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Friday, 29 January 2010

'Past' Postcolonialism

Literary theory is a landscape of monoliths. Not shiny and brand new like those alien ones in '2001: A Space Odyssey'; some are cracked and weather-beaten, others have been supplanted by later theories and do you see that looming monolith that casts a shadow over the more recent modern cultural theories? That one is postcolonialism. The sun has long set over the British Empire but the lengthening shadow is pervasive.

I knew I could never outrun this shadow, although I don't let it define my writing. I inhabit another shadowy area, being born in London UK and speaking English as my first language (although I learnt very early in life most of the key Hokkien cuss words....), so I am not an Anglophone writer (English is not my second language). I do not use the language of the colonizers/ oppressors as a tool for finding my own voice.  I am not a post-colonial subaltern existing outside a Western hegemony : I do not need to tell my  story only for a bunch of academics to retell it to me on their own terms. I also speak and write French but since I started learning it at the same time as I was learning English, French is another first language of mine: if I were to write a novel in French would I be a Francophone writer? Does writing in Telugu, make me a Telephone writer?
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Thursday, 21 January 2010

Make It 'So'!

Title: So
Artist: Peter Gabriel
Release Year: 1986

Red Rain
Don’t Give Up
That Voice Again
Mercy Street
Big Time
We Do What We’re Told (Milgram’s 37)
This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds)
In Your Eyes

# Why should this album soundtrack my writing process?
Bored? Has the creative font in your head dried up? Need fresh inspiration?  If dunking your head in a bucketful of cold water is too messy, try water in the sonic sense. The theme of water runs through this album: Samples of hi-hats that sound like drizzling rain, looped triangles that resemble trickling streams and Prophet keyboards emissions like breaking waves. Gabriel extends the water theme in 1992's 'Us' but 'So' is more accessible, danceable,and fun.

Which albums do you play/ blast through earphones when you write?

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Monday, 18 January 2010

The Englishman at Table 19 (excerpt)

The first part of my story that was shortlisted for the MPH-Alliance Bank National Short Story Award 2009. 

Since dinner began half an hour ago, Lauren had been spying on the Englishman.  She looked up and he was seated at a table in the corner.  She set the dessert menu upright like a folding screen on the tabletop, to hide her curious glances in his direction.  Lauren noticed the chrome-plated steel stand on his table bearing a piece of white card with the number ‘19’ printed on it in large black numbers.  An identical steel stand near her glass informed Lauren that she sat at table 32 with her elder sister Marilyn, her parents, and Mr. and Mrs. Quek. Lauren did the mental arithmetic and noted that ‘32’ subtracted from ‘19’ equals ‘negative 13’.

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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Shit Ideas? No Problem!

Ideas for stories. Stories for ideas. Contrary to all those cartoons and comic strips, ideas do not manifest as a lightbulb above your head. If they did, mine tend to be of the low-powered and energy-saving kind. The rest have fused. But I don't throw them away, I analyse why they have fused and admire the dead shell of the firmament and the blackened interior. I keep everything I've jotted, doodled and scribbled down. Only because you never know the later usefulness or potential of the once discarded.

There are no good or bad ideas, according to the above book, and you can judge this book by its cover. I just bought this book yesterday and can't recommend it enough. 'Whatever You Think,Think The Opposite" is a compact guide full of tips, tricks and advice on creativity and life by the late great Paul Arden, advertising maverick and creative genius.
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Sunday, 3 January 2010

Elvis and Ellis

Declan McManus aka Elvis Costello. At first glance, an unlikely musical colossus who started out as a knock-kneed punk rocker with Buddy Holly glasses, since long established and straddling all genres. With Elvis Costello, I experienced the unique instance of a book introducing me to the music of a singer-songwriter. Normally, it is vice versa.

'Less Than Zero' by Bret Easton Ellis, takes its title from an Elvis Costello song. Unlike Ellis' other novels, 'American Psycho' and 'Glamorama', Costello does not appear in the novel as a celebrity or a name-drop, he is represented as this poster image on the bedroom wall of the protagonist (above).

I wrote an essay on 'Less Than Zero' and bought the album 'Trust' as part of my research. However, most people on my MA programme did not share my enthusiasm and disregarded the book as nilhlistic and dated. Back then I viewed it as a period piece like 'The Catcher In The Rye'. But rereading it now, I realise that the youth culture explored in the book is not so removed from the present.  MTV back in the 1980s has exploded into the easy access of Youtube. 1980s amoralism and early 21st century paranoia induce the same political apathy and numbness. Answering machine messages are now text messages, tweets and status updates. Teenagers will always be the outsiders. Or perhaps we are all teenagers now, ensnared in a technological web of our own making.

I contributed three more flash fiction pieces for City of Shared Stories KL, both inspired by Ellis and Elvis:  'Clubland' is gathered from a series of late nights (not all experienced by me), 'Less Than Kosong' ('kosong' is Malay for zero) and 'Malaysian Psycho' were written as  parodies nine years ago. I was unaware at the time that the parodies were to become  observations of Malaysian society. The Patrick Bateman character in 'Malaysian Psycho' was originally called Patrick Budirman.

For the uninitiated, check out this online Bret Easton Ellis resource

For Elvis Costello uninitiates, listen to,  'The Very Best Of'.
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