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Published: Tuesday July 22, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday July 22, 2014 MYT 11:40:47 AM

'Inspector Singh' is as sharp as author Sharmini Flint

Inspector Singh author opens up about writing, her famous Sikh policeman, and why readers aren’t that enthusiastic about Malaysian novels.

She's a goddess in her own right. With her proverbial pen, she wields the power over life and death. Like a master weaver, she weaves the thread of events and circumstances, leaving the people with no choice but to endure their set fate. However, she cannot run away from one fact. Much of herself, her personality, her ideals and her dreams, are poured into her creation.

“I used to think that Singh was that famous literary device, the composite character who nevertheless bears no relation to any person living or dead," asserts Shamini Flint, the writer of the Inspector Singh series, in an email interview. “Indeed, he is in part lawyers I have known, family members, strangers who left an impression. But recently, I have noticed that we are not entirely unalike, the plump policeman and I. I have started putting on weight and he has developed opinions that bear a strong resemblance to mine. For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to state categorically that I am not Mrs Singh!” 

The series, now in its sixth book, revolves around a fat Sikh Singaporean murder investigator renowned for catching the bad guys.

Shamini Flint: 'Crime fiction is a great prism through which to explore these tensions because it is inevitably about conflict.'
Shamini Flint.

The 45-year-old Flint, who will be in KL for the Popular BookFest@Malaysia (one of Singapore Arts Council’s featured authors), says her background in corporate law naturally nudged her towards the crime novel direction.

“As an ex-lawyer, I have always been interested in political and legal issues as they affect society. Crime fiction is a great prism through which to explore these tensions because it is inevitably about conflict – and the starting point is, of course, murder. The genre allows for the interaction between people of different social strata, race and religion to be explored at length,” explains the Singapore-based Malaysian.

Flint, whose favourite book growing up was To Kill A Mockingbird (which sparked her interest in law), adds that her recent Inspector Singh novel, A Calamitous Chinese Killing, has “echoes of the Bo Xilai scandal, and my first Singh novel, A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder, remains strangely relevant to the cultural landscape in Malaysia at present.”

However, before Flint penned the Inspector Singh series, she dabbled in children’s literature, a world she's very much involved in even now. 

“I actually wrote children’s books before my adult novels! My current series, featuring the misadventures of Marcus (with various sports) is actually a gentle satire of the way I combine being hopeless at sport in my own right while convinced that at least one of my children must be destined for greatness if only I push them hard enough,” says the mother of two.

Some of Flint’s well-known children’s books are the Sasha series, the Diary series, The Seeds Of Time and Ten. She believes book festivals such the Bookfest@Malaysia are important as they “make a huge impact in terms of popularising reading generally amongst the rakyat, but festivals also provide individual authors like myself with a chance to introduce my books to new readers.”

Indeed, Malaysians are usually sceptical if not ignorant about homegrown authors, but Flint reckons there's a gradual shift in the industry.

“It takes a while to break into a small, domestic market, especially as by and large, local chains do not make a huge effort to support local work by local writers. However, that is slowly changing. And in typical Malaysian style, once you’ve made it in the West, suddenly everyone wants to know about your books! I guess we in Asia still don’t trust our own opinions until we hear it from others first,” opines Flint.

Although the writer thinks she's better off if she had stayed a corporate lawyer since the “work to reward ratio is highly over-rated”, she'll continue to write, especially crime novels, as she's “somewhat tired of the traditional historical Asian novel featuring unlucky women wearing gossamer sarees”.

Meet Shamini Flint at the Popular BookFest@Malaysia on July 26. BookFest@Malaysia 2014 is at the KL Convention Centre from Jul 26 to Aug 3, 10am-10pm daily. Admission is with a purchase of the BookFest catalogue at RM2.50 per entry, or RM10 for multiple entries over nine days. Catalogues are available at all Popular and Harris bookshops nationwide, and at the BookFest entrance. Entrance is free for students below 18 and senior citizens above 60. For details, visit bookfestmalaysia.com. Star Publications (M) Bhd is a media partner of BookFest@Malaysia 2014.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Books, Shamini Flint, Inspector Singh, crime novels, author, Popular BookFest@Malaysia, book festival

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