Thursday, August 17, 2023

Oh Yes I Support Malaysian Authors 😍 (repost)

May Lee (a well-named marketing executive at MPH) welcomes me to the
Malaysian Authors' High Tea at MPH 1 Utama

Whenever I manage to get a book published I'm fashionable for at least six months. I've been getting invites from MPH to appear in the Merdeka issue of Quill, their in-house magazine; last Saturday there was this forum hosted by MPH on where Malaysia's book industry is heading (don't know why, but the word "industry" makes me shudder).

And next week (3-4 PM on Sunday, September 9th) I'll be giving a short talk on "Mythology in the Digital Age" at MPH Mid-Valley (to which everybody is cordially invited - pick up a copy of Tanah Tujuh and I'll happily scribble on the title page!)

At Saturday's Malaysian Authors Forum I found myself sitting behind Rehman Rashid, whom I hadn't seen in... well, quite a while.

Rehman was his usual larger-than-life comic-book Titan self. It was good to see somebody familiar in that room full of unknown faces (quite a few very prettily framed in designer hijabs). Maybe there are more Malaysians writing books than those actually reading them?

First-time novelist Kam Raslan was conspicuously absent - but I guess his book is doing well enough (a brilliant read, by the way, if you haven't picked up a copy of Confessions of an Old Boy: The Dato' Hamid Adventures).

There was talk of getting all Malaysian authors to form themselves into a guild. Apparently this may be the only way we'll ever break through the protective walls surrounding the literary game in the UK and the US (where the big money presumably is). Only as a organized collective will Malaysian authors have sufficient clout to set up their own literary agency and send representatives to hobnob with the movers and shakers. That's roughly what it takes to break into the global book market, according to those in the know.

I'm not much of a joiner myself - and I doubt if many writers are. Writing books is pretty much the domain of solitary types who enjoy the quietude and tranquility of the graveyard shift. Even if we do manage, out of pure self-interest, to assemble all at once and form ourselves into the semblance of a guild, it's almost a foregone conclusion that the administrative aspects will have to be farmed out to more pragmatic minds. In the end, the writers guild will most likely be hijacked by the few natural-born hustlers amongst us who get a real buzz out of entrepreneurial exertions.

In any case I can't help wondering what a Malaysian - brought up to be polite and face-giving and acutely conscious of other people's sensitivities - might have to say to the world at large. Since we've been told from a tender age never to use swear words or make fun of others - and that it's an absolute no-no to ever speak ill of VVIPs or even mention crooked judges and corrupt ministers - will we end up churning out cook book after cook book? After all, food is undeniably our unifying passion.

That's right, in Malaysia we're very good at cari makan - not cari makna!*

And yet, Malaysians have gained worldwide notoriety for three things: destroying forests by exporting loggers, committing credit card fraud with impunity, and using abusive language and venting unmitigated rage on web forums. Maybe e-publishing is what we ought to stick with?

Literary blogger Chet accosted me while I was assuaging my hunger with a few hastily swallowed curry puffs and introduced me to a svelte young lady named Choong Kwee Kim who recently published her first illustrated children's book - Ah Fu, The Rickshaw Coolie. What to do, I had to buy a copy for my grandson Max who turned seven on August 28th. Of course, I read it before wrapping it up. Excellent drawings, lovely story, Kwee Kim, very well done indeed!

*Trans: cari makan = look for food (earn our keep); cari makna = look for meaning (quest for self-knowledge)

[First posted 30 August 2007]