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  • abramsuzan 12:25 am on July 21, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    Continuing the Interview with Malaysian Novelist, Zaipah Ibrahim, author of The Gift in the USA. 

    by Suzan Abrams

    Here, I continue with  an interview…

    I wrote earlier on Malaysia’s debut novelist Zaipah Ibrahim who recently published a contemporary romance novel, The Gift, in America.

    The earlier interview is over here or you could simply scroll down the page to read it. This is the first author photograph of the very cordial, pleasant and obliging Zaipah Ibrahim, on the web. The snap was shot at her school with her students in tow.

    What stays special is that here she is standing tall among a stellar list of international writers. The Gift published by Muslim Writers Publishing USA, winds in philosophical ramifications with Islamic ideals. It may be purchased from several international online booksellers.

    Perhaps Zaipah’s unique accomplishment is that in the face of a stern competition among several hundreds of other aspiring Muslim authors internationally – and all bent on the same slice of the cake – Zaipah was accepted and published by a small press in the States even while she was already back home in Malaysia, during the peak of the recession last March.

    Zaipah who has studied in the United States of America, is herself a qualified English Lecturer and is presently dedicated to teaching Malaysian children English. The writer runs a tutorial centre in her homestate of Trengganu; famed for its extraordinary array of cultural assortments, fascinating cuisine and scenic beachspots. The state is situated on Malaysia’s beautiful East Coast. The book cover excellently captures a similar scenery.

    The Gift.
    Zaipah Ibrahim
    ISBN 978-0-9793577-7-0
    Muslim Writers Publishing, USA
    Paperback 292 Pages
    Price: US$14.95

    A previous article which introduces the novel is here.
    The first part of the interview is here.

    And now for the rest of the interview.

    Could you explain to other aspiring authors who may find you an inspiration, how you got published by Muslim Writers Publishing?

    “Search for publishers that publish a genre you’re familiar with. I found MuslimWriters America while surfing the net and later met some wonderful other writers of the Islamic faith.  Linda who is better known as Wihad, was the founder. It was only later that my manuscript was accepted by MuslimWritersPublishing.”

    Did you enjoy the working relationship with your publisher?

    “Yes. I liked dealing with the publisher, Linda(Widad) and also the in-house editor, Debora McNichol. They are both efficient in their work and I was more then happy with the quality of the production.”

    Tell us a little about your tutorial centre.

    “It’s not the normal tutorial centre that offers all kinds of school subjects. Fajr Library is mainly for book publishing. I set it up when I self-published “Islamic Word Games”. Then by chance, friends asked me to tutor their kids. So, I decided to offer English classes as part of activities under Fajr Library.

    “Now I have about 40 students enrolled in both primary and secondary school English classes. Each class is made up of about 8-10 students. My main interest is teaching the primary school kids aged 8 and 9 years old. I do activities and play language games with them. I emphasize writing English sentences in fun ways. They enjoy learning English this way. Not all students have these activities at their schools due to large classes while some schools focus too much on exams, thus lots of exam practices!”

    What do you find obviously different between the two careers of teaching and writing?

    “Teaching is clearly more of helping the kids since English is the biggest problem among many Malay students in Malaysia. On the other hand, my passion for writing means sharing life’s experiences and the perceptions gained from wide observations and happenings around me.”

    Could you tell us about your next book, The Gift II?

    “I’ve always wanted to read (and watch a drama/movie) about AIDS/HIV victims from the perspective of Islam and Muslims – and in a positive way!

    “I get bored with reading/watching the negative responses towards them. I wondered how a true muslim is supposed to face such an ordeal. So, I decided to write The Gift II (still a working title) which is the story of a young woman and her determined dream to become a journalist. However, life gives her more than what she bargains for.

    “Through her eyes I want readers to follow the roads of life, love and loss as solely regards the disease. This, especially from the perspective of Islam as well. So much I learned from writing this novel in terms of knowlegde about the disease and the pain and the struggle to live with it among the people you love.

    Zaipah was accepted and published by a small press in the States even while she was already back home in Malaysia, during the peak of the recession last March.

    “Knowledge is power that gives you the strength when dealing with AIDS/HIV. Doing a research on AIDS/HIV while completing my M.A at SIU-C was unforgettable. The librarians were cooperative but I received some funny stares every time I checked out books from the Carbondale public library in America ….just imagine a woman wearing a hijab/veil and all she read was AIDS/HIV related books. :)”

    When did you begin to write this?

    “I think it all started at the end of 1997 but I completed the research by the end of spring 1998. The writing was done after I came home to Malaysia. At the time, due to a busy teaching schedule at the college, I couldn’t focus on the manuscript. When I resigned in 2001, I put more hours into writing it.”

    Who is publishing your second novel?

    “Telaga Biru – a local Malaysian publisher – will publish it. At the moment I’m waiting for the final letter of confirmation from them. They liked the manuscript the first time they read it but hesitated to publish it (due to the language being in English) until they saw the published version of The Gift. I was eager to send them a copy as requested and this paid off. Sometimes from wishful thinking, I do wonder if they would like me to translate the novel to the Malay language.”

    How do you feel about it all and where do you find the time for your promotions?

    “Oh dear… I am too busy these days with teaching, so I just can’t manage the time to do promotions of The Gift in Malaysia. At the moment, my promotions are all online. And yes, I’m still getting used to the very idea. Whenever people ask for my signature, I feel strange and smile with amusement before signing the book. I can’t help myself.”

    What are some of your favourite things?

    “Due to a food allergy, I am selective of what I eat but I like trying non-Malay cuisine as long as the food is halal. Right now Indian and Korean recipes are my favourites. I love the colours yellow, pink and turquoise. And as for flowers, they just have to be pink and red roses. At the moment, my hobbies are reading, writing, travelling and internet-surfing.”

    What do you love about Terengganu?

    “The beaches and coastlines! Only one word to describe them. Magnificent! It’s one of Allah’s greatest works of art! I become speechless everytime I sit on the beach waiting for the sun to rise. I watch a universal change happening right before my eyes! No matter where I go, I just cannot forget these beautiful natural view. Once upon a time, I loved jogging very early in the morning and would wait for the sun to rise. Nowadays, I don’t get to jog much though I still try to catch a sunrise whenever possible.”

    The book cover features a lone figure of a Malay woman walking on the coast. Who designed it ?

    “Linda/Widad suggested the concept behind the sketch and I liked it. She had it designed and showed it to me.”

    And what about your family?

    “I’m not married. I love spending time with my family esp. with my two little nephews.”

    How do you spend your writing days currently?

    “I’m not writing much these days…still sifting through my many little notes but I’m planning to write more soon. Also, I’m writing some Islamic romance short stories at the moment. I have finished a few so far. Also, since my two novels The Gift and the other soon-to-published The Gift II feature serious and weighty themes, I plan to introduce elements of fun and laughter from the notes I mentioned.”

    Do you intend to visit America again?

    “InshaAllah!” (God Willing)

    Do you have any golden rule for aspiring Malaysian writers who have plans to publish abroad?

    “Be honest and love what you write. Never give up and keep searching for the publishers. I believe there is one for each writer out there.”

    Do you have a favourite old Malay poem or folklore?

    “I don’t have one. The young Zaipah was such a big fan of mysteries and adventures. Even romance novels came much much later in her life.” 🙂

  • abramsuzan 12:21 am on July 10, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    A short interview with Malaysian novelist Zaipah Ibrahim, writer of The Gift 


    Here is a short interview with Malaysia’s debut novelist Zaipah Ibrahim who recently published a contemporary romance novel, The Gift, in America.

    Standing tall among a stellar list of international writers, The Gift published by Muslim Writers Publishing USA, winds in philosophical ramifications with Islamic ideals. It may be purchased from several international online booksellers.

    Zaipah who studied in the United States of America is herself a qualified English Lecturer and is presently dedicated to teaching Malaysian children English.  The writer currently runs a tutorial centre in her homestate of Trengganu; famed for its extraordinary array of cultural assortments, fascinating cuisine and scenic beachspots. The state is situated on Malaysia’s beautiful East Coast. The book cover excellently captures a similar scenery.

    A previous article which introduces the novel is here.

    The Gift.

    Zaipah Ibrahim

    ISBN 978-0-9793577-7-0

    Muslim Writers Publishing, USA

    Paperback 292 Pages

    Price: US$14.95

    A short interview with Zaipah Ibrahim by Suzan Abrams

    When was the moment you knew you wanted to be a writer?

    “I’ve always liked writing but never thought I would actually become a writer one day! I started penning short stories in *bahasa melayu (*the Malay language which is Malaysia’s national language) while studying in the Second Form and just to share with friends. When I chose the science stream in the Fourth Form, I stopped writing altogether. Then a year later, while in the Fifth Form, my story was chosen by a teacher who read it to the whole class. At that moment, I felt a sharp desire to pursue writing once more but didn’t.

    “Later I studied computer science until I decided to switch to linguistics! It wasn’t until 1996 /1997 that I seriously got myself into writing. I was in the USA doing my M.A at that time. I was searching high and low for an Islamic romance novel to read but couldn’t find any… so I thought of writing it myself! I grabbed whatever free time I had to read books on creative writing…sort of independent learning.  Slowly I drafted a manuscript and the journey finally began for The Gift!”

    Did anything or anyone special inspire you to write?

    “It was more a desire to provide quality Islamic fiction, especially in the romance genre.

    In Malaysia, romance novels in Bahasa Malaysia/Malay are very much influenced by Western literature in particular and this with regards to cultures and values and all…

    I found very few novels in BM that reflected Islam as a way of life… in a non-preachy way that is. For me Islam owns its rituals just like any other religion would, but it is more of a faith that reflects a specific art on living a life. Unfortunately, I don’t see this act being translated/incorporated into Malay romance novels or television productions like weekly dramas and serials.”

    Tell me something about family life in your hometown, Terengganu.

    “I come from a big family…grew up with mom as house-wife…dad worked with the MARA shipping yard. Mom passed away years ago and dad now runs his own carpentory workshop. I was in standard 6 and 12 years old when i seriously decided to improve my English. Before that, i used to collect bad grades for the language. I had this teacher….teacher Safiah who made me love english… When I entered high school, there was a sudden tremendous improvement! Two teachers I will always remember….Madam Safiah and Madam Latifah! They offered a new meaning to the very idea of pursuing the English Language…lots of fun and possible to master!”

    How was your love for literature influenced in your younger years?

    “Libraries are homes for me. Morris Library (SIU-C) was a the best place in the campus! As a child my dad stressed the importance of reading (he used to say “people read books on buses, so you have no excuse to not read at home”). Slowly I picked up the habit.  I just loved reading and the school library was heaven for me.  I loved reading Aesop’s Fables (in BM) when i was 8 – 9 yrs old. Later I was a big fan of the mystery series, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys…The Famous Five…all in BM… In High School I read loads of of Sherlock Holmes in English. But the romance novel? Ah well, not until finishing high school. Only then did I start reading novels by Danielle Steel.”

    What were your favourite storybooks as a child?

    “As a child of course, of course it had to be the Aesop Fables….lots of lessons in morality to learn plus the happy endings and all wishes coming true.  As for those mystery novels, I loved finding out how a crime was solved! I became really fascinated by all of that.  Sherlock Holmes especially was a great character that left an important influence on me as a teenager…”


    What did you study in the States and how long were you there for?

    “I did linguistics for my B.A and TESL for my M.A. I did both at Southern Illinois Univ – Carbondale.For each course of study, I spent almost 2 years. For my B.A I completed 2 years in an MUCIA program in Malaysia before going to the States.”

    How did your writing develop when you were in the States?

    “Completing my M.A was a lot of work, but my growing interest in writing made me strive to learn how to write. The internet too helped me explore the writing world and conduct research. When I came home I continued my research ventures at the public library in my home town.”

    “I submitted the manuscript to a local (Malaysian) publisher but they were not willing to publish. Reason – a local romance novel in English would not well-received in Malaysia!”

    You appear a prolific writer with initially two self-published educational books, a second novel almost ready and a third with notes on the go.  How did such an event as writing The Gift 10 years ago come about?

    “As I mentioned earlier, I badly wanted to read an Islamic romance novel.  I read ‘Cinta Madinah’ by a local writer. It stayed close to the philosophical and religious ideals I was looking for but produced in the Malay language. I told myself to go ahead with The Gift! So, I gathered experiences from my life and of others I saw around me…Saleha, a main character, was my main focus at first and then came the others… Ani, Imran and Syakirah…all these characters suddenly became real to me.

    “Due to a heavy teaching workload at college, I couldn’t really focus on writing but I never stopped. I guessed that was the reason why it took me so long to finish, rewrite, polish etc…around 2003 I submitted the manuscript to a local (Malaysian) publisher but they were not willing to publish. Reason – a local romance novel in English would not well-received in Malaysia!

    “I held on to the manuscript and began writing my second novel. The same thing happened to the second manuscript – no takers to those I submitted to in Malaysia because I wrote it in English! It was after ‘meeting’ Widad (Linda of Muslim Writers Publishing in the States) that The Gift finally began its publication journey.  Still, on having observed my first novel now being  published in America, a Malaysian publisher stepped forward to announce that they were willing to publish the second manuscript.”

    How was your everyday writing discipline?

    “I wrote The Gift in my bedroom.  Didn’t matter whether it was in Malaysia or in Carbondale! But I have a habit of keeping a little notebook with me and I write down any scenes or ideas that come to mind wherever I go. So, when I sat down to write The Gift, all the little notes were with me.

    “I would spend at least an hour a day on the manuscript once I managed a complete draft of the novel. I usually make up my mind on the ending right from the beginning. However, the beginning might change as the story proceeds.

    How did you then start to properly organise your writing for even other pieces of work?

    “Once I settled on a theme I would start keeping little notes. Right now I have a bunch of them for my third novel….I wrote a short note in my blog about this (www.polariswriter.blogspot.com). Once I have enough notes, I would sit down to fix all the pieces together. It’s fun, really!Then I will write a draft….the big picture I call it. The plots come along as I begin writing later on. A lot of editing/polishing as the chapters build.

    “I do have moods. That’s why it’s important to carry that little book.  Sometimes I just sit down and type away with the notes beside me! Otherwise, I write reams of pages in longhand before anything else.

    Name a favourite book for the present time.

    “I like tafseer (Commentary of the Quran) by the late Prof Hamka.”

    And what are you reading at the moment?

    “Dont Be Sad by Aaidh Al-Qarnee. The English version of ‘La Tahzan’. A super book and very inspiring.”

    What was a precious page or moment or chapter for you personally with regards to your own tale of The Gift?

    “Pages 202- 203 (Saleha and Imran before their wedding) and page 254 (Syira and Imran on the subject of trust).”

    While writing The Gift, how vividly did the characters occupy your headspace?

    “I practically lived with them. Laughed and cried with them. I was really sad when Saleha died. I felt so much for Imran’s loss and wanted Syira to be there for him though they were still strangers in some ways. Love and trust were still missing at that point. And yes I did miss them when I finished that last chapter especially Saleha!.”

    Did your finished manuscript alter or inspire your individuality in any way?

    “There are some things in life – good and bad experiences- that can be translated and shared in the form of fiction. After all there are always lessons to learn with every big/little episode in life. A novel is no different.”

    Who are your favourite Malaysian authors?

    “For fiction, I enjoy Abu Hassan Morad’s talent. He wrote ‘Cinta Madinah’.”


    How do you feel about Malaysian fiction in English, making it in the world?

    “I wish for more Malaysian fiction to be written in English thus getting international readership. But, the writers must have a clear vision why he/he wants to do this. For me, being a Muslim, I feel it’s a duty almost to make use of what little writing skills I possess to contribute to the production of quality Islamic fiction. So far, my friends – both Muslims and non-Muslims – have enjoyed reading ‘The Gift’. Also, never give up! Believe in what you write! One reader in the UK was happy to read The Gift because she just loved the story about Malaysians written by a Malaysian!

    How important currently are friends for intellectual pursuits?

    “Writer friends help boost my spirit to write esp. when I go through writer’s block. Yes, I do have a few specifically in the Muslim Writers Group though we are all busy with other non-writing tasks at the moment.  Generally, I tend to stay the solitary writer although I love getting comments from anyone in the writing world anywhere at all.”

    Would you see having experienced the dire writing process yourself that being published internationally is different from being published locally?

    “Yes! I get more worldwide feedback. It’s also interesting how people living outside Malaysia appreciate not just the story but the places and cultures presented in the novel.”

    Credit: Clip art of Sherlock Holmes, courtesy of Gnurf.Net.

    • acacciatura 9:00 am on July 12, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      The interview made me keen to read an extract, @Suzan. Do you know whether there’s anything like a ‘first chapter’ posted anywhere?

    • abramsuzan 5:04 pm on July 12, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Wordy,
      I don’t know where to get an extract honestly except maybe if you contact the publisher of Muslim Writers’ Publishing and I belive she’s available on email. I’ve ordered a copy of the book if that helps in any way.
      I am sure Zaipah’s reflective tale is nothing short of profound and heartwarming but Wordy, I daresay in all honesty that it may not be your cup of tea, knowing your taste for issues even in fiction, that appear directly challenging or even confrontational to the everyday senses. Of course, I’d be wrong too, now that winter may soon be on its way and what better than a fireplace-Campbell soup-bedroom slippers moment… 🙂

    • acacciatura 10:35 am on July 13, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Interesting that you think that — I honestly have no idea of how to categorise what I like … & I’ve been wondering about why I don’t understand the raving about Colette, except that her sentences in the original French are indeed exquisite. But they’ve always struck me as wasted on her subjects.

      I’d want to see a chunk of ZI before I bothered anyone,Suzan. Books are sold the wrong way round for me. In the way I approach them, everything begins with a page or a few paragraphs that have the right scent and texture and once I’m hooked, then — and only then — do I want to know about the writer.

      But I do love the glimpses of the Malaysian literary world you’re giving us — can’t understand that publisher’s reasoning in rejecting ZI’s ms., since all educated Malaysians seem to read for pleasure in English.

  • abramsuzan 2:37 am on June 1, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    The enigmatic and alluring Farah Damji 

    by Suzan Abrams

    An Interview with Farah Damji

    The need for a fix of a sweeter kind; nothing more than the aromatic flavour of a good coffee roast is what spurs present-day writer, renowned socialite and *ethical fashion designer, Farah Damji, to wake up with a renewed zest at her Central London Westminster home every morning.

    Of course, she could always settle for alternative sensual pleasures. The legendary Julie Andrews’ flamboyant rendition in My Favourite Things from the absolutely merry Sound of Music film, may have done well to have encountered some of Damji’s own assortments comprising a swift Chanel No.5 whiff, her childrens’ laughter and the shy scent of her little daughter’s hair and the very idea too, mind you, of “drowning” as Damji delectably puts it, in her “son’s eyes.”

    Then there are the simpler women magazine choice favourites like a row of plants sprouting up out of their window boxes, the happy sight of fresh flowers on a table, the smell of baking cakes, the feel of silk and perhaps most relevant of all, the satisfaction of a finished book.

    At the end of the day, Damji will look forward to being surrounded by her family, children, good friends and fresh flowers. Think parrot tulips for a moment. Damji adores their “weird organic shapes” and the strange way they completely “freak out” after a full bloom.

    This  fan of  Nitin Sawhhney is also deemed a faithful listener of Belle Humble, a North London-based singer whom she suspects may seriously give Lilly Allen a run for her money even if the former hasn’t yet achieved her breakthrough.

    Naturally, Damji can afford to be contemplative and daring in her thoughts. These are after all, exciting times in the socialite’s life pictured in an ironical upside-down fashion; and very much if you like, the calm after the storm.

    Damji has come through and survived unscathed a series of traumas, international scandals – some of them unjust – accompanying crimes and prison life; not a pretty story but nevertheless, old demons must still be faced and  appropriately conquered so there you go.

    Now, the Uganda-born former editor and publisher of a once stylish magazine in London, is to reveal all, in her sizzling brave autobiography Try Me to be published by the Ark Press in early July. Fifteen percent of the author’s royalties from the sale of each book will be religiously donated to Madonna’s charity, in the Raising Malawi campaign which helps over 400 000 orphans annually.

    “…I don’t see myself as a catalyst for justice truth or ointments but simply as a woman who wanted to tell her uncut, uncensored story. Writing was the first most direct way to do that.”

    Hers is described as a revolutionary story and a study in paradox by the charismatic writer and columnist Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal. The plot stays devoid of the usual soppy melodramas that habitually tail the Indian immigrant nostalgia – a quality of formula writing that many South Asian writers may have happily settled into, like a pair of old bedroom slippers.

    In this instance, Damji who uses her love for writing as a “passionate bug”, begs to differ.

    “Writing is the most effective means to convey a message,” she explains. “It’s longer lasting than TV, more efficient than radio, it’s forever. I don’t see myself as a catalyst for justice truth or ointments but simply as a woman who wanted to tell her uncut, uncensored story. Writing was the first most direct way to do that.”

    At the moment, a writing ritual is confined to the controversial Damji as to just where the mood “takes her.” She is re-reading Naipaul where she may convince herself yet again on the brilliance of the Nobel Laureate’s writings. Simply put, her logic is simple. “He captures the heart of the exiled and is not for the squeamish.” she enthuses.

    Damji who holds VS Naipaul. JM Coetzee. Boudiccea. Lady Godiva and Modesty Blaise to great admiration, is also reading Rumi translations, another literary endeavour that resonates the senses, but not those by Coleman Barks.

    To any reader, who opens up to the first page of Try Me, Damji would plead, “Keep an open mind and an open heart.” And please. There is good reason for this.

    It didn’t help matters that both the Google search engine which may prove overly-efficient at the worst of times and Wikipedia who labelled the once convicted lady an “international fraudster” may have also offered no help at all in soaking up fabricated, deeply exaggerated and in many cases anonymous accounts of what really went on in Damji’s life some years ago.

    Now, the fair-minded observer can expect more than just what promises to be a riveting read of homespun truths designed to knock the socks of many.

    With Damji’s devil-may-care attitude, the dangerous thrill of scintillating gossip in American and European high society and this promptly laid in contrast with the sharper somber aptitude of deep reflection that summed up daunting prison life first in New York and then England, awaits like a burning summer read.

    Be warned that Try Me will be all about the book you can’t put down or won’t want to.

    Besides the autobiography, established filmmaker Farrukh Dhondy of Lucid Pictures will adapt Farah Damji’s book for the screen. The screenplay is currently a project in the making.

    Here now are candid answers to a delicious interview on the necessary personal things the web forgot to record on the real Farah Damji as you may not know her. The simple, everyday things that beg to hold no judgement or puritanical hauteur

    With her caustic well-humoured wit, the answers below reveal truth carefully wound into one individual’s resurgence of a new life in the making.

    In my own erratic conversations with Farah Damji, let it be known that I have found the writer to be on occasion easily forgiving in that old-fashioned and warm-hearted, “never mind, don’t worry about it” way.


    Farah Damji On Writing & Publishing

    Explain your current working day.

    “At the moment, I’m still focused on getting my life back on track. At this stage, I work a lot on my book and help formulate marketing ideas with my publisher who is also my public relations consultant. We do this quite a lot together.

    “I’m also talking to bookshops with the possibility of doing book readings and author signings. I’m lucky that I do have a lot of autonomy with my publisher on subjects like paper quality for instance, which I may not have had anywhere else.” – FD

    Who publishes Try Me?

    “The Ark Press in July 2009.”

    How did you discover your publisher?

    “I didn’t. They discovered me. And it was a perfect fit. I dumped a “big book deal” because I was put with an editor I couldn’t stand. A young British Asian girl was handed my manuscript to work on. She thought the contents too shocking and insisted I edit out huge chunks of my life. I refused to do this.

    “This was after promises made that they loved the book, loved my writing, were fully behind it etc. What they really wanted was to package it and add it to the inane silly Indo-Brit chick-lit books out there that hold a limited audience and an even more limited world-view.

    “Then came Mme. Amita Mukerjee of Revenge Ink who again loved it, wanted it etc etc but had her own agenda.

    “Amita and I parted ways in March when it became clear to me that she wasn’t capable of publishing Try Me.

    “So when The Ark Press got in touch to ask if I would like to be their first book, I jumped at the chance. Because they too are new, this stays an important title to both parties and I am getting all the attention I could only dream about.

    “The Ark Press’s next title is to be Holy Bull; a work of non-fiction that discusses fraud in Indian history. It is written by the historian Roddy Matthews, who challenges the East India Company’s version of history as perpetrated by the unfortunate bastard children of the Raj, Willie Dalrymple, Salman Rushdie etc.

    “Apart from the general destruction of Dalrymple’s perspective Matthews points out ludicrous errors. For example, he writes that William Fraser left Calcutta and sailed down the Ganges in a steamboat for Delhi in the reign of Shah Jehan in 1704. He might as well said he took EasyJet because there were no steamboats at the time. Their other books include an unpublished monograph by VS Naipaul and Farrukh Dhondy’s brilliant book, The Bikini Murders, which he denies is based on the true story of Charles Sobraj. I’m in excellent company.”

    I remember an anonymous page and one easily visible on the web where the contents stress that you had “dumped” Mme. Mukerjee as she turned out to be nothing more than a vanity publisher. At the same time too, RedHotCurry.com mentioned your supposed online war with a publisher.

    “I have nothing to do with Amita Mukerjee anymore. I wish her luck in anything she attempts but I don’t wish to be involved with vanity publishing. RedHotCurry.com never spoke to me.”

    How would you accord discipline with writing now that time and freedom are your own?

    “I waste far too much time and then I kick myself for doing it. But people around always tell me they can’t believe how much I get done. Little do they know…”

    What do you expect the reaction to be towards Try Me? What do you stay prepared for?

    “Incidentally, I didn’t write it for a reaction. The truth might be painful but can be instructive, cautionary and might assist people to assess others more accurately.”

    What would you say to any stubborn observer still sceptical of all your experiences and brutal reflections?

    “I don’t care. Maybe I should but have never lived my life worried about what people think. .I am not the sum total of the opinions and reflections of me, I have, finally some sense of who I am, devoid of all the hype and hysteria and hate.”

    How would you view diaspora Indian writers in Britain or worldwide? Think Jhumpa Lahiri in her new contemporary literature as opposed to the views you held in 2004?

    “People like Jumpa Lahiri write Green card misery memoirs. If they hate it so much why don’t they go “home?” I think Indian diaspora writers are expected to write a certain way, the men will always be compared to Salman Rushdie, the women to Arundhati Roy although in reality both were one-hit wonders. What people like Rushdie do is make a joke out of degraded civilisations. I don’t think that it is funny, I think it is sick.

    “Why should we be dictated to about what we can write? Why should we produce simply formulaic books? But there are women breaking out of the mould.

    “I admire Naseem Rekha’s style and I like what I have read so far from her book, The Crying Tree. She sketches this from a global perspective especially about “dark” issues such as murder. But then I am not up to date anymore with what these “DIASPORA” people are writing.

    “I tend to read what I know I am going to love and that tends to come from recommendations. Life is too short to read a book I am going to think later “God, what a waste of time.” I want to read books about people whose vision I want to peek into, a bit like a peeping-Tom, so there has to be something there in the first place to attract me to them or their writing.

    On Damji’s Autobiography Being Turned into a Film

    You said earlier on the web that you were working on a film proposal. Can you tell us more?

    “It’s being packaged by Lucid Pictures in the UK who are also doing Naipaul’s Bend in the River and Howard Jacobson’s Kaluki Nights. There are producers attached, Farrukh Dhondy is the Executive Producer (his credits being Bandit Queen, The Rising & Red Mercury)”

    How do you reflect on the very idea of your controversial story being turned into a film?

    “I love it. Who wouldn’t?”

    How do you expect the film on the story of your life to define truth in a way that would be obviously different to the writing craft?

    “I think films based on biographies are just a facet of the truth, in the way books are another facet of the same truth.

    “I see the book as a launching pad for the film and not a line-by-line interpretation of what happened. All the book does is offer themes but a good writer and director will work to make these interesting to a viewing audience and to keep their attention for two hours at a stretch.

    “A book is a different engagement, it’s a longer commitment of time and energy in a way. You expend more of yourself by reading a book than by watching a film so it takes a different set of skills to be able to make a great film than to write a good film.”

    Who would you in a surreal dream have liked to have directed a film based on your autobiography?

    “There are too many great directors out there but two favourites are Guy Ritchie and Stephen Frears.”

    Who would you like to play you in a cinematic version of your life so far?

    “Angelina Jolie.”

    How great a participation would you expect to hold in a film made from Try Me?

    “If Farrukh is packaging it, then none. He is a control freak but also my best friend and the most ruthless writer and honest critic I know. I trust him, which is why the film went to Lucid Pictures.”

    Are there particular films you enjoy for their execution?

    “Dangerous Liaisons, Doubt, Rocknrolla, and Damaged. All cleverly written and directed to leave a gap for the viewer to come to their own conclusions about morality, betrayal, family, society. “

    On Signing Off

    With adventure, drama and experience in your hand, what do you consider to be the most over-rated virtue and why.

    “Discretion: which I see as a coward’s way out.”

    How do you view yourself as an individual today?

    “A work in progress.”

    Besides the film proposal, what stays your next writing project or have you already started work on another book?

    “Just thinking right now about a second book, which would be a novel. Mine is a two-book deal so I have to come up with something pretty fast!”

    Have you thought about returning to edit a magazine? Especially that once before you were recognized for this.

    “Been asked but not interested. Dead Wood Media is approaching extinction. With print-on-demand and news websites giving us the information we want at our fingertips, who needs them anymore?

    “Of course there a few magazines left worth keeping around. Vanity fair, Harpers Bazaar, The New Yorker but they exist to continue their own legacy and are supported by those who live / subscribe to the dream. It’s a very different world.


    *Farah Damji is also the owner of Moksasurya.com. Please click on the link to be impressed by what is said to be the world’s first luxury eco-brand in fashion.


    • Saymeena 9:01 pm on June 19, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      I think it is brilliant that Farah has redefined herself, in her terms, in her own way. Love her or hate her, she can certainly write and is the most marketable commodity sinbce peanut butter, just keeps selling. Good luck FD

  • abramsuzan 3:08 am on May 30, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    An Interview with Leela Soma, author of Twice Born 

    By Suzan Abrams

    Captions include Leela Soma and scenes from the window in her writing-room.


    Last year, Indo-Scot Glasgow academic turned writer, poet and performer, Leela Soma, published Twice Born with independent press, YouWriteOn.com in London. The title is said to be Glasgow’s first literary work of fiction spelling out a South Indian emigrant’s journey to Scotland.

    Soma whose stories and poetry appear to have taken off like the wind, described her earlier academic life as a wonderful career, one that was sometimes “deeply rewarding and at others, difficult and strenuous.” In contrast writing has proved luxurious and fantastic, she says. In Soma’s own words, “…the passion for getting a sentence right is deeply satisfying just as meeting up with an old student.”

    Twice Born took at at least 2 1/2 years to complete. More details of Leela Soma’s accomplishments may be found on her website and her blog.
    On June 4th the novelist launches Twice Born at Borders, Glasgow.
    More details of the event may be found over here.
    Do click here to read my review of Twice Born.

    Here are some personal insights on Madras-born Soma’s everyday writing life.


    A Day In The Life

    Leela Soma’s favourite colour may be blue and memorable scenes will stay of a moonlit night on Madras beach or of holding her infant daughter for the first time. Nothing beats the latter, she insists.

    But in everyday life, Soma prefers an early rise and it is the sunshine she considers her best spiritual uplift. In her own words, she loves getting up to a “bright day” as it “fills her soul with joy”.

    Leela Soma describes herself as a friendly and chatty person, intent on social activities. “I need people,” she enthuses. “I hate being on my own except when I need space to think or write. Ocassionally I get moody and annoying but snap out of it soon enough. I love chocolate and snacking on them ruins any work out at the gym.”

    In retrospect, her dawn energy stays motivated by a quiet reflection. Often, she steadies her glance at a remembered sister’s present: a photograph of her parents which she considers beautiful. Each morning, Soma wills their love and dedication to set her up for the day.

    This to be soon followed by a “good cup of tea”, tuning into Radio 4 and checking her emails.

    Mid-morning will find her at the local gym – the first class starts at 9.30am – for a series of low-impact exercises or a swim. Then in her own words, “a lovely coffee with really good friends at the gym at least four times a week.”

    The afternoon will see her with the Times crossword and this followed by two to four hours of writing or reviewing her stories.

    Soma may write up to four hours each weekday but none at all on the weekends; which she marks as a sacred interlude. She confesses to a room with a view. A window overlooks a woodland scene. The room is quiet, and made up of her computer, accompanying paraphernalia, a library and a puja – hindu prayer table –  at one end. Her ritual would be to sketch ideas on paper first as “small notes to herself”. This to be followed by writing straight onto the computer.

    There’s no denying that after cooking the evening meal, Soma would like to put her feet up with the “good odd, tv programme” or otherwise Coronation Street but as she views the full literary scene in Glasgow with excitement; is often off to “various book/creative writing events.”  She also wishes the theatre was more affordable.

    Later, she will wind down with a pile of books at her bedside table including some old favourites. At the moment the writer is bent on reading David Eggers.  ‘What is the What’ -in USA revolves around a story of the Lost Boys of Sudan.

    “I can read it in small doses as the scenes depicted of Southern Sudan, the suffering of the young children and the ongoing Darfur catastrophe is relentlessly heart wrenching. Unless we read it we can never understand and have empathy for such dreadful wars in the world,” she observes thoughtfully.

    Alexander McCall Smith stays a favourite author and Soma consider’s , Barrack Obama’s ‘ Dreams from My Father to be a “superb read”. *More details of her favourite book collection may be found in the questions and answers session below.

    “In the UK apart from the literary giants like Rushdie, and Booker prize winners like Arundathi Roy, Hanif Kureshi and Adiga there are few that reflect the life of an ordinary English or Scottish immigrant.”

    Today, May 29th has to be a near perfect day for Leela Soma. As she answers these questions in her study, the sun is shining and Glasgow seems at its best.

    She soaks in the long summer day as “golden, glowing” and with an atmosphere that makes one “feel blessed to be alive.” She would already have had a wonderful lunch with friends, her daughter would have just returned home from America and her husband has finished cutting the grass. The lovely turned-out garden will command Soma to feel at peace with all the world.

    On Writing.

    How do you consider living the writer’s life in Glasgow?

    “I do have a very good novel buddies group and a writing partner and I value both their input. We try to meet up regularly and offer a comprehensive critique of each other’s work.  I also belong to a Writers’ Group who have wonderful speakers from the writing world. I don’t have a favourite café as such but meet with fellow writers at various cafes in Glasgow.” – LS

    Are you still writing your second novel?

    “Yes, definitely. It has been on hold for the vacation but will get back to it in earnest after the launch.” (Soma recently traveled to Canada and the United States of America.)

    How do you presently work at your second novel?

    “It has an outline and I work away at it, but sometimes the characters take it to a different path or a twist that makes it more interesting.”

    Where do you derive your ideas for plots from?

    “I have a list of a few ideas that I feel strongly I must write about, as a short story or a novel depending on how it pans out. The second book is a strong reaction to a photograph in a newspaper.You’ll understand once the book is completed.”

    Having presented Scotland’s first Indian emigrant story in print, what does that say for you personally?

    “For years while I worked fulltime I always felt that there was nothing in mainstream literature in Scotland about an Indian immigrant experience. There is an enormous literary output in USA and Canada with authors like Jhumpa Lahiri whose work I admire.

    “In the UK apart from the literary giants like Rushdie, and Booker prize winners like Arundathi Roy, Hanif Kureshi and Adiga there are few that reflect the life of an ordinary English or Scottish immigrant.  I also want the next generation to be enthused and get into the mainstream and make our stories as valid as James Kelman in Glasgow or Alan Bennett in England. It is definitely an exciting time and hope many more  writers contribute to the Scottish literary scene.”

    How do you view the worldwide web in general in its place to help the new author progress in today’s fast-paced competitive world?

    “I wish I was internet savy. I consider myself still a technophobe. I am still learning. The world wide web is a superb opportunity and it must be used by emerging authors for learning about new writing, for research and of course for marketing.”

    On introspection, how would you sum up an industrious but independent publicity for your book and stories?

    “Unless you have been fortunate enough to get a big two-book deal from a big publisher, who provide all the publicity, all others have to be involved in their own marketing. There is so much to learn too about the book trade.I have friends who have been published by small presses and all of them have said that the only way to promote your work is to showcase the work as much as possible.”

    Do you have any author you’d like to aspire to?

    “I have no great illusions that I would be good enough to reach such heights but Arundathi Roy’s prose in the ‘God of Small Things’ rose out of the page and assaulted all one’s senses and Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight Children’ when you could almost smell the pickle factory.I would love to be able to reach that standard.”

    What were a few things that gave you a real buzz at the London Book Fair recently besides which you’ve already mentioned on your blog?

    “Market focus India was wonderful at the LBF. The fact that in such times of a crisis with the credit crunch plus with all the visual media alluring the young involving elelctronic games and dvd’s for example, the fact that books are still so important to the reading public is encouraging.

    “The espresso machine printing books and the ebooks are the future even though I am sure that they will never replace books as we know them. I still remember fondly the book lined study of my dad and grandfather and the smell of old and new books and the joy of holding them, reading them and being transported to another world. That still holds true and LBF was a testimony to that.”

    *Like the fictitious character Sita in Twice Born, do you own a collection of well-thumbed and sentimental classics in your home?”

    “I have an eclectic collection and also read voraciously from my local library.There are some classics like Shakespeare, all of Anita Desai’s R.K. Narayan, some Rushdie and Scottish authors from Burns to Alaistair Gray and a lot of new writers from all over the world.

    “I love Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novels that were called Half of the Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. But the book I treasure most is the Bhagavad Gita, my dad ‘s copy and I read it a lot, dip into it very often. I am also reading Thirukurral again as I am doing a review for Penguin India Classics.”

    What happens with your short stories that you plan to turn into a collection?

    “I do have eight short stories, ready and waiting to be published. The stories deal with life in Glasgow. Any publisher interested should call me now!”

    Where do you see yourself heading as a writer in the near future?

    “I hope to get my short stories published. Then complete my first draft of the second novel. I also write poetry for pleasure and if it is enjoyed by others, would like to raise money for charity from my poems as I did with my first collection From Madras to Milngavie. I write because I want to and enjoy the process of getting my thoughts on paper that is an accomplishment enough for me.”

    Do you have a tip for aspiring authors?

    “Read, read , write ,write as Natalie Goldberg and others say. Write every day even for ten minutes, even if your words are never going to be used. Enjoy what you are doing. Write with passion.Network and have a writing partner or group who can help evaluate your work. Do other things that you enjoy too.

    How do you feel about your upcoming Borders launch?

    “If you had asked me a year ago if this was possible I would have have been surprised. I am looking forward to the launch, both with excitement and a bit of trepidation as any new writer would be.”

    What was your most remarkable moment while writing Twice Born?

    “Perhaps when Aunty BB, the novel’s notorious gossip and a total figment of my imagination, started taking over the plot line. I realised I could invent a whole new series around her. Maybe I should; recalling the horrors that she inflicted on the community in her inimitable way.”

    Did you expect the positive reactions so far garnered from Twice Born?

    “I am thrilled with the wonderful feedback from all who have read the book. Many have asked if I am doing a sequel. It has really made me want to do better with my next book.

    • glascot 11:02 am on May 31, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Susan,

      You have done a great job with the interview and prsesnted the snippets well in the blog. Thanks

    • Suzan Abrams 9:40 pm on May 31, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      You’re most welcome, Leela.


    • acacciatura 5:57 am on June 5, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      A fascinating interview, Suzan, and I know that I’ll want to read this book. I have been all over South India and have also visited Glasgow. These two places are so utterly, wonderfully incommensurable that I can’t wait to read someone so intelligent linking them.

      That was such a wizard idea you had to show us the views from the window of her study. Now if only the garden weren’t quite so immaculate … sigh. : )

      • glascot 2:12 pm on June 6, 2009 Permalink | Reply

        What wonderful comments acacciatura! Thank you so much My book ‘Twice Born’ is available on Amazon.com or with the book depository with free world wide postage. Do read and send me your comments or put it up on Amazon. Also please read my blog on how the book is doing.The Borders launch on Thursday was a sell out.Ta to Suzan, she is such a good blogger and hard working book reviewer.

    • Suzan Abrams 12:20 pm on June 5, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Wordy,
      My mother is from the Punjab but my father is from Kerala. Not Cochin state but the capital city Trivandrum and its outlying towns.
      I find the fact that you’ve been in India, fascinating.
      If you ever want to hand me a neutral address somewhere of a mail office or a friend’s place from where you are, I’d be happy to just slip some of these books into an envelope and send them on.

    • glascot 2:13 pm on June 6, 2009 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Suzan,

      My grandpa is from Kerala, so we are all linked in some way! WOW.

  • abramsuzan 4:10 am on April 26, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    Tan Twan Eng to speak at the Franschhoek Literary Festival May 2009 

    I wrote this post elsewhere on April 20, 2009.

    by Suzan Abrams

    Official tourism site for Franschhoek, a stunning wine valley off the Western Cape, South Africa.


    Prominent Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng whose first novel, the riveting Gift of Rain set in 1930s Penang, enraptured the world and found itself on the Booker longlist for 2007, will speak at various engagements, at the Franschhoek Literary Festival, South Africa to be held from May 15-17 2009.

    Besides, the predictable literary accrument likely to shape the glamorous personality of such festivals, I can only imagine that Tan together with his fellow writers, Vikas Swarup who penned the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire (original title: Q&A) and Petina Gappah, who recently published a collection of short stories on Zimbabwe’s social unrest called An Elergy for Easterly” and who is an important Zimbabwean writer in Switzerland, will be feted in perfect style while surrounded by stunning scenic views off the Western Cape.

    Tan is scheduled to speak on various aspects of writing, each day of the festival. From the sounds of its website, the organisers appear to be in celebratory party mood, almost as if they may have just caught Dublin’s glorious spring weather.

    Tan Twan Eng is a Malaysian lawyer who currently lives in Cape Town, South Africa.

    Here is the Franschhoek Literary Festival’s website, with a detailed author programme in place. It stays a busy, vibrant website with happy reading ambitions.

  • abramsuzan 2:31 am on April 26, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    Tash Aw speaks at the London Book Fair 2009 and at the Sydney and Auckland Writers’ and Readers’ Festivals in May 

    I wrote this news elsewhere on April 20, 2009.
    by Suzan Abrams
    As a Malaysian, I continue to be inspired by one of my country’s most intelligent of international novelists and this being former lawyer, Tash Aw, who has long made his home in London and who first published the award-winning The Harmony Silk Factory in early 2005. At the time, Aw proved to the Peninsular’s next big thing while dogging the then debut Malaysian novelist, Rani Manicka‘s phenomenal world success with The Rice Mother. At the moment, I still know of Aw to be one of Malaysia’s most skilled researchers on the specific subject of colonial history.

    To cut a long story short, Aw launches his second novel the long-awaited, Map of the Invisible World next month in London. The plot promises to be another exciting intellectual feast. The hard dialogues of different temperamental personalities separating race and culture and for which, Aw stays famed, carve the structure of the plot. Think Sukarno’s Indonesia in the 60’s and its captial city Jakarta as a background setting. In the midst of a difficult history, throw in mysterious photos and letters that link unsuspecting individuals together including a Dutchman and two orphans who choose distant paths.

    London Book Fair 2009

    But here now for another exciting announcement…
    Despite the theme being India this year, Tash Aw is the only Malaysian being invited to speak tomorrow at the London Book Fair 2009.

    As part of a powerful seminar programme, Aw will speak on the subject of Writers of Tomorrow together with a panel of distinguished guests which includes the novelist Fay Weldon.
    The event from 3.30pm to 4.30pm will be held on Tuesday, April 21st at Earls Court 1, Level 1, Cromwell Room.
    Organised by the Arts Council England, it will also feature the Council’s director Ms Antonia Byatt, daughter of popular novelist A.S. Byatt.


    Here in brief are a few more highlights which stretch promotions for Aw’s Map of the Invisible World in the near future.


    On May 7, 2009 at 6.45pm Tash Aw launches his second novel at the Asia House Festival which celebrates British Asian writers throughout May. Aw will be in conversation with Malaysia’s prominent short story writer and newspaper essayist, Karim Raslan at Asia House’s new venue on New Cavendish Street, London.

    New Zealand

    Next, Tash Aw is scheduled to speak at the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival 2009″ to be held from May 13 to 17, 2009. He will find himself in pleasant company several interesting novelists including Britain’s Monica Ali who created the bestselling Brick Lane, David Malouf and Orange Prize Winner, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who recently published a collection of short stories called The Thing Around Your Neck. Aw will present his newest work at two events. The first is at the New Zealand Listener Open Night from 7.30 to 9pm at the ASB Theatre – Aotea Centre and the second is titled An Hour with Tash Aw. This takes place once more from 2.30 to 3.30pm on May 17 at the ASB Theatre – Aotea Centre.


    Aw with several of the same writers will then proceed on to the Sydney Writer’s Festival to be held from May 18 to May 24, 2009. This time, Kashua Ishiguro will also be present to read from his new novel. Aw reads from Map of the Invisible World together with other writers who present a selection of readings from between 7 to 8.30pm on Sunday, May 23, 2009 at the Sydney Theatre, Walsh Bay.


    In June, Aw returns once more to India after having already been, to promote Map of the Invisible World.

  • abramsuzan 1:58 pm on April 3, 2009 Permalink | Reply  

    Desmond Swords 

    Des currently disguised as Flarf on the Guardian Books Blog, is writing like he hasn’t written for a long time. He is newly-spirited, motivated and deeply solemn about the things that matter. He says he obtained this new streak only when I returned from Africa. I will never know and will of course, take no credit at all for his talent and ingenuity. I am after all, nothing more than a passing ship on a strange foggy night where mystery still holds the unknown trump card.
    Who knows where my ashes will finally be scattered, that last flight, the last destination and a fitful embracing ocean, fretting for my lost breath in the cold sunset? It could be anywhere in the world. I am a free spirit and everything in life is transitory.
    I was first drawn to Des’s daring orginality as the love-or-hate-him OvidYeats. Everything else is history.
    He writes for hours without a break. His notebooks are scattered everywhere, so too those technical poetry references. He is moved by the ancient Irish Bards. That vague legendary figures could capsule him into a vision of extraordinary bliss, belief and learning is what I find extraordinary and uplifting. How they make for kind ghosts!
    When he writes, he may forget to shave, forget to sleep or eat. He is spurred on by tea and cigarettes. The kind of writers I used to observe in old films and forgot about on my way to growing up.
    His prose is wonderful… so too his short stories. Yet, this creative aspect is often treated as the poor relation. However, when he does write something on his blog, I find his words to be strangely psychedelic and captivating. And I want to listen to Merseyside music all over again.
    Des came to Dublin from Liverpool to seach his ancestral roots and found them. But where he thought he would stroll with his art, they cajoled him to a run. And I haven’t heard the swift motion of racing footsteps, stop since.

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