Sunday, January 31, 2010

So You Think You Can Write?

With shows like American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance? becoming such big cultural phenomena, it only makes sense to adapt their formats to other art forms that could use similar constructive ... criticism.
Sharmilla Ganesan in Starmag today writes about the So You Can Think You Can Write? event organised by The British Council.  Ten stories were chosen, my own among them, and performed by members of Instant Cafe Theatre at the PJ Live Arts Centre.

It was an excellent idea - I found it fascinating to hear how an actress (in this case Joanne Bessey) read my work, and the comments afterward from the panel of judges (author Ardashir Vakil, playwright Ben Payne,   British Council Malaysia education and programmes director Peter Clack, and ZI Publications publisher Ezra Mohd Zaid) were encouraging. So ... the setting needs work but I had "great control" and there was pleasing symmetry. I was happy with that, and know what to work on.

(I did record my story for those of you who asked me to ... but apologise for the poor quality.)

We didn't know which story had been written by whom, and we voted for the one we liked best.  :

Writes Sharmilla :
What was impressive about the stories presented was the sheer diversity of themes and ideas – and yet, they retained a uniquely Malaysian identity.

Some revolved around simple, everyday experiences that told a much deeper story. For example, It’s Alright, Auntie explored, through a child’s eyes, his parents’ hollow marriage, while Martha Falling is filled with vivid imagery centred on a woman dealing with the loss of her unborn child.

Others looked at the greyer areas of life, such as Intermission, which speaks honestly about a woman’s broken marriage and her subsequent attraction to a much younger man. There were others that took on darker, even spooky, undertones, such as A String of Pearls and A Walk in the Dark.

Ezra found this very encouraging. “What’s amazing is how these writers presented such a huge variety of stories and viewpoints. Each reading had something different from the one before!” he said.
Datuk Dr M. Shanmughalingam won for most popular story for his Rani Taxis Away :
... a simple but touching tale of an Indian girl in post-Independence Malaysia who finds her own freedom in small ways.
and will receive a Professional Development Planning Programme mentored by Spread the Word which will help him devise a route forward in creative writing. I'm very pleased for Shan and I hope that this award encourages him to - finally - get a book out.

It was unfortunate that the timing went awry and most of the audience had drifted away before the end, but I hope that we do have more events of this kind.  Many thanks to the British Council and to Instant Cafe for putting this together.


Damyanti said...

The judge's comments were most helpful, and helped me think about where I want to take Martha Falling.

The event could be better-organised, however, because some of the stories went on for far longer than 1500 words.

Also, there could have been a judge's voted category. Just so we would also know which one the experts thought the best (they had all read the stories beforehand),as well as the audience. The audience had a lot to remember, 14 stories read out over the course of an evening (and no print-outs to refer to).

saras said...

The concept of the event was fantastic - thank you, British Council. Like Damyanti, I too wish it had been better organised - judging by the judges, rather than exclusively by the audience, many of whom had already gone home by the time the show ended. And yes, rules are rules and stories over the word limit shouldn't have been included simply because it was a contest.

Having said that, the judges, especially Ardu and Ben were excellent - their comments, were spot-on; the instant cafe readers breathed magic into the stories.

It was potentially a wonderful experience. And Shan - well done and congratulations!

Amir Muhammad said...

I always knew Ezra had it in him to be our Simon Cowell.

Oxymoron said...

I stayed for the first part and this is the impression I got. (Maybe I am wrong.)

Most of the stories were written by women. The people who selected the stories were also women.

Forgive me, but I found it quite boring. :(

bibliobibuli said...

did i say hello to you? would love to meet mr oxymoron!

probably right though i have no idea whose story was whose in many cases. i know that at least 3 of the stories were written by guys though, maybe more.

Amir - Ardu really was the Simon Cowell, i think. for some reason even started to look like him. didn't even stop looking like this in the remaining workshops!

Damyanti and Saras, thanks for adding thoughts that i forgot to add.

Oxymoron said...

Sharon, no we didn't meet but I noticed your bright red blouse. :) I'm quite shy in real life and terrible at small talk. Hehe!