Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Fool of the Wild

TOM SYKES documents his travails as he goes off the beaten path in Tioman
Photographs by DINO HAMDAN

THE GIANT LIZARD shuffles onto the narrow pathway. His beady eyes and mischievous grin remind me of the American comedic actor Pee-wee Herman.

“Are you going to move?” I ask out loud.

He won’t. He looks almost smug that he’s blocked me like this.

“Are you going to eat me?”

No reaction.

I wonder what to do. Can I leave the path and walk round him? I look to my left and see how the clarion blue of the sky blends so seamlessly with the turquoise of the ocean. I don’t think swimming’s an option, not with my backpack. To my right there’s only jungle, heavy vines guarding it like the ramparts of a castle. The thought of going in there brings three words to mind: “frying,” “pan” and “fire.”

How very different this is to KL, the city I’ve been living in for just three weeks. I’ve acclimatised to the heat, the traffic, the planet-sized shopping malls, the obsession with English football and the effortlessly good mood everyone seems to be in (excuse my Western cynicism). But this place, Tioman Island, is another world. Since arriving, I’ve seen people riding horses and children playing with tamed monkeys. Maybe Tioman is one of those magical places where man and beast have for aeons harmonised in a cosmically enriching way ...

... Or maybe not. My eyes fall back to the lizard. He still won’t move.

Then suddenly a moped groans behind me. The lizard dashes back into the jungle. The Malaysian stand-off is over. I turn and face a grey old guy wearing a vest.

“Having trouble with the monitor lizard, boss?” He is well-spoken like a KLite. “Sometimes they grow to six feet tall.”

“Lucky that one was only five feet or I’d have been really scared,” I quip.

He laughs. “I’m Eddie. Need a room?”

Eddie gives me a lift to the resort of A-frame huts he owns. We sit at the open-air bar, no more than a table with an umbrella sticking out the middle. A goat lies fast asleep in a deck chair. Eddie’s wife Ying—who strongly resembles Yoko Ono—brings us Tigers. Eddie tells me that he was born into a Tioman plantation-owning family but was sent away to school in KL.

“You live in a big city,” he says. “There are things you can see and do here that you could never do there.”

“What do you recommend?” I reply.

“Take a mask and go snorkelling just down there.”

I do as he says and my mind is blown. The coral reef is like an alien landscape. There are toadstool domes and petrified forests, bejewelled mountains and luminous leaning towers. And then there are the fish. I try to describe them to Eddie when I return.

“There was a flat thing with a zebra pattern.”

“That’s a discus fish.”

“A longish yellow one with a grumpy face?”

“Arowana.”

“A sort of spiny lobster?”

“Err, that would be a spiny lobster ...”

That night I watch the usual backpacker stereotypes come and go: a “gone native” Swede who wears a sarong and plays a tribal drum badly, a British student girl who seems to have slept with every man on the island, and a US frat boy who can’t stop giving people high fives. I go to bed, feeling like I’ve seen all this before. What I want to see is more of Tioman.

Next morning, I tell Eddie that I want to conquer my fear of the jungle. He suggests I follow a well-trodden path through it. “But make sure you stick to the path,” he insists.

Half an hour later I’m following the path and all of a sudden it doesn’t look so well-trodden anymore. I carry on regardless into the thickening jungle. A pitch-black snake crosses in front of me. I turn and run back to the resort.

“You strayed off the path!” scolds Eddie.

“No, err, well, it depends how you define—”

“You strayed off it! That was a king cobra you saw. Its bite can kill a man in a day.”

“Why didn’t you tell me that before I left?” I asked.

Mid-afternoon, I am wading through the shallows to Eddie’s boat. We’re going fishing and diving. Just as he is helping me aboard, I feel a sharp pain in my heel. I lift my foot out of the water and it’s bleeding hard. I hobble back to the resort where Ying cleans and bandages the wound. “You trod on a nail,” she says, shaking her head. “Too much garbage being dumped round here.” She brings me a painkilling Tiger.

I sit back and mope about how some man-made pollutant has foiled my attempts to gain an insight into the natural world. The goat gets up from its deck chair and trots over to me. I stroke its head. It seems to smile at me. But not in a mischievous way.

Reproduced from the July-September 2012 issue of Quill magazine

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Back to rock your world

Revitalising a visually exciting and emotive magazine like Discovery Channel Magazine (DCM) is no walk in the park, as SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH  learns from its editor, LUKE CLARK

LUKE CLARK
LUKE CLARK wants you to laugh, gasp and ultimately stretch your perspective—and he’s determined to help you do that.

Clark is the editor of the refreshed and updated Discovery Channel Magazine (DCM), which aims to entertain, inform and also create as many memorable moments as possible for anyone who takes the time to read it. “We are looking for as many jaw-dropping moments as we can squeeze in. We deliver fun and a wild ride. Since it’s Discovery Channel, that’s exactly what it should be!”

Clark’s excitement and enthusiasm for the prestigious title he leads is so contagious that it’s hard to resist running out to get a copy after hearing him talk about it. “I came onboard for the relaunch in July 2011 and helped our CEO and publisher Rosemarie Wallace put together the editorial, creative team and game plan for the magazine. It’s been one of the most involving and exciting projects I’ve ever been part of. I love it!”

Clark, who has been working in Asia for more than 15 years, is no stranger to the delicate balance of maintaining reader satisfaction and pushing past the ‘comfort zone’ of tried and tested article and layout formulas in magazines. He has been editor for Ink Singapore and news editor for regional title TravelWeekly, which is produced by Reed Business Information Asia. He has also written for the celebrated Forbes Asia, World Economic Forum, Condé Nast Traveler and Discovery Networks.

While the initial goal was to ‘tweak’ DCM to inject additional energy, movement and drama, Clark says this early objective soon gave way to a more revolutionary transformation. “It’s interesting. Initially, we talked about a ‘facelift’. I think ultimately, if DCM were a car, we’d have delivered an overhaul!”

Relaunching a magazine is an intricate and challenging process at best and that’s why Clark says he is relieved to be working with some of the best professional editorial and creative people in the world.

The DCM team includes the respected Richard MacLean who took on the role of Design Director and whose experience in the UK includes Bauer Media’s Grazia, MTV, BBC and the Arts Council England. There is also photo editor Haryati Mahmood who worked on a number of regional titles and illustrator Mark McCormick who is a regular infographic artist for the Guardian and Observer. McCormick regularly contributes to DCM, giving it his defining look and feel.

Grammar, writing, language and the rest of the essential editorial details that make up a great read is defined and enforced by highly proficient chief subeditor Josephine Pang. Pang, who worked on DCM previously, seamlessly became part of the new team. “She is the rock to our roll,” says Clark in his inimitable fashion.

Clark explains that the expert group assembled in the DCM offices in Singapore to begin the complex task of affecting change without sacrificing the spirit of the much-loved magazine. “Having studied the brief and the channel, we agreed that the key to delivering what we wanted would initially be visual—we had to somehow capture and convey the movement and energy of the Discovery Channel brand in a magazine format,” he recalls.

A brief like that would have had lesser editorial teams quivering in their shoes. However, Clark and his specialists were more than happy to take on the challenge and it appears that they didn’t disappoint. The new DCM delivers impact and energy with just the right dash of attitude and has been gaining fans since its relaunch in November 2011.

Clark reveals that one of the most popular issues so far was the March 2012 issue which featured an eye-popping, lime-green fluorescent cover with a snake about to jump out at the reader. “That got people’s attention! That was really an issue where the initial promise of the magazine’s new look, sections and features came together perfectly,” he explains. “We featured pirates, tattoo art, wild drives and animal hunters—and carried a range of imagery, and a style, that has really set a benchmark ever since.”

Although DCM tends to attract people in their early thirties, Clark explains that it also grabs the attention of students, parents and young professionals. “We do have a lot of people who tell us they read it, their wife or husband grabs it next—then their teenagers end up with it for their homework. We love that ecosystem!”

So how does DCM come up with their intelligent, captivating story ideas? “Storytelling is something that we work really hard at. Ideas come from a lot of different sources,” explains Clark before adding that there is a shortage of ideas as the magazine covers the entire planet with a special focus on science, technology, travel, adventure and exploration. “Storywise, it’s a case of always being on alert for interesting stories—spotting an angle from a writer, a small item on the news, or a photo from an air show that jumps out at you. Then using that to tell the story in our way.”

When it comes to standing out from the crowd, Clark is confident that none come close to his magazine’s strong visual personality. “We make no apologies for the fact that our photographs and graphics have a lot of prominence and impact. People no longer respond to screeds of dry text or poor imagery. These make reading feel too much like work! We’re dedicated to inspire learning in an exciting and emotive way,” he says. “Which is the nicest way to learn anything.”

Although many experts in the publishing industry are currently predicting the imminent death of print magazines across the globe, Clark remains unperturbed about the future of DCM. “There is still something very enjoyable about the experience of a print magazine, and we are seeing a strong uptake for DCM because of its great visual appeal as well as the strong articles.”

Clark’s confidence also springs from the fact that his incredibly talented editorial and visual team is not made up of people who are happy to rest on their laurels. “We will keep finding newer, fresher and more impactful ways to tell incredible stories. More voices, more tricks, but the same vision and focus.”

DCM is also represented online but Clark says the true essences of the magazine will always remain rooted in the real world. “There will be nothing that replaces the magazine. The arsenal will certainly expand with time but Discovery Channel Magazine, as a print product, is here to stay ... and whatever we do will only enhance, not replace that.”

Luke Clark’s tips on a well-written DCM story
“In my role, good writing has to hook you in from the first two paragraphs. If you don’t capture the reader by then, chances are you never will. So you need to write visually and viscerally, with the ability to transport the reader into the scene.

“For instance: ‘It is dusk, and a Bushman crouches silently in the tall spring grass of the Kalahari Plains, his prey mere metres away in a clearing. For several seconds, he barely breathes.’ Once you pique the reader’s interest, it is then a matter of moving smoothly through your storytelling, shifting the camera lens back and forth in terms of your perspective—to take in both the personal story and the big picture—before you ‘round out’ the imagery that you created at the beginning.

“I’ve deliberately described it quite visually, because we are working with an emotive, cinematic brand. So we want to create a story that you can see and feel—and which leaves an impression on you—regardless of the fact it’s delivered to you in print.”

Reproduced from the July-September 2012 issue of Quill magazine

Saturday, September 01, 2012

September 2012 Highlights

Novels
1. A Land Without Jasmine (trans. from the Arabic by William Maynard Hutchins) (Garnet Publishing, 2012) / Wajdi al-Ahdal
2. The Voyage (Text Publishing, 2012) / Murray Bail
3. Trust Your Eyes (New American Library, 2012) / Linwood Barclay
4. The Age of Hope (Phyllis Bruce Books, 2012) / David Bergen
5. The Tinsmith (Brindle & Glass, 2012) / Tim Bowling
6. San Miguel (Viking, 2012) / T.C. Boyle
7. Philida (Harvill Secker, 2012) / André Brink
8. Telegraph Avenue (Harper/Fourth Estate, 2012) / Michael Chabon
9. A Wanted Man (Bantam Press, 2012) / Lee Child
10. Beautiful Lies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012) / Clare Clark

11. 1356 (HarperCollins, 2012) / Bernard Cornwell
12. The Unpierced Heart (Penguin, 2012) / Kim Darby
13. Lightning Rods (And Other Stories, 2012) / Helen DeWitt
14. A Possible Life (Hutchinson, 2012) / Sebastian Faulks
15. The Midwife’s Daughter (Penguin, 2012) / Patricia Ferguson
16. Where I Left My Soul (trans. from the French by Geoffrey Strachan) (MacLehose Press, 2012) / Jérôme Ferrari
17. Winter of the World (Duttton/Hutchinson, 2012) / Ken Follett
18. Carnival (House of Anansi Press, 2012) / Rawi Hage
19. The Elephant Keepers’ Children (trans. from the Danish by Martin Aitken) (Harvill Secker, 2012) / Peter Høeg
20. May We Be Forgiven (Viking, 2012) / A.M. Homes

21. Kind One (Coffee House Press, 2012) / Laird Hunt
22. Zoo Time (Bloomsbury, 2012) / Howard Jacobson
23. Train Dreams (Granta Books, 2012) / Denis Johnson
24. Big Ray (Bloomsbury USA, 2012) / Michael Kimball
25. The Cutting Season (Harper/Serpent’s Tail, 2012) / Attica Locke
26. The Sweet Girl (Random House Canada, 2012) / Annabel Lyon
27. The Life of Objects (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Susanna Moore
28. Citadel (Orion, 2012) / Kate Mosse
29. John Saturnall’s Feast (Bloomsbury, 2012) / Lawrence Norfolk
30. The Forgiven (Hogarth, 2012) / Lawrence Osborne

31. The Salt God’s Daughter (Soft Skull Press, 2012) / Ilie Ruby
32. Light Falling on Bamboo (Tindal Street Press, 2012) / Lawrence Scott
33. The Selector of Souls (Knopf Canada/Simon & Schuster, 2012) / Shauna Singh Baldwin
34. NW (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin Press, 2012) / Zadie Smith
35. The Purchase (McClelland & Stewart, 2012) / Linda Spalding
36. Between Heaven and Here (McSweeney’s, 2012) / Susan Straight
37. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures (Riverhead, 2012) / Emma Straub
38. The Forgetting Tree (St. Martin’s Press, 2012) / Tatjana Soli
39. The Western Light (Cormorant Books, 2012) / Susan Swan
40. The Garden of Evening Mists (Weinstein Books, 2012) / Tan Twan Eng

41. Merivel: A Man of His Time (Chatto & Windus, 2012) / Rose Tremain
42. The Story of My Assassins (Melville House, 2012) / Tarun J. Tejpal
43. Fear in the Sunlight (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Nicola Upson
44. The Magic of Saida (Doubleday Canada, 2012) / M.G. Vassanji
45. The Potter’s Hand (Atlantic Books, 2012) / A.N. Wilson
46. Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books, 2012) / G. Willow Wilson

First Novels
1. Fobbit (Black Cat/Grove Press, 2012) / David Abrams
2. The Dangers of Proximal Alphabets (Other Press, 2012) / Kathleen Alcott
3. The People of Forever Are Not Afraid (Hogarth, 2012) / Shani Boianjiu
4. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared (Hyperion Books, 2012) / Jonas Jonasson
5. The White Forest (Touchstone Books, 2012) / Adam McOmber
6. Sutton (Hyperion, 2012) / J.R. Moehringer
7. Breed (Mulholland Books, 2012) / Chase Novak (Scott Spencer)
8. In Between Days (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Andrew Porter
9. The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown/Sceptre, 2012) / Kevin Powers
10. The Casual Vacancy (Little, Brown, 2012) / J.K. Rowling

11. Wilderness (Bloomsbury US, 2012) / Lance Weller
12. Those We Love Most (Voice, 2012) / Lee Woodruff

Stories
1. The Source of Life and Other Stories (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012) / Beth Bosworth
2. This Is How You Lose Her (Riverhead Books, 2012) / Junot Diaz
3. The World (Hamish Hamilton Canada, 2012) / Bill Gaston
4. Sleeping Funny (Doubleday Canada, 2012) / Miranda Hill
5. At the Mouth of the River of Bees (Small Beer Press, 2012) / Kij Johnson
6. Like a House on Fire (Scribe Publications, 2012) / Cate Kennedy
7. Psychotic Episodes (Arlen House, 2012) / Alan McMonagle
8. Black Dahlia & White Rose (Ecco, 2012) / Joyce Carol Oates
9. Grimm Tales (Penguin Classics, 2012) / Philip Pullman
10. Summer Lies (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012) / Bernhard Schlink

11. The Book of Mischief: New & Selected Stories (Graywolf Press, 2012) / Steve Stern

Poetry
1. Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press, 2012) / David Ferry
2. Between Two Windows (Carcanet Press, 2012) / Oli Hazzard
3. People Who Like Meatballs (Bloodaxe Books, 2012) / Selima Hill
4. Water Sessions (Jonathan Cape, 2012) / James Lasdun
5. Stag’s Leap (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012) / Sharon Olds
6. Burying the Wren (Seren, 2012) / Deryn Rees-Jones
7. Nonsense (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Christopher Reid
8. Nice Weather (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / Frederick Seidel
9. Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) / Brenda Shaughnessy
10. Unsent New and Selected Poems 1980-2012 (Bloodaxe Books, 2012) / Penelope Shuttle

11. The Reasoner (Carcanet Press, 2012) / Jeffrey Wainwright

Nonfiction
1. There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra (Allen Lane, 2012) / Chinua Achebe
2. The History of England: Volume II: Tudors (Macmillan, 2012) / Peter Ackroyd
3. Winter Journal (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Paul Auster
4. Call Mother a Lonely Field (Seren, 2012) / Liam Carson
5. Island of Bones: Essays (University of Nebraska Press, 2012) / Joy Castro
6. Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life (trans. from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones) (Verso Books, 2012) / Artur Domosławski
7. Winter: Five Windows on the Season (House of Anansi Press, 2012) / Adam Gopnik
8. The Crocodile by the Door (Penguin Ireland, 2012) / Selina Guinness
9. Mortality (Atlantic Books, 2012) / Christopher Hitchens
10. The Story of America: Essays on Origin (Princeton University Press, 2012) / Jill Lepore

11. Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace (Granta, 2012) / D.T. Max
12. Museum Without Walls (Unbound, 2012) / Jonathan Meades
13. Country Girl: A Memoir (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Edna O’Brien
14. The City of Abraham: History, Myth and Memory: A Journey through Hebron (Picador, 2012) / Edward Platt
15. John Keats: A New Life (Yale University Press, 2012) / Nicholas Roe
16. In Praise of Messy Lives: Essays (The Dial Press, 2012) / Katie Roiphe
17. My Heart Is An Idiot: Essays (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2012) / Davy Rothbart
18. Joseph Anton: A Memoir (Jonathan Cape, 2012) / Salman Rushdie
19. I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen (Ecco, 2012) / Sylvie Simmons
20. Unapologetic (Faber & Faber, 2012) / Francis Spufford