Anthology offers a glimpse into the lives of Malaysian youth during the pandemic


'Lives Under Lockdown' collects the experiences, struggles and hopes of 20 young Malaysian writers. Photo: Handout

The pandemic has affected the lives of almost everyone all around the world. While there have been a lot of news and stories about the global lockdown, most of them have been from the perspective of adults.

How have young people’s lives been affected by the changes brought upon by the pandemic?

Was it all too much to deal with a public health crisis and its impact on daily life? Lives Under Lockdown collects the experiences, struggles and hopes of these youthful voices.

It is a thoughtfully put together pandemic-themed anthology of fiction by 20 young Malaysian writers aged between 11 and 15.

The book is the culmination of a seven-month Junior Writers Programme, headed by writer/editor Brigitte Rozario, where a group of handpicked teenagers were guided through the fiction writing process.

The book is published by MPH Group Publishing Sdn Bhd. Royalties from the book will go to SOLS Health’s community centres, which works with children in poor communities.

“When I told the writers what the theme was, there was a collective moan. I think they were sick of hearing about Covid-19. With this lockdown being so prominent in 2020, it didn’t make sense to have any other theme, ” says Rozario.

“This book presented an opportunity for the writers to share with readers their thoughts, feelings and concerns, not just about themselves, but people within their communities and in Malaysia, ” she adds.

This is the third time Rozario has conducted this programme. The previous editions saw the anthologies Spiral Through Time and Writing KL being published.

Conducting the programme this year (it started in January) was made slightly more complicated by the pandemic and the movement control order restrictions.

The programme had been running for three months before moving online (Zoom and Google Meet).

“Those were very interesting lessons. I found out that the young writers could pick up very fast even on chat. They were willing to learn so long as I could find a way to deliver the content to them. Credit to them, they took everything in their stride and some days, they even had a tour of my place when I had to manage an unexpected delivery, ” says Rozario.

“Online classes saw the usually quiet ones speak up. They seemed to open up a bit more when we were online. I think towards the end, we were bonding quite well, which is not easy online.”

Rozario adds she was very impressed with the stories the young writers came up with, considering they had to balance their writing with school, their home lives, and the stress of the pandemic.

“That’s what I liked about this year’s stories – many of them include real experiences and observations. The writers did a good job inserting their feelings into the stories. A few of them wrote about grandparents and frontliners; these are the people they were concerned for. Many had depth, layers and raw emotions, and the writers explored things that I didn’t expect them to, ” she elaborates.

The stories are firmly hooked in this era of social distancing and life in isolation, and trying to make sense of everything when it comes to sanity, family, community, and love.

Aidan Kwong’s "Changes For The Better" is a sweet tale of a boy and his grandparents who have to adapt to online shopping.

Gabrielle Dana Lei Sum Yee’s "Samba" is a poignant story of a zoo affected by the pandemic.

Sumaiyya Zuleikha Farid Wajidi’s "Behind The Gate" tells of a friendship between two boys, one of whom has a sad secret. Fiction or not, some stories tackle deep issues such as mental strain, death and abuse.

Alicia Joy Prykasa Rau, for example, was inspired to write her story "Roadblock" after reading stories in the news about frontliners.

“Although none of my close family members are frontliners, I couldn’t help but wonder what life would be like if one of them was. Would I be constantly worried? Would I be more cautious about going out or more reckless? Would my entire view of the pandemic be shifted? I tried to answer these questions in my story, ” says Alicia, 15, who is studying at Stellar Academy.

Louise Marie Chew wrote her story Buster, about a school dropout who owned a kopitiam. Due to her love of dogs, she decided to include a dog character in the story, basing it on her dog Rocky.

“It was quite different and difficult because we had to communicate on Zoom so the activities were done differently, ” says Chew, 13, who is studying at ELC International School.

“It took time for me to get used to it, and to think out of the box and look at things differently and creatively. I managed to learn a lot of things, ” she concludes.

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