Thursday, January 01, 2015

January 2015 Highlights

Novels
1. See How Small (Little, Brown, 2015) / Scott Blackwood
2. Outline (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Rachel Cusk
3. Vigilante (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2015) / Shelley Harris
4. The Big Seven (Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2015) / Jim Harrison
5. The Season of Migration (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2015) / Nellie Hermann
6. 10:04 (Granta, 2015) / Ben Lerner
7. Fear the Darkness (Minotaur Books, 2015) / Becky Masterman
8. Runaway (Quercus, 2015) / Peter May
9. The Offering (Sceptre, 2015) / Grace McCleen
10. The Sacrifice (Ecco/Fourth Estate, 2015) / Joyce Carol Oates

11. West of Sunset (Viking, 2015) / Stewart O’Nan
12. Curtain Call (Jonathan Cape, 2015) / Anthony Quinn
13. Happy Are the Happy (trans. from the French by Sarah Ardizzone) (Other Press, 2015) / Yasmina Reza

First Novels
1. The Girl On the Train (Riverbed Books/Doubleday, 2015) / Paula Hawkins
2. Descent (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2015) / Tim Johnston
3. The First Bad Man (Scribner, 2015) / Miranda July
4. Don’t Let Him Know (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Sandip Roy
5. Weathering (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015) / Lucy Wood

Stories
1. Refund (Counterpoint Press, 2015) / Karen E. Bender
2. Almost Famous Women (Scribner, 2015) / Megan Mayhew Bergman
3. Honeydew (Little, Brown, 2015) / Edith Pearlman
Nonfiction
1. Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir (Bloomsbury Press, 2015) / Gail Godwin
2. Between Gods: A Memoir (Tinder Press, 2015) / Alison Pick

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

100 Literary Favourites of 2014

THE YEAR 2014 HAS COME TO AN END. This has been another vintage year for both fiction and nonfiction. It’s literally a bumper harvest of literature. Here are my favourite reads of 2014. They are not necessarily the BEST books of the year. What I have listed here are merely some of my FAVOURITE books that I have read this year, books that have resonated with me, books that have left an impression on me, books that I enjoyed in one way or another. This list is of course subjective because I have only read a small percentage of the books published this year. It is almost impossible to do a Top 10. I could easily add another hundred books to the list if I wanted to. Like many serious readers, I buy far more books than I can possibly read, but nothing makes me happier. As always, I look forward with anticipation to a new reading year.

Novels
1. The Temporary Gentleman (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Sebastian Barry
2. Above the East China Sea (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Sarah Bird
3. All the Light We Cannot See (Scribner/Fourth Estate, 2014) / Anthony Doerr
4. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (trans. from the Italian by Ann Goldstein) (Europa Editions, 2014) / Elena Ferrante
5. The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus/Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Richard Flanagan
6. Falling Out of Time (trans. from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / David Grossman
7. The Girl Who Couldn’t Read (Blue Door, 2014) / John Harding
8. The Book of Unknown Americans (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Cristina Henríquez
9. The Emperor Waltz (Fourth Estate, 2014) / Philip Hensher
10. Spilt Milk (Penguin Books, 2014) / Amanda Hodgkinson

11. Wittgenstein Jr (Melville House, 2014) / Lars Iyer
12. A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead, 2014) / Marlon James
13. Remember Me Like This (Random House, 2014) / Bret Anthony Johnston
14. F (trans. from the German by Carol Brown Janeway) (Pantheon/Quercus, 2014) / Daniel Kehlmann
15. The Moor’s Account (Pantheon, 2014) / Laila Lalami
16. Winter (Fourth Estate, 2014) / Christopher Nicholson
17. I Refuse (trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett) (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Per Petterson
18. Lila (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Virago/Little, Brown, 2014) / Marilynne Robinson
19. The Remedy for Love (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014) / Bill Roorbach
20. China Dolls (Random House, 2014) / Lisa See

21. The Architect’s Apprentice (Viking, 2014) / Elif Shafak
22. Family Life (Faber & Faber/W.W. Norton, 2014) / Akhil Sharma
23. Some Luck (Alfred A. Knopf/Mantle, 2014) / Jane Smiley
24. All My Puny Sorrows (Faber & Faber/McSweeney’s, 2014) / Miriam Toews
25. The Paying Guests (Virago/Riverhead, 2014) / Sarah Waters
26. Eyrie (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Picador, 2014) / Tim Winton
27. Nora Webster (Viking/Scribner, 2014) / Colm Tóibín
28. The Cold Song (trans. from the Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland) (Other Press, 2014) / Linn Ullmann
29. Love and Treasure (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Ayelet Waldman
30. History of the Rain (Bloomsbury Publishing/Bloomsbury USA, 2014) / Niall Williams

First Novels
31. Panic in a Suitcase (Riverhead, 2014) / Yelena Akhtiorskaya
32. A Song for Issy Bradley (Hutchinson, 2014) / Carys Bray
33. Painted Horses (Grove Press, 2014) / Malcolm Brooks
34. Shotgun Lovesongs (Thomas Dunne Books/Picador, 2014) / Nickolas Butler
35. High as the Horses’ Bridles (Henry Holt, 2014) / Scott Cheshire
36. The Enchanted (Harper/Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2014) / Rene Denfeld
37. An Untamed State (Black Cat/Grove Press, 2014) / Roxane Gay
38. Sedition (Virago, 2014) / Katharine Grant
39. The Bully of Order (Harper Press, 2014) / Brian Hart
40. Elizabeth Is Missing (Penguin Viking, 2014) / Emma Healey

41. Fourth of July Creek (Ecco, 2014) / Smith Henderson
42. The Undertaking (Atlantic Books/Grove Press, 2014) / Audrey Magee
43. Everything I Never Told You (Penguin Press/Blackfriars, 2014) / Celeste Ng
44. Dust (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
45. Land Where I Flee (Quercus, 2014) / Prajwal Parajuly
46. After Me Comes the Flood (Serpent’s Tail, 2014) / Sarah Perry
47. In the Light of What We Know (Picador/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Zia Haider Rahman
48. We Are Not Ourselves (Simon & Schuster/Fourth Estate, 2014) / Matthew Thomas
49. The Visionist (Little, Brown/Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Rachel Urquhart
50. The Great Glass Sea (Grove Press, 2014) / Josh Weil

Stories
51. The Emerald Light in the Air (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Granta Books, 2014) / Donald Antrim
52. Young Skins (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Colin Barrett
53. Man V. Nature (Harper, 2014) / Diane Cook
54. Noontide Toll (Granta Books, 2014) / Romesh Gunesekera
55. Infidelities (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Kirsty Gunn
56. The Other Language (Pantheon, 2014) / Francesca Marciano
57. Thunderstruck and Other Stories (The Dial Press, 2014) / Elizabeth McCracken
58. Bark (Alfred A. Knopf/Faber & Faber, 2014) / Lorrie Moore
59. England and Other Stories (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Graham Swift
60. The American Lover (Random House, 2014) / Rose Tremain

Poetry
61. Bright Travellers (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Fiona Benson
62. Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014) / Liz Berry
63. All One Breath (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / John Burnside
64. Moontide (Bloodaxe Books, 2014) / Niall Campbell
65. Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Carcanet Press, 2014) / Louise Gluck
66. Fire Songs (Faber & Faber, 2014) / David Harsent
67. The Stairwell (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Michael Longley
68. Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Claudia Rankine
69. Sailing the Forest: Selected Poems (Picador, 2014) / Robin Robertson
70. I Knew the Bride (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Hugo Williams

Nonfiction
71. Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Atlantic Books, 2014) / Scott Anderson
72. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Alfred A. Knopf/The Bodley Head, 2014) / Karen Armstrong
73. Updike (Harper, 2014) / Adam Begley
74. Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love (Bloomsbury Publishing/Bloomsbury Press, 2014) / James Booth
75. Moral Imagination: Essays (Princeton University Press, 2014) / David Bromwich
76. Joan of Arc: A History (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Helen Castor
77. Loitering: New & Collected Essays (Tin House Books, 2014) / Charles D’Ambrosio
78. The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Meghan Daum
79. The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Emancipation (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / David Brion Davis
80. Dublin: The Making of a Capital City (Profile Books, 2014) / David Dickson

81. Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts (Yale University Press, 2014) / Robert M. Dowling
82. The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World (Metropolitan Books/Oneworld Publications, 2014) / Greg Grandin
83. Gandhi Before India (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Ramachandra Guha
84. Eleanor Marx: A Life (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Rachel Holmes
85. Ten Cities that Made an Empire (Allen Lane, 2014) / Tristram Hunt
86. Revolutionary Ideas: An Intellectual History of the French Revolution from The Rights of Man to Robespierre (Princeton University Press, 2014) / Jonathan Israel
87. The Empathy Exams: Essays (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Leslie Jamieson
88. Midnight’s Descendants: South Asia from Partition to the Present Day (William Collins, 2014) / John Keay
89. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (Bloomsbury Publishing/Henry Holt, 2014) / Elizabeth Kolbert
90. Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh (Bloomsbury Circus/W.W. Norton, 2014) / John Lahr


91. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Hermione Lee
92. Why I Read: The Serious Pleasure of Books (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Wendy Lesser
93. Berlin: Imagine a City (Weidenfeld & Nicolson/St Martin’s Press, 2014) / Rory MacLean
94. Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood: A History in Thirteen Centuries (Allen Lane/The Penguin Press, 2014) / Justin Marozzi
95. My Life in Middlemarch (published in the U.K. as The Road to Middlemarch: My Life with George Eliot) (Crown/Granta, 2014) / Rebecca Mead
96. The Novel: A Biography (Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 2014) / Michael Schmidt
97. The Golden Fleece (published in the U.S. as The Informed Air) (ed. Penelope Jardine) (New Directions/Carcanet Press, 2014) / Muriel Spark
98. Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / Jan Swafford
99. The English and Their History (Allen Lane, 2014) / Robert Tombs
100. Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (Oxford University Press, 2014) / Marina Warner

Monday, December 01, 2014

December 2014 Highlights

Novels
1. The Boston Girl (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Anita Diamant
2. The End of Days (trans. from the German by Susan Bernofsky) (Portobello Books, 2014) / Jenny Erpenbeck
3. Volcano Street (Atlantic Books, 2014) / David Rain
4. Skylight (trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / José Saramago
5. How to be Both (Pantheon, 2014) / Ali Smith

First Novels
1. Ridley Road (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2014) / Jo Bloom

Stories
1. Love & Hate (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Hanif Kureishi

Poetry
1. A Woman Without a Country (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Eavan Boland

Nonfiction
1. Henry VIII: The Quest for Fame (Allen Lane, 2014) / John Guy
2. Essays After Eighty (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / Donald Hall
3. Where Have You Been?: Selected Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Michael Hofmann
4. A Tremendous Thing: Friendship from the Iliad to the Internet (Cornell University Press, 2014) / Gregory Jusdanis
5. Seeing Things As They Are: Selected Journalism and Other Writings (Harvill Secker, 2014) / George Orwell

Saturday, November 01, 2014

November 2014 Highlights

“October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and NOVEMBER arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.” J.K. ROWLING, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Novels
1. The Emerald Light in the Air (Granta Books, 2014) / Donald Antrim
2. Far As the Eye Can See (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Robert Bausch
3. Amnesia (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Peter Carey
4. Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves (Grove Press, 2014) / Carolyn Chute
5. The Happiest People in the World (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014) / Brock Clarke
6. Getting Colder (Virago, 2014) / Amanda Coe
7. The Burning Room (Little, Brown/Orion, 2014) / Michael Connelly
8. Crooked Heart (Doubleday, 2014) / Lissa Evans
9. The Book of Strange New Things (Canongate, 2014) / Michel Faber
10. The Barefoot Queen (crown, 2014) / Idelfonso Falcones

11. The Italian Wife (Sphere, 2014) / Kate Furnivall
12. Sylvia Garland’s Broken Heart (Halban Publishers, 2014) / Helen Harris
13. The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens (Counterpoint, 2014) / Thomas Hauser
14. Funny Girl (Viking, 2014) / Nick Hornby
15. A Map of Betrayal (Pantheon, 2014) / Ha Jin
16. The Laughing Monsters (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Denis Johnson
17. Revival (Scribner/Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / Stephen King
18. Mermaids in Paradise (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Lydia Millet
19. The Forgers (Mysterious Press, 2014) / Bradford Morrow
20. The Fires of Autumn (trans. from the French by Sandra Smith) (Chatto & Windus, 2014) / Irène Némirovsky

21. When the Night Comes (John Murray Publishers, 2014) / Favel Parrett
22. Peace and Conflict (Corsair, 2014) / Irene Sabatini
23. Shark (Grove Press/Atlantic Monthly Press, 2014) / Will Self
24. The Architect’s Apprentice (Viking, 2014) / Elif Shafak
25. Some Luck (Mantle, 2014) / Jane Smiley
26. All Days Are Nights (trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann) (Other Press, 2014) / Peter Stamm
27. All My Puny Sorrows (McSweeney’s, 2014) / Miriam Toews
28. Balancing Act (Black Swan, 2014) / Joanna Trollope

First Novels
1. Preparation for the Next Life (Tyrant Books, 2014) / Atticus Lish
2. Three Bargains (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Tania Malik
3. Everything I Never Told You (Blackfriars, 2014) / Celeste Ng

Stories
1. Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book (Ecco/Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Richard Ford
2. Infidelities (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Kirsty Gunn
3. Life-Like (Seagull Books, 2014) / Toby Litt
4. Frog (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Mo Yan
5. Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas (trans. from the French by Mark Polizzotti) (Yale University Press, 2014) / Patrick Modiano
6. Family Furnishings: Selected Stories, 1995-2014 (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Alice Munro
7. New York 1, Tel Aviv 0 (FSG Originals, 2014) / Shelly Oria
8. Something Rich and Strange: Selected Stories (Ecco, 2014) / Ron Rash
9. The American Lover (Random House, 2014) / Rose Tremain

Poetry
1. Ask the Moon: New and Collected Poems, 1948-2014 (Hutchinson, 2014) / Dannie Abse
2. You Must Remember This (Milkweed Editions, 2014) / Michael Bazzett
3. Slant Six (Copper Canyon Press, 2014) / Erin Belieu
4. New Selected Poems, 1988-2013 (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Seamus Heaney
5. Sack (Picador, 2014) / John Kinsella
6. One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Paul Muldoon
7. When God is a Traveller (Bloodaxe Books, 2014) / Arundathi Subramanaiam
8. The Other Mountain (Carcanet, 2014) / Rowan Williams

Nonfiction
1. Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love (Bloomsbury Press, 2014) / James Booth
2. Wounding the World: How Military Violence and War-Play Invade Our Lives (Virago, 2014) / Joanna Bourke
3. Theater of Cruelty: Art, Film, and the Shadows of War (New York Review Books, 2014) / Ian Buruma
4. Ultrasonic: Essays (Lavender Ink, 2014) / Steven Church
5. Life, Love and the Archers: Recollections, Reviews and Other Prose (Two Roads, 2014) / Wendy Cope
6. Loitering: New & Collected Essays (Tin House Books, 2014) / Charles D’Ambrosio
7. The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Meghan Daum
8. Visitants (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Dave Eggers
9. Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 (W.W. Norton, 2014) / R.F. Foster
10. My Life in Houses (Chatto & Windus, 2014) / Margaret Forster

11. Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Mohsin Hamid
12. Rocket and Lightship: Essays on Literature and Ideas (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Adam Kirsch
13. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Hermione Lee
14. Germany: Memories of a Nation (Allen Lane, 2014) / Neil MacGregor
15. In America: Travels with John Steinbeck (trans. from the Dutch by Liz Waters) (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Geert Mak
16. Where I’m Reading From: The Changing World of Books (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Tim Parks
17. Napoleon: A Life (Viking Adult, 2014) / Andrew Roberts
18. A Brief Stop on the Road from Auschwitz (Granta Books, 2014) / Göran Rosenberg
19. Capitalism: A Ghost Story (Verso Books, 2014) / Arundhati Roy
20. Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms: Journeys into the Disappearing Religions of the Middle East (Simon & Schuster, 2014) / Gerard Russell

21. Chaucer’s Tale: 1386 and the Road to Canterbury (Viking, 2014) / Paul Strohm
22. The English and Their History (Allen Lane, 2014) / Robert Tombs
23. In These Times: Living in Britain Through Napoleon’s Wars, 1793-1815 (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Jenny Uglow

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Sweet Passion

SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH traces CHARMAINE AUGUSTIN’s journey from broadcasting and boardrooms to gourmet food and confectionery

Photos by AHMAD ZURIN NOH for Quill
Coordinated by ERIC FORBES

IF YOU WERE A CHILD of the Eighties growing up in Malaysia, chances are good that you will remember Charmaine Augustin. Back in the pre-American Idol days when TV3 was a brand-new television station, there was Juara Lagu and Muzik-Muzik. As co-host of the channel’s wildly popular singing competition and music show, Augustin’s visage graced millions of small screens across the country and around the region.

You might remember Augustin for her remarkable ability to connect and engage with live audiences and viewers, or how she seemed to effortlessly radiate glitz and glamour on the screen. Delve a little deeper, and it becomes abundantly clear that she is a deep thinker—a characteristic that she is well aware of.

Kuala Lumpur-born Augustin describes herself as passionate and intense, sensitive and very private. She also calls herself a “quiet observer,” a trait that was born of necessity when she was a child. Her late father, Dato Capt. Patrick Augustin, was in the Army and Special Branch, so her formative years were marked by travel and plenty of it. “On the move” is the phrase that best describes her childhood, she explains.

All that movement and change brought with it both the good and the bad. “My nomadic childhood created insecurities. It also built reserve and innate self-belief,” she explains, candidly. “I was an outsider, an avid observer of life, an adventurer. Incessant daydreaming was my insulation from the uncertainties of growing up. It was fertile ground for unbridled imagination.”

While a nomadic lifestyle created an unusually high level of unpredictability in her childhood years, Augustin also fondly remembers the good times. The middle child among three siblings and the only girl, Augustin recalls growing up in gorgeous Lutyens-style bungalows with gleaming arches and wide wooden verandahs, surrounded by lush spacious gardens. “There were gazebos, giant rubber and banyan trees with branches reaching to the sky. Sometimes we lived in forests in newly cleared jungles turned into housing residences. Other times it was by the sea.”

She also vividly remembers long bicycle rides with her younger brother, down winding paths that led to the beach when the family lived in Penang and Butterworth. “The breeze, salty from the sea, whiffed across our nostrils. We picked up starfish and endlessly tickled their legs. It was a favourite pastime.”

Seaside bicycle rides and playing with starfish are undeniably idyllic ways to while away the hours, but these days, Augustin has time to indulge in these pursuits only in her memories.

Today, Augustin, who speaks and writes French fluently, is a busy businesswoman who co-runs Passion Doux (which means “sweet passion” in French) with her best friend Lee Yulie. Passion Doux is a wholesale provider of premium gourmet foods. “We import and distribute gourmet and specialty fine foods with a penchant for confectionery. We also work with individuals with rare and specialty products. These include handmade award-winning nougats, pickles and jams, cookies, coconut candies, pate des fruits and calamansi honey nectar juice, among others.”

Passion Doux clients are highly discerning and demand the finest, but judging from the company’s growth, the two co-owners are more than able to deliver. “Our clients include five-star hotels, upscale grocery outlets, private premium gift retailers and blue-chip corporations. My roles and focus include product identification and development, packaging, sales, marketing and branding, client relationship, import and logistics,” explains Augustin.

So how did a renowned TV personality end up in the wholesale food industry? As it turns out, much like her childhood, Augustin’s career path is nothing if not unusual and her choices reflect the deep courage of a woman who isn’t afraid to follow her heart.

For those who remember her polished professionalism during her days at TV3, it would be hard to believe that the young broadcast announcer had no media experience or training at the time. Despite this “drawback” she enjoyed a meteoric rise up the ranks and while many others in her place would have played it safe, she dropped everything to go to college.

“My time in TV3 inspired me to go pursue a degree in Broadcast and Film. I left for Boston in 1991 and returned in 1994.” The Malaysian media landscape had changed dramatically in those three years and there were many more opportunities for Augustin to dive into. “Upon my return I joined MetroVision Channel 8, known as 8TV today, as Program Manager, followed by a stint as the Asian Managing Director with Articulate Asia, a Dutch telecommunications and content company.” Time at the telecommunications company proved to be a turning point in her career. “While in Articulate I realised that the future was in the direction of convergence of content, multimedia and technology.”

The next few years were a whirlwind of upward mobility and career changes, which included time working as a Marketing Manager at the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDC) when she became part of the pioneering effort that created the Malaysian Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC). Next she was headhunted to join Ericsson Malaysia as General Manager of Mobile Internet and Systems Integration and became the first Malaysian woman and the youngest person to take over the role.

Then it was on to Malaysia Biotechnology Corporation as Branding and Marketing Vice-President. Augustin’s corporate career culminated in 2008 when she was appointed General Manager for DDBPR, the public relations arm of Naga DDB, Malaysia’s largest marketing and communications advertising company. Like her decision to drop everything during the height of her success at TV3, Augustin made a decision to turn away from the corporate fast track to focus on her secret love—food. “Food has always fascinated me. It is one of the greatest pleasures of the senses and a playground for creativity and visual art.”

As with all her career moves, she combined heart with smarts and looked at ways to turn her love into a viable, lucrative business. This focus and direction inspired her to combine food with trading and thus Passion Doux was born. “I have always loved the idea of trading. Even in the companies I used to work for, wherever there was an opportunity, I would create business-inspired events,” she reveals.

These days, Augustin’s daily routine overflows with “work, work, and more work” plus time stolen here and there for leisure pursuits like reading and jazz piano classes but the popular media personality turned entrepreneur will have it no other way.

Other than serving an ever-expanding clientele, Augustin, along with Lee, works with less fortunate individuals and families who possess the fire and spirit of an entrepreneur but not the financial means to support their dreams. “We develop recipes, formulas and ideas with them and brand and market their products. This gives them sustainable income, new-found confidence and knowledge that they have special skills and are able to contribute to society and to their families.”

Passion Doux also serves as a channel for the two women to bring alive the food tradition and memories of their beloved mothers and grandmothers. “We resurrect long-forgotten or rarely produced traditional favourite delicacies like handmade coconut candies the way Granny used to make them.” Augustin says this brings back the past in a beautiful way while reviving disappearing tastes and senses. “We take quiet pleasure in seeing the look of happiness on the faces of clients who come across a long-forgotten aroma or a taste from their childhood.”

Reproduced from the July-September 2014 issue of Quill magazine

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Verve & Versatility

Trainer, coach, cat lover, baker and author ANNA TAN shows SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH that self-improvement isn’t too much of a stretch

CATHOLIC SCHOOL, with all its rules and regulations and the nuns who enforce them, might not sound like a great way to spend most of your growing-up years. Anna Tan, however, has nothing but warm memories to share and credits those schooldays for inspiring her reading habit.

“My reading habit was inculcated by the nuns in the Catholic school I attended, called St Teresa, in her hometown, Kuching, Sarawak. The head nun—Mother Monica—started a library and stocked it with many Enid Blyton books as well as magazines from the Vatican City,” she explains. “So I read whatever Mother Monica brought to the library. My brother and I would compete to see who finished a book first!”

Mother Monica must have done a fine job because the consultant trainer, human resource practitioner and change leader is now a full-fledged author. Stretched: Unleash Your Team’s Potential by Coaching the “Rubber Band” Way! captures Tan’s proven coaching ideas and techniques and aims to guide readers to extraordinary growth and breakthroughs.

Tan says that the advice in her book, which is geared towards leaders, employers and managers who are keen to create passionate, productive, action-oriented teams, is based on long experience in the trenches. “In a career spanning over fifteen years, I worked in various multinational companies as a senior corporate leader helming the human capital and talent functions.” Her work exposed her to a vast range of people and corporate cultures. “I had the opportunity to interact and socialise with people at all levels, experiencing both Western and Asian leadership and cultures.”

Tan confides that she has always wanted to write a book and didn’t hesitate to grab the chance to do so when she took a six-month break from corporate work at the end of 2010. Any other hard-working denizen of the corporate world might have used the time to kick back and relax but she is nothing if not focused. “It was six months of ideas, writing fluidly, freestyle.”

Even after going back to work, Tan did not waver from her writing routine and completed the book at an admirably quick pace. “I went back to corporate HR and it was another six months of fine-tuning the typescript. Getting feedback from corporate folks, HR practitioners, college students and incorporating their input, editing by my publisher and publishing took another four months.”

Tan’s speed is also attributed, in no small part, to the fact that she is able to write “wherever I have my Mac” as well as to the way she thinks. Part of the writing process, such as creating the chapters—something that makes many other writers falter—turned out to be a breeze. “I am lucky that I think in ‘categories’ or have my ideas in buckets. Hence, dividing the chapters was quite easy.” However, she is also quick to admit that creating Stretched from scratch did have its challenges. The biggest among these was “simplifying the concepts without sacrificing the essence of the book,” she says, referring to the complex concepts related to coaching teams to do their best at work.

Tan admits that she loves her work but takes care to spend as much quality time as possible with her loved ones on weekends. In her case, her loved ones happen to include three felines. A huge cat lover, she describes her furry family members with some detail. “They each have very different personalities. Girlie, the eldest at twelve years, is the most introverted. Furrygamo is three and is your typical “scatty” cat. Cotton is two years old and is the most extroverted and social one.”

Weekends are also a time for pastimes most people would consider typical—save one. “During the weekends, we do normal things like house chores, cook [her husband Allen Yap does the cooking], catch up on reading, watch TV, entertain friends and trim the cat’s nails.” Tan confides that the last is more than a one-weekend job. “The cats hate having their nails trimmed so it has to be stretched over a number of weeks,” she laughs.

Another thing that she enjoys during her downtime is baking. As a coach who trains leaders and managers to find opportunities to bring out the best in themselves and their people, it appears that she walks her talk. Others would never view domestic work as anything more than what it is but she has managed to find a way to turn time in the kitchen into something of a self-improvement exercise. “I love to bake and I teach others to bake. I have learnt to master the challenging French macarons! Baking has taught me to be precise and to persevere.”

Tan hopes that her book will help shine a light on new and better ways to work and shift her readers’ perspectives. “The coaching way—as opposed to the autocratic where you just tell and issue instructions—is one that resonates with younger generations like the millennials. It is high time leaders replace some of their ‘die-hard’ ways to a coaching style that engages the hearts and minds of their team members—yes, be like the rubber band, stretch, be flexible and adapt.”

Coach, trainer and author Anna Tan shares three life-improvement tips that will help people create great teams at work (and maybe in their personal lives, too!):
• Talk less, listen more. 
• Give permission for others to be brave, and challenge the status quo. By doing that, you renew their hope of the possibilities of what they can be and more. 
• Don’t tell people what to do. Facilitate the conversation to enable them to come up with their own solutions. People are spurred to take action based on the solutions they come up with.

Reproduced from the July-September 2014 issue of Quill magazine

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A China Doll in KL, by Ewe Paik Leong

EWE PAIK LEONG talks about the kind of research he undertook while working on his novel, A China Doll in KL

THE STORY is set in the seamier side of Kuala Lumpur, where China dolls solicit clients in an infamous food court called New Peng Hwa. Meisu, the protagonist, comes to KL from Guilin (China) to seek her fortune as a hooker. She falls in love with her client Alvin Au, an alcoholic artist, who has a studio in Central Market. Against the backdrop of their tumultuous romance lurks a serial killer with a troubled past. He has murdered three China dolls and is targeting Meisu as his fourth victim. Meanwhile, Inspector Daniel Chu and his sidekick, Sergeant June Qwong, are assigned to nail the serial killer. The story reaches its climax when Inspector Chu races against time to save Meisu from the killer.

This novel was partly inspired by an accidental visit to New Peng Hwa in Pudu district in KL. One evening, I stepped inside the food court solely for a quick dinner. Dozens of girls and not-so-young women, carrying packets of watermelon seeds, were milling around. One by one, they approached my table and asked in Mandarin, “You want to buy watermelon seeds?” Only then did I realise that they were China dolls. When I said “no”, their next question would often be “Do you want to buy me?” Other girls used innuendos like “Do you want to be happy?” I was shocked by their audacity. The other half of the inspiration came from two novels which I’d read several years back: The World of Suzie Wong (1957), by Richard Mason, and A Woman of Bangkok (1956), by Jack Reynolds. “Why not a Malaysian version of those two books?” I asked myself as I recalled the novels while watching a few China dolls gyrating with their clients to loud music from the band on the stage.

Subsequently, I made more visits to the food court, inviting China dolls for drinks or dinner so that I could interview them. Several were friendly and chatty; others refused my offer. I also mingled around with customers and prospective johns to dig as much information as possible. A few plied me with stories of local men falling in love with the China dolls. Such romances mostly ended in financial ruin for the men except for a few rare cases of happy marriages.

Meisu, the novel’s protagonist, is a composite character of three real China dolls. They spoke to me about their aspirations, motivations and backgrounds. At the back of every China doll’s mind is the hope of snaring a boyfriend so that she can razor him financially or hook a husband and settle down in this country to escape poverty. A big-time john once gave me a tip on how to spot a China doll from a poor village. “Ask her to remove her shoes and feel the soles of her feet,” he said. “They’re often as hard as leather.” He pointed out that in the poor villages of China, almost all children are barefooted.

Meisu’s love interest is Alvin, an alcoholic artist who’s struggling to come to terms with his addiction. As the novel is written in close multiple third-person POV, there are many scenes where Alvin is the POV character. Therefore, I needed to experience what it was like being dead drunk. I don’t drink much except for a couple of beers during Chinese New Year, so I came back one evening with two bottles of cheap made-in-Thailand brandy. Sitting in front of the TV after dinner, I started to gulp down the brandy. My startled wife asked, “Wazzup, darling? You never drink! Are you in a funk?” I told her that I wanted to be in the shoes of my alcoholic character and she quipped, “I hope he’s not also a wife-beater!”

“I can’t leave New Peng Hwa and solicit business elsewhere as I’m contracted to my boss,” said a China doll to me. Her answer indicated that organised crime and vice goes hand-in-hand in New Peng Hwa. Anyone who goes there can see the presence of thugs almost everywhere. Some hang around with walkie-talkies hooked to their belts. Since New Peng Hwa has links to triads, I created a subplot in the story. In Act I, Ouyang Lifu, the head of the Red Centipede Society, tries to extort protection money from Meisu, but she challenges him to a card game instead. During the final hand of the game, Lifu raises the stake to “loser chops off the last finger.”

An unforgettable incident was when the place was raided one evening. I was sitting in Kim Wah Café in the first floor of Ace Electronics Building, adjacent to New Peng Hwa (which houses the apartments used by China dolls), when a lookout employed by the vice syndicate shouted, “Run! Police! Run!” The whole place was in turmoil as all the girls started to stampede down the broken-down escalator. One China doll slipped and nearly fell facedown and several others took off their stilettos and ran barefooted. When I reached the ground floor, I heard the clumping of heels coming from the fire-escape staircase as more China dolls came scrambling down from their apartments. Standing on the sidewalk, I saw a police truck up ahead on the road, trying to manoeuvre through traffic. It was like a scene from a TV cop show.

A China Doll in KL is published by Monsoon Books, Singapore

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

October 2014 Highlights

“It was OCTOBER, and the leaves of the oaks around the language school had turned gold and were batting light into its tall windows. A young Irish woman was seated alone in the teacher’s lounge. She had made herself a cup of tea on the range in the corner, and she was opening a tangerine on a paper napkin, with hungry carelessness.” CALEB CRAIN, in Necessary Errors (2013)

Novels
1. The Prince’s Boy (Bloomsbury USA, 2014) / Paul Bailey
2. There Must be Some Mistake (Little, Brown, 2014) / Frederick Barthelme
3. The Empire of Night (Mysterious Press, 2014) / Robert Olen Butler
4. Limonov (trans. from the French by John Lambert) (Allen Lane/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / Emmanuel Carrère
5. The Empty Throne (HarperCollins, 2014) / Bernard Cornwell
6. The Boy Who Drew Monsters (Picador USA, 2014) / Keith Donohue
7. The Book of Strange New Things (Hogarth, 2014) / Michel Faber
8. Hiding in Plain Sight (Riverhead Books, 2014) / Nuruddin Farah
9. West (trans. from the German by Anthea Bell) (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Julia Franck
10. The Far Side of the Sun (Berkley, 2014) / Kate Furnivall

11. The Sleeper and the Spindle (illustrated by Chris Riddell) (Bloomsbury Children, 2014) / Neil Gaiman
12. The Hilltop (trans. from the Hebrew by Steven Cohen) (Scribner, 2014) / Assaf Gavron
13. The Grand Duchess of Nowhere (Quercus, 2014) / Laurie Graham
14. Gray Mountain (Doubleday/Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) / John Grisham
15. Dear Thief (Atavist Books, 2014) / Samantha Harvey
16. J (Hogarth, 2014) / Howard Jacobson
17. A Brief History of Seven Killings (Riverhead, 2014) / Marlon James
18. The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy (Doubleday, 2014) / Rachel Joyce
19. F (trans. from the German by Carol Brown Janeway) (Quercus, 2014) / Daniel Kehlmann
20. First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen (Viking, 2014) / Charlie Lovett

21. The Figures of Beauty (Harper, 2014) / David Macfarlane
22. The New World (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Andrew Motion
23. The Lives of Others (W.W. Norton, 2014) / Neel Mukherjee
24. Last Winter, We Parted (trans. from the Japanese by Allison Markin Powell) (Soho Press, 2014) / Fuminori Nakamura
25. An English Ghost Story (Titan Books, 2014) / Kim Newman
26. Us (Harper, 2014) / David Nicholls
27. The Age of Magic (Head of Zeus, 2014) / Ben Okri
28. I Refuse (trans. from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett) (Harvill Secker, 2014) / Per Petterson
29. Leaving Time (Ballantine Books, 2014) / Jodi Picoult
30. The Girl Next Door (Scribner, 2014) / Ruth Rendell

31. Lila (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Virago/Little, Brown, 2014) / Marilynne Robinson
32. The Remedy for Love (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014) / Bill Roorbach
33. Electric City (Counterpoint, 2014) / Elizabeth Rosner
34. Lamentation (Mantle, 2014) / C.J. Sansom
35. Some Luck (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) / Jane Smiley
36. Sister Golden Hair (Tin House Press, 2014) / Darcey Steinke
37. Nora Webster (Viking/Scribner, 2014) / Colm Tóibín
38. The Book of Gold Leaves (Penguin, 2014) / Mirza Waheed
39. Sometimes the Wolf (William Morrow, 2014) / Urban Waite

First Novels
1. Academy Street (Canongate, 2014) / Mary Costello
2. Crooked River (William Morrow, 2014) / Valerie Geary
3. The Goddess of Small Victories (trans. from the French by Willard Wood) (Other Press, 2014) / Yannick Grannec
4. The Lodger (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014) / Louisa Treger

Stories
1. Man V. Nature (Harper, 2014) / Diane Cook
2. The Redemption of Galen Pike (Salt Publishing, 2014) / Carys Davies
3. The Best American Short Stories 2014 (Mariner Books, 2014) / Heidi Pilor & Jennifer Egan (ends.)
4. The Wilds (Tin House Press, 2014) / Julia Elliott
5. The Seven Stages of Anger and Other Stories (Press 53, 2014) / Wendy J. Fox
6. White Tiger on Snow Mountain (New Harvest, 2014) / David Gordon
7. The Woman Who Borrowed Memories: Selected Stories (trans. from the Swedish by Thomas Teal & Silvester Mazzarella) (NYRB Classics, 2014) / Tove Jansson
8. Six Stories and An Essay (Tinder Press, 2014) / Andrea Levy
9. There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children, Until They Moved Back In: Three Novellas About Family (trans. from the Russian by Anna Summers) (Penguin Books, 2014) / Ludmilla Petrushevskaya
10. Spoiled Brats (Little, Brown, 2014) / Simon Rich

Poetry
1. The Heart Is Strange: New Selected Poems (ed. Daniel Swift) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / John Berryman
2. 77 Dream Songs (ed. Daniel Swift) (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014) / John Berryman
3. Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Katie Ford
4. Habitation: Collected Poems (Lost Horse Press/University of Washington Press, 2014) / Sam Hamill
5. Splitting an Order (Copper Canyon Press, 2014) / Ted Kooser
6. The Stairwell (Wake Forest University Press, 2014) / Michael Longley
7. To Keep Time (Omnidawn, 2014) / Joseph Massey
8. An Aviary of Small Birds (Carcanet Press, 2014) / Karen McCarthy Woolf
9. Blue Horses (Penguin Press, 2014) / Mary Oliver
10. Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) / Claudia Rankine

11. Playing House (Seren, 2014) / Katherine Stansfield
12. Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems (ed. Neil Astley) (Bloodaxe, 2014) / Rosemary Tonks

Nonfiction
1. The History Manifesto (Cambridge University Press, 2014) / David Armitrage
2. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Alfred A. Knopf/The Bodley Head, 2014) / Karen Armstrong
3. The Bookshop Book (Constable, 2014) / Jen Campbell
4. Joan of Arc: A History (Faber & Faber, 2014) / Helen Castor
5. Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet (Jonathan Cape, 2014) / Mark Cocker
6. Alex Miller: The Ruin of Time (Sydney University Press, 2014) / Robert Dixon
7. Eugene O’Neill: A Life in Four Acts (Yale University Press, 2014) / Robert M. Dowling
8. Isabella: The Warrior Queen (Nan A. Talese, 2014) / Kirstin Downey
9. Engel’s England: Thirty-nine Counties, One Capital and One Man (Profile Books, 2014) / Matthew Engel
10. Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland, 1890-1923 (Allen Lane, 2014) / R.F. Foster

11. Tales of Two Cities: The Best abnd Worst of Times in Today’s New York (OR Books, 2014) / John Freeman (ed.)
12. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (Metropolitan Books, 2014) / Atul Gawande
13. Coming Ashore: A Memoir (ECW Press, 2014) / Catherine Gildiner
14. Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey Into the Heart of Russia (W.W. Norton, 2014) / David Greene
15. Palace of Books (trans. from the French by Alice Kaplan) (The University of Chicago Press, 2014) / Roger Grenier
16. Discontent and Its Civilizations (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) / Mohsin Hamid
17. Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured (Doubleday, 2014) / Kathryn Harrison
18. A Voice Still Heard: Selected Essays of Irving Howe (ed. Nina Howe) (Yale University Press, 2014) / Irving Howe
19. Poetry Notebook: 2006-2014 (Picador, 2014) / Clive James
20. Arabs and the Art of Storytelling: A Strange Familiarity (trans. from the Arabic by Eric Sellin and Mbarek Sryfi) / Abdelfattah Kilito

21. Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans (Crown Publishing, 2014) / Gary Krist
22. Common People: The History of an English Family (Fig Tree, 2014) / Alison Light
23. Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place (Granta, 2014) / Philip Marsden
24. Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime (Profile Books, 2014) / Val McDermid
25. Berlin: Portrait of a City Through the Centuries (St Martin’s Press, 2014) / Rory McLean 22. Private Island (Verso, 2014) / James Meek
26. Ciao, Carpaccio! (Pallas Athene, 2014) / Jan Morris
27. The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books (Viking, 2014) / Azar Nafisi
28. Shirley Hazzard: New Critical Essays (Sydney University Press, 2014) / Brigitta Olubas
29. American Pulp: How Paperbacks Brought Modernism to Main Street (Princeton University Press, 2014) / Paula Rabinowitz
30. Napoleon the Great (Allen Lane, 2014) / Andrew Roberts

31. Mecca: The Sacred City (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014) / Ziauddin Sardar
32. Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness (Trinity University Press, 2014) / Rebecca Solnit
33. The Best American Essays 2014 (Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) / John Jeremiah Sullivan (ed.)
34. The Best American Travel Writing 2014 (Mariner Books, 2014) / Paul Theroux (ed.)
35. Red Nile: A Biography of the World’s Greatest River (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014) / Robert Twigger
36. And Home Was Kariakoo: A Memoir of East Africa (Doubleday Canada, 2014) / M.G. Vassanji
37. A Delicate Wildness: The Life and Loves of David Thomson, 1914-1988 (The Lilliput Press, 2014) / Julian Vignoles
38. Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (Oxford University Press, 2014) / Marina Warner
39. The Meaning of Human Existence (Liveright, 2014) / Edward O. Wilson
40. The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock (Pegasus, 2014) / Lucy Worsley

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rotten Durian Awards & Other Malaysiana Miscellany

SOME MANUSCRIPTS are so bloody horrendous that I literally get sick editing them! I feel feverish, headachy and all-over-the-body-achy. Seriously, one of these days we must consider giving out a slew of ROTTEN DURIAN AWARDS for the worst Malaysian books of the year—books I absolutely could not care less about. I know for sure there won’t be a dearth of contenders for these uniquely Malaysian awards where MEDIOCRITY is the only yardstick of greatness and celebrated with customary pomp and ceremony! Perhaps I will start the ball rolling with that pathetic attempt at a book ... yes, that particular pseudo-book! It reminds me of the opening lines to Keir Alexander’s excellent novel, The Ruby Slippers (Corsair, March 2014): “She stinks. It has to be said. Stinks to high heaven.”
***
WHEN WILL Malaysian education start focusing on understanding and critical thinking skills? Will it ever? There is a serious dearth of these basic skills: reading, writing, creative thinking, questioning, criticism, creativity and imagination; there is also an absolute lack of interest or intellectual curiosity or empathy about the world we live in. We desperately need graduates who can not only eat but spell chocolate! Education per se is quite irrelevant; one must have the right mindset to use the knowledge acquired and make one’s life useful and meaningful to society. The idea of education is to make every one of us into critical, empathetic, intelligent, logical, thinking beings. If not, what’s the point of being alive? What’s the point of an education if we are unable to produce intelligent, efficient and productive workers?
***
SERIOUSLY, do we really have a publishing industry in Malaysia? I sometimes wonder, more often lately. A SAD FACT: Malaysian writers can’t write and don’t want to be edited at all. Those who can, the writing is hollow, shallow, lifeless, insipid, puerile, dispirited, uninspiring and lackadaisical. ANOTHER SAD FACT: Editors don’t know how to edit. (Editing is not just about grammar and spelling.) Most of them lack the most basic of editing skills (grammar and spelling); if they can’t even handle basic editing, surely they are in the wrong profession, no? Editors are unwilling to learn and tend to miss more than they spot errors (and introducing new ones at the same time). And many are averse to research, checking facts and solving problems. Punctuating dialogue is also another major weakness. Most of them lack intellectual curiosity and have no idea why they are doing the things they are doing. Not many editors have a nose for business or finance. The fact is, publishing is not just about publishing good books; it is also about selling the books you publish. Both are equally important. ANOTHER SAD FACT: Designers don’t know how to typeset books and design covers. Most of them are not designers; they are more typesetters than designers. Most, sadly, have no grasp of the aesthetics, whether in the design of covers or typesetting of pages, are not open to constructive criticism and lack basic language skills. (“The kind of designs you don’t need to go to design school to learn.”) There is absolutely no passion to push boundaries or to have higher expectations. ANOTHER SAD FACT: Translation standards are abysmal. (Translation is not just about translating words to another language; it’s also about translating cultural and other creative nuances; the translated text must make sense. A good translator must not only possess a solid grounding in both languages but a strong grasp of idioms as well.) A vicious cycle. So, do we really have a publishing industry in Malaysia? I believe what we have here is more akin to some kind of stunted, constipated offshoot of public relations, rather than publishing as we know it. It never fails to amaze me how publishers always find reasons to justify the publishing of substandard books as though producing as many such books as possible is some kind of noble calling or something!
***
EVIL, THEY SAY, NEVER DIES ... it claws its way back from the pits of hell to haunt the living. We are in the midst of editing the worst manuscript on the planet … rejected by all who had a chance to look at it but somehow foisted on us editors for the stupidest of reasons. And to think that the British once colonised us, you would expect a certain standard of English. After the last disaster of a book, we thought we had seen the last and worst of horrendous books. No-o-o-o … that’s too good to be true. Ladies and gentlemen, Evil is back in business and is here to haunt the living daylights out of us. Just goes to prove that there are some things money can’t buy … for instance, to write well and tell a wonderful story (fiction or otherwise). Some publishers claim they publish these rejected manuscripts under the pretext of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). Seriously, you can call them anything you want; I prefer to pile them under POO and flush them down the LOO where they belong for all time. Of course, under normal circumstances these manuscripts would not see the light of day but the dark of the sewers. I fail to understand what joy these author-wannabes derive from being published under such circumstances!
***
AND THEN there are those so-called Malaysian authors who insist that we do not comply with standards and conventions when editing their so-called manuscripts! As the Backstreet Boys would croon back in the late 1990s, They want it that way! You can have it any way you want, Sweetheart, as long as you pay the production costs and buy up all the stocks and keep them locked up in your room! And maybe toss them in with the carrots, potatoes, onions and tomatoes when Mummy makes chicken soup for the whole family.
***
REMEMBER THE GOOD OLD DAYS when we used to have meals and lovely conversations without interruptions? We used to eat and talk, and eat and talk, all the while enjoying ourselves. Those were the days when we used to really talk with one another and conversations were long, and there were jokes and laughter, and time just passed without us realising it. Those days are long gone. People nowadays are more interested in their smartphones, internet, text messaging, etc., and seem to prefer to communicate with people not dining at the table but elsewhere, reading news updates, etc. You may have the whole wide world at your fingertips, but you don’t seem to be aware of the immediate world around you. Once in a while, think about the person sitting opposite you.
***
POMPOUS LASS: Only native speakers can edit my manuscript! No Malaysian editors for me, please!
Publisher: You mean someone from Good Olde Mother England?
Pompous Lass: Of course—if English is their mother tongue!
Publisher: Why’s that?
Pompous Lass: Because my book is for the wonderful people of this planet. I want it to be perfectly edited for all my readers from around the world …
Publisher: Would you like to bear the cost of getting someone from England to edit it then?
Pompous Lass: Will that be cheap?
Publisher: What do you think? Everything is cheap except you?
Pompous Lass: I wouldn’t want to spend my money on that! If it’s too expensive, a local editor should be all right, I guess!
***
WATERLILY: I want to talk to the editor?
Receptionist: Who’s calling?
Waterlily: Lily!
Receptionist: Lily who?
Waterlily: Water “I-can’t-tell-you-my-real-name” Lily!
Receptionist: How can I help you?
Waterlily: I want to talk to the editor about my manuscript?
Receptionist: What’s your manuscript about?
Waterlily: I can’t tell you that! I don’t know who you are. You may just steal and profit from my hard work! I want to speak to the editor!
Editor: Could you send us samples of your work, Water?
Waterlily: I can’t do that either.
Editor: So what can you do, Water?
Waterlily: Why do you need samples of my work?
Editor: Duh! So that we could assess your writing and decide whether we want to publish it or not!
Waterlily: Why do you want to review it? I am a famous writer and my work is quoted in all the leading journals all over the galaxy!
Editor: That’s nice and all. However, we would still like to assess it.
Waterlily: Will you be distributing my book in the U.S. and the U.K.?
Editor: No. We only sell foreign rights to those markets. And over the internet.
Waterlily: Looks like you are not the right publisher for me. Goodbye!
***
AUTHOR: Would you like to publish my manuscript?
Publisher: Well, it depends …
Author: Depends on what?
Publisher: Well, whether you have a written manuscript?
Author: I haven’t written one. Can you get it written for me?
Publisher: Why is that?
Author: I can’t write.
Publisher: But you have studied for a couple of foreign degrees … and you have lived overseas for many years. With your fake accent and all, I’m sure you could write English.
Author: I’m very bad at grammar. Could you get me a writer whom I could talk to, take down notes and put them all in a book for me? I can talk very well. I just can’t write.
Publisher: Can’t imagine how you manage to pass all your exams over the years!
***
AUTHOR: Can you label me a bestselling author on the cover of my new book?
Editor: No! You are not a bestselling author. And you’ve never have been one.
Author: It’s a way of MARKETING the book!
Editor: I don’t think that’s MARKETING; that’s CONNING. Your first book sold less than a thousand copies in over five years. That, to me, is a disaster of epic proportions!
***
AUTHOR: And on what grounds are you rejecting my manuscript?
Editor: Well, it sucks, for one!
Author: What! How dare you insult me! Everyone who has read it thinks it is a magnificent piece of work!
Editor: Who, pray tell, read your magnum opus?
Author: My dear husband and children, friends and relatives! And my dearest mummy and daddy, too!
Editor: Of course!
Author: So can I take it that you are not interested in publishing my manuscript?
Editor: De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da ... Duh!
***
AUTHOR: Yahoo! My book is a runaway bestseller!
Editor: How’s that possible?
Author: I got every one of my best friends to buy 500 copies of my book. Yahoo! Time for a reprint?
Editor: What do you expect them to do with all the copies of your book?
Author: Who cares what they do with them? Perhaps they can make beef or vegetable stew with them?
***
AUTHOR: I would like you to publish my book?
Editor: Your manuscript, you mean? Well, it all depends on the quality of your manuscript.
Author: What? I know your Financial Controller and the Top Man, you know!
Editor: Ooh, I’m shivering! Of course, we will publish your book—even though it sucks big time!
Author: What?
Editor: Isn’t that what you want?
***
WISDOM, they say, comes with age. I once thought that wisdom was the sole province of the old. Now that I am all grown up, I have come to realise that that’s all balderdash. Wisdom is the province of those who possess it; age is quite immaterial. Over the years, I have had the good fortune to meet young people who are wise beyond their years, and I have also had the misfortune of meeting old people who have absolutely no wisdom at all.