Friday, 31 December 2010

Year-End Travails Of 2010

So long, 2010. Where have you been all this time?

Though this year seemed a little slower, it still feels like it just whizzed past. I thought I'd end the year with an update before it disappears completely. I'd returned from a tiring hot springs weekend retreat at Sg Klah, Perak, feeling not the least rested or relaxed. It still smarts here and there.

I quit my job this year with Off The Edge, which was shut down six weeks afterwards. My dalliance with freelancing came to nought, and towards the end of the year, I was keen to return to full-time employment. I'm now an editor at a publishing house, a job I intend to keep for a long, long while.

In my previous job, my writing suffered somewhat, a persistent word drought. To have words flowing freely again after so long is a joy. I think it's the close proximity with volumes and volumes of written work. I was never bored. Book-related work - hell, book-related anything - seems to be good for me.

Readings @ Seksan's, December 2010

Which is probably why I found the return of Readings @ Seksan's in December just as refreshing after a one-month hiatus. I arrived uncharacteristically early.

Characteristically, the guests and readers for the month arrived late. Since there was no session in November, I wondered if the turnout would be bigger this time.

Not quite.

This Readings session had a more artsy, poetic crowd. A young doctor called Fadz, performance poet kG Krishnan and Youtube sensation Azwan Ismail were among the readers. Eeleen Lee was absent because of a family tragedy. Dr Fadz's story about a doctor (naturally) who was treating his dying brother and kG at his melancholic best complimented the cloudy weather - a casual observation. Both write beautifully.

Left to right: Maizura Abas, Jeremy Chin, Azwan Ismail

Azwan's excerpt from a gay-themed short story from the compilation Orang Macam Kita or "People Like Us" provided some laughs. The reaction to his Youtube video, however, was so not funny. Said video, a message of hope for abused and persecuted members of the LGBT community, was taken offline after death threats were made against him. The authorities, as far as I know, have been very vocal about his sexuality but silent on the death threats.

A surprise appearance by Imran Ahmad was an opportunity to ask for his contact and an autographed copy of a limited edition of his book, Unimagined. Turns out Imran is looking for a local distributor for Unimagined, and maybe someone to translate it to Malay for the local market.

Left to right: Fadz, Imran Ahmad, kG Krishnan

I promised I would try and help. Our bookshelves are in need of something funny and uplifting, and Unimagined fits the bill. Scott Pack, formerly Head Buyer of bookstore chain Waterstone's in the UK, correctly predicted it would be a hit. Why wouldn't it sell here? Shying away from this book because of the subtitle "Muhammad, Jesus and James Bond" would be a shame.

Since I already attended his talk, it wasn't as funny third time around. It was still the same excerpts: second place at the Karachi's Bonniest Baby contest, spam, pork sausages, fish and chips, and why he can't be an actor. For those who were listening to him the first time, I can say it's most likely his flu. What is he doing here? The man should be in bed. Otherwise, he should be in show business. I don't think talk-show hosts or stand-up comedians need to snog anyone.

What was on sale

I also gave my contact details to Maizura Abas, a young new mother who took Sharon Bakar's writing course and started churning out lots of stuff, mostly on being a new mom. One of her pieces ended up in a Chicken Soup compilation for young moms, which was due next March. Her candid accounts of the travails of motherhood are fun and honest. I think Imran approved.

New author Jeremy Chin was there with the missus. He was reading too, and it was his birthday. Sharon got everybody to sing him the birthday song. After his turn at the mic, she encouraged him with the words of David Davida, formerly of Penguin India, something about good authors having an abandoned first novel in the drawer. I picked up a copy of his book, Fuel, a story about how passion drives a man.

I remember this book. Bald, cheerful, self-effacing Chin appeared at a previous Readings and mentioned a self-published first novel. He was there at Imran's Annexe gig as well, sharing a booth with Amir Muhammad and selling copies of said novel. I bought their books with some degree of trepidation. The girlfriend kept reminding me we were saving up for a house.

Several days later, she had gobbled up both books before I could even finish half of either. Unimagined charmed her with its honest hilarity. The language in Fuel held her spellbound, and its ending made her weep. It's the kind of writing - deep, introspective, well-crafted and polished - that I used to want to do, but couldn't.

No, I haven't read it yet, but I had little reason to doubt the girl. She's never been wrong about food, and she isn't wrong about the books she's read so far.

It didn't help that Chin, who worked at an ad agency before he quit to write the book, is also a creative wiz. Look at his business card. Look at the web sites he's worked on. Look at the cover of Fuel. Minimalist designs with maximum impact. Especially the book cover, which gives little idea of the power in its pages.

There's a Malay proverb about still waters and crocodiles. In this case, what jumped out was that 40-foot dinosaur-eating terror some fossil hunter found in the Sahara.

Man, I was so taken in.