Wednesday, November 30, 2005

How Squidgy is Your Bookshop?

Are our bookshops squidgy enough? Yes, squidgy. You heard me right.

Retail analayst Paul Smiddy is a London booklover who writes an occasional column for The Bookseller. He dispenses advice about how book shops can increase their profitability by enhancing the pleasurability of book buying and, at the same time, build customer loyalty.

And he wanders around British bookshops to see how they measure up, evaluating them according to his own squidgy rating to assess the ambience of the store. A bookshop should be somewhere where you want to linger and browse - otherwise why not just do your one-click stuff on Amazon?

He also mentions customer loyalty scemes which UK bookstores tend to be bad at ("...rarer than Ian Fleming first editions") unlike, I must say, Malaysian book retailers. (My purse won't close because of all the cards!)

A factor that seems to come into the equation in the Malaysian context is the wrapping of books in plastic. Wrap 'em and keep them clean at the expense of tempting readers to browse them, or have them unwrapped and be prepared to write off a certain proportion of your stock. That's the dilemma. Yes, you can go to the customer service desk to get them unwrapped, but how many of us bother? (Random Thoughts blogged about this the other day.)

I'm proposing a bibiobibuli award for Malaysia's squidgiest bookshop (based purely on ambience - not on the range of books they carry) and nominations are now open.

Sadly, Smiddy doesn't provide us with a copy of his rating scale. (If you google your name Mr. Smiddy and find yourself here by accident, please could you send us a copy?)

Here's my list of factors to take into account:
seating for browsers
general look of the place
temperature, light, smell, noise level
browsability of books
availability of coffee
attitude of security staff
Have I missed anything?

Okay, your nominations please ...

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What the Best-Dressed Visitor is Wearing This Season

Great style will always be imitated. (Warning: not for the squeamish or those who have a pre-exisiting heart condition.)

Anyone else want to snap themselves in similar pose? We could make our own calendar.

Hurray for Bad Sex!

Nominations are now in for Britain's "most dreaded literary prize" with contenders including John Updike, Salman Rushdie, Gabriel Garcia marquez and Paul Theroux. Michelle Pauli writing in today's Guardian puts her money on Theroux:
Theroux's offering, from Blinding Light, is arguably the most deserving of the prize, with its description of a character's orgasm as'...not juice at all but a demon eel thrashing in his loins and swimming swiftly up his cock, one whole creature of live slime fighting the stiffness as it rose and bulged at the tip and darted into her mouth.'
Enough to put you off - both sex and literature - for a while.

Mistaken Identity

Kumar sent me this story which he'd picked up from crime writer John Connolly's website.

I just have to put myself in the shoes of the poor interviewer!
The interview began reasonably well. I was promoting my third book, The Killing Kind, in the Far East and the journalist conducting the interview seemed unusually excited at the prospect of speaking to me. (Actually, any degree of excitement at meeting me is pretty unusual. Even vague disinterest sets my pulse racing a little.)

Niceties exchanged, she began asking her questions, and the interview immediately took a turn down a conversational dark alley.

Journalist: 'You've lived a very interesting life.'

Me (wondering just how boring someone's life would have to be to find mine even remotely interesting): 'Well, I'm not sure about that . . .

Journalist: 'You're being too modest.'

Me (with 99 per cent certainty): 'Er, no I don't think so.'

Journalist: 'I mean, you've saved lives. People would be dead if it wasn't for you.'

Me (wondering if, when I'm napping, I somehow sleepwalk and rescue women from burning buildings, like a kind of somnambulist Superman): 'Look, I - '

Journalist: 'And now Martin Scorsese is making a film of your life.'

Me (briefly entering a fantasy world in which Martin Scorsese does make a film of my life, and it's even duller than his Tibetan movie 'Kundun'): 'I'm not sure that he is, and - '

Journalist: 'Tell me, you must miss driving an ambulance in New York.'

Me (as the light dawns): 'Um, I think you're confusing me with Joe Connelly, the guy who wrote Bringing Out the Dead. I've never even been in an ambulance.'

Journalist (unable to conceal her disappointment): 'Oh. So what do you write...?' "

Monday, November 28, 2005

Author Pate

Margaret Atwood once said something along the lines of - "Wanting to meet an author because you like his book is like wanting to meet a duck because you like pate." Strange analogy!

Thanks Reezal for the photo.

B-Reef Reading

There's a special magic about hearing an author read his own words and it was a real treat to listen to Romesh Gunasekera read from Reef both at Silverfish and at the British Council reception Friday night.

It's a book of "memory and imagination ... how you work out who you are and why you're there ..." (Romesh's words) and the characters have taken up residence in my head.

The story is a long flashback, narrated by a Sri Lankan restauranteur living in London after a late night encounter with a compatriot at a petrol station. Triton recalls his life as a houseboy in the employ of Mr. Salgado, an aristocratic dilettante, and how he gradually takes over the running of the household. Triton observes and puzzles over Salgado's relationship with the unconventional Nili, and does his best to lubricate the friendship with wonderous offerings of food (the love cake with extra eggs and freshest butter, the beautiful parrot fish, and of course the Christmas turkey).

It's a novel of great charm and beauty.

Another book of Romesh's that I've greatly enjoyed is Monkfish Moon, his collection of short fiction set between Britain and Sri Lanka. My favourite story is Batik, about a Sri Lankan couple living in London in an apartment they have carefully and lovingly renovated together. But now the news of atrocities committed at home threatens to tear their relationship apart. As in Reef, there's a sense of safety lost, a paradise despoiled.

Truth is held in the smallest of details - the gory dissection of the chicken for dinner, the bruise coloured door, the shards of a shattered cup.

A tiny gem but totally satisfying.


Leon wrote about the Friday night reception at British Council director's place. Since we don't have photos, we have blog memories, Leon.

Making an IMPAC

Haven't mentioned the IMPAC Dublin Award nominees at all yet, so here they are.

As you can see, it's an extremely long longlist (132 books!!), and many of the titles were nominated for, or have won other awards already. The books are nominated by librarians throughout the world, so there's a pleasing international flavour to the list, and 31 of the books are works in translation.

The Literary Saloon imples that many librarians seem not to be familiar with anything other than their local literature and notes that some libraries are clearly basing their choices on patriotic fervour rather than on literary merit. It suggests an amendment to the rules so that countries are not allowed to nominate their own authors.

Our own Rani Manicka is on the longlist for Touching Earth. Let's see if you can guess which library nominated it. Check your answer here.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Books of the Year

Another post for those who love book lists and recommendations (as I do!).

Literary luminaries who've written for the Guardian over the past year were invited to write about their favourite books of the year. The article is nicely timed to coincide with the annual orgy of christmas shopping!

(Oh dear, wave after wave of book greed comes upon me ...)

The paper also invites readers to e-mail in a short piece about what they've enjoyed most over the last twelve months. But since I'm sure you won't do that, why not just leave a note here? Meanwhile, I'll start thinking about how I'd answer this question myself in a year when I've read just so much good stuff.

Meanwhile here's Eric's list. (And it was great to meet my fellow litblogger for the first time the other day. This man is formidably well-read.)


Goodness - looks like everyone is issuing their best books lists this weekend! In the Sunday Times, Peter Kemp lists his favourites of 2005 and concludes that it's been a very good year for fiction. And the New York Times has announced its 100 notable books of the year.

Have Pen - Will Subvert

My article in Starmag today:
Romesh Gunasekera doesn’t believe in pigeon-holing, nor does he write to an agenda.

IDENTITY is never a one dimensional thing,” says author Romesh Gunasekera, neatly sidestepping my question about whether he sees himself as a British or a Sri Lankan writer. His novels and short stories are set in both places and he clearly relishes the ability to move between worlds without being pigeonholed himself.

(British Council Malaysia brought the writer to Malaysia recently; he gave a reading from a selection of his works at the Silverfish bookshop in Kuala Lumpur.)

His second novel, Reef, a lyrical story about memory and imagination, put Gunasekera firmly on the international literary map. The novel was nominated for the 1994 Booker prize, and while he says it was wonderful that it was shortlisted, he claims that it was “kind of ideal not to have won because the one or two first time writers who did win with the first book tended not to have written after that.”

At fewer than 200 pages, Reef is an unusually short novel in an age where fiction writers seem obliged to turn out complex and lengthy tomes. Says Gunasekera with characteristic humility, “I didn’t think I had the right to demand someone read a long novel by a writer they didn’t know.”

It is impossible of course to write about Sri Lanka without reference to the atrocities that have been part of its recent troubled history. I ask him whether he felt he had a duty as a writer to make sense of the violence.

“I’m not writing to an agenda, but writing stories that interest me,” he says. “But I also have to write to understand the world I live in and the fact that the world is getting more violent.”

In his earlier works, that violence tends to occur outside of the frame of the story, but its effect and reverberations are felt by the characters in the foreground. It’s his third novel, Heaven’s Edge, set in a dystopian fictional country, which deals with the subject more directly. It “explores the whole idea of violence, how it comes into our lives and how man has to come to terms with it”.

Gunasekera says ideas for the next novel are germinating even as he writes the current one. “I already know the books I intend to write if I live long enough,” he says. But he finds it hard to talk about the process that he goes through when writing fiction because it’s been different for each book.

“One thing I’ve learned is I don’t know how to do it. I do know roughly how long it’ll take me, which is longer than I think. I have a rough idea of how much of my life will go into it. Otherwise, when you start any book you are always a novice.

“If you write the kind of books I tend to write, which don’t conform to a genre, you start with nothing and you have to invent the way to do it each time. People always talk about giving birth to novels, and I think that there is a similarity. Afterwards you tend to forget what’s involved, how difficult, frustrating and painful it is.”

It’s vitally important for him that the book feels alive to his readers and totally engages them. The key to making this happen is a great deal of revision.

“Unless you are making a Jackson Pollock (the American abstract artist famous for his ‘drip and splash style’), which is fine in terms of self-expression, creating different worlds does involve rewriting. I’d happily continue rewriting for many more years except that some time it must come to an end.”

Gunasekera’s first book, Monkfish Moon, established his credentials as a writer of short fiction at a time when it was relatively rare for writers to bring out a collection as a first book, and although he says that he would love to bring out another, it not be commercially viable.

Indeed, the short story has been declared so seriously endangered in Britain that a campaign to save it from extinction has been instigated. But Gunasekera sees the tide beginning to turn with the awarding of an annual short story prize, and with the growth of e-zines (online magazines) and the increasing popularity of the short-short story. He firmly believes the short story is still the best form for the novice writer to tackle.

I tell him that I read that he’d once warned that fiction can be dangerous because it “opens up things that probably shouldn’t be opened up” and ask him what he meant by that. It’s a theme he warms to.

“Literature should be subversive. When you read a book, you become the story. You can imagine it exactly how you like and no one can tell you you’re right or wrong. External authority has no place – and this is why in a repressive regime fiction is banned and fiction writers are persecuted.”

And that is probably the most powerful argument for our need to read good books!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Graphic Gets Respectable!

This post is for Amir who dropped by the other day to leave a long list of must-read graphic fiction. (Am for sure learning lots from my blog readers!) As a literary form it had slipped beneath my radar, although I grew up on a diet of superhero and science fiction comics.

Alice O'Keeffe reports in the Observer that two of Britain's best known graphic novelists - Posy Simmonds (more of her work here) and Raymond Briggs have just been made fellows of the Royal Society of Literature. I've enjoyed the work of both "cartoonists" for years, and am so glad that they are being recognised.

Briggs says:
On the Continent, graphic novels have been as accepted as films or books for many years, but England has had a snobby attitude towards them. They've always been seen as something just for children ... When my Father Christmas was published in 1973, many people didn't consider a strip cartoon to be a real book at all. ... Cartoonists share some of the blame for the fact that their art has not been taken seriously. Too much of it has been superheroes socking people and semi-obscene stuff. But lately there has been much more work with a dignified, serious subject-matter. And as a genre it's increasingly commercially viable.


An article from Newsweek on the same theme.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Household Hint No. 374

If your electricity
Is cut off
The glow from six fireflies
Provides enough light
To read a book.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Romesh Reads

Book lovers and scribbler-wanna-be's - don't forget that Romesh Gunasekera will be reading tonight at Silverfish 7-8pm. And if you haven't discoverd his books yet - maybe the nice Mr. Raman will have a copy or two left.

I interviewed Romesh yesterday for a feature which should appear this Sunday in Starmag. So today is mad writing day to get my notes in some kind of order.

See you tonight?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Book Bargains

Don't tell me you can resist this one!!

Payless Books warehouse sale
Date: 25-27 nov
Time: 10am - 7pm
Location: 3K Sports Center & Inn, Subang Jaya, Jalan SS 13/1,
Persiaran Kewajipan, 47500 Subang Jaya

Promo lines: Stock clearance! All stock must go! As low as RM1

The Transgender Reading List

Talking about sex-change operations (le topic de jour at the moment, innit?) thought I should chuck a little fiction into the debate. After all, what have we to lose but a little of our time? What have we to gain but compassion and understanding?

I picked up this list, written by Timothy Hulsey, on Amazon and think it is as good a place to start as any.
The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank Baum

As far as I know, this 1904 children's novel is the first in American literature to feature a transgendered protagonist. (And yes, she does undergo an "operation" of sorts near the end.)

Last Letters from Hav by Jan Morris

Transgendered travel writer Jan Morris writes about an imaginary destination where her status as woman (or "Dirleddy") is never questioned. Her memoir Conundrum is deservedly famous.

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

Personally, I don't think very highly of Stone Butch Blues. But every time I let a transgendered friend borrow the novel from me, I have to buy another copy. (Funny how that works.)

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

Not nearly as good as Diane Middlebrook's biography Suits Me which covers the true events on which the novel was based.

Myra Breckinridge/Myron by Gore Vidal

Vidal is overrated as a "serious" novelist, but his comic novels can be quite good. Both Myra and Myron, though unrealistic, feature a very prominent transgendered character.

Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

More an exploration of shifting sexuality than a "how-to" book, Virginia Woolf's Orlando is still a great transgender novel.
The only one of the above I've already read is Orlando, so I have some catching up to do. (Think I'll start with the Jackie Kay. But then hey, I love Jan Morris' travel books and didn't know she'd written fiction ...)

The novel that I would add to the list would be Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex - a girl who discovers at puberty that she is in fact a hermaphrodite, and has a tough decision about to make about which gender to choose. Really superb writing as well as an excellent story.

I know only one transexual - an American internet friend whose story has greatly moved me. His decision to become a woman was a serious and long considered one. (I quickly realised that this is not something that anyone does without the deepest conviction.) John detailed every stage of his journey to become a Jennifer, and for sure there's a book in there if she can be persuaded to write it.

Because really wouldn't all of us like to slip behind the scenes and know how it feels to belong to the other sex? Ah well, at least fiction allows us that privilege vicariously!

Reading Map

If you're feeling a bit bored reading the same old authors and wonder what else is out there, try out the Literature Map. I've been playing with it for hours! Yes, it could do with a little tweaking (some author's name appear twice for example, and some more recent writers haven't been included yet) but I've got some pretty useful suggestions from it.

Also useful on the same site is Gnod: type in the names of your three favourite authors and the search engine will suggest another author you will enjoy. I typed in Atwood, Proulx and Rohinton Mistry, and received the suggestion Vikram Seth, which I thought was pretty good.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Tale of the Vanishing Ciggy

And talking of picture books! Spot the difference between these two photos of children's book illustrator Clement Hurd.

Yes, I'm sorry that my title gave the game away. The picture that will appear on the cover of the new edition of Margaret Wise Brown's classic Goodnight Moon has been digitally altered to keep pace with changing times, reports the New York Times.

Just wondered if you think this is taking political correctness a little too far?


Apparently Satre has suffered the same fate ...

Time for a Tiger (in a Lifeboat)?

Yann Martel is looking for an illustrator for a new edition of Life of Pi to be published by Canongate Books next year. And hey, it could be YOU!

Do you find illustrations an enhancement or a distraction? I love them and think it's a shame that so few books for "grown-ups" are illustrated. Maybe that's why I appreciate Mervyn Peake and Edward Carey so much?

Times cartoonist Peter Brookes ponders the relationship between illustrations and text.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Money Where the Mouth Is

In the Star today, news that the government is to launch a huge campaign to encourage reading among the young. Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Datuk Seri Rais Yatim announced that RM25mil has been allocated to start a campaign. Details will be announced next month, and all state and local governments, universities and schools will be involved. This is very good news, but let's just see how the money is to be spent before we applaud too loudly.

The article also outlines efforts being made by bookstores and the PJ Community library, and there's a very nice picture of my friend Renee Koh, marketing manager of MPH.

On the same page there's an article on the art of storytelling, featuring tale spinners Judy Shaik and Keats Markandu.

In the Starmag section, Daphne Lee has some excellent ideas for ways that parents can organise a reading week for their kids. Not only will parents be turning their kids into happy little book addicts, but it's all relationship enhancing stuff too, isn't it? The idea I like best, a reading-week party with costumes and suitable food.

Rain and Readings

If you're canny you can sample both events - leave Silverfish by 3.30 to catch the readings a short walk away at Seksen's place ...
Well the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft aglee, as someone once said, and I'd reckoned without the huge thunderstorm that left me stranded at Silverfish for longer than I'd intended.

It was good to see Robert Raymer again. Although we've exchanged emails on creative writing and the joys of editing I hadn't seen him since the Litfest when we took part in a panel discussion about what editors look for in a short story.

Robert has been busy revising his collection of short stories which should be republished next year and will be taught as a set text at USM. I've also discovered (and see how modest he is - he didn't tell me this yesterday!) that Robert is a semi-finalist in the William Faulkener Creative Writing Competition 2005 for his novel-in-progress.

But I digress. There was just a small group of Raman's invitees sitting politely in a circle in Raman's back room. Robert read his story Waiting for My Father to Crash from Silverfish New Writing 5. The story is apparently very largely autobiograhical and I'd read an earlier version but this worked much better.

Christopher Yin read his story The Geology of Malaysia from SNW5. Love the way that he weaves in the metaphor of geology around a personal and family history. I do hope Chris keeps writing, even though he says that this story was a one off prompted by his desire to set the record straight about Spider Man and the Green Goblin after watching the film version.

Raman had his lady footballers, Demilia (Dina's cousin and bursting with enthusiasm for the game), and twins Lolita and Latha to read the title story from his collection.

When the rain died down a bit I hurried over to Lucky Garden and up the back stairs to Seksen's place, but only managed to catch the tale end of the readings. There was a good crowd there, the usual relaxed and supportive atmosphere, and everyone seemed to have be enjoying themselves.

After the last of Bernice's students finished, Rauf Fadzillah took the floor to read some of his poems including Allah's Telegram and The Eyes - and he'd thoughtfully made copies of his work.

I'd never met Rauf in "real life" before but we'd once been members of the same writing e-group where we posted our stories, and I am still haunted by a very edgy piece set at the kind of party no-one invites me too anymore. (Goodness, he's only 21 now so must have been only 17 or 18 when he wrote that?) Sadly, he lost the story when his hard disk crashed and he didn't have a backup copy. (And the moral is ...?) Anyway, Rauf is my hot tip for a one to watch: he's got the words, he's got the hunger.

Was sad sad sad that I hadn't heard Bernice's students read. (Repeat performance, please??) But enjoyed chatting to them afterwards and swapped notes on blog addiction with Lainie.

Other friends I was happy to see - Pang and Danny and Animah and Sunitha.

Posts about previous readings here.

Fowles Play

If you'd asked me who my favourite writers were when I was in my so-called "formative years", John Fowles would have been right at the top of the list, along with DH Lawrence and Graham Greene.

Fowles died a few days ago, so it seems an apt time to remember the pleasure that his books gave me. I enjoyed The Collector and the French Lieutenant's Woman very much indeed. But The Magus was one of the most gripping books I've ever read.

It's a strange phenomena of reading, that you are doomed to start forgetting what you've read as soon as you put a book down, and more than thirty years on (it can't be that long, surely??) I can remember hardly anything about the plot or characters. But I can remember how the book made me feel. I couldn't bear to come up for air. I didn't want to take time out to eat or to sleep. And I was on an emotional roller coaster; chilled, thrilled, exhilarated by turn. Never mind that Fowles was a "post-modern" writer before the word was even a twinkle in the academics' eyes, he was a damn good story teller who teased and played with his audience, and I was under his spell.

I ought to reread it. Want to reread it. Am afraid to reread it. In case the author's ghost has visited it and changed it in someway.

And because the me I am now will read with different eyes. (Wordly wise, dare I say? More cynical?)

I remembered as I read his obituary the other day, that I haven't yet read a couple of Fowles' novels: Daniel Martin and A Maggot. I just couldn't bear the thought of getting to the end of everything a favourite author had written, so I always left something to enjoy later on. (Not realising that tastes change and great stuff is being written all the time.)

Fowles' diaries have recently been published (how I wish I could afford the book but it's £30.00!). The Guardian printed an extract which gives an intriguing glimpse into his life (he wasn't a happy man, I think) and his thoughts on the three-ring circus of being a famous author:
The Magus comes out on May 2. A meeting with various literary editors at a lunch thrown by Cape; like being a horse and hearing the comments as he is led round the paddock. Not that they are anything but discreetly polite to my face; but I can hear behind their words. No one is further from a writer than a writer about writers; one's simplicity (given by the fact of creating), and their cynicism ...
He wasn't in love with fame and its trappings:
Being published interests me a little less each year. I no more want to see myself in print now than a monk wants to do a vaudeville act.
Rather :
All the pleasure is in the writing.
(This should be our own acid test of how much we really want to be writers, shouldn't it?)

And there are intriguing insights into his creative process:
The French Lieutenant's Woman. I started this today. Not so much with a plot as a need and a language I wanted to use. It was really just one visual idea: a woman standing at the end of the Cobb and staring mysteriously out to sea.
Time now to rediscover Fowles, I think.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Inky Little Fingers

Learned from The Book Review Blog that plans are afoot to start up
an online Malaysian litmag which features fiction and creative non-fiction writing, and 'hopes to showcase the best that Malaysian writers (of ages 14-24) has* to offer.'
The new online publication is to be dubbed inkyhands magazine and you can submit your entries here.

Such intitiatives make me very glad at heart. Here are folks who are not sitting around waiting for someone to wave a magic wand over them and say Thou Shalt Be A Writer. Just claim a space for yourselves and fill it with words. Doing so will make you happy, and from little seeds greater writing grows.

(*But says the English teacher in me ... just make sure that you proofread your contributions carefully to prevent the ouches ...)

The Chai Wallah Wordsmith

Laxman Rao is a Delhi chai wallah with a difference, Randeep Ramesh in the Guardian reports.

Rao is the author of 18 novels, plays and political essays, and although he has hitherto made no money at all from his writings, his fortunes look set to change with his latest novel Ramdas. And he writes in Hindi:
Although it is spoken by half of India's 1 billion people, its writing is absent in the literary canon of India, which is dominated by exiles such as Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth. 'I do not read these books. They do not talk about the India I know,' says Rao. 'The stories do not mean anything to me or people like me. India lives in villages, small towns, on streets. The authors do not.'

Hmmm ... wonder if our teh tarik vendors can "pull" fictions as well as tea.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Text Texts!

A question for the "thumb-centric" SMSing generation. To which great work of literature does the following allude?
5SistrsWntngHsbnds.NwMenIn Twn-Bingly&Darcy Fit&Loadd. BigSisJaneFals4B,2ndSisLizH8s DCozHesProud.SlimySoljrWikam SysDHsShadyPast.TrnsOutHes ActulyARlyNysGuy&RlyFancysLiz.
More potted fictions here.

Ukrainian Tractors and Rocket Launcher Bra

I'm currently reading Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian and enjoying it so much that I'm rationing out the last few pages. Sadly, I know I'll finish it this morning over coffee.

Don't let the strange title put you off. This is a funny and very touching story of a dysfunctional immigrant family set in Peterborough. Estranged sisters Nadia and Vera are reunited when their 84 year-old father Nikolai decides to marry a woman less than half his age. Valentina of the botticellian breasts and green satin rocket-launcher bra is clearly after a marriage of convenience. She yearns for all the trappings of a Western lifestyle including a car fitting for her new station in life (she makes do with a derelict Rolls Royce which sits forlornly in the front garden) and a public school education for her "brilliant" son Stanislav, luxuries which the widower can scarcely afford. Nikolai meanwhile is at work on his book about the history of Ukrainian tractors.

As the daughters attempt to rescue Nikolai from Valentina's clutches and his own folly, secrets tumble from the family closet and force the pair to confront not only their own relationship, but also a troubled family history. It all adds up to a sharply observed social comedy with a terrific cast of characters.

I decided yesterday to buy a copy for a friend and achieved a couple of firsts. 1) First monorail ride. (Where have a been hiding?!) 2) First trip to Borders at Times Square. (Terrible admission for a bookaholic, but I try as far as possible to put myself out of the way of temptation.) Verdict?
Spacious and pleasant, but you get the impression that the shop is a bit short on stock as books are arranged face on and spread rather thinly on the shelves. (I'd say Kinokuniya is still the closest thing to book heaven in Malaysia.) Staff seemed more clued up than in most of the city's bookshops and I liked the free gift-wrapping service.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Saturday Readings

There are readings on in Bangsar at two different locations this Saturday. First of all at 2 p.m. the writers featured in the latest Silverfish collection will be reading from their work, and Mr. Raman himself will be giving us selected highlights from his magnum opus (which I'm ashamed to say I still haven't got round to reading). He has invited member of the Kuala Lumpur ladies Football club to add a smigeon of verisimilitude and there will be food and drink a-plenty to celebrate belatedly Raya and Deepavali. Venue: Silverfish Books 67-1, Jalan Telawi 3.

Bernice has also organised readings for her creative writing students from CENFAD (Isabella Sya, Aina Liyana, Farid Ramlee, Lainie Yeoh) and Sunway College (Helena Foo, Joylynn Teh and Razif Hashim). Venue: 67, Jalan Tempinis 1. These newbie writers deserve support and encouragement, so try to make it if you can. I know Bernice is very proud of them.

If you're canny you can sample both events - leave Silverfish by 3.30 to catch the readings a short walk away at Seksen's place ...

Whitbread Wonderment

No doubt my friends will be happy to see that Ishiguro has not been included on the Whitbread shortlist. Barnes and Banville didn't make it either. But Rushdie, Nick Hornby, Ali Smith, and Christopher Wilson did.

"Our shortlist may confuse the book trade," the head judge, Philippa Gregory, said.

Or might just go to show that when it comes to fiction,"best" is entirely subjective.

Our Tash is there again - on the shortlist for best first novel, along with his friend and UEA coursemate, Diana Evans. Another first-novel nominee, Rachel Zadock is an amazing literarty cinderella:
(She) was working as a waiter when she had an unusually dire day with the novel she was trying to write. "I gave up and did something I think is death to anyone who works from home, I turned on the TV," she said. On Channel 4 the Richard & Judy show was announcing a "how to get published" contest. "To someone as superstitious as me, that's a sign, so I sent something off." ... Her novel, Gem Squash Tokoloshe, was singled out for discussion. This led to a £20,000 contract with Pan Macmillan, which has enabled her to write full-time. The Whitbread judges were impressed by its "powerful evocation of a child's-eye view of rural South Africa".
It's the kind of break most novice writers can only dream of.

Ouch! Let Me Go!

Warning: if you belong to a book club, never ever ever be absent on the night when everyone is discussing the book that YOU chose to inflict on them. Your reputation will be in tatters.

It happened when Sham's choice The Secret life Of Bees came up. It happened Tuesday night when it was the groups turn to discuss my choice Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro which I had thoroughly enjoyed ... and Fiction&Friends ... apparently did not greatly care for.

The following work of fiction was posted on our e-group by our (up that that point) solitary male, our thorn among roses, Krishna Kumar:
In the dimly lit, smoky lounge, 2 women clinked their margarita glasses as jazz music played softly in the background.

"Cheers,darling!" said Sharon.

"To another successful mission accomplished," said Sham, her petite companion.

"Can't wait to hear what they thought of the book."

"Must be ripping it to shreds by now."

"And ripping into me, I shouldn't wonder. Told Krishna I have a do at the British Council. Wonder if he bought it."

"Oh! I'm sure he did. He thinks I'm in Kuantan. A bit gullible that one."

"What is taking that woman so long?" said Sharon with mild irritation.

"Relax. You know.We could have just gone for the book meet and spared ourselves all this suspense."

"Don't you start! Whose brilliant idea was this in the first place? 'Oh Sharon! Let's recommend a book we're sure everyone will hate then not show up but send a spy who reports back everything that was said!' Whose devious brain did this spring from?You started it with the Bee book and I thought I'd get into the act for fun."

"Guilty!" admitted Sham with a sheepish grin.

"Oh! There she is!" said Sharon as Sham turned to see the attractive woman with a traffic-stopping figure* enter the bar, scan the room and then head straight for their table.

"Must have got them fixed," thought Sham glancing at her breasts which were just a tad big in relation to the rest of her.

Hot Babe kissed Sharon and Sham, pulled up a chair and fixed the 2 women with a mega wattage grin. The wattage did not dim when she turned to the waiter and ordered her drink,ensuring its arrival in half the time it would normally take getting to the other patrons.

"Ok girl spill it! We've waited long enough!" said Sharon.

"Aww! Can't I have my drink first?" said Hot Babe who had a voice made to induce erections, but for obvious reasons, had no effect on the impatient women.

"No! You can bloody well start while the waiter with a partial hard-on brings your bloody drink and hope he doesn't drool into it!" said Sharon, visibly annoyed now.

"Chill,sweetie. Ok, here goes. For starters, as you suspected, most of them thought the book sucked."

"HaHa!As expected!" said Sharon triumphantly as she and Sham toasted for the second time joined by Hot Babe a second later, her glass of Long Island Drool clinking the margaritas pleasantly.

"How close were you?"asked Sham.

"At the next table enough to hear most everything," said the babe and then proceeded to pull a notebook from her handbag and started reading:

"Well,Sandra did a good job leading although it was a bit of a chore getting this group to pipe down. Very loud and boisterous with frequent interruptions,especially from the guy."

"Oh, Krishna?" asked Sharon.

"Yeah,pompous windbag who's obviously got an ongoing love affair with the sound of his voice. Sandra had to tell him to shut up at one point."

"Told you we should have kicked him out,Sharon," said Sham.

"He's the only guy we have, darling. And the only one who shows up regularly."

"Well, you may have an alternative. Joanne showed up with her husband.Pleasant, erudite and well spoken chap."

"You're digressing darling, get on with it," said Sharon.

"Sorry,well anyway, Sandra gave some background on Kazuo Ishiguro, his previous books, how they've all been nominated or won some prize or the other but having finished the book she wonders what the fuss is all about. She made an interesting point: There's a seed for a very gripping tale in this book which never comes to fruition. Windbag added that in the hands of a better writer,this tale of students in a boarding school who find out they are clones bred for the purpose of harvesting their organs could have been so much more riveting.Both Muntaj and Sandra agreed that the pace was excruciatingly slow. A major gripe for a lot of people especially
Sandra, Jessica, Uma and Krishna was the passivity of these people. Why doesn't anyone rebel against their fate? Why are they so accepting of the fact that their very purpose of existence was to donate their organs and then die?There followed some comparisons then to the movie "The Island" where a group clones bred in isolation discover their true purpose and 2 of them rebel against the system and how that was a more natural thing given the strong survival instinct inherent in most people."

"The Island huh? That must have come from Krishna.Typical of him to compare a literary work to a brainless Hollywood Blockbuster!" scoffed Sharon.

"Anyway, an interesting insight was given by Joanne and husband,both of whom loved the book: It's a type of Post Modern fiction that doesn't confirm to the linear style of storytelling with a beginning, middle and end.It's a mood piece meant to evoke a feeling, a feeling of helplessness on the part of the reader which could then prompt said reader to question the unsavoury things in his or her own lives which they accept: Bad jobs,relationships,traffic jams, corruption, police brutality, things we know are implicitly wrong but still accept with a passive air of resignation."

"Interesting! Must ask him to come for future meets".

"And then Jessica and Krishna argued that we WILL rebel if there is a direct threat to our own existence, we would fight if we knew our lives or the lives of our loved ones were at stake. As long as things like corruption and bad jobs don't threaten our lives,we'll put up with it. Animah then countered with a point that there ARE people who put up with threats to their lives like illegal immigrants who are frequently harassed and extorted but don't fight back out of fear that they will be deported or killed in a foreign land whose laws they know little about."

"What else?" asked Sham.

"Let's see," said Hot babe turning her pages and scanning them," The characters left most of them cold except Fiona who identified with the narrator and Joanne's husband who could relate to the boarding school environment,having been in one himself ... Animah made a point that she assumed the writing was simplistic, almost childlike as Ishiguro wanted to show the naivety of the narrator, her innocence but expected the writing to mature as the protagonists discover their true fate but somehow the prose never rises above its basic simplicity. Joanne countered the argument that the writing was simplistic by saying that it was a deliberate attempt by Ishiguro to write about something that was truly appalling in a matter-of-fact way, thereby making it even more chilling. Alina was still half way through but likes it so far."

"This lot may put her off finishing it" mused Sharon.

"Sarab and Uma didn't like it as well, wondering what the fuss was about. But Uma said this was still better than the Secret Life Of Bees."

A visible sigh from Sham at this point.

"Oh! One last thing, everyone unanimously agrees you owe a round of margaritas to all, Sharon, as the book didn't walk away with the Booker as you predicted. And Sandra reckons the margaritas better come in jugs on account of the book itself and its failure to engage her in any way," Hot Babe said, getting up.

"Thanks darling, fancy coming to our next reading?" asked Sharon.

Turning on the mega watt smile yet again, Hot Babe replied,"Sorry darling too busy to sit around yakking about books," blew both the ladies a kiss and sailed out of the bar. "Yes, being a tart is a full time occupation," retorted Sharon to the retreating form.

Sham, with a wicked gleam in her eye asked, "So,what do you think girl? Should we pull this stunt again?"

"Let's discuss this over another round of margaritas darling."
*Hot Babe to be played in the film version by Ms. Fishlips Jolie, no doubt.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Writing for Kids

Here's an interesting article I missed while I was away. Daphne Lee in Starmag laments the state of local publishing for children. Local talents lack the chance:
At present, we have little access to local content and good local writers and illustrators. I should add that it’s not that they don’t exist. It’s just that they are not reaching the public because they have few opportunities to be published. Local publishers aren’t very supportive of children’s fiction. If you were an assessment book writer, you would make much more money in our market than if you wrote as well as Roald Dahl!

At present, the only children’s “literature” local publishers are interested in are ghost stories. This is because the Mr Midnight series and Russell Lee’s anthologies sell so well. So, what we have now are short story collections by “writers” with appalling grammar and little (if any) flair for writing. The stories are unoriginal, the language hackneyed, the style (if you could even call it that) clumsy. Would it be so difficult to employ writers with fresh ideas and a good command of the English language? Or better editors? James Lee, who writes the Mr Midnight books, is no Edgar Allen Poe, but he does at least write cleanly and clearly.

Perhaps the publishers feel that it would make little difference to readers. Well, I think it’s insulting to charge for these poorly written excuses for stories. Actually, a source informed me that a certain local horror series is not selling well at all. So you see, the public is becoming more discerning.

I’m sure Malaysian book lovers would be receptive to well-written local content if it were available. It’s the proverbial chicken and egg situation. Publishers are waiting for evidence of a market, but they need to help create one.
I'd echo what Daphne says. There is I think a very large pool of untapped talent. Many of the participants on my creative writing courses said that they would like to write for children, but there is little support locally to develop their skills. Some time back I did mention that Donald Kee of MPH felt that there was a market for locally produced children's fiction. But nothing is going to happen without someone (and here we're talking about organisations) taking the initiative to get something off the ground.

One lady who has published her own kids books locally is Vanaja Dhanan. I loved her Ben O book so much I took a copy home for a niece in Britain who was thrilled by it.

Authors' Ghosts

I think that authors' ghosts creep back
Nightly to haunt the sleeping shelves
And find the books they wrote.
Those authors put final, semi-final touches,
Sometimes whole paragraphs.

Whole pages are added, re-written, revised,
So deeply by night those authors employ
Themselves with those old books of theirs.

How otherwise
Explain the fact that maybe after years
have passed, the reader
Picks up the book - But was it like that?
I don't remember this . . . Where
Did this ending come from?
I recall quite another.

Oh yes, it has been tampered with
No doubt about it -
The author's very touch is here, there and there,
Where it wasn't before, and
What's more, something's missing -
I could have sworn . . .

by Muriel Spark

(I found this in New Writing 13, edited by Toby Litt and Ali Smith. This is a phonomena I'm well familiar with - aren't you?)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Now, here's news of an exciting project you may well be interested in. (But look how tight the deadline is!)

Incommunicado - a one-off publication as part of the Next Wave Festival's 2006 'Empire Games'

Incommunicado will be a collection of writing from around the Commonwealth in a foldable book / world map format - read it, then stick it on your wall. Focussing on the theme of miscommunication, Incommunicado will bring together political and personal stories. It will be published in English, but written in distinctive local voices, with a glossary explaining uncommon words and phrases. Incommunicado will be a glimpse of life all over the Commonwealth, beyond newspaper headlines and medal tallies. It's going to be a visually stunning, deliciously awkward, collectable literary treat.

Incommunicado will be published in March 2006, in Australia, as part of 'Empire Games' - the theme of the Youth Program of the Cultural Festival of the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games, presented by Next Wave.

If you are a Commonwealth citizen and are 30 years old or under, this is an amazing opportunity for your writing to be published in the context of a high-profile international event. If your work is selected for publication, you will be paid A$50 for your efforts.

Tell me more about this Incommunicado theme ...

Misunderstanding is the basis of much comedy, and much tragedy. Incommunicado will bring together very short (250 word or 500 word) stories, poems, anecdotes and reflections from across the Commonwealth about people trying - and often failing - to communicate. Lost tourists unable to ask for directions; parents who can't understand their children's slang; workers forced to sign contracts they don't understand . We want to hear about communication breakdowns that break hearts, make fortunes, start wars, and everything in between. These stories will be as factual or fantastic, as epic or microscopic, as you make them.

Incommunicado submission deadline: 30 November 2005

For more information about submitting to Incommunicado, go to

For more information about the Next Wave Festival's 2006 'Empire Games', go to

... Feel free to pass this information on to anyone and everyone who might be eligible.


Romy Ash and Tom Doig

Bad Sex, Good Sex

Writes Elizabeth Benedict in The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers:
… sex makes people vulnerable. And in that vulnerability, we change and we do things that surprise us. Sometimes we become cruel, sometimes we become infantile, sometimes we fall in love. And sex is very powerful. As writers we have to learn how to exploit the power of sex in our writing ...
Many writers, among them the most famous and respected, fall flat on their bums. Others use sex effectively, not only to get deep inside their characters' skins, but to underline the message of their novel.

My article in the current issue of chrome is about getting sex down to the page, so now with your appetite whetted, go buy! (And if I'm not a sufficient draw, I'm sandwiched between Dina Zaman talking about talking respectfully, and Oon Yeoh writing about Khairy Jamaluddin.)

Pulping Fiction?

Getting rid of unwanted books can be problematic whether you are a publishing company seeking to offload unwanted stock, or an individual suffering from the immense bookguilt that follows the purchase (and - heave forbid - secret enjoyment) of a terribly trashy novel that doesn't do your street cred any good.

The Bookseller tells of one company's ingenious solution:
Web-to-print publisher the Friday Project has hit on a novel way of getting rid of old editions of its title London by London . It considered burning the outdated copies, then looked into pulping them--but the first option was too reminiscent of the Nazis, and the second just a waste. So its preferred solution is to launch a Dan Brown Commuter Book Amnesty, offering those with 'Dan Brown trash-lit guilt' the opportunity to swap 'any old dog-eared Dan Brown book for a shiny LbL one. Free.' The publisher explains: 'That way, we get rid of our stash of first edition LbL books in an environmentally sound way and you get a book that you can actually be proud to carry on the Tube. And then we'll send all the Dan Browns off to be recycled into new--and probably better--books. Everyone's a winner! Except possibly Brown but, frankly, he's too rich to care.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Nice One Cecil!

I read the Sun's very entertaining interview with Cecil Rajendra (poet, writer, lawyer, crusader for human rights) on the flight back from Manila. Hadn't realised that he'd been nominated for this year's Nobel - now, that's really something.

I find the literary scene here much too incestuous and inward looking. ... it lacks what I call "testicular fortitude".
he says. Wonder what he'd make of the Saturday readings?

He's currently working on two books - both of which sound extremely interesting. The first is about the legendary stripper Rose Chan whom he came to know towards the end of her life when she was dying of cancer. The second is entitled The Secret Journal Of A Tantric which he doesn't think will be published here in a country:
... so sexually uptight that it views homosexuality as a threat to the nation. Incidentally, I have never quite figured out how a gay minister is a greater threat to the nation than a corrupt minister.
Nice one!

Sunday, November 13, 2005


And out of my big black bag tumbles everything.

Books first on top. A last morning run to Powerbooks across from the hotel. I bought up a whole lot of titles by Filipino authors that my new local friends had recommended. (A great way to break the ice that first evening!)

Notes from the sessions: my feverish scribblings to get down as many new ideas and spring-off thoughts as possible. The seeds for new things bookish and wordish; and the challenge will be to see how they transplant to the various soils of the region, cross-pollinated with local partnerships.

A jar of papaya acaran pickles for safety tucked into one of my trainers. Bought in a craft market when it seemed a little greedy just going around tasting all the local specialities (though not, thank you very much, balut).

Trainers only used once for a reluctant treadmill jog before many course breakfast before mid-morning snack before buffet lunch and a temptation of deserts before afternoon snack before going out for dinner at night. (Sessions fitted in somehow around the eating.)

One smart cream skirt not worn. Suddenly too tight.

The black pearl earrings I bought with Bing's help from a stall tucked deep into the crowded, chaotic Greenfield Plaza for the price of a beer.

A stupid black baseball cap with the Philippines flag embroidered on it and the words HOBBIT HOUSE it's a great place to be. I was coerced into buying it at this famous live-music bar, owned staffed entirely by "little people". Great folk and blues.

What I couldn't bring back so will have to remember:

A jeepney. One of the two hired for our evening excursions. Gleaming crome and coloured lights and a village scene painted on the side. A real king-of-the-road vehicle that everyone turned to stare at.

The amazing parols or star lanterns. Wreaths of dazzling dancing light in the unstreetlit night of the shanty towns.

Green mango slush. Dalandan juice. Halo-halo.

Every rose sold by every small child forced to dodge between cars to earn a few pesos in the rush hour.

My new friends.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Library Thing

In case you're at a lose end while I'm gone, why don't you spend some time cataloguing the books in your collection with the help of LibraryThing? I daren't even start on this ...

Manila Envelope

Hate to break it to you folks, but you're going to have to do without me for a few days.

Am off to the British Council's Animating Literature Conference in Manila discussing stuff close to my heart such as literature in ELT, reader development and literature (particularly poetry) in performance. I'll be back at the weekend with plenty of stories, I'm sure, and lots of ideas for how to make reading even sexier than it already is ...

In the meantime just talk among yourselves ...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Living Through Love

It comes as some surprise to discover that the best selling poet of the '90's in the US was a C13th Muslim cleric who taught sharia law in a madrasa: Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi.

William Dalrymple in the Guardian points out some of the ironies surrounding the popularity of Rumi in the West where his verses are " mouthed by such spiritual luminaries as Madonna, Goldie Hawn and Demi Moore" and available in the form of a self-help audiobook: while in the East his work has been entirely neglected. There is no accessible modern edition of his work in contemporary Turkish, while the order of sufi dervishes that Rumi belonged to is outlawed and the open practice of the Sufi mysticism that Rumi represented can still technically result in a seven-month prison sentence.

Rumi was heretical enough to believe that God can "best be reached through the gateway of the heart", that you do not necessarily need ritual to get to Him, and that He is equally accessible to all creeds.

"My religion is to live through love" he said.

Dalrymple says:
It all adds up to an archetypal - if unusually poignant - case of east-west misunderstanding: a west earnestly looking eastwards for an ancient spiritual wisdom, which it receives through the filter of sexed-up translations that most Persian scholars regard as seriously flawed, and which recreate a Rumi wholly divorced from his Islamic context; while in the east, a Republican Turkish government anxious to integrate Turkey with Europe bans Rumi's Sufi brotherhood as part of its attempt to embrace a west it perceives as rational, industrial, intolerant of superstition and somehow post-mystical.
Here are lines I love from a Rumi poem called Spring Giddiness :
Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Writing That Marathon

Haruki Murakami believes he has the formula right, reports Tufts Daily: the first step toward successful writing is proper physical fitness.
'First train your body. Then, your writing style will follow. ... I realized that I needed physical strength [to focus on writing for long periods] and that strength helped to develop my writing style.
Good advice certainly for those who plan to write a marathon.

Guilt inducing words for those of us who are neither exercising or managing to pump out Nano words. (Present score 7776). Manana.

Just when I said I had no appetite for fiction picked up Chris Cleave's Incendiary and found it hard to put down. Reserving all critical comments for the review I'm writing so you'll have to wait!

Living Memorial for Saro Wiwa

A moving memoir in today's Observer by Ken Wiwa.

Ken Wiwa was one of the "stars" of last year's KL Literary festival arriving on these shores courtesy of the Canadian High Commission. Wiwa, of course, is the son of Nigerian writer Ken Saro Wiwa, who was imprisoned, tortured and executed ten years ago for leading protests on behalf of the Ogoni people who were being screwed by oil giant Shell in the Niger delta.

I'd expected Wiwa's book In the Shadow of a Saint it to be an extended song of praise for the great man his father undoubtedly was. It turned out to be an extremely moving and honest account of a sometimes very fraught father-son relationship, and a wider exploration of the legacy of the pain and confusion a political martyr can bequeath his children. (You can listen to an interview with Wiwa about the book and his father's life here.)

Felt very sad reading the Guardian piece that this is the first I've heard about plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Saro Wiwa's execution with performance and readings around the world. Couldn't we also mark the anniversary here somehow?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Poetry Moodmatcher

Now here's something fun to play with! Find the perfect poem to match your mood. Let me know how you get on!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

First Books

The Guardian First Book Award shortlist was announced today. Only one work of fiction made it to the list - the short fiction collection Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap. Poor old Tash is out of the running once more - but hey, did so well to be longlisted.

There's such a tasty list of non-fiction here that I am actually afraid to read the details least a serious attack of bookgreed sets in.

But I have no appetite to read at the moment while I'm churning out words ...

Selamat Hari Raya

Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri!

I wish you all the rendang and ketupat and little cookies you can eat!

I woke up several hours later than usual this morning. I was still banging out words to play catch up at 2 a.m.- but at least I had one of those weird moments where a new character walked onto the page and started creating havoc in my main character's life (i.e. the me who isn't me).

Went to bed at 3479 words.

Am supposed to go to first sister's house for lunch and the family photo in a while.

Will not leave the house until I have another 800 words down.

Now what's the next scene?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Nano for World Peace

The Guardian's Culture Vulture blog today features a piece on the Nanowrimo. It's nice to see insanity taking root.

Just think. At the rate the popularity of this contest is spreading across the globe, there may come one November when there's no-one left to fight the wars or stir-up conflicts ... Nano for peace, my friends.

Having said this, I'm off to a shaky start. 2528 words of complete crap. The brain cells feel rusty. How long since I've fictionated?

So much for the Banvillesquely delicate prose I was aiming for. I'd be happy to be able to write like Jeffrey Archer.


It's been passed down through the family ever since her grandmother learned it from the British Women's Institute in Temerloh, and adapted it to her own taste. It's a staple of Hari Raya fare, slightly different versions in each household. And now her mother has written down the recipe for her in an eclectic mix of Malay and English so that she can try making it herself for the first time. A rite of passage.

First two tins of sweetened condensed milk.
Mix it with half a cup of cocoa.

I hand her my plastic measuring cup, but she said that it refers to the Chinese tea cups they have at home. So much for standardisation.

In another bowl, go two senduks of mentega .*

Then take one of the empty milk tins and use it as a measure for three tins of gula pasir.** Cream the sugar and the butter together.

Then heat the butter and sugar in a pan and when the sugar melts, add the other ingredients with a couple of teaspoons of vanilla essence. Keep stirring until it thickens enough to see the bottom of the pan. Test a tiny bit in a glass of ice water and see if it sets.

Spoon the mixture into greased trays and let it set. Then cut up and keep in an airtight container. Eat all the little bits that stick to the pan.

Don't count the calories!

*Mentega is butter. A senduk is a Malay rice scoop and two senduks worked out to be about 500g.
**Refined sugar. (Literally sand sugar.)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005


Light, my light, the world-filling light,

the eye-kissing light,

heart-sweetening light!

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the center of my life;

the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love;

the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light.

Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling,

and it scatters gems in profusion.

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling,

and gladness without measure.

The heaven's river has drowned its banks

and the flood of joy is abroad.

from Gintanjali by Tagore

Wishing all my Hindu friends a very Happy Deepavali today.