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Tuesday August 28, 2012

Winners of Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards tap the personal

This year’s winners at the Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards delve deep into matters of the heart, love and life.

THERE are two sides to every tale, and in the hotel industry, there might even be more than two. Veteran hotelier Hanley Chew, having been in the hotel industry for over two decades, knows this well. His first book, Hotel Tales, transports the reader into this multifaceted world, where unpredictability is the order of the day.

“In this industry, we deal with people from very different backgrounds and expectations. It’s service oriented, and service is something subjective. This book is all about human experiences reflecting that behind the scenes,” he said at he Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards ceremony held on Saturday in conjunction with BookFest@Malaysia 2012 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. Chew won the first prize in the fiction category.

Chew, who collaborated on the book with writer Choy Ee Ling, says when he first conceived the idea for the book, he approached fellow hoteliers to contribute stories. “But I came to realise that hoteliers don’t write, or don’t like to write. So I got them to sit down, put on a recorder, they told their stories, and we did the writing. This is my first book, and it was a tough journey,” he says.

But it’s a journey that he wants to make again: Two years in the making, this book is going to be the first of many. “Hoteliers get to experience many things that most other people do not. There are many stories to tell,” Chew says.

Winsome writers: (From left) Yeoh Gim Suan, Bernice Chauly, Kuan Guat Choo,
Datuk Wong Sulong, MPH Group Publishing’s Ivy Tan (representing Tun Dr Mahathir
Mohamad) and Hanley Chew. Winsome writers: (From left) Yeoh Gim Suan, Bernice Chauly, Kuan Guat Choo, Datuk Wong Sulong, MPH Group Publishing’s Ivy Tan (representing Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) and Hanley Chew.

He has another four books in the works, including one based solely on his personal experiences. He plans to launch the second book in the first quarter of next year.

For second prize winner in the fiction category, Kuan Guat Choo, the writer’s journey is one she’s made four times now and she’s been nominated three of those times; her winning effort, 4...5...6, is her fourth book and it turned out to be an easy experience for her. “I was able to write it very quickly, the pen just flew. It took maybe only a month before I was done with the writing. When you are inspired, it just flows,” she says.

Interestingly, the idea for the book came to her in a dream. “In my dream, I saw what a girl saw happened to her family. It is a very tragic story, but my writing style is light and the book is easy reading,” she says.

Yeoh Gim Suan, who bagged third prize in this category with her collection of short stories, Melody Of Love & Other Stories, is elated with her achievement.

“I cried when they announced my name, I’m so happy. It’s the first time I’ve won an award for writing. I actually prayed for third place, and God answered my prayers. There are so many other good writers, and I’m Chinese-educated, so I didn’t quite expect to win. I told myself that third place would be good enough for me,” she says in fluent English.

A retired Science teacher, she started writing about five years ago and now has three books to her name.

“I think it is my calling to do this, to write. I always carry a pen and paper with me, so I can scribble down my ideas when they come,” she says.

On the nonfiction front, former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s autobiography, A Doctor In The House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, swept first prize. An obvious crowd favourite, his book, published in March last year, has sold around 110,000 copies to date.

MPH Group Publishing general manager Ivy Tan says that when they were first told by Dr Mahathir’s office that he had chosen MPH to publish his memoirs, they were elated and honoured.

“We knew that the book was going to sell well, but the response from the public surpassed our expectations. On the first week of the official release, 25,000 copies flew off the shelves of bookstores nationwide. This is not something that happens every day, especially for a locally published book,” she says.

The appointed editorial team from Salt Media (responsible for research, compiling of information, and content outline) worked closely with Dr Mahathir, she says.

“He wrote every page himself, and because he is a perfectionist and a busy man, it took him eight years to complete the memoir. Tun also prefers ‘long-hand’ writing, so the manuscripts were not typed, but handwritten. The editorial team had to sometimes decipher his handwriting, which could be quite a challenge!” adds Tan.

Publishers from all over the world – including China, the Middle East, South Korea and Vietnam – have requested for the rights to translate the book into their respective languages.

“This just goes to show that Tun is still very much highly regarded and has a strong following not just in Malaysia but from people outside who admire him for his charismatic views and political vision,” she says.

In second place in the nonfiction category was Datuk Wong Sulong for Notes To The Prime Minister: The Untold Story Of How Malaysia Beat The Currency Speculators. Containing previously unpublished material from discussions between Dr Mahathir and his then unofficial economic advisor Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop on the 1997-98 financial crisis, Wong says that it is both an economic textbook as well as a historic book.

“Tun’s book is about his whole life – my book focuses on one of his greatest triumphs as prime minister. It is about how we rejected the International Monetary Fund approach despite world wide condemnation, how we imposed foreign exchange control, pegged the currency, and the economic recovery that followed,” says the former group chief editor of Star The Star.

In third place the nonfiction category is Growing Up With Ghosts by Bernice Chauly. In her memoir spanning a hundred years, stretching from China and India to Malaya and Singapore, she attempts to get to the bottom of the curse that is thought to plague her family.

“My book is about tragedy, grief, history, bloodlines and who I am as a writer. It is also a forbidden love story, a great love story, between my parents who fought against the odds; they fought to love, they fell in love, and then my father died,” she says, adding that she decided to work with six different narratives to give voices to her ancestors.

“It was a labour of love, but it was not an easy book to write. It was very painful confronting the past, confronting my father’s death again, and transcribing his letters and my mother’s journals. I have lived with this story, these ghosts, for 23 years, and the book took, in total, almost three years to write,” she says.

Dr Mahathir and Chew each received RM3,000 and a trophy while the second and third-place winners took home RM1,500 and RM1,000 respectively. All were awarded certificates of recognition.

The ceremony was attended by Media Prima Bhd chairman Datuk Johan Jaaffar, Star Publications (M) Bhd managing editor June H.L. Wong, Berita Harian Sdn Bhd group editor Datuk Mior Kamarulbaid Mior Shahid, Popular Holdings Ltd chairman Chou Cheng Ngok, director Vangat Ramayah and Popular Book Co (M) Sdn Bhd executive director Lim Lee Ngoh.

Star Publications is a media partner of BookFest@Malaysia 2012.

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