Saturday, May 19, 2007

SPM Literature in English Texts for 2008-2014

SPM Literature Text (6th cycle)

SPM 2008-1014: Titles for study Poems
Theme: Relationships
1.Tonight I Can Write - Pablo Neruda
2. Ways of Love - Chung Yee Chong
3. A Prayer for My Daughter - Yeats
4. The Way Things Are - Roger McGough
5. For My Old Amah - Wong Phui Nam
6. How Do I Love Thee? - Elizabeth Barret Browning

Theme: Perception of Life
1. Birches- Robert Frost
2. I Am - John Clare
3. This Is A Photograph of Me - Margaret Atwood
4. Waiting to Go On - Hugo Williams
5. Daring Tears - Craig Romkema
6.The Traveller - Muhammad hj Salleh

Theme: Conflicts
1. Dulce et Decorum Est- Wilfred Owen
2. The Man He Killed - Thomas Hardy
3. Death of A Rainforest - Cecil Rajendra
4. The War Against Trees - Stanley Kunitz
5. A Quarrel Between Day and Night - Omar Mohd Noor
6. "Crabbed age and youth cannot live together "- Shakespeare

Short Stories
1. Naukar - Anya Sitaram
2. Cinderella Girl - Vivien Alcock
3. The Landlady - Roald Dahl
4. Neighbours - Robert Raymer  (link to story)
5. Harrison Bergeron - Kurt Vonnegut Jr

1. Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury
2. Fasting, Feasting - Anita Desai
3. Holes - Louis Sachar

1. Julius Caesar - Shakespeare
2. The Lion and the Jewel - Wole Soyinka
3. An Inspector Calls - JB Priestly

*Update:  The 6th cycle has been extended through 2014!

**Update, the 20th anniversary of Lovers and Strangers Revisited

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 

Publishing Books in Malaysia and Singapore-Updated (2007-2017)

UPDATE: I originally wrote this as a comment for Lydia Teh’s blog about book publishing in Malaysia back in 2007.  Then I used it to start my own blog.  Since I still keep getting hits on a regular basis and had planned to link to an upcoming interview with a Malaysian writer publishing in Singapore, I thought I should update it.  It’s been ten years!

Yesterday, I was visiting bookstores in Kuching in order to convince them to stock my book, Lovers and Strangers Revisited (Silverfishbooks 2006), since tomorrow 20 May 2007, there will be a profile of me and a review of my book in The Borneo Post. I was told by both Times and Popular Bookstores that the KL office does the ordering for them, so they faxed a copy of my NST review (16 April 2006) with some cryptic notes from me, which I followed up today with a lengthy email to lobby my books into their Kuching stores (hopefully all over Sarawak and Sabah).

Having the interview/review coming out boosted my confidence and gave me credibility since I wasn’t known in Kuching, having recently moved here from Penang, as did the fact that “Neigh­bours”, one of my short stories from the collection, had been selected by the Ministry of Educa­tion to be taught in 2008 SPM Literature, thus guaranteeing a lot of interest among teachers and students.  Plus they will be discussing my story on an online forum on the MELTA website.

UPDATE: MELTA had over 20,500 hits and 276 comments on my story alone before it was archived and later removed. And “Neighbours” was taught from 2008-2014!  Denis Harry had written an article for New Straits Times about my character Mrs. Koh, who has become this stereotype for a busybody neighbor in Malaysia, “Are you Mrs.Koh?”

My Malaysian publisher Silverfishbooks had told me that their Singapore distributor was making excuses about sending my books to Sarawak because of the shipping costs.  For a publi­sher, having a good distributor is imperative or your books won’t be placed in bookstores.  Even getting the books into the stores in Penang (where I lived for twenty years) and on campus at USM (where I taught for ten years), took some arm-twisting and follow-ups on my behalf.  Now I have to start all over again in Kuching.  Hope­fully something will come of the contacts I made yesterday, the emails I wrote today, and phone calls I’ll be making on Monday.

One bookstore did agree to take 25 books on consignment basis.  The problem seemed to be the shipping costs between East and West Malaysia, making the books less profitable for the dis­tri­butor and the publisher, so I agreed to use my own stock and cut a deal with the bookstore. The owner re­quested that his bookstore be men­tioned in the review tomorrow to direct customers his way, which the Borneo Post reporter, who had interviewed me, arranged.  She had even approached the book­store on my behalf (bless her heart!).  I merely sealed the deal with a phone call and delivered the books so I would finally have some books in Kuching before the profile/interview hits.

Timing is everything.  Just wished they were in all of the stores throughout Sarawak and Sabah!

Previously, the original version of my book was published by Heinemann Asia in Singapore back in 1993. 75 copies of my book were sold by a Times Bookstore in Penang—a lot for local fiction.  So when I asked them to restock the book, the manager said no. He said their policy was not to stock second editions except their own (Times Editions) books. I looked at him as if he had a hole in his head. They sold 75 copies!  I was in the store regularly to buy books and to browse and would guide customers his way.  I even held a successful auto­graph signing in his store.  But he refused to make an exception—that was Times Editions policy back in 1993!

Lydia Teh, whom I later wrote the short story “Merdeka Miracle” with (along with Tunku Halim) for Going Places, said that MPH published her third book and she was real happy with them (later her book won the Popular Reader’s Choice Award).  MPH has a good working relationship with MPH Book­stores (not officially related) and they have stores all over Malaysia (but not in Sarawak).  MPH books seem to get good media coverage, good in-store promo­tions, and nice listing in MPH magazine. 

UPDATE:  MPH Bookstore did come to Sarawak and did a great job promoting my book when I later switched publishers to MPH with Silverfishbooks’ blessing since they ran out of stock (and still couldn’t get my books in Sarawak).  I even gave a talk in their store...for three of my books.

Still my big concern about switching publishers…will the books get out of Malaysia/Singa­pore market, a lament I’ve had since my first experience in Singapore.  At least Silverfishbooks has a web­site where you can order my books (with free shipping all over Malaysia including Sarawak and Sabah) and an online news­letter.  But so far, most (if not all) publishers in Malaysia and Singa­pore only sell here; although some, past and present, have tried to make inroads into the UK/US markets.

UPDATE: Websites, online access, and the e-book market has changed that somewhat. Technically anyone around the world can order your book/e-book from your publisher’s website, but in reality they mostly shop at Amazon and other large forums so if your books aren’t there….Some Malaysian and Singapore publishers have recently opened offices in the UK and that’s exciting news for local writers. 

A good place to find a publisher is to browse the Local or Asian fiction section.  I used to jot down unfamiliar or new publishers and then check them out at book fairs in KL and Sing­a­pore, picking up their catalogues, even visiting their offices.  Now it’s much easier via the internet.  Publishers, some promising ones, still come and go, and self-publishing your books has become somewhat ‘acceptable’ but the quality will depend largely on you and who you hire to edit your books—believe me poor or no editing really shows and it’s cringe worthy!  Then there is the problem of getting your books into bookstores and into the hands of potential readers…

Some of these so-called publishers have become aggressive, even contacting unsuspecting writers on their bogs, praising their writing style, convincing them to publish with them and then slapping them with a bank-breaking fee.  Hey, they’re in it for the upfront money!  Oh, you didn’t read the small print?  Sorry-lah, but you still have to pay!  An editing client of mine, despite my objections, found this out the hard way; she was con­vinced it was legit—a mainstream publisher—and had to cough up RM19,000!  She wasn’t so na├»ve the second time around and followed my advice and took her non-fiction book to MPH.

So beware, investigate, and Google for complaints—they are out there!  Know what you are signing up for!  Also crowdfunding your book has become a safe win-win trend for writers and publishers.  London-based Malaysian author Ivy Ngeow, whom I recently interviewed, crowdfunded a novel in the UK and talked about the pros and cons.

As authors, whether in Malaysia or Singapore, we have to promote our books any way that we can—through websites, blogs, readings, and networking with other writers. Last year, I practical­ly sold more books on my own through a book launch, creative writing workshops, and eager students that I taught, than I did in book­stores and online orders.

For book launches, by the way, you don’t just have one and expect everyone to show up to buy your book. You got to turn it into an event.  Last year in Penang, I asked Penang Players to help (I used to stage manage their plays) and they agreed to sponsor the launch, read excerpts from four short stories, and gave an animated reading of my play, “One Drink Too Many” a comedy that I wrote based on the story, “Neighbours”.  Still I was told I’d be lucky to have 30 people show up.  We had over 100!  But that took a lot of emailing, publicity, a great full page review in the NST mentioning the launch, and turning the launch into an “event” where people talked about attending in advance and brought along friends and enjoyed themselves.  Penang Players were a huge help and very entertaining!

But first, you have to write a book that people want to buy (and hopefully read), then do some homework in Malaysia/Singapore to see who is the best publisher for you and make sure they have a good distributor or your friends will complain, “I went all the way over to so-and-so bookstore to buy your book and they didn’t have it!” Then court the media.  In 2006, New Straits Times did a full page review with color and my photo, so did The Expat Magazine.  Plus I had a few online reviews.  I was grateful for all of them. 

UPDATE:  If someone asks you for an interview, take it seriously.  Don’t be flippant and risk turn­ing away potential readers.  Answering well thought out interview questions in advance or via email takes a lot of time, but the payoff can be huge, especially if others share that on Facebook and Twitter, which could lead to other interviews.  Respect the interviewer’s time and be courteous and grateful.  They could’ve easily interviewed some­one else instead of you. 

The Star, unfortunately, did not review the Silverfishbooks version, even though Silverfishbooks and I had sent them books in KL and I sent them books in Penang.  I also met with Star reporters (including a former student) and a friend who does book reviews for The Star who initially said yes, that she would review the book, but she was already overcommitted and the timing was bad for her, so I forgave her.

UPDATE: This was before Silverfishbooks began to earn nominations for some major awards in Malaysia and overseas.  Their short stories have appeared in anthologies and one of mine was even picked up to be used in a Cambridge Exam that paid quite nicely—thanks to Silverfishbooks.

But I’m not giving up on The Star. I will be contacting them again as soon as The Borneo Post comes out…It’s all about persistence and believing in your work.  So far the individual stories from Lovers and Strangers Revisited have been published 54 times in nine countries, four of the stories have been taught in four universities in Malaysia.  Plus “Neighbours” will be taught all over the country.

UPDATE:  The seventeen individual stories from LSR have been published 80 times in 12 countries, taught in several Malaysian universities, private colleges and in secondary school literature, and also in Canada.  Two stories have been taught at Ohio University (USA) and students from Ohio University traveled to Malaysia to film one of the stories, “Home for Hari Raya”.  (For the MPH version, to help to promote the book, I wrote a blog series The Story Behind the Story that was taught along with the story itself.)

So it’s a bit frustrating that I’m having such a hard time in Kuching getting bookstores to stock my book that only came out last year!  Hopefully tomorrow when my interview/review comes out, all that will change.  I have to remain optimistic, and then build on that momentum for Sara­wak, if not all of Malaysia.  Maybe next time, instead of short stories, I’ll write on some­thing controversial, with a lot of sex and mayhem, so the media will jump all over it. Of course, that could backfire and get my book banned.  At least I could say, if only the book hadn’t gotten banned, it would have been on all of the bestsellers’ lists in Malaysia and Singapore!


UPDATE:  Later, thanks to Lee Su Kim whom I met at conference in Penang, I networked myself into a two-book deal with MPH, and the MPH version of Lovers and Strangers Revisited (with two stories added) was not only reviewed in The Star, but also won the 2009 Popular-The Star Reader’s Choice Award.  In 2011, it was translated into French.  So persistence does pay off! Never give up on your stories or your novel.  Just find another way.  I had to do that when I moved to Kuching, Sarawak on the island of Borneo.

    —Robert Raymer, Borneo Expat Writer

My interviews with other first novelists, also about publishing in Malaysia and Sarawak

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, finalist for the Commonwealth Writers Prize 2009.

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


Beheaded on Road to Nationhood: Sarawak Reclaimed—Part I