Read Heart of Glass for free for 10 days. We are on Day 4, 6 to go: in which the protagonist Li-an is now feeling reticent about the ‘jawb’ she has come to do.
Read Heart of Glass for free for 10 days. We are on Day 4, 6 to go: in which the protagonist Li-an is now feeling reticent about the ‘jawb’ she has come to do.
are the foundations of this tale and the adventure that ensues. Benjie, a Chinese Malaysian Doctor is quickly diverted by his new assistant, a tattooed Iban, an indigenous Bornean; once hooked, he remains on the line. The more he discovers of her history, the deeper he becomes embroiled.
Debut novelist, Ivy Ngeow is Malaysian and international and she uses all her multicultural skills to explore the interaction of her character cast of Chinese, Malay, Scottish and Iban. The latter are the catalysts for the drama.
“A man or a woman without tattoos is invisible to the gods.” – Iban proverb
That is because Borneo is the name of an island, which is not a country; 75% of it is the Indonesian province of Kalimantan, the rest is the Malaysian outposts of Sabah and Sarawak plus the tiny but powerfully oil-rich Kingdom of Brunei. The Borneo of Cry is Sarawak, the home of the Iban.
and learning to admire the Iban. Marriage, we learn, should be considered in practical terms:
“Every boy should look to marry a girl that is top class at weaving…..Boys want girls that are good at weaving, because it is a tough, tough life in the jungle. The girls, they weave to make clothes for war and for every day. They weave pua and the blankets make you dream well. In Iban, dreams are the most important gift from the Gods.”
Central to the tale are the two Iban boys, Minos and Watan, who are taken under the wing of a English pastor, who has not understood that the 19th century ended a few years ago and that he is not helping anyone by trying to convert Iban to Christianity. But what he can offer is attractive to the eager Iban. Minos complains that there is no TV.
“Ingland says no. If plentymoney says No, it means No. But Pastor says Yes. Someone from the church give a TV. It is only the size of a chicken.”
I hope I remember to use that splendid simile when I am next buying a TV. Let me also remember Minos’ advice about mushroom gathering:
“….if all rotten and covered in worms, means OK to eat. If fresh and untouched, means poisonous.”
as a story, partly because the author creates her own moral code, as a result of which almost all crimes committed by her characters can be forgiven, so long as they can be held to be avenging a greater wrong.
The charm of the book and its insights into the ways of the jungle people of Borneo have drawn me to the island.
“The Penan have a quality of stillness….They melt into the shadows and that is their life”.
2. and the American, CS Godshalk, whose novel Kalimantaan, brought back to vivid but fictional life the time of Rajah Brooke, the Briton who became an effective Rajah of Sarawak in the mid 19th Century.
2018 All Rights Reserved © Bill Colegrave
“When we affect to condemn savages, we should remember that by doing so we asperse our own progenitors; for they were savages also. Who can swear that among the naked British barbarians sent to Rome to be stared at more than 1500 years ago, the ancestor of Bacon might not have been found?–Why, among the very Thugs of India, or the bloody Dyaks of Borneo, exists the germ of all that is intellectually elevated and grand. We are all of us–Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks and Indians–sprung from one head and made in one image.” – Herman Melville
Have you been to Borneo and have you met an Iban before? If you have enjoyed this blog post, please share, join my mailing list or email me with your comments and feedback. We would love to hear from you.
Ivy Ngeow lives in London. Cry of the Flying Rhino is a debut award-winning novel set in Malaysia and Borneo. Her second novel Heart of Glass is published by Unbound in 2018. Find me at www.writengeow.com, tweet me @ivyngeow, or write to me here: ivy_ngeow at yahoo dot com
Bill Colegrave is a travel writer and explorer. He was publisher of Cadogan Guides, which he bought in 1989, and also a Director of Everyman’s Library. His book Halfway House to Heaven (Benefactum, 2011) tells the story of his expedition to find the source of the River Oxus in the Wakhan Corridor and Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan. He is also co-creator of Not The Times, a parody of The Times during its year-long strike. He has an extensive travel book library and has travelled to 110 countries and counting. He has three grown children and one grandchild, and lives in London. Scraps of Wool was published by Unbound on 16 November 2017. Write to him here: scrapsofwool at gmail dot com
Map of Borneo: drawn by © Ivy Ngeow 2018 All Rights Reserved
What were the inciting incidents which inspired Cry of the Rhino to become an award-winning novel? Asian Books Blog ran a 500 word article with answers and much more. I was also covered by the American author Robert Raymer in his insightful and entertaining blog, the Borneo Expat Writer. Robert and I interviewed each recently.
You can also read the article here below:
Cry of the Flying Rhino was written thirteen years ago after I made my one and only trip to Borneo with my mother. I was inspired by the dark, macabre and gothic nature of communal longhouse living and the tribal civilisation and culture which have been around for thousands of years. Two things triggered some ideas.
Firstly, during the trip, I saw a tattoo parlour called Headhunters. It piqued my interest in the traditional art and symbolism of Iban tattooing, performed manually with a hammer, steel pin and ink made from tree ash.
Secondly, long after our trip, I dreamt of a girl in a longhouse with eyes as huge as the “hollows of the benuah tree”. Those words came to me in the dream. I wrote them down. She looked sad and haunted and there was also terror in her eyes. I did not know who she was or what the dream was about but something unpleasant and unusual had happened to her and I set about finding out about the Iban culture, which I later discovered, is based on dreams. That dreams were everything, our hopes, work, happiness and luck.
In exploring the two triggers above, I found out that indigenous cultures are threatened and dying, because of loss of habitat due to logging and deforestation, and due to the conversion of the Ibans to other religions. As a result, orang asli (original people) like the Ibans are forced to leave their habitat for the city because their livelihood, dependent on being able to survive in the jungles on the fat of the land, is diminishing due to the jungles being cleared. Their way of life which is so rich in folklore, superstition and traditions will soon be lost. Ultimately the rapid destruction of the jungles will impact upon the rest of the world via climate change and so on. I also found out that children tattooed children which ensured that the art would never die. If adults were one day wiped out by an epidemic or a massacre, the surviving children would all have learned and mastered all survival and artistic skills including tattooing.
Cry of the Flying Rhino is a modern novel set in the railway town of Segamat, which has already been deforested and turned into miles of plantation, and Borneo, whose jungles are under threat. The Chinese GP, Benjie, has been forced to marry Talisa, a mysterious and tattooed teenager, and the adopted daughter of wealthy crass Scottish landowner Ian. Benjie has to discover for himself his wife’s true identity, when Minos and Watan, two Ibans who leave the jungle and appear in Segamat one day, looking for Talisa.
Cry of the Flying Rhino raises uneasy themes of identity, poverty, religion, race, greed, colonialism and post-colonial struggles, and deculturalisation because I want to convey to readers the issues and conflicts which affect Asia today using the medium of fiction. I hope the story will take them to another world.
This is a view of Bako National Park in Kuching, Borneo, home to millions of flora and fauna many of which are still undiscovered and unknown to humans. It seems the opposite of the Hong Kong in the photo below, yet both of these places are where Cry of the Flying Rhino was born.
Before my book launch in Hong Kong, Borneo-based US author of Lovers and Strangers, Robert Raymer, had talked to me about having two books out not quite but nearly at once after writing for so many decades. We discussed both traditional publishing and the crowdfunded system ofpublishing for Heart of Glass. I was very chuffed that Robert had written the advance commentary for my book Cry of the Flying Rhino. I had admired his writing from a very long time ago, in fact, 31 years to be exact, when I first met him. I was a 17 year old schoolgirl and I had just won my first “prize” in writing, which was a Writer’s Workshop in Kuala Lumpur. It was the second time I submitted a short story to the New Straits Times for a competition and the first time I won anything in my life or travelled to the capital city on my own. Therefore it was a rite of passage for me. I read Robert’s books when I was a young adult (in those days there was no such thing as YA fiction). You are either an adult or not an adult.
The magic of writing and the beauty of ideas all begin in the mind, in the imagination. One day it is somewhere else, in someone else’s mind and imagination. Read Robert’s post after the book launch, where a book about Borneo finally arrives in Borneo in the very place where the novel is set!
Check out my SHOP where you can purchase SIGNED FIRST LIMITED EDITIONS of Cry of the Flying Rhino. Find out why this book won outright for the first time in 9 years of the International Proverse Prize competition.
If you would like unsigned copies, please go to
GREAT NEWS!!! Cry is now available in SELECT BOOKS, Singapore. Check it out!
If you missed my reading at Brixton Book Jam, The Hootananny, London SW2 1DF on Monday 3 March 2018, no worries. Watch it here now!
Cry of the Flying Rhino LIMITED EDITION, FIRST EDITION, SIGNED is now available! Find out why this book won outright for the first time in 9 years of the Proverse Prize competition. Go to my SHOP for a LIMITED EDITION, FIRST EDITION, SIGNED COPY of Cry of the Flying Rhino and other books.
UK £16.75 including first class postage
Rest of world £22.50 / USD29.81 / SGD40.34
FOR UNSIGNED COPIES, GO TO:
“Anyone impressed, anyone imprinted upon and inspired by Lalwani, Roy, Chatterjee, Burgess, Lowry or Orwell, will be correspondingly affected by Ngeow.” – Professor Jason S. Polley, Department of English, Hong Kong Baptist University
Today’s inspo: just wanted to share these photos of the 1916 venue of the book launch and prize ceremony. This is the Blue Room where the event will be held. I am very excited to be launching my award-winning postcolonial novel Cry of the Flying Rhino here! Originally built for the protection of women’s rights,. I think it’s going to be a symbolic, meaningful and once in a lifetime experience and one that I will treasure forever or at least until I have senile dementia. The Helena May is a historic post WWI building and it is fully restored. It is built in the classical colonial villa style with the articulated frieze consisting of dentil corbelling at the cornice level and the Italianate balustrading on all levels. The entrance portico has a curved pediment and the classical entrance columns are of the Corinthian order. The windows are casement and have no articulation. On the street elevation, There are flattened arched openings on the ground and first level from which the windows are set back in a gallery-style colonnade.
During WWII (the Japanese occupation) the building was used by the Japanese forces as stables for their horses! After the war, in 1947, the Royal Air Force took over the building. Disclaimer: I wrote all this architectural analysis myself, so if there are any errors in terminology, well, tough.)
“The Helena May was founded in 1916 and named after Lady May, the wife of Sir Henry May, Governor of Hong Kong at the time. Funded largely through the generosity of two local philanthropists, Sir Ellis Kadoorie and Mr. Ho Kom Tong, CBE, it was originally established to support women living and working away from home, and contributing to the Hong Kong community. Lady May’s original vision, enshrined in the organisation’s constitution, is central to today’s community outreach programme which focuses on the needs of women and girls living in Hong Kong.”
“From the outset, The Helena May has been an organisation for women led by women. The driving force was Lady May who, as President of the Y.W.C.A and mother of four daughters, was very aware of the lack of facilities for women and girls in Hong Kong. She provided leadership and direction to The Helena May in the early years that set a strong foundation.”
I have been working on the cover design with the graphic designer who has designed bestsellers like The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith and Marina Lewycka’s A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. As a designer myself, I find it both easy and hard to take the back seat and let someone do the driving. I’ve even done a moodboard, see below, as the designer inside me always kicks in when you don’t want it to, like at 5 am. The last update I wrote was 24 May just before half term break. I seem to be making updates just before the end of term. Today is the last week of term. Subliminally I don’t know if I will survive school holidays. That is why I have to do my updates just before school breaks up. Question time: “Where’s. Me. Book. Where’s. Your. Book. Where’s. OUR. book.” Answer: It will be out soon – follow these updates closely from now. The clock is ticking. Baby will arrive soon. Parents, be brave! Writers, be braver!
Doctor: So what seems to be the problem?
Dude, I am not allowed to complain because I was and am a writer therefore I am already a masochist. In fact I am hanging upside down now flogging myself. It took me more than a decade (I think 13 years and still counting) to write both these books. They are at last both being published the TRADITIONAL way which was what I wanted. It’s a dream come true so that is why I am not allowed to complain. Headache, backache, finger pain, joint and wrist pain, hangover, insomnia, stress, hives, hypertension, hyperventilation, just hyper, overeating, undereating, sick or feeling sick, nauseous, tired, exhaustion, not enough sleep, too much sleep, over caffeinated, under caffeinated, not enough guitar-playing, too much guitar-playing. A Tale of Two Books in Two Months. If I complain, somebody please give me a slap.
And this is caused by?
Myself. Over the last five weeks I have been feeling very stressed, not only were there three disasters in succession in London – the London Bridge attack, Grenfell Tower fire, and the Finsbury Park mosque attack, I have had to handle the most crucial process of the fantasy world of writing and art. Turning them from ideas to reality. There were actually real disasters going on out there that I just could not ignore. My own writing and art have suffered delays because I am in that crazy living-the-dream situation of having two books out this year and at any one point, one has to be ignored (usually “one” means me, but this time it means one of the books). It’s called sibling rivalry and I cannot give attention to both at the same time. I am a mum so I know this for sure.
What have you been doing all this time?
Well first I wrote the books. That’s when all the trouble began. Then I crowdfunded one of them and sent one to an international competition. More trouble. Now that’s all over and this timeline begins:
Thursday 30 March 2017 – Submit Heart of Glass MS for structural editing. Finished editing Cry of the Flying Rhino and sent back to Hong Kong.
Friday 12 May 2017 – Received HoG MS with commentary back and Unbound editor’s crib sheet (London)
Tuesday 16 May 2017 – First round HoG structural edit begins. Work with publisher closely. Start building and compiling international network of writer, blogger, journalist, lecturer contacts for Cry of the Flying Rhino (London, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore… so far) PR later on.
Tuesday 6 June 2017 – First round HoG completed and handed back to Unbound. Start on Cry cover designs.
Friday 9 June 2017 – Heart of Glass Editor pleased. Replied with another sheet of minor comments.
Monday 12 June 2017 – Second round begins. Hand in the Cry of the Flying Rhino cover designs for publisher’s comments
Wednesday 21 June 2017 – Received news that the launch date of Cry is Thursday 16 November 2017 in Hong Kong where I will be travelling to to receive my prize and to do the launch. I am not sure what that entails.
Thursday 22 June 2017– Handed back HoG (this is where we are at). Revise Cry cover designs. Go to printer shop, print and test 300 DPI resolution OK or not. If not OK, must re-do at 600 DPI. Received email that two Hong Kong authors/lecturers have written their advanced comments for Cry back cover text.
Why did you undertake the design of the Cry book cover?
Note: Although the publisher in Hong Kong, Proverse, has a designer to hand, I am actually a designer myself and have been for the last 22 or 24 years (lost track myself) though not a print designer. I know the software backwards. I laid out my school newsletters, Uni journals etc. Since then I have designed countless artwork for my architectural business, band promotional material, posters, CD covers, leaflets, coffee morning artwork for the school, piano lesson artwork etc. Therefore I felt roughly competent and being the OCD control freak that I was, I felt compelled to undertake it. To see the two draft designs click here.
What’s your plan now?
To keep juggling the two as I don’t know how to do a book launch for one book let alone two. Hold that thought. Check back soon. The juggler will be back on the circuit once the traffic congestion eases.
Because I am a control freak, I decided to have a stab at cover design myself. The first one, the black and red one is inspired by Iban tattoo pattern and Alfred Hitchcock film posters by illustrator/artist Saul Bass. But I think it might be deemed too London, too retro. The second and the third are variations on the same which the idea of the rich mystery of the deep, dark jungle.
Guess which one the publisher chose? It surprised me too.