'Emerging Malaysian Writers 2018' anthology showcases first-time authors

  • Books
  • Sunday, 20 Jan 2019

Ten of the 12 writers featured in the 'Emerging Malaysian Writers 2018' anthology.(Standing, from left) Khayma Balakrishnan, Nurhayati Mohd Fadzil, Kaljit Kaur, Najrina Suhana, Archana Vijai Kumar, Sanjugtha Vigneswaran, Sukanya Dhanarajan.(Front, from left) Chloe Lim, Peter Soh, and Chong Beng Wei — RAJA FAISAL HISHAN/The Star

It’s always exciting, seeing your name in print for the first time. Finally, you are a published author! It’s almost a badge of honour, a mark that one’s creation has been judged worthy enough to be released into the world.

And earlier this month, 12 Malaysians got to experience this feeling for themselves, as they made their writing debuts in the new anthology Emerging Malaysian Writers 2018. Published by the Malaysian Writer’s Society (MYWriters), the 140-plus-page book contains short stories and poems from previously unpublished writers.

“We thought of this when MYWriters first registered as a society in Malaysia back in 2016, as a way for newer writers to break into the scene and experience working with experienced editors,” says Jo Ch’ng, one of the book’s editors.

“Submitting to international markets can be daunting due to the sheer volume of competing writers, so this was a way to focus on ONLY the new and unpublished writers.

“We put it off because we needed to be at least a little stable before pushing this into production. The idea got tossed around for a bit until we decided it was now or never,” Ch’ng explains.

MYWriters launches its first anthology featuring 12 new authorsMYWriters put out a call for author submissions last year and 25 people responded. The works were chosen and edited by a panel of experienced writers comprising Ch’ng, Anna Tan, Angelina Bong, Foo Sek Han, Gina Yap Lai Yoong and Pepper Lim.

And in the end, the 12 writers chosen were Aimee Lee, Archana Vijai Kumar, Chloe Lim, Chong Beng Wei, Kaljit Kaur, Khayma Balakrishnan, Najrina Suhana Abdul Jalil, Nurhayati Mohd Fadzil, Peter Soh, San-jugtha Vigneswaran, Sarah Alwi and Sukanya Dhanarajan.

Part of the publishing process was crowdfunded through MyStartr, with MYWriters footing the rest of the bill.

“MYWriters would like to thank our biggest backers, Krishnaveni Panikker and Tunku Halim, and all the people who contributed to the MyStartr fund. Your faith in us is astounding. Thank you so much,” says Ch’ng.

The stories and poems in the anthology cover a wide variety of topics and themes. Most of the book is in English, with one story in Malay. Sukanya Dhanarajan’s “A Long Time Ago In Japan”, for example, is a nostalgic recollection of a trip, while Chloe Lim’s “Break” is a tragic school story told by a very unconventional narrator.

Khayma Balakrishnan’s poems “Racist Remarks” and “It Will Spoil The Family Name” examine local cultural quirks, both good and bad, while Peter Soh’s “The Missing Tomb” is a moving tale of rediscovered family history.

According to Ch’ng, the editors were looking for a healthy mix of originality, good writing style, and plot when it came to selecting the stories.

The cover, designed by MYWriters president Gina Yap Lai Yoong, is based on a butterfly metaphor.

“Butterflies must struggle out of the pupa to strengthen their wings and fly. New writers, too, must struggle out of their comfort zone to strengthen their writing and publish!” says Ch’ng.

Aimee Lee, one of the authors in the collection, says she was “extremely honoured” to be chosen for inclusion, and is also proud of her fellow Malaysian aspiring authors.

“My story, ‘Cigarettes & Expectations’, is about a young lady and her extremely traditional grandmother’s personal stories of growth and changes. It is inspired by personal observations I’ve made in Malaysia and abroad,” said Lee.

“I was already working on the story when I saw the call for submission. So it was just good timing.”

Author Sarah Alwi’s story, “Preppies”, is inspired by her hopes for her young son as he goes through school. A copywriter and former journalist, Sarah says she had not written in a long time, and so was “shocked to the core” to be chosen for the anthology.

“I decided to try writing again after so long to sharpen my skills again and make my brain work on something different!

“I Googled where I could try my luck with this story. Coincidentally, MYWriters was open for submissions of short stories.

“No surprise I was still rusty. I used my lunch breaks and the 10-minute break I usually take after 30 minutes of editing to write,” says Sarah.

“I was just trying my luck with this one. Didn’t expect it at all!”

Might there perhaps be another volume like this in future? An Emerging New Writers sequel or something?

“Not for 2019. Perhaps 2020? It’s something we want to keep doing but it is really subject to the availability of editors and volunteers.

“Keep an eye on our page for further details!” Ch’ng says.

Go to malaysianwriterssociety.org for more details and future projects.

Emerging Malaysian Writers 2018 is available at major Malaysian bookstores.

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