three boats. The next day they will be in the territory of a certain Datuk Maharaja Lela ... (Malaysian readers know what comes next!)
Two little asides here :
1) Yew Lie was a friend I made when she came over to the U.K. college (Marjons) where I was teaching, and until yesterday we hadn't seen each other for 18 years. She's now an associate professor at UKM.
2) It's interesting, isn't it that both Shahriza's book and Chew-Siah Tei's Little Hut of Leaping Fishes open at virtually the same point of time (Autumn, 1875)?
I was extremely grateful to Clarissa Tan for making this long journey up by bus especially for this event. She is an amazing young writer and a couple of my friends afterwards confessed that they had felt themselves tearing up as she read her piece, The Visit, that won the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize : the absolute honesty of the piece touched hearts.
Clarissa says that she is now at work on her first novel and I am really look forward to seeing that.
Star-Popular Award runner-up in the fiction category for Confessions of An Old Boy: The Dato Hamid Adventures, Kam Raslan has been continuing the stories each month on the pages of Off the Edge. He had us all laughing again at Hamid's musings on the Tin Mine disco (which was at the KL Hilton and the place to hang out in the '80's).
Kam is soon off to the Byron Bay Writer's Festival, sponsored partly by the Australian High Commission. (Bless 'em.) The world needs to meet Dato Hamid.
It was a great afternoon. I really thank all who came and cheered on writers, all who read their work, all who played wonderful music, all who helped set up and clear up. I particularly thank Seksan for use of his lovely space, and Shahril Nizam for designing our blog poster.
Our next Readings@Seksan will be July 26th, and the line up (I hope!) will include Fahmi Fadzil and Azmyl Yunor performing their famous Wayang Buku.