Monday, May 3, 2010

Live on Kuppa Kopi, TV1 – the filming

Georgette Tan, Robert Raymer, and Sharnaz Saberi
“I’d like to invite you to be my guest on my TV talkshow” read the sms from Regina Ho from RTM Kuching, the producer of Kuppa Kopi, the only talkshow from Sarawak on national TV. Shooting was scheduled for Friday, 30 April so I had less than four days advance notice to apply what I learned in Singapore three weeks ago at Joel Robert’s “Excellence in Media” seminar. I was asked to bring along my books Lovers and Strangers Revisited and Tropical Affairs: Episodes of an Expat's Life in Malaysia as well as some articles.

Not owning a TV, I was unfamiliar with the program Kuppa Kopi (Cup of Coffee), which is in their second season and hosted by Sharnaz Saberi. I Googled the program and managed to see two shows, one in Bahasa Malay and the other, I was relieved to see, in English. The set would be a round table, cups of coffee and three chairs. I noticed that for one of the guests, who has a jewelry business, she had some jewelry displayed on the table. That got me thinking, what can I put on that table? Should I prop up my books? In addition to the books, I brought my 2009 Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Award, a poster from MPH of me in my Anna and the King costume holding a crocodile with the cover of Tropical Affairs, plus a photo display from the films I was in.

I arrived at RTM at 8:00am, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, for makeup. I was introduced to Sharnaz. Although she was having her makeup done, she got up and shook my hand, which she also did for the other guests when they arrived: Margaret Lim, author of the acclaimed children series, Payah, Roselind Wee and her fifteen-year-old daughter Victoria who had published a series of children books and her latest self-published collection, “Tales of Fantasy”, and Georgette Tan from the Borneo Post.

After each of us had our makeup done (mine was brief and superficial), we were led to Studio A. The backdrop of the set was different from what I had viewed (they had recently shifted to a new location) though the setup was the same (inside the cups were water, I was glad to see, since I don’t drink coffee). Sharnaz, who graduated from University Malaysia Sarawak in 2006 just before I joined, looked elegant in her red kebaya and black slacks. I was asked to sit between her and Georgette, who I had met via my website and who had reviewed the Silverfish edition of Lovers and Strangers Revisited and organized several readings that I took part in. The others would be on later. Before I took my place, I set up displays with the help of Rafida, the assistant producer.

The shooting was scheduled for 9:00, but it was 9:30 before it got underway. Sharnaz kept running through her various introductions, while Georgette and I joked about our being on TV for the first time. (Actually this is my second time; the filming was on location at Benuk, last Gawai, and I didn’t know that I was going to be interviewed until the last moment, also on TV1.  I missed the actual program, though a colleague saw it.) I also glanced through my four 3x5 cards, based on the scripted questions that I received two days ago, questions about myself and my website (2 minutes); what made me come to Malaysia, to Sarawak to write and teach (1-2 minutes); who’s my favorite writer, favorite book and why (Georgette and I, 1 minute each); about the books that I wrote (2 minutes); which is my favorite and why and what inspired me to write (1-2 minutes); about my teaching creative writing (1 minute); some comments about the other guests writing Sarawakian folktales (1 minute); and how one should prepare to become a writer and what can we do to improve local fiction (Georgette and I, 1-2 minutes each).

The questions didn’t come in this order and some questions were never asked, so opportunities, on my part were missed, like my failure to talk about my website (had I known she was going to skip the second question about the website, I would have worked some of that into my first answer!) Several times we talked about Lovers and Strangers Revisited at length, but I never got a chance to talk about Tropical Affairs, though I did manage to hold up the book. I’m glad I had it on display on the table and hopefully the camera picked up on it more than once.

I was hoping to inject some humor, but most of that was tied to the second book. I did get a huge spontaneous laugh out of Sharnaz when she mentioned that she had not read my book and I touched her on the arm and said that I wouldn’t hold that against her. That was a moment of impact. I did manage to mention that Georgette had reviewed LSR and Sharnaz came back to that and asked Georgette point blank about what she thought of the book. Altogether we were in front of the cameras for about an hour, including some commercial breaks; the actual filming was about a half hour. There were no retakes, which surprised me. I may have gotten about ten minutes or longer, a lot more time than I was hoping for. (The second half of the show featured the other writers.) They’ll be some editing (um’s etc will thankfully be taken out); but what other words will deleted from my mouth, for talking too fast, or rambling, or for reasons beyond our control, like the program was running too long.

Overall it was a great learning experience, being on the show, and then watching from the studio, behind the cameramen and technicians, the other guests, and judging if they were making impact or not, or how they were coming across on air. This made me wonder how I came across. I did hold up one magazine, Expatriate Lifestyle’s January 2010 issue naming me as one of the “50 Expats You Should Know” (which seemed like a good idea at the time though now I wished I hadn’t), and both books! The other guests, all writers, didn’t hold up anything, though Sharnaz held some books up for them. Next time, I’ll clarify, will the host be holding up my books or should I? The producer, monitoring the program upstairs, may have prompted her to hold up the other books after viewing the the first half of the segment.

Had I to do it all over again, I would have prepared in the same way for each question, but I would’ve brought only one 3x5card and written all that I wanted to work in (the impact stuff), in the first opportunity to do so, like a good anecdote about each book (to suggest why they’re worth reaching) and where the books are available (online and in what bookstores – the other writers were asked later but I wasn’t and I failed to work that into the conversation).  Also, mention my website (was displayed on TV, after I emailed Regina) and blog, thanks to the missed question.

That’s why I’m here to learn, and you can only learn through actual experience and a lot of practice in the language of impact in preparation for that day, since, according to Joel Roberts, the time is short and the stakes are high. Naturally I’m anxious to see the program and get my own copy so I can view it over and over to see the opportunities that I missed and those that I got right, and learn from both, so the next time, I’ll be more than ready. In the meantime, if you want to catch me live check me out on Kuppa Kopi on 31 May, TV1 at 2.05. If you missed that, you can go to my blog.

Robert Raymer and Sharnaz Saberi holding an autographed copy
of his 2009 Popular Reader's Choice Award winning
collection of short stories Lovers and Strangers Revisited
* Updates, Lovers and Strangers Revisited is now being translated into French.

UPDATE: July 2017 Payah, a Gift from Margaret Lim.

*Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, my collection of short stories set in Malaysia

**Update: Book orders for Trois autres Malaisie  E-book orders.  Or recommend it to your friends, especially those who would like to know more about Malaysia or have an interest in Southeast Asia.
Here's a link to the intro and excerpts, and to four reviews of Trois Autres Malaisie in,,, and Petit Futé mag.

***Here’s an update to the French blog about Trois autres Malaisie and my meeting the French translator Jerome Bouchaud in Kuching, and my involvement in a French documentary for Arte (June 2017) on The Sensual Malaysia of Somerset Maugham.

Here are links to some of my author-to-author interviews of first novelists:

Ivy Ngeow author of Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize.

Golda Mowe author of Iban Dream and Iban Journey.

Preeta Samarasan author of Evening is the Whole Day

Chuah Guat Eng,  author of Echoes of Silence and Days of Change. 


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I 


Unknown said...

Robert, I know what you mean by lost opportunities. Having no experience of TV Talk-Shows, I came totally unprepared and never had the opportunity to push my latest book for kids (TOMASINA, which will be published by CERDIK, Malaysia). In between takes, Sharnaz and I had a very interesting conversation which I would be more than glad to have pursued further, so I felt a bit off track when the camera started rolling again and she came back to the set questions.
Enjoyed meeting you. I'm sure we'll hear more from Borneo Expat Writer, and you'll take your well=earned place among the likes of Paul Theroux, Anthony Burgess and Somerset Maughm.

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence. Definitely a learning experience. Too bad we didn't get to do this when we were 15, like Victoria. It's a whole new world out there and we got to figure out to get tuned in and not left behind. Getting on Kuppa Kopi is a start in the right direction and staying positive about the future -- seeing the possibilities and acting on our hunches when it comes to publishing and publicity! All the best in Singapore and really promote your stuff. You're on to something good!

Unknown said...

I am a fan of yours, and have read some of your books. Sure will be viewing tv1 on 31may awaiting for your show!

Have a good day :)

Borneo Expat Writer said...

Why thank you -- I hope you're not the only one watching, since most people will be working! In Sarawak/Sabah many people will be taking that Monday off since it's the day before Gawai and Friday is also Wesak so that's a six day stretch...

Pass the word around on your blog. I just hope I didn't talk too fast! Let me know if I did. Also, if you enjoyed it too...