A decade of writing: Shih-li Kow and Chua Kok Yee

Malaysian Writing Shih-li Kow

One of the first things participants of the Silverfish Writing Programme are told is to think what the would be in five or ten years. (Not next week, next month, or even next year), that they have to understand that writing is hard work, that there is no fixed formula or mantra. And that magic will come when they succeed.

It has been a decade since Shih-li Kow and Chua Kok Yee decided they wanted to write (seriously, not talk or think or fantasise about it) and started working. Shih-li has three books to her credit; Chua Kok Yee has two with another on the way. They are both sought after writers by publishers of all sorts of anthologies looking for a 'name'. It is not important whether they took the initial advice to heart, but there is no denying they are established home-grown Malaysian authors in English, who still have many more stories and books in them. Meet the two on Saturday, 26 September, 2015, at Silverfish Books in Bangsar Village 2 at 5.00pm Admission is free, but do RSVP by replying this email. (Pass this on to other readers and aspiring writers you know.)

Shih-li Kow is a Malaysian author who needs no introduction. Her work is well known and admired, but she is a maddeningly difficult person to write about because she is such a private person. A writer diva, she is not. The little we know about her is that she has a chemical engineering degree and manages malls to pay her rent - what a horrible thankless job. And she still finds time to write. Maybe, that’s how she maintains her sanity.

Her first book was News from Home (2007), a collection of short stories with Chua Kok Yee and Rumaizah Abu Bakar. Her next, Ripples and Other Stories (2009) was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in the First Book category and shortlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in Cork, Ireland - a first by a Malaysian writer.

The Sum of Our Follies, a novel, in 2013 for which the Italian translation rights were sold even before the local first edition was printed. Set in a sleepy hollow in Perak, Lubok Sayong is like other small towns many.

For the Silverfish Festival of Cabbages, Shih-li will be speaking about the process of writing.

Title: Eat Your Cabbage: Good Advice is Hard to Follow.

Like eating your greens and getting your daily quota of fibre, well-meaning advice for a writerly existence and good writing is as widely available as health tips. How many words must you write a day? What should you read? Should you trust your beta reader? Is coffee, tea or alcohol better? What are the top ten habits of top ten writers that you should emulate? Should you keep cats? Should you even bother, especially when we all know where the fibre goes.

Shih-Li shares her views on good advice. (2020 update: Shih Li’s books have been translated into Italian, French and German)

Chua Kok Yee is an author who doesn’t quite shun publicity like Shih-li Kow, but someone who values his privacy just as much. He is an accountant by profession, and it is often difficult to associate creativity with it. (Creative accountancy does have quite a different meaning.) But boy, is he a fantastic story teller. His stories are heart rending (without being mawkish), hilarious, quirky, irreverent, fantastical and macabre, often all at the same time. His ideas seem to come from everywhere, and can seem whimsical. But that, he certainly is not. He is dead serious about his craft, and once confessed that he worked four years on one short story to get it exactly right. And it shows.

His first book was News from Home, which he shared with Shih-li Kow and Rumaizah Abu Bakar. His second, Without Anchovies, was a lovely mixed collection, and three stories from that volume is being currently used in a text book by the Ministry of Education for School Certificate English Literature students. (Many may remember the kerfuffle in the media over copyright issues not too long ago.)

It has been a decade since Chua Kok Yee started writing. Since then, he has written over 30 stories in two book collections -- and in various periodicals and anthologies. For this talk, for which he will share the stage with Shih-li Kow, he is going to discuss some important things he discovered about writing over the last 10 years. (Ten years has passed so quickly!)

Is he working on his next book? Ask him.