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Sunday December 2, 2007

We do have local gems


ANYONE reading Mining for local literary gems (Reads Monthly, StarMag, Nov 25) by Daphne Lee cannot be blamed if they shunned books by local writers. 

After all, according to Eric Forbes, the senior editor of MPH Group Publishing, the only “authority” (or “the horse’s mouth” as he was described), there is a lack of good, home-grown, Malaysian-flavoured books. 

Perhaps he hasn’t read Khoo Kheng-Hor’s Taikor (nominated for the 2006 International Impac Dublin Literary Award), Mamasan, and most recently, Nanyang – an epic historical saga about the migrants to this part of the world, which the Chinese used to call “Nanyang” or the Southern Ocean long before the land came to be known as British Malaya (later Malaysia) and Singapore? 

Or how about Tan Twan Eng’s The Gift of the Rain which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize? Although I hadn’t enjoyed Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw (winner of Whitbread First Novel Prize), isn’t he too a budding talent, albeit with years of fine honing ahead of him? Surely Forbes would have read all these works as he claims to have read extensively. 

Or maybe he thinks Rani Manicka’s Rice Mother winning the 2003 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize an accident? And likewise, he thinks all these writers can’t write? 

Apart from being the horse’s mouth, Forbes is also the man who decides which manuscript sees print and which is tossed out. It is therefore those aforementioned local writers’ good fortune that they had other publishers for their books as it would seemed unlikely they would have passed Forbes’ scrutiny. 

Though he said he preferred being an editor than a writer because “If everyone wanted to write best-selling novels and no one wanted to do the behind-the-scenes work, the publishing world would be in trouble,” with such cold water being poured on any budding local talent, I think his publishing world is already in trouble as no writer would dare to submit their manuscripts to him. 

One thing Forbes did get right though: Many writers are very focused on whether they can market their books, and not so much on the quality of their writing. But I feel instead of lamenting the lack of good, home-grown, Malaysian-flavoured books, MPH Group Publishing should encourage local writers rather than make such sweeping statements which will mislead readers into thinking that local writers suck. 

 

Md Jamil Abdullah, Penang  

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