Monday, November 29, 2010


Former advertising man turned author GEOFFREY S. WALKER shares with SHANTINI SUNTHARAJAH his fascination with the mysterious island of Borneo and the subject matter of his first novel—local magic and folklore


IT WOULD TAKE Geoffrey S. Walker nearly 50 years to make the journey from the comforts of Chicago, Illinois, in the United States, to the searing heat of Sabah’s tropical jungles and it all began with a book he loved as a boy.

“The book I read was written by Frank Buck, whose profession was collecting wild animals for zoos,” Walker says. Buck’s vividly entertaining tales of adventure in far-off lands fired the then six-year-old Walker’s imagination and inspired in him a lifelong passion for a place that was a world away from the cosy suburbs of America in the 1950s—the mysteriously exciting island of Borneo.

For many years, however, Walker’s love for the Southeast Asian island would be relegated to the back of his mind. In the interim, he grew up, became a copywriter and creative director and after 35 successful years in the advertising industry, decided to close that chapter of his life. He didn’t know it then but the Borneo of his childhood was about to resurface through a friendly invitation.

Walker’s cousin, who was teaching English in Brunei at the time, asked him to come over for a visit. “During the month or so I stayed with my cousin, I took the opportunity to travel around Sabah. The four days I spent in Kota Kinabalu were enough to convince me that I’d like to live here,” he says.

A contented resident of Kota Kinabalu for nearly seven years now, Walker never imagined that he would one day live in the land of his childhood fantasies and end up writing a novel about it.

The Bomoh’s Apprentice is Walker’s first published work and is set in the tropical jungles that captivated his heart and mind all those years ago. The book portrays the first 17 years of an orphan boy who grows up to become a respected and much-loved witch doctor. The boy learns all there is to know about life and ancient jungle magic from the powerful local bomoh who is also his kindly adoptive father. Along the way, the young apprentice encounters challenges and magical adventures as he makes the unpredictable transition from boyhood to manhood.

Having spent his entire adult life in the glitzy corporate world of advertising, it’s only natural to wonder at Walker’s choice of subject matter. Why would an American ad man write a book about the largely unexplored and often misunderstood realm of local magic and folklore?

Like his decision to live in Sabah, the events that prompted Walker to write a novel were completely unexpected. The idea that started it all took root during an occasion honouring WWII POWs.

As a member of the Sabah Society, Walker had the opportunity to commemorate the WWII Death March. Society members shadowed the footsteps of 1,500 British and Australian POWs who were forced by Japanese soldiers to trek through the jungle from Sandakan to Ranau under unimaginably horrific conditions.

Walker and other society members spent their nights in kampungs that were located along the course. “The villagers were uniformly cordial and hospitable and more than happy to break out the tapai after sundown!” It was during this time that he first heard about people who ran amok and ended up tied to trees. “The image stuck in my mind and was the seed that ultimately prompted me to write this book.”

The Bomoh’s Apprentice does more than skim the surface of topics such as Malay magic and jungle life, which are hardly ever explored by Western authors. Walker seems to write with a knowing hand about the push-pull of village politics and the intricate relationship between kampung people and their bomoh. However, he admits that his characters and storylines are purely imaginary. “I didn’t actually do any research in writing this book and I don’t claim that what I have written is an accurate depiction of jungle life or kampung politics.” However, Walker’s experiences during the Death March and other Sabah Society expeditions helped lay a foundation of sorts. “Spending time in the kampungs and speaking with villagers who knew enough English to answer my questions provided raw material for The Bomoh’s Apprentice,” he explains.

Walker also draws inspiration from novels and movies that play off a magical theme. Is that why his book has a title that is similar to the recent movie, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice? The answer is yes and no. The title was not inspired by the Nicholas Cage movie but by the original, animated Disney film of the same name.

A disciplined writer, Walker spends a few hours each day either writing or creating plotlines and The Bomoh’s Apprentice took shape fairly quickly. The first draft was completed in just four months but there were bumps in the road. “It wasn’t until I had written 100 pages or so that I realised I’d need to start over and break what I thought would be one story into a series of three or four.” The dedicated writer is already working on the second book in the series, tentatively entitled Reunion.

Walker liberally sprinkled The Bomoh’s Apprentice with entertaining character and place names like ‘Bomoh Katak Hitam’ and ‘Kampung Pokok Tertinggi’. His grasp of Malay adds colourful local flavour to the text. Walker, who also studied Spanish during his college days, explains that his skills are self-taught. “I made a self-study of Malay from the time I first came to Borneo. I bought, read and reread every book I could find on Malay grammar.”

Like all writers, Walker harbours big dreams for his first novel. It is his fond wish to see The Bomoh’s Apprentice become a part of the Malaysian school system. “I believe it would be a useful tool for young people who are trying to learn English, even though the vernacular is American. The fact that it’s a ‘Malaysian’ story might hold their interest more than a book that is completely ‘foreign’ to them both in content and language.”

Although Walker has crafted a fantasy that revolves around magic and its proponents, he admits that he isn’t the type who believes in enchanted wands or supernatural incantations that can turn people into frogs. “Do I believe in magic? No, though I’m well aware that lots of weird things happen that can’t be explained in rational terms.”

Walker is right. There are many things that defy precise, logical thinking and he only has to look at his own life for evidence. Frank Buck, an American writing about Borneo, inspired him to move halfway across the world to become what he is today—an American writing about Borneo. Perhaps, it’s not too far-fetched to believe that it all came to be with just a tiny touch of magic.

  1. By way of training, find a job that requires you to write every day. Try to get work as an apprentice copywriter at an ad agency or a newspaper. Even if you don’t thoroughly enjoy the assignments they give you, over time you’ll acquire the patience and discipline needed to write something of your own.
  2. Read as much as you can. And as you read, pay attention to the writing as well as the plot. Study the way authors structure their sentences and choose their words. Mark Twain once said: “The difference between the right word and a word that’s close is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Make it your goal to light up the pages of whatever you write by choosing high-voltage words.
  3. Make a habit of using dictionaries, thesauruses and other reference books, and learn to chase definitions. If you don’t completely understand a definition, look up the meaning of the correlative words. You’ll be amazed at how fascinating the process can be. It’s like inventing and solving a verbal jigsaw puzzle.
  4. Don’t talk about your writing and don’t ask anyone to read what you’ve written until you’ve finished the project or at least a substantial chunk of it. It’s not so much that you have to fear someone stealing your idea, though that can happen. The real danger is that if you indulge in premature self-gratification, you’ll never finish what you started out to write.
Reproduced from the October-December 2010 issue of Quill magazine

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Sunday, November 21, 2010


JULIAN LEES shares his thoughts with ERIC FORBES about his passion for storytelling

JULIAN LEES was born and grew up in Hong Kong. After attending Cambridge University, he worked for a decade as a stockbroker with UBS and Société Générale. Since then he has written and published two novels: A Winter Beauty and The Fan Tan Players (Sandstone Press, July 2010), an opulent family saga set in Macau, Russia, the Scottish Highlands and Hong Kong in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s. Both novels have been translated into German and published by Random House Germany with a third set for release in 2013. The Fan Tan Players has also been published in Polish by Proszynski Publishers.

“I was privileged to have grown up in Hong Kong in the late 1960s and ’70s when the pace of life there was slow and relaxed—very much like Kuala Lumpur is now. From the moment I was old enough to explore the city I was hooked—the cacophony of the wet markets, the perfume of stinky tofu and the hustling cries of rickshaw boys camped near the Star Ferry. The fact that I spoke Cantonese as my second language made me a bit of a novelty too amongst the street vendors; not many blond gweilo kids at the time could swear like a drunken sailor whilst buying a char siu bao (barbecued pork buns).

“At 13, I went to boarding school in England and then on to Cambridge University. Following that I maintained several fruitful, yet cerebrally unfulfilling, positions as a stockbroker. A few years ago I decided I wanted—no, needed—to write, so I packed in my stockbroking job and started staring at blank white pages for hours on end.

“I’ve written two novels so far with a third due for completion very soon. I’m quite excited about this third novel [The House of Trembling Leaves] as it is set in Malaya ...”

Lees now lives in Malaysia with his wife Ming and their three children.


How do you find the time to read as a full-time writer?
I think it is essential for an author to find the time to read. I devour books! As a novelist I’m always looking to broaden my horizons and I find reading good fiction helps to hone my craft. It keeps me focused and bouncing on my toes. Narrative technique, use of language, dialogue style, plotting the story, conceiving the characters—all vary with every book I pick up. Of course, there are novelists who are more satisfying than others—someone as gifted as David Mitchell, for example, could make reading the grocery list sound interesting! As for finding the time to read, I think if a novel gets its talons into me, everything else gets left behind.

Tell me a bit about The Fan Tan Players. What was the seed of the novel? Is this your first novel?
The Fan Tan Players is my second novel, but the first to be published in English. The story opens in 1928 in cyclone-drenched Macau. Nadia Shashkova, in her late 20s, originally a child refugee from pre-revolutionary Russia, is contemplating her diminishing marital prospects. None of the Portuguese suitors who pay their respects appeal to her in the slightest. She’s independent-minded, astute, an outsider, yet she’s haunted by secrets from her childhood, memories of violence and rupture, and one terrible secret above all others will not let her go. Enter Iain Sutherland, an enigmatic Scot working for an early version of MI6, and who is very interested in Nadia for a number of reasons. As Nadia and Iain learn about each others’ histories, neither of them can anticipate what the future holds for each of them—a journey into Russia to find something that has been lost, internment in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, a courageous rescue. It is essentially an adventure/love story, but really it’s much more than that—it’s about friendship, family and loyalty.

As for the seed of the novel, I think it stemmed from my first book, A Winter Beauty (translated into German by Random House Germany), which was a fictional account of my grandmother’s flight from Russia to Shanghai during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. When I was a young boy growing up in Hong Kong, my grandparents were always surrounded by White Russian émigrés—there was a band leader, a tobacconist and a horse trainer or two—and I wanted to explore the lives of these well-read, charming pseudo-aristocrats.

Do you think reading matters? In what ways?
I think reading matters more now than ever! With PC games growing ever popular, children and teens are no longer reading for enjoyment (Harry Potter and Vampire fiction aside). The situation got so bad in the UK last year that the Booktrust charity gave away two million books to schoolchildren to try to stem the tide. I’m sure children who read for pleasure do better at school than those who don’t.

What kind of books did you read when you were growing up? Were there any books that had a significant impact on you at that early age?
Marvel comics! Spider-Man, Captain America, X-Men. Daredevil was pretty cool, too. I know, I know, what a hypocrite, here I am climbing on a soapbox and pontificating about how kids don’t read enough ... but comics lit a magic flare in my imagination; perhaps I needed those superhero stories to get my creative juices flowing. Anyway, back to the question—my first serious book was Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone when I was 13, followed swiftly by George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss.

What are some of your favourite contemporary books? Why do you enjoy reading them?
Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi. I also really enjoyed Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace and nearly everything by Sebastian Faulks (although I haven’t read his foray into the world of James Bond—nobody but Ian Fleming should be allowed to tamper with such an iconic character.) I must confess that I enjoy contemporary fiction much more than anything written before 1950. I think it comes down to writing style.

Do you have an all-time favourite book? Why did you enjoy reading it?
For some reason V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas remains one of my favourite books. I can’t really say why I like it. I guess I just liked the story and the characters in it.

Do you reread books you enjoyed the first time round?
Rarely. I think it’s like going to bed with a woman. It’s never quite as exciting or magical or suspenseful the second time round!

As an avid reader, what are the elements in fiction that take your breath away? What distinguishes the great novels from the merely good?
Well, in my opinion every good piece of fiction needs conflict. Usually the protagonist wants something desperately (be it independence, love, justice, or whatever) and when this desire is denied him or her, the rest of the novel is spent fighting to attain it. For a novel to take my breath away I have to believe the story. Take Martel’s The Life of Pi for instance; it’s amazing that Martel can make his readers believe that Pi, a boy from Pondicherry, can survive 227 days on a raft with a 450lb tiger. He has the rare gift of making a story crawl under the skin; he makes you think about it when you’re brushing your teeth, when you’re sipping your teh tarik, when you’re searching under the settee for your son’s misplaced Buzz Lightyear. It’s this type of story and the ease in which it is told that makes me shake my head in wonder.

What are you reading at the moment?
Hillary Jordan’s Mudbound, a story set on a Mississippi cotton farm in the 1940s.

For better or worse, we are now in the age of the e-book. What are your thoughts on the future of books, particularly on e-books and e-readers?
I’m going to sound like a fuddy-duddy here but e-books just don’t do it for me. There’s something very personal about owning a physical copy of a book—the smell of the print, the texture of the paper and the feel of the cover. It becomes a friend, an old pal you sometimes see on your bookshelf and say hello to. E-books? Yes, they are the way forward but given a choice, I’m still the old-school type.

Do you think e-books will replace physical books one day? Do you see yourself reading one?
I’m sure that in 10 years’ time we’ll all be reading e-books, some of us more reluctantly than others, but hey, that’s progress for you.

Can you think of any fallouts relating to e-books that might impinge on professional writers in the near future?
I think there’s a fear that if publishers start selling e-books at deep, deep discounts, it will devalue the art of writing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010



THREE OR FOUR YEARS AGO, I was listening to an interview with the literary critic John Sutherland on the BBC Asian Network radio station. He observed that over the course of his lifetime, musical formats had changed with dizzying regularity, from gramophone records to MP3s.

On the other hand, the codex book format hasn’t changed in 2,000 years because it has always met the needs of readers. It is light, portable, durable, accessible and lendable. You can keep your place in it with a bookmark or folded corner of the page and you can scribble your thoughts about it in the margins.

Well, the likes of Steve Jobs would beg to differ. Since the establishment of the first digital archive in 1971, e-books have evolved via desktop prototypes, CD-Rom and PDF to become a major market force. Since the first e-book tablets came out in 1998, there’s been something of a gold rush with all the global tech brands wanting a cut of the action.

I must admit that I was an early sceptic, anxious about the headaches and radiation sickness that might come from staring at a screen boning up on Blake or catching up with Coetzee.

However, the new generation of gizmos that are set to come out this year seem to have vanquished that problem forever. Their high-definition E-ink aesthetic is easy-on-the-eye and does real justice to the written page. These devices also boast faster refresh rates, smoother operating systems, larger screens and a greater diversity of content, including your favourite newspapers and magazines alongside the literary classics.

Last year, sales of e-readers hit a new high with Amazon’s Kindle device alone moving 500,000 units globally. It is no wonder then that 2010 is predicted to be ‘The Year of the E-Reader.’ The battle to give the public the ultimate e-reading experience escalated into a price war in March when Sony slashed the cost of its most basic tablet in anticipation of the Apple iPad’s release. This prompted Amazon to start talking about a cheaper yet souped-up Kindle of the future, driven by a new improved Freescale processor that offers all the functions of other processors currently in the market, only more economically.

The iPad should hopefully hit Malaysian shores soon, although the hype around it is based more on promises for tomorrow than the capabilities of today. While the iPad impresses with its vast 16Gb memory, it is the future prospect of colour E-ink screens and greater compatibility with other ‘Apps’ that really makes the mouth water. As the iPad stands right now, its US$500 price tag and comparatively short battery life of 10 hours means that it is “not yet a killer,” in the words of tech blogger Ebook Doctor. However, given that Apple already dominates digital music and are fast expanding their e-book portfolio, the iPad allows you to buy new titles online in a matter of seconds, which is certainly more convenient than heading down to the mall.

The most competitively-priced next-generation tablet must be Kobo, due out in mid-June. You can land one of these for only US$149.99 and it comes preloaded with 100 classic titles which adds to the great value. Expectations are high, with Wired magazine going as far as calling it “the Kindle killer.” The Kobo company originally started out designing e-book software before making the step up to the tablet market. This background expertise, along with their close connection to Borders Bookstores, means that their new tablet is gifted with a first-class content delivery system, allowing cheap and easy downloads of a whole plethora of reading materials.

Presumptuously marketed as “the tablet that has everything that the iPad is missing,” the German WePad has set itself up as a direct rival to Apple’s flagship device. The company behind it, Neofonie, has begun exclusive negotiations with publishers and media providers that are less than ecstatic about Apple’s steep prices and tight restrictions. The WePad’s publicity seems to focus on its versatility: not only can you read with comfort and speed thanks to the Intel Atom Pineview-M chip but you can take pictures with its webcam, watch Flash animations and connect up to various USB devices. Expect to find this gizmo in stores around the world by late July.

Talking about the versatility of functions, a big hitter out this summer is Condor Technology Associates’ eGriver Touch, which is equipped with touchscreen, Wi-fi, directory organisation tool, web browser and integrated dictionary. Many of its competitors can boast only half of these capabilities. Such tools as text-to-speech are optional with this model. Weighing just 240g, the eGriver Touch is one of the lightest e-readers in the market. However, one drawback with this device is its lack of compatibility as only eight e-book formats (amongst them .epub and .pdb) are supported. However, the eggheads predict that the increasing standardisation of the market will soon make compatibility issues a thing of the past.

You could forgive Apple for developing a persecution complex because they too are in the sights of yet another forthcoming tablet, the HP Slate. Last month, an internal HP presentation ‘proving’ how superior the Slate will be to the iPad was leaked to the public. In the areas of screen resolution, processor power, port compatibility and webcam, the Slate appears to win out, although it’s likely that it will cost at least US$50 more than the iPad, and the buying public might well ask the question, “Why does an e-reader need a state-of-the-art camera?”

Asus is tipped to release their DR-900 e-reader in the next couple of months. Its touch screen capability has been hailed as a quantum leap in the field but, unfortunately, sneak preview sites such as have reported sensitivity and typing issues. Apparently, this is sort of compensated for by the navigation arrows provided on either side of the screen which are much easier to use. Furthermore, it is hoped that these gremlins will be fixed by the time the DR-900 is officially released. Also in the ‘pros’ column for this device is the crispness of the 1024 x 768 display and the one-to-two second refresh time.

Looking slightly further into the future, there is much excitement surrounding Google’s first tablet to be run on its revolutionary Android operating system. Although details are hazy at present and no release date has been set, information has been drip-fed from sources such as Google’s CEO Eric E. Schmidt, who has intimated that the tablet will take the appearance of a more traditional computer, be equipped with the Chrome Web Browser and offer a completely open platform, unlike the iPad. Most significantly, Google will seek to take advantage of the multilingual capability of Android, offering customers the opportunity to read e-books in whatever language they choose. This gives Google’s new gadget a clear competitive edge over all the other monolingual tablets out there in the market.

So it would seem that the brightest brains in the business might prove Professor Sutherland wrong and seriously challenge the millennia-old codex in this, the Year of the E-Reader. Who can predict?

TOM SYKES has published short fiction and journalism around the world in such publications as GoNomad, Underground Voices, Taya Literary Journal, Screaming Dreams, Jupiter SF, Ruthless Peoples, Lunar Harvest, WeBooks, The Philippine Free Press and Quill. He co-compiled and -edited No Such Thing as a Free Ride? for Cassell Illustrated which was serialised in the London Times and named the Observer’s Travel Book of the Month. The latest book he co-edited is Fog in Channel ...?, a book that explores Britain’s relationship with mainland Europe, published by Shoehorn Publishing in the U.K. He is pursuing his PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths College, University of London. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming Sini Sana: Travels in Malaysia, published by MPH Group Publishing.

Reproduced from the July-September 2010 issue of Quill magazine

Saturday, November 13, 2010


YOUNG MALAYSIAN PUBLISHER EZRA MOHD ZAID manages ZI Publications, an independent publishing house in Malaysia. Personable and engaging, brimming with vigour and ideas, he is the kind of publisher we need in a contemporary Malaysia: broadminded, intelligent, passionate, funny and straight-talking. He completed his high school education in Geelong Grammar School in Australia and graduated with a degree in Political Science and Philosophy from The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.


Where do you find the time to read with your busy schedule?
Finding the time to read for leisure is getting increasingly difficult, especially when reading for work tends to take up most of my time. But I find that my favourite time to read is while travelling, especially on a bus or plane. I also try to read between five and 10 pages every night, which is very productive, too.

Do you think reading matters?
Reading does matter. The value of reading is often underestimated. Reading opens doors to information on any subject you can think of and imagine and to knowledge that can lead you to better opportunities. It also allows you to explore and learn about things outside the world of your direct experience. To agree, disagree or even to come up with new ideas is a result of flexing those critical thinking muscles. It makes life richer and the rewards of it are very satisfying. But on a far simpler level, reading is enjoyable. Period.

For the longest time ever, before radio, television, YouTube, Facebook and smartphones entered our realm, reading was an essential activity. Obviously, it is still prevalent, but to a certain degree, there is a sense that it is no longer the primary activity. So, it is a tragedy to observe that with time, people have lost their skill and passion to read.

There are now many other exciting and thrilling options (or distractions) available aside from books; yes, we acknowledge that. But it is a shame because reading offers an unparalleled approach to being introduced to new ideas and exploring new worlds and adventures. Reading has this remarkable way of simultaneously challenging one’s beliefs and opinions, and at the same time reinforcing or clarifying some wisdom or those half-truths that somehow got lodged in our heads. The magic of it is that it kicks you off on this amazing journey where you will be always searching for more answers and asking more questions. And that can’t be a bad thing. On a practical level, it does help us stay in touch with contemporary ideas and appreciate history, which hopefully in turn, makes us more sensitive to issues of global concern.

How do we go about getting more Malaysians to read?
There are three ways of looking at the issue:

Firstly, if we’re talking about the big picture and in the long term, our national education system has to promote the reading of books in an inclusive and meaningful way. It shouldn’t stop at Little Red Riding Hood and the Pak Pandir stories at the tadika (kindergarten) level; it has to continue all the way up to secondary school so that it provides some sort of counterbalance to the daily grind of reading ‘textbook’ materials that kids have to plough through. So, sastera (literature) has to be a ‘constant’ fixture in our education system, just as the presence of mathematics and science is. It would be shortsighted of us to suggest that these subjects are not as significant.

Secondly, believe it or not, Malaysians might find books boring or uninteresting. These same folks also feel that reading a book is real hard work. My theory is that, perhaps, they possibly just haven’t found ‘it’ yet. I am referring to that one special book that they’ve picked up by accident (or choice), and the pages just turn themselves. The reading of the text seems effortless. It has a lot to do about finding the type of book or subject matter that interests you. Much like going to the movies, isn’t it? Just because it says “#1” right next to it doesn’t mean it suits you. There is a book for absolutely everyone out there, trust me. So I would encourage you to spend more time browsing in the bookshops, until you find your book. Once you do, it just opens up that window of ‘imagination’ and you’ll be on your way to the wonders beyond. That initial spark of interest will create a constant desire to read more of the same, and eventually, read something a little different as well.

Thirdly, we have got to somehow make books more affordable to readers. It is a hard truth, but books aren’t exactly affordable in Malaysia—and that is always a consideration when the reading public thinks about buying a book. That has to be addressed. I won’t go into it now, but there has to be a concerted effort by all parties concerned to make sure that books are accessible, while not burning a hole in their pockets.

What kinds of books did you read when you were growing up? Were there any books that had a significant impact on you at that early age?
Ironically, I didn’t read a lot of books while growing up. I guess I was a late reader, beginning to properly appreciate books only when I was about 16, or thereabouts. As a kid, it was all about Archie, Jughead, Betty and Veronica—the Archie comics! My mother was concerned that I wasn’t into Famous Five and Hardy Boys, but she understood. I had an Ujang or Gila-Gila phase that went on for a couple of years! But strangely enough, the first book I remember reading cover to cover was a book on the adventures of the Malay warrior Hang Tuah—and it was in English. I couldn’t put it down. That got me realising, “Wow, books aren’t so bad after all!” So this goes back to my earlier point about finding the book that’s right for you. I was lucky enough to find it and am thankful for that.

What, in your opinio, are the essentials of good fiction? What distinguishes the great novels from the merely good? (If you prefer reading nonfiction, tell me why.)
There is a lot of room for self-improvement on my part, and nonfiction somehow manages to serve that purpose in a variety of ways. There are topics that I’m already interested in that I wish to know more about, there are subjects that I have a vague understanding of and would like to know more about, and there are also topics that I was happily ignorant about, yet now find rather fascinating. Reading about the ordinary and extraordinary, about the human condition and the world we live in, continues to tickle my interest. I have a soft spot for autobiographies because they usually chart some form of evolution of the person; observing that perspective can be very insightful and fascinating.

As a publisher, what do you look for in a manuscript?
Originality and good writing are two important considerations for a good manuscript. The subject matter or idea that is being addressed sets the tone of what the reader may expect. From there, what usually complements it is that unique ‘voice’ the author brings to the work―whether it is humour, honesty, sarcasm, point of view, etc. While these aspects provide the platform for a good manuscript, it still comes back to good writing. Between writers of fiction and nonfiction, we have to appreciate that there are different styles that writers adopt as their own. But within all that, clarity and accessibility are important considerations we look out for as well. You can be elaborate or simple with words and even ideas, but rarely is the clarity of the work compromised. As a whole, a good manuscript has no specific predetermined criteria. I think it usually comprises or combines some form of purpose, imagination, intellectual significance and entertainment value.

What are your thoughts on e-books and e-book readers? Do you think they will replace physical books one day?
Books, in their current form, will still be around for a very long time. But there can be no denying that technology has drastically changed the way we communicate ideas, stories and information. In the short term, e-books and e-book readers will perhaps spark a renewed interest in reading, especially among the younger generation and it might even be their format of choice as the technology improves. However, with all the focus on being eco-friendly, this option certainly puts forward a case for readers and consumers to ponder about.

What kinds of books do you enjoy reading now, and why? What are you reading at the moment?
I naturally enjoy reading nonfiction, and I guess creative nonfiction falls into that category as well. Specifically, I have a soft spot for autobiographies because they usually chart some form of evolution of the person; observing that perspective can be very insightful and that fascinates me tremendously. Whoever it might be—actor, rock star, football manager, world leader, spiritual leader, comedian—the best writings usually tend to be raw and honest, with some humility and a sense of humour thrown into the mix as well. It then becomes an ‘easy’ read, to a certain extent, because you seem to be able to relate to it while a part of you can also wonder about it, too.

Daniel Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day is a fascinating and rare first-person account of what it’s like to be born an autistic savant. The word ‘extraordinary’ gets thrown about a lot, but this guy is really extraordinary in more ways than one, which makes his life story even more interesting.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


ANNE BERRY was born in London, England, in 1956, but spent much of her infancy in Aden (Yemen) and then in Hong Kong, where she grew up and worked for a time as a journalist for the South China Morning Post. The Hungry Ghosts is her first novel, and was the very first title published under HarperCollins Publishers’ new Blue Door imprint. Now living in Bookham, Surrey, she writes full time and has completed her second novel, The Water Children (Blue Door/HarperCollins Publishers, April 2011) and is at work on her third.


Anne, heartiest congratulations on being shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ First Novel Prize (South Asia and Europe) for your first novel, The Hungry Ghosts (Blue Door/HarperCollins Publishers, 2009). What was it like being shortlisted for such a prestigious prize?
It was absolutely thrilling to be shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ First Novel Prize (South Asia and Europe) for The Hungry Ghosts. I really couldn’t believe it when I first heard about it. There is so much in my book that touches on my personal experiences of growing up in the then British Colony of Hong Kong, and my love for the island and the Chinese people. It is a great honour that the judges of such a prestigious prize gave recognition to these themes that are interwoven throughout the plot.

Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your family history?
I was the daughter of a senior government official on the magical, bustling island of Hong Kong, and my childhood home was a flat on The Peak. My father donned a suit on even the most sweltering days and worked long hours in an office in Central District. But there the conventional stereotype ends. He took me to Island School every day on the back of his big Honda motorbike, roaring round the tight bends of the steep roads. I can remember holding on for dear life, feeling the wind in my face, and staring mesmerised down the dizzying slopes to the sparkling sea. My mother worked as an actress in England before she got married, and on her side of the family there is a distinct theatrical flavour to the past. And that was the direction I was nudged in, attending the Guildford School of Acting when I came to England to live, at eighteen. But my first love was writing, always writing. After acting for a few years I returned to Hong Kong and worked as a reporter for the South China Morning Post. In those days, there was a devilish computer that filled an entire room and liked nothing better than to eat up your copy at the end of the day out of pure spite.

You were born in London and moved to Hong Kong when you were six. What was it like to grow up in this part of the world?
Actually, when I was a baby of only a few months old, my family moved to what was then known as Aden. We settled in Hong Kong when I was six. Hong Kong was quite simply my home. I knew no other. It was England that felt like a foreign country. The island was a place of extremes that were often exciting and sometimes unsettling. The sun was bright and hot, and the skies were blue, except when the mists settled on The Peak and even your bed felt soggy. The typhoons that battered the island were terrifying. The insects you shared your home with could be pesky, or sting you, or, as in the case of the dreaded raids by nocturnal cockroaches, be the stuff of nightmares. The butterflies were dazzling. The wealth could be obscene and the poverty terribly distressing. The Chinese culture that I have been immersed in was a feast of colour and legend and tradition. No people I have ever visited rival the Chinese for their warmth and hospitality.

Now that you no longer live in Hong Kong, how often do you go back there?
For many years I returned to Hong Kong to visit my parents. They continued to live there right up to the return of the island to China. But inevitably these trips lessened with marriage and the arrival of my own family. I have not been back for nearly twenty years now. I plan to set another book in Hong Kong. Part of me would so love to visit. But I also want to remember it as it was then for another novel.

When did you know you were going to be a writer? Was it something you had always set your heart on?
I believe I was born a writer. Nothing made me happier as a child attending Big Peak School, than being given an English composition for homework. From the moment I had the title I could think of nothing else. I always wrote, working briefly as a journalist, writing stories for my children as they grew up, and then writing plays for a drama school I ran. Over the years, the writer’s voice became louder and louder. By the time I began The Hungry Ghosts it was deafening, refusing to be ignored for another second.

What does it mean to be a writer? What do you enjoy most about your life as a writer?
It means everything to me. I am doing what I love. My head never stops buzzing. I am soaring up there with the clouds on good days, and I am wading through glue on bad days. I have so many books to write that every minute is claimed.

Was it difficult getting your first novel, The Hungry Ghosts, published? Did you experience (the usual) difficulty in finding an agent or a publisher for it?
I have faced many difficult challenges in my life, including having four babies within three years, but no mountain has been higher to climb than getting published. There are few sorrier sounds than the thump of a manuscript on the mat! But I am very lucky. I have the most supportive family in the world. My husband hid rejection slips, and my children peeled me sobbing off the floor, sat me straight back down at my computer and ordered me to get back to writing. In my initial phone call with the woman who was to become my agent, Judith Murdoch, I was so nervous I told her I was ringing about the book she had written! She must have thought I was mad.

Could you tell me a bit about The Hungry Ghosts? What was the seed of the novel?
The Hungry Ghosts is the story of twelve-year-old Alice Safford, a dreamy troubled girl who lives in a flat on The Peak on Hong Kong Island. Her father is a senior member of the British colonial government. Tensions mount as the countdown to the return of the colony to China begins in earnest. At home, too, a web of secrets and lies starts to unravel. Exploring the morgue of an old British army hospital, the temporary site of her private school, Alice unwittingly becomes the host of the ghost of a Chinese girl who was raped and murdered during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong—unleashing chaos.

When I was eleven years old, on a visit to a friend living in Peak Mansions, her mother suddenly told me that their flat was haunted by a poltergeist. It was the restless spirit of a young Chinese girl, killed during the Japanese occupation of the island, she thought. She was inclined to have tantrums and throw things. I was told all this in the most prosaic of manners. And in that moment the seed of The Hungry Ghosts was sown. Just as Alice was unaware of her possession, so was I—until Lin Shui began to speak!

How did you go about creating the characters that people the landscape of your fictional universe?
I had the strangest feeling with the characters of my novel that far from creating them, they inhabited me. Though of course I drew on all my memories of the many larger-than-life characters I encountered in island life, and of people I met while I was working in theatre.

Why did you choose to write the story from so many different points of view?
I chose to have several narrators for The Hungry Ghosts, and in particular not to give Alice a voice, for multiple reasons. I wanted the reader to hear the story from many perspectives and for them to make up their own minds. Alice’s silence is a symbol of her own frustration, of never being heard, of seeing all but saying nothing, of knowing that she cannot change things. In a very real way Lin Shui becomes her objective voice, commenting on the comic and the tragic with detachment. It also gave the narrative the feeling of a puzzle coming together piece by piece, the picture gradually becoming visible. Also, as a reader I like the writer to let me draw my own conclusions.

How detailed did you lay out the plot before starting the story?
The plot was in many ways organic, certainly for two-thirds of the book. But there were definitely key moments that felt like catching a rugby ball and just running with it for a while.

Did you know where you were going with the novel as you were writing it or did it evolve on its own?
There were some events that I knew would happen and others in which I felt like a bystander. For example, the motley crew of ghosts that followed in Lin Shui’s wake just turned up unannounced, and made it clear they were staying until the end.

What are some of the themes you dealt with? Were you conscious of these when you first set out to write the story?
I think there were two powerful themes from the outset. The first was the extraordinary experience of feeling as if I was living on a shrinking island, only it wasn’t the island that was shrinking but the colonial lifestyle. All that British pageantry under a baking sun! It felt curiously comic at times, and curiously tragic at others. The second was family, and the often brutal dynamics within them that can be as destructive as the typhoons I experienced.

Was there much research to do?
Despite living through this fascinating page of history, there was a great deal of research to do. You have to be certain dates are exact and names are correctly spelt when you incorporate fiction into fact.

As you were writing the novel, how did you know when the manuscript is completed? Do deadlines determine this or do you feel a sense of confidence that there is no way you can improve on the text any further?
You always work with deadlines. I certainly did when I was working as a journalist. And when I was acting you knew the show had to go on. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. I’m used to the discipline. As for being satisfied with my work, I’m a self-critical perfectionist, so they have to keep the proofs away from me! The moment I decided Alice would return to Hong Kong I knew I had found the end of my book. It fitted so well with the anniversary of the handover. At last, Alice had come home.

What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing your first book?
Writing my first book confirmed what I had intuitively known all along—that writing is very hard work requiring infinite patience, and in the process of writing a novel you have to play many roles: the inspired, the problem solver, the poet, the critic, the economist, the heart-broken editor, the wordsmith, the reader, and the storyteller!

What kinds of books did you read when you were growing up? Were there any books that had a significant impact on you at that early age? And have they in any way contributed to the making of who you are as a writer today?
I am an avid eclectic reader. As a child I read all the classics, as well as Chinese legends. Singling out any is tough but C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid were very special to me. The only books that lose me are science fiction and detective series. Although having said that, I do like [English science-fiction writer] John Wyndham. For me, every book has to be an unknown journey. I don’t want to know where I am going and/or what I shall feel when I arrive. I absolutely loved Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast. But no writer has had a greater impact on me than William Shakespeare.

In your opinion, what are the essentials of good fiction? What do you think distinguishes the great novels from the merely good?
Well, it sounds silly but you need a good story, and at the heart of every good story is conflict. Nothing, in my opinion, is more important than to create in the reader the compulsion to turn that page. Beautiful writing doesn’t always do that. It’s the hook, the gotcha, the little kernel of pure magic that becomes more compelling to the reader than reality. A great book as opposed to a good book is one that stays with you. It’s a book that gives you something you didn’t have before you read it. It’s a book that, like the dearest of old friends, is always with you.

Tell me a bit about some of the contemporary authors and books you enjoy reading and also about some of your favourite authors and why you enjoy reading their works.
There are many authors who have delighted, influenced and intimidated me by turns. Writers past include Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Graham Greene and Daphne du Maurier, while contemporary writers include Anne Tyler, Kate Atkinson, David Guterson, Bernard Cornwell, Wilbur Smith and Margaret Forster. Kate Grenville’s The Secret River was perfection. And Jane Gardam’s Old Filth made me laugh and cry. But I also love books that challenge your preconceptions and Lori Lansens’s The Girls did just that and was so moving. Rose Tremain is another writer I hugely admire, and her novel Sacred Country is a very special book to me. I have just finished her latest novel, Trespass—a wonderful novel. I like nothing more than to try something new. To coin the Bard’s phrase, I like ‘tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral.’

Suggest a couple of good reads that you think haven’t received as much attention as they should.
Colleen McCullough’s Angel is one. I simply adored this book. From the first page I felt the narrator, Harriet Purcell, take me firmly by the hand and yank me into her world. That bold, sensuous, no-nonsense voice had me from the first sentence to her last exclaimed ‘Ooh ah!’ Set in Sydney, Harriet takes a room in Mrs. Delvecchio Schwartz’s rooming house. From the moment she sets eyes on four-year-old Flo, Mrs. Schwartz’s beautiful daughter, Harriet forms a bond that will surpass all obstacles. This is spine-tingling one minute and hysterically funny the next. It has the two vital ingredients of books that last: comedy and tragedy. I recommend it very highly.

Jonathan Coe’s The Rain Before It Falls is a poignantly memorable tale, beautifully told. Mostly the voice is that of Aunt Rosamond, speaking from beyond the grave on a series of cassette tapes left after her suicide, and found by her niece Gill. In its pages you are drawn into the often inexplicable tragedies that so often nestle at the core of family life. The narrative follows the curse as it seeps into the lives of the next generation, finally exacting a terrible price from the innocent. It is heartbreaking and so moving that I wept. I loved the ambiguous ending, too. For me it was like the haunting refrain that plays in your head long after the music has stilled.

Do you have an all-time favourite book? Why do you enjoy reading it?
I am going to cheat here and plump for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. His plays and poetry have accompanied me every step of my life. I have never tired of reading and rereading them, of going to see them performed, of leafing through them to find the echo of what I am feeling. Every human emotion imaginable is in those pages. He transforms words into living, tangible beings. Every second spent with him reignites my passion for writing.

Do you reread books you enjoyed the first time round?
Apart from Shakespeare and Dickens, I do not like to reread books. I give them my absolute and undivided attention and then I move on. There are so many wonderful books out there and I want to read them all!

What are you reading at the moment?
Man Booker Prize-winner Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall. I love historical fiction. With the very best historical fiction you forget it is history as it’s so immediate and accessible. And this is vintage historical fiction.

Do you have a favourite short story or short-story collection?
I loved Ruth Rendell’s Piranha to Scurfy and Other Stories. In the title story, pernickety Ambrose Ribbon spends his lonely life buying books and writing letters haranguing authors for their spelling and copying mistakes. When he targets a horror writer he gets more than he bargained for. I also really enjoyed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first collection of stories, The Thing Around Your Neck. It’s deliciously astute and ironic, sweet as the ripest cherry to bite into, but leaving you with a sad indigestible stone of truth by the close.

For better or worse, we are now in the age of e-books. What are your thoughts on the future of books, particularly on e-books and e-book readers? Do you think they will replace physical books one day? Can you think of any fallouts relating to e-books that might impinge on professional writers in the near future?
Oh, change is coming. You will never stop that. If e-books make it easier for people to read, then I don’t want to sound like the weary Wright brothers’ next-door neighbour, swearing that if God had wanted mankind to fly he’d have given them wings. But I can’t bear the thought that we might ever lose the book. The page, the print, the feel of them, the intoxicating smell, both old and new, the enticing covers that lure you in, the dull worn covers that conceal a world of delights, the euphoria of possession. The book in my hand is mine, all mine! Certainly nothing will ever replace that feeling for me. And seeing as I have only just managed to negotiate my way round Word after some twenty-odd years, I don’t think they will do anything but frustrate me. The book is so convenient, relatively inexpensive, and a considerable source of pleasure for very little outlay. I suppose with the coming of the e-book you might reduce the power of the large publishing firms, or perhaps lessen their control over what reaches the reader. But I am not sure of the merits of that. Overall I think the book is still holding its own very well. And on the maxim of ‘If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,’ I prophesy that books are here to stay.

Readers often say how literary novels lack plots. Do you think literary novelists should put more emphasis on plot and less on stylistics? Why do you think there’s a perceived divide between popular and literary fiction?
In answering this I shall say what I like, but do not suggest that it is a rule for all. The authors I read have command of their craft. They are books of excellence but they are accessible to all. They are a marriage of literary and popular. And the story is the thing, the story will always be the thing, the most important thing. Writing that is too literary can be in danger of alienating the reader. And that to me makes writing as pointless as acting without an audience. The Hungry Ghosts exists because of the reader. Each person who reads it brings something unique and fresh to it. Each writer must follow their heart, and my heart tells me that the reader is at least as important as the writer. It is a two-way relationship. And all relationships involve compromise if they are to endure. And I hope to endure for a long time to come!

You have completed a second novel, The Water Children. What’s it about?
Oh yes, I am very excited about my second novel, The Water Children. It is story of four people whose lives cross in the sweltering heatwave in London in 1976. All of them have had profound life-changing childhood experiences with water. Now in that blistering heatwave, the past comes back and transforms all their futures. I am also at work on a third novel; it’s top secret!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Better read than dead

With the sprouting of bookstores, are more books being read? S.H. LIM pokes around the Malaysian book industry to find out and to learn where reading fiction fits into our culture

IT’S NOT UNCOMMON to see folks holding onto the handrail with one hand, a novel in the other. That’s on London Underground trains, where bodies squeeze against bodies and space, much less reading room, is at a premium during rush hour. Same in Hong Kong and Taiwan. But I can’t say the same is observed here. Perhaps we’ve not quite developed a reading culture, much less one that reads fiction. Yet bookstores have mushroomed in the Klang Valley. Every shopping mall has a large one, and on weekends people roam the shelves, thumbing through books.

I asked several people—writers, reviewers, bloggers, editors, publishers, distributors, marketers, English instructors and college students—about our reading culture, and in particular our reading of fiction. Their views are not dissimilar.

Charlene Rajendran, a local writer-and-poet, and an instructor in a university on the island south says, ‘Even though there is a noticeable increase of bookshops, and a marked rise in the amount of space allocated to books in a range of publications from newspapers to magazines, etc., I still think the “reading culture” is very emaciated. Not enough muscle and few healthy glowing skins that radiate inner depth.’

Her observations are shared by someone who lives inside the book industry, Eric Forbes of MPH Publishing. ‘Seriously, I don’t think we have much of a reading culture in Malaysia. I’m afraid we are a long, long way from that. Most of the adults I know don’t read. Perhaps they only read the newspaper and a magazine or two. Perhaps they only read stuff related to work. And that’s about it. I know most graduates stop reading after they join the workforce.’

One person from Kinokuniya says, ‘Contrary to this observation [sprouting of more bookstores], the book market has not expanded much. Rather, the better bookstores have gained more market share from lesser competitors.’

Amir Muhammad, writer, filmmaker and publisher, in his characteristic tongue-in-cheek way, posits that ‘the news we get in Malaysian papers already seems so outlandish, like a tragicomic magic realist serial novel of uncertain length, unpredictable trajectory and dubious coherence. But having said that, many Malay novels now can sell 50,000 copies with relative ease, so something is obviously happening.’

These works tend to be romances. Amir informs that ‘the most popular sub-genre is inspired by the Indonesian hit, Ayat-Ayat Cinta, which was set in Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, and whose appeal is superbly parodied in Malaysia’s Karipap-Karipap Cinta.’

The university students I talk to confess that they and their colleagues don’t read much outside their prescribed texts. The reasons for this arise from, ‘No time’, ‘Too much homework’, or ‘Exams’. But the reasons for our lack of engagement with books and in particular with imaginative works—fiction as opposed to nonfiction—can’t be just about the lack of time. The popularity of Facebook and Twitter among us and the hours people spend updating, posting and responding negate this time argument. Perhaps the truth is that, as Eric says, ‘Reading is still not a priority in the life of most Malaysians. To most people, there are always other things that are more important than reading. Some people consider reading a waste of time and of one’s life.’

Maybe books are just still too expensive for the majority of us. One person in the book industry says, ‘Even the well-to-do think books are expensive and so do not read. What more those who are not so well-to-do?’ To respond to the market of readers who are seeking a less expensive way to feed this habit, discount bookstores and used-books outlets like Pay Less Books have peppered our urban landscape. Our public libraries can play a greater role here, by merely making fiction more readily available.

Perhaps it’s the fact that we’re a culture dominated by commerce and industry. Time is money so if we choose to read, we read self-help books, business books, feng shui ones, which help us position ourselves to receive health and wealth. MPH informs that 10 per cent of its total sales come from fiction; Kinokuniya reveals 20 per cent; and Berjaya Books (owner of Borders) says theirs is 30 per cent.

But there are consequences for a culture that doesn’t read, including the reading of fiction. When we fail to read, we might as well not be literate because there’s no difference between the person who can’t read and the person who doesn’t read. Both can’t participate in the ensuing dialogue on existential issues. Some will go so far to assert that only those who read fiction have the capacity to understand the human condition. However, not reading also means missing out on accessible pleasure. One reader in the book industry reveals, ‘As a reader myself, I realise that everyone has preferences on what they want to spend reading but am constantly surprised by recommendations given by colleagues, making reading such a serendipitous adventure.’

Ah, the pleasure of adventure.

Reproduced from the November 2010 issue of Time Out Kuala Lumpur

Monday, November 01, 2010


November 2010 Highlights

1. Sunset Park (Faber & Faber/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2010) / Paul Auster
2. Madame Bovary (trans. from the French by Lydia Davis) (Penguin Classics, 2010) / Gustave Flaubert
3. Lord of Misrule (McPherson & Co., 2010) / Jaimy Gordon
4. Dead Like You (Minotaur, 2010) / Peter James
5. Hand Me Down World (John Murray, 2010) / Lloyd Jones
6. The Silent Land (Gollancz, 2010) / Graham Joyce
7. The Convent (W.W. Norton, 2010) / Panos Karnezis
8. Comedy in a Minor Key (Hesperus Press, 2010) / Han Keilson
9. The Moment (Hutchinson, 2010) / Douglas Kennedy
10. The Wolves of Andover (Reagan Arthur Books, 2010) / Kathleen Kent

11. Moonlight Mile (William Morrow, 2010) / Dennis Lehane
12. Mary Ann in Autumn (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 2010) / Armistead Maupin
13. The Final Hour [trans. from the Arabic (1982) by Roger Allen] (The American University of Cairo Press, 2010) / Naguib Mahfouz
14. In the Time of Love [trans. from the Arabic (1980) by Kay Heikkinen] (The American University of Cairo Press, 2010] / Naguib Mahfouz
15. When Colts Ran (Random House Australia, 2010) / Roger McDonald
16. Orchid Blue (Faber & Faber, 2010) / Eoin McNamee
17. The Plantation (Macmillan Australia, 2010) / Di Morrissey
18. The Distant Hours (Atria/Simon & Schuster, 2010) / Kate Morton
19. The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey (Riverhead, 2010) / Walter Mosley
20. Foreign Bodies (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010) / Cynthia Ozick

21. The Passages of H. M.: A Novel of Herman Melville (Doubleday, 2010) / Jay Parini
22. Luka and the Fire of Life (Random House, 2010) / Salman Rushdie
23. Rescue (Little, Brown, 2010) / Anita Shreve

First Novels
1. The Instructions (McSweeney’s, 2010) / Adam Levin
2. The End (Jonathan Cape, 2010) / Salvatore Scibona

1. Tablet & Pen (W.W. Norton, 2010) / Reza Aslan (ed.)
2. The New Yorker Stories (Scribner/Simon & Scuster, 2010) / Ann Beattie
3. Snow Plain: Selected Stories (trans. from the Chinese by John Crespi) (Zephyr Press, 2010) / Duo Duo
4. The Granta Book of the Irish Short Story (Granta Books, 2010) / Anne Enright (ed.)
5. Life Times: Stories 1952-2007 (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Bloomsbury, 2010) / Nadine Gordimer
6. Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive, 2010) / Aleksandar Hemon (ed.)
7. Full Dark, No Stars (Simon & Schuster, 2010) / Stephen King
8. While the Women Are Sleeping (trans. from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa) (New Directions/Chatto & Windus, 2010) / Javier Marías
9. Perfect Lives (Virago Press, 2010) / Polly Samson
10. Bummer and Other Stories (Soft Skull Press, 2010) / Janice Shapiro

11. Portraits of a Few of the People I’ve Made Cry (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010) / Christine Sneed
12. 20 Under 40: Stories from The New Yorker (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010) / Deborah Treisman (ed.)
13. Selected Stories (Viking Adult, 2010) / William Trevor

1. New and Collected Poems (Bloodaxe, 2011) / Ruth Fainlight
2. Selected Poems (Faber & Faber, 2010) / Mick Imlah
3. Walking Papers (W.W. Norton, 2010) / Thomas Lynch
4. Taller When Prone (Carcanet Press, 2010) / Les Murray
5. God’s Optimism (Main Street Rag, 2010) / Yehoshua November
6. Voices Over Water (CB Editions, 2010) / D. Nurkse
7. The Night Post: A New Selection (Salt Publishing, 2010) / Matthew Sweeney
8. Anterooms: New Poems and Translations (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010) / Richard Wilbur
9. Wait (Bloodaxe, 2010) / C.K. Williams
10. Every Riven Thing (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010) / Christian Wiman

11. Birdhouse (Salt Publishing, 2010) / Anna Woodhouse

1. Venice: Pure City (Nan A. Talese, 2010) / Peter Ackroyd
2. Tolstoy: A Russian Life (Profile Books, 2010) / Rosamund Bartlett
3. Romain Gary: A Tall Story (Harvill Secker, 2010) / David Bellos
4. Letters (ed. Benjamin Taylor) (Penguin Viking, 2010) / Saul Bellow
5. My Prizes: An Accounting (trans. frrom the German by Carol Janeway) (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) / Thomas Bernhard
6. My Reading Life (Nan A. Talese, 2010) / Pat Conroy
7. What I Don’t Know About Animals (Virago Press, 2010) / Jenny Diski
8. Working the Room (Canongate, 2010) / Geoff Dyer
9. Learning to Die in Miami: Confessions of a Refugee Boy (Free Press, 2010) / Carlos Eire
10. I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010) / Nora Ephron

11. A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2010) / Ruth Franklin
12. The Box: Tales from the Darkroom (trans. from the German by Krishna Winston) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010) / Günter Grass
13. Shakespeare’s Freedom (University of Chicago Press, 2010) / Stephen Greenblatt
14. The Memory Chalet (William Heinemann, 2010) / Tony Judt
15. Frank: The Voice (Doubleday, 2010) / James Kaplan
16. Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (Harper, 2010) / Michael Korda
17. The Last Lingua Franca: English Until the Return of Babel (Allen Lane, 2010) / Nicholas Ostler
18. The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist (trans. from the Turkish by Nazim Dikbaş) (Harvard University Press, 2010) / Orhan Pamuk
19. Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets: A New Commentary (Faber & Faber, 2010) / Don Paterson
20. Cleopatra: A Life (Little, Brown/Virgin Books, 2010) / Stacy Schiff

21. Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I (University of California Press, 2011) / Mark Twain
22. The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time (Sasquatch Books, 2010) / David L. Ulin