Remember how we talked about authors going back on earlier work to turn it into something much better? Well, our Robert is one such, and this is the third incarnation of the book. (In the picture, he's holding all three versions. The latest is published by MPH, and the previous edition by Silverfish.) His reason for rewriting is that when he started off, he was satisfied with writing for a local audience, but now want to take them to a higher standard and aim for an international readership.*
Robert is always very generous in sharing what he knows about writing, and in this session, he talked about how :
Ideas come from every place.His short story Neighbours, now included on the SPM syllabus was based on a real-life incident. His neighbour had attempted suicide, and Robert drove him to hospital. (I don't think the guy made it.) When Robert got back, he found the neighbours gathered outside his neighbour's gate gossiping about him. Out came the note book, and the idea for the story was born. Another story came out of the strong sense of deja vu he felt when he visited KL's Station Hotel.
Then he talked about how important it is he finds the beginning of his stories and chooses the right point of view to tell the story from :
Each point of view is a different story entirely.he says, and adds that if a story is going to go wrong (as it does for many of the students he teaches) it usually goes wrong on the first page.
In his stories he often finds himself inside the skin of a Malaysian character and in fact he says he once felt very flattered when a judge in a competition organised by the New Straits Times disqualified his entry believing it plagiarised, because how could a Mat Salleh write so convincingly about a Malay character?
Robert also talked about the importance of maintaining momentum :
Even if it's crap writing, stick with it. As parents we know that crap can be cleaned up. It's part of the editing process. When you've cleaned up that crap you find there's a cute little butt in there!He reckons too that some of the stories that give you the biggest grief can be your best stories.
He urged his audience to take writing off the backburner of life and said write for yourself first before you do other things in the day (like answering email or checking your blog!).
Robert's hard work and commitment is clearly paying off, his novel The Lonely Affair of Jonathan Brady won 4th place in the 2008 National Writers Association Novel Contest (USA), there is going to be a play based on Lovers and Strangers, and he has a book about 20 years living in Malaysia coming out soon.
Those of you in Penang who would like to catch Robert can find him at Little Penang Street Market on August 31st, selling books on one of the stalls and giving a reading at 11am.
*Aiyoh! This got misinterpreted (thanks to my own clumsy writing) in the comments and Robert steps in to clarify how and why he rewrote his work.