Malaysian author highlights story sharing for stronger bonds


With 'Have I Got Something To Tell You', published by Penguin Random House SEA, Malachi extends his reach to a wider audience across the region and beyond. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

Nothing beats a book that feels like a friend whispering tales in your ear. In Emeritus Prof Dr Malachi Edwin Vethamani’s newest collection, Have I Got Something To Tell You, you'll find 20 of these cozy, bite-sized stories.

It's like settling in for a heartwarming catch-up session with your closest pals – just in literary form!

“Usually, a short story collection takes its title from the lead story, but I wanted to break away from that practice. So I decided to go with an expression I use when I have something interesting to share: ‘Have I got something to tell you’,” says Malachi, a writer, poet, editor, bibliographer and academic, in a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur.

In his latest collection, a diverse array of genres – from romance to horror to slice-of-life – intersects, yet one unifying thread weaves through them all: love.

"I don't consider myself much of a romantic," says Malachi, 69, shifting in his cafe seat.

“But I’m more concerned about relationships, particularly the challenges and trials it often brings with it.”

The collection includes a mix of fresh tales alongside some of his earlier works, including pieces from his debut short story collection, Coitus Interruptus And Other Stories, released in 2018.

"I've assembled stories dating as far back as 1995 for this collection, aiming to introduce my earlier works to a broader audience. They span settings from the 1960s to around 2021," he explains.

'There's a growing number of young English writers exploring diverse genres. I hope to see increased recognition and awards for English writing, particularly at state and national levels,' says Malachi. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah'There's a growing number of young English writers exploring diverse genres. I hope to see increased recognition and awards for English writing, particularly at state and national levels,' says Malachi. Photo: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

With Have I Got Something To Tell You, published by Penguin Random House SEA, the seasoned literary figure extends his reach to a wider audience across the region and beyond.

The book's blurb offers readers a peek into Malachi's literary direction, describing it as a collection of stories that delve into the intersections and conflicts in family dynamics and sexuality, prevalent in contemporary Asian societies yet resonating universally.

Personal experiences

The affable Malachi, born and raised in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, says he prefers to write contemporary issues that his readers can relate to, and often draws inspiration from the people and happenings around him.

“Someone once asked me if my stories are in any way biographical – not always, but they usually do have some element of truth in them,” he admits.

The nuggets of truth concealed within his stories span from personal experiences (such as the inspiration behind Drowning, drawn from witnessing a motorcycle-lorry accident on the highway) to the amalgamated characters he crafts ("Many of my characters are fictional blends of multiple individuals into one persona").

In recent times, he's been notably prolific, publishing poetry collections such as The Seven O’clock Tree (2022), Love And Loss (2022), and Rambutan Kisses (2022), in addition to editing Malaysian anthologies like The Year Of The Rat And Other Poems (2022) and Malaysian Millennial Voices (2021). He's also the founding editor of Men Matters Online Journal.

Malachi, presently teaching Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham’s Malaysia campus in Selangor, notes that the local literary landscape is increasingly vibrant.

In his new collection of stories, Malachi explores the intersections and conflicts in family lives and sexuality that are typical in contemporary Asian societies, yet also universal. Photo: Penguin Random House SEAIn his new collection of stories, Malachi explores the intersections and conflicts in family lives and sexuality that are typical in contemporary Asian societies, yet also universal. Photo: Penguin Random House SEA

In addition to instructing writing to students, he finds satisfaction in his active participation in the literary community, with newly published works and frequent appearances at poetry and literary events.

Malachi also commends the surge in English writing among the new generation in Malaysia.

"There's a growing number of young English writers exploring diverse genres. I hope to see increased recognition and awards for English writing, particularly at state and national levels," he says.

When questioned about his preference between writing short stories or poetry, Malachi confesses that he can't pick a favourite, as each format holds distinct significance for him.

"My poetry delves into personal themes, whereas my short stories adopt a societal backdrop and aren't as private. These genres provide avenues for me to navigate the dual dimensions of my writing.

“When I write stories, I don’t write for myself. I write these stories because there’s a certain story or concern that I wanted to explore,” he adds.

Depth and authenticity

Two aspects stand out in Malachi’s stories: firstly, his willingness to portray female perspectives without reservation; and secondly, the prevalence of Malaysian Indian characters with Tamil backgrounds, mirroring his own identity.

“I don’t actually set out to write about the patriarchy, but whether you’re a man or a woman, it certainly has a very strong influence in your life, affecting the things you can or cannot do, the things you are expected to do. It’s a rich conflict,” he explains.

Having been surrounded by many women throughout his life, he admits he actually enjoys writing about female characters.

"In the English department at universities, it’s often three to five guys and 35 women. So I have a lot of respect and sympathy for them and the challenges they face and how a lot of them rise above that," says Malachi.

“It’s important to me to get it right in terms of their lived experience and their psychological insights and keep it from being too surface-level or superficial, so I usually seek feedback from my female friends – who are often fellow writers – for stories I’m working on,” he adds.

Readers will observe that his stories often unfold in Malaysia, spotlighting a diverse cast of characters. Particularly, they delve into the challenges faced by the Malaysian Indian community, both internally and externally.

“Through my stories, I want to depict how people navigate a multicultural, multi-ethnic society and have these stories resonate with Malaysian readers.

“I do my best to ensure that my characters carry a certain level of depth and authenticity, but at the same time, I’m very careful about how I represent other races, because I don’t want to be accused of stereotyping, or being racist, even," he adds.

Malachi notes that Malaysian Indians, as a minority group, confront considerable ignorance and preconceptions. Writers from the community are acutely aware of the significance of race and religion within Malaysian society.

“The Malaysian Indian community is central in a lot of my stories because that is my community, my voice. If I have other voices I want to write about, I take it upon myself to research and get input from members of that community. What’s important is that we debunk the myths and misconceptions we have of one another,” he concludes.

Malachi Edwin Vethamani's Have I Got Something To Tell You is available in all good bookstores. This Sunday (at 2pm), author Shih-Li Kow will join Malachi in conversation, delving into his latest short story anthology, at Eslite Bookstore, The Starhill in Kuala Lumpur.

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